HUM HINDUSTANI: Crusaders against India’s Christians —J Sri Raman - Friday, January 14, 2011

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Parivar operations have included a holy war against a minuscule Christian minority, totalling 2.4 percent of the country’s population. Gujarat under Narendra Modi holds the dubious record of having witnessed the goriest and most horrendous anti-Muslim violence in 2002

True, India has no blasphemy laws. But does it have no Aasia Bibis? No Indian court has sent a man or woman of Aasia’s religion to death for the crime she is alleged to have committed. Does the country, however, not have kangaroo courts of a kind that order and carry out punishments on people for the offence of being or having become Christians? The answers are affirmative in both cases. The parivar, India’s far-right ‘family’, of course, focuses its hate campaign against the country’s largest minority. Muslim-baiting has always remained its main occupation and preoccupation. It is not so well known to the wider world that Christian-bashing comes a close enough second in its list of devoutly performed duties.

This should be no surprise to anyone with even a sketchy idea of the ideology of the parivar, especially its patriarch, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). This ideology was spelt out in unmistakable terms by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, better known to his flock as Guru Golwalkar, who headed the RSS from 1940 to 1973 (thus constituting a bridge between the parivar generations before and after independence). A Bunch of Thoughts, a post-independence collection of the Guru’s sayings and speeches, was prescribed reading for the parivar for long years.

The book ends with a chapter titled ‘Internal threats’. The three threats listed and treated at some length are: Muslims, Christians and Communists. The present-day parivar leaders may pretend now and then to have given up some of the Guru’s extreme ideas. But the hit list has continued to guide the operations of the so-called Hindutva brigades.

The operations have included a holy war against a minuscule Christian minority, totalling 2.4 percent of the country’s population. Gujarat under Narendra Modi holds the dubious record of having witnessed the goriest and most horrendous anti-Muslim violence in 2002. It is not so well-known that an attack on tribal Christians in the Dangs area of Modi’s territory preceded and paved the way for the more infamous pogrom.

Violence erupted in the southern Gujarat district on Christmas Day, 1998. Churches and missionary institutions were attacked and many of them burnt down. Later, investigations left no doubt that the attacks by the parivar armies on several villages around the same time had been meticulously planned.

The Christmas campaign followed a year-long propaganda offensive through parivar leaflets portraying the missionaries, in true far-right style, as traitors. The leaflets urged the Christian tribesman to “purify yourself through yagna (ritual sacrifice) and become a Hindu”. They were warned of dire consequences if they did not heed the counsel of Hindutva.

All this was accompanied by a campaign against education imparted by Christian missionaries. One leaflet, baring a familiar stamp of the far-right, said, “Friends, we Hindus keep awake day and night and earn our living through hard work but do we ever think about the education of our children? With the intention of giving them the best education, you get them admitted in schools such as St Xavier’s and St Anne’s and consider it prestigious. In fact, this is the biggest mistake of your life.”

The leaflet added, “On account of... the Christian education influenced by the Christian tradition, when your child becomes a youth, he or she is already a half Christian.” This was a lie that millions of non-Christians educated in these institutions could nail easily. The campaign, however, continued.

A parivar propagandist, Nagendra Rao, sounded like former US President George Bush when he said, “If Muslims and Christians use perfidy and force in conversion, as they frequently do, we have to meet it with merciless ferocity and militant determination....Collateral damage in such cases is regrettable (but cannot be helped).”

The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reacted predictably to the black Christmas in Dangs. Initially, in New Delhi, he called the incidents “shameful”. On proceeding to Gujarat, however, his tone underwent a total transformation. He declared, “There is need for a national debate on conversions.” The parivar militants took this as a go-ahead for furthering this particular far-right campaign, and not only in Gujarat. Orissa on India’s eastern coast became their next target.

Orissa claimed world attention with the assassination of Australian missionary Graham Staines. Binayak Sen was not the first medical missionary to incur the parivar’s wrath. Baptist preacher Staines, ministering to leprosy patients since 1965, was killed along with his sons Philip (10) and Timothy (6), burnt alive in a jeep while sleeping in it in January 1999. The parivar had hounded him for “harvesting souls”, though his efforts led to no dramatic rise in the district’s Christian population.

It was yet another cruel Christmas, when minority-baiting mobs struck again. Mobs attacked churches and burnt down houses and other property. The affected villages had no protection from the police or any paramilitary force against the 4,000-strong far-right army.

There was yet another round of anti-Christian violence in August 2008. This followed the killing of a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a vanguard of the violent campaigns in both Gujarat and Orissa. The minority community faced retaliatory attacks of brutal ferocity despite the fact that a Maoist group, active in the area, had owned responsibility for the killing. Over 3,000 Christian tribesmen fled for their lives and ended up as refugees in relief camps. Many stayed on in these camps without the minimum of facilities. The parivar mobs made sure that the refugees could not return to their homes unless they were ready to publicly renounce their faith and perform appropriate prayashchit (atonement).

The political front of the parivar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), played its part as well. The party was then a junior partner in the government of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and used its crucial support for the government’s survival to fuel the violence.

This unremitting orgy of violence in the unfortunate Kandhamal region of Orissa has actually continued to be justified by the parivar. Right in 2008, the Orissa BJP took the stand that “the Kandhamal riot occurred because NGOs (a euphemism for Christian organisations) have instigated and conspired to bring about conversion with the foreign funds. It was necessary to implement hard the laws pertaining the ban on conversion.”

The party and the parivar have stuck to the stand, even while several human rights organisations have reported the state of terror in which the minority population continues to live here. Even in October 2009, then BJP President Rajnath Singh said that there “is a need to check large scale religious conversions carried out by foreign forces”, because “foreign missionaries are using religion to infiltrate India and corrupt its culture”. Ultimately, “illegal mass conversions” are a “threat to national security”.

The fanatics in Pakistan, in other words, share a common target and hate object with the far-right in India. No wonder, over 70 Indian Muslim organisations and a large number of Muslim intellectuals have condemned Salmaan Taseer’s killing. The intellectuals have also denounced the “reprehensible law” on blasphemy, sought to be enforced in so brutal a manner.

They were speaking as one minority for another. What the cause of democracy demands in India and South Asia is an assertion of the solidarity of the peace-loving majority with persecuted minorities of religions and all other kinds.

The writer is a journalist based in Chennai, India. A peace activist, he is also the author of a sheaf of poems titled At Gunpoint

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