The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre towers targetted America’s economic nerve center—the soul of her economic progress. Similarly, the March 7 terrorist bomb-blast in Varanasi’s historic Sankatmochan Temple was the continuation of a policy aimed at attacking the very essence of India—her soul. India’s civilizational movement is deeply connected with her places of worship. A Sanskrit sloka extolling India’s importance to her people states, Himalayam Samaarabhya Yaavadindusarovaram, Tam Devanirmitam Desam Hindusthaanam Prachakshatey. It means, “Form the Himalayas all the way to Indian Ocean, the Devas (gods) created our sacred land.” India is holy and her soul lies in her places of worship. Therefore, attacks on religious places are not sporadic acts of terror, but are acts of war, and must be countered immediately. Counter strikes, however, are only a short-term response. What is needed is a sustained effort to make various religions in India more tolerant of each other, legislation to firmly deal with situations created by vested groups aimed against India’s interests, the need to rise above vote-bank politics, and the evolution of a security infrastructure for places of religious worship. The failure of the Indian state to take strong political decisions against terror cells operating both within and out of India, or the deliberate failure to firmly legislate against the insurgency in our North-East, or the delay in installing a bullet-proof shield on the disputed prayer site in Ayodhya for fear of losing a certain vote-bank arises from an askewed understanding of secularism. The modern Indian state has failed to de-link religion and subset within certain religious groups that advocate terror. It becomes a tough task avoiding communally colouring acts of terror perpetrated on religious grounds. Nonetheless, we must safeguard ourselves against such thinking, but not weaken our resolve to go after the subsets for fear of creating a negative impression among certain religious groups. Where 60 per cent of America considers religion an important aspect of life, in France it is only 13 per cent. Whereas, nine out of every ten people in India are religious. Indians, irrespective of their religion, are intensely religious. Thus religion is not only the opium of our masses, it is their very soul. The figure in Pakistan and Bangladesh is not very different. They too originate from the same cultural background, even though separated from India primarily on religious grounds. Therefore, India’s religious leaders must come to terms with reality. Our reluctance in accepting reality will not make the reality disappear. It will assume immense proportions and tomorrow confront us with greater ramifications. The reality is simple, if the genesis of a religious philosophy and the genesis of patriotism or the idea of nationhood are not emanating from the same source or do not gravitate towards the same national understanding, then there exists ground for potential conflict. And this is exactly what confronts us today. We face an immense challenge—to bring about a synergy between our sense of nationhood arising from our native culture and our various religious orders. Take the example of the Left organised protests against the Bush visit that added a religious hue to garner huge crowds in Mumbai. Why do Indians become the biggest enemies of India’s own strategic interests? George W. Bush has done nothing against India or Indian interests. Infact, his administration has agreed to make an India-specific amendment in the US Atomic Energy Act (AEA) to enable the transfer of technology and nuclear fuel to India. No other government in the world, not the Chinese, not even the erstwhile Soviet Union was as benevolent towards India even though the Soviets took that extra step to develop the Chinese nuclear programme! Yet, there were massive anti Bush protests that ended-up becoming protests against a cartoon in Danish newspaper. In Lucknow, the anti-Bush protests became communal. These are clear examples of how vested socio-religio interest groups stir up communal passions in the name of Indian secularism and the democratic right to protest, and protest against those very entities that are helping India’s strategic interests. I do not blame the people, nor any religion, but the religious leaders who misguide the common man to make him a tool of their vicious agenda. If at all people are so aggrieved at tragic events, why then were there no similar protests in India when attacks took place on the Akshardham temple or the Sankatmochan Temple? Why were similar protests not held against the December 13 terrorist attack on our Parliament? These questions expose the vested groups that morph secularism and promote a twisted minorityism aimed at ultimately harming the minorities themselves by alienating them from the Indian main stream. Indians of all faiths must accept that their fate is intricately linked with India’s fate. Solidarity with others in the world purely on basis of religious orientation is antithetical to Indian secularism. If protests had to be held against international events, why were there no protests held against terrorist bombings outside the Shiite Mosque in Iraq? Or the killing of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan? Or the occupation of the A1 Aqsa Mosque by gunmen in Jerusalem? Why does a section of Indian society term Bush as anti-religion? Is it just because of the US led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? Even if protests have to be made, the organisers of such protests must first evaluate whether Indian interests are supreme to them or is fidelity to some other cause more important? Religious leaders have a lot to answer for they are moulding a generation that would constitute a future India. Therefore, it becomes important that an India-specific religious understanding be preached by various religious schools, so that future generations are spared of this dilemma. India must enact legislation against the issuance of fatwas by various subsets during elections, or religiously oriented protests aimed against India’s strategic interests. The terrorist attacks on Jammu’s Raghunath Temple, or on Srinagar’s Hazratbal Mosque, or a church in Andhra Pradesh, or on Ayodhya’s Ram Janmabhoomi site, or the latest Sankatmochan attack vindicate the necessity to initiate steps to counter extremist religious propaganda in palaces of worship, and increase security. Special drives must be undertaken to keep a check on religious preachers as has been done in the UK and the European Union. At various forums, India must strongly raise the issue of religious extremism being propagated in religious schools in countries neighbouring India. The sub-continental poverty, high birth rate, illiteracy, coupled with widespread cross-border religious extremism that takes pride in attacking India’s native culture, have made our neighbourhood the world’s most terrorist inflicted region. India should draft a Religious Places’ Security Plan to overlook the protection of major religious places across the country. As part of the security measures, the government must station special bomb disposal squads in all major temples. One finds that the vicinity of temples and holy bathing ghats are clogged and encroached upon by illegal commercial and residential establishments. These could pose a security threat. Hence the government must remove these encroachments, and provide alternate sites to the people whose shops and houses have been so affected. All approach roads must be broadened to ease the flow of human and vehicular traffic. Metal detectors and x-ray scanners must be installed to scan the baggages of pilgrims. Local citizen squads should be stationed at entry points into the shrines to frisk people. Road blocks must be placed on all roads to check vehicles coming into the holy towns. All railway stations must have similar x-ray scanners to scan passenger baggages. All major temple complexes must have 24x7 armed security guards, and guard towers. There must be signs put up in temple complexes asking people to be vigilant. Religious leaders and preachers must not only quickly condemn attacks on religious places, but also publicly proclaim such acts to be against religion. Such a societal response to terror acts on religious places would demonize them. Arnold Tonybee (1889-1975) had predicted, “The West will still dominate Earth, but in the 21 century India will conquer her conquerors. Religion worldwide will regain its earlier importance, and world events will return to the East where civilization originated.” If that has to happen, then religious and political leaders in India must rise above their creed and take unprecedented bold steps to usher in a new understanding where humanism stands above religion and national interests outweigh religious ones. Till such a time the attacks on India’s soul shall not cease but continue to challenge us.