Act of Hate in City of Love

Who dunnit to the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus statue in St Mary’s, Agra?

 

John Dayal

 

Who dunnit to the statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus at the 92-year-old St Mary’s Catholic Church In Agra last night?

 

We will have to wait for the Union Home Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, and his colleague Mr Arun Jaitely to say if they were the work of Bangladeshi infiltrators, drunk youth out on the town at night, or a stray incident as will happen in such a vast country.

 

The Parish Priest, Father Moon Lazarus, thinks this was a malicious hate crime against the Christian community, and the Catholic Bishops of India, who were meeting not far from the church, have urged state and central governments to take swift and appropriate action to book the culprits and safeguard places of worship from “the sacrilegious acts”.

 

The church, in the Agra Cantonment area where the Taj Mahal is also situated, is not as historic as another Catholic church which dates to the times of the Moghul Emperor Akbar, but is quite a local landmark. Statues of Mary are also popular with local Hindu men and women not just in Agra, but also in most places across the country.

 

That it was not a prank seems evident from the manner in which the statues were smashed, and then a dog chain tied to neck of the statue of Mary.

 

In his report to the local police, Fr. Eugene Moon Lazarus, the parish priest, said he woke up early morning when he heard the anti-theft alarm of his car parked in Church premise and came out from his room along with other people staying in Church campus. “We saw the side door window mirrors were broken and some people were running out from the boundary of church. We shouted and they ran away. Four statues of Mother Mary were broken. The glass case was also broken. The head of Baby Jesus statue was broken and kept in the hands of Mother Mary’s statue. The neck of human size statue of Mother Mary was tied with dog-chain.”

 

The priest said such acts had “created fear in our community.”

 

The United Christian Forum has recorded 168 cases of violence of various sorts against the community in the first 300 days of Mr. Modi forming the government in New Delhi. These include two murders. Six of the cases have been in the national capital, New Delhi. Statues of Mary and Christ seem a particular target in many places for vandals.

 

But while the community, which feels under stress because of a sustained hate campaign by the Sangh Parivar, has been seeking government action, Mr. Modi’s cabinet seems to be working overtime to minimize the international fallout of such acts against religious minorities. Christians are “making mountains” out of small things, Mr. Modi told a delegation that called on him to greet him on Christmas eve. He said this was hurting his development agenda. In January, President Pranab Mukherjee and visiting US President Mr. Barack Obama referred to the incidents of communal violence, embarrassing the government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

 

Mr. Modi’s remarks have been a virtual directive to government agencies and police departments across the country. They refuse to see a pattern or religious targeting, pinning the blame on petty criminals and others. The Intelligence Bureau in fact went to an extreme, leaking data to a leading television news channel to “prove” that the Modi government had a better record than the UPA in solving the cases of cases of violence against Christians.

 

Forcible stersilsiations and second class citizens

The Door to a Theocratic Dictatorship

 

Demands for forced sterilizations and disenfranchisement of Christians and Muslims would be unacceptable even in Rajrajya

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahtma was clear, if perhaps a little defensive, when explaining a phrase he so loved. “By Ramrajya, I do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean by Ramarajya Divine Raj, the Kingdom of God. For me Rama and Rahim are one and the same deity. I acknowledge no other God but the one God of truth and righteousness. Whether Rama of my imagination ever lived or not on this earth, the ancient ideal of Ramarajya is undoubtedly one of true democracy in which the meanest citizen could be sure of swift justice without an elaborate and costly procedure. Even the dog is described by the poet to have received justice under Ramarajya. (YI, 19-9-1929, p. 305)”. Gandhi was shot dead by a man, in conspiracy with other men of his political group who thought Gandhi was a bit too generous with Muslims.

 

One went through the Hindu Rashtra Darshan of V D Savarkar to find out what he had to say on the rights of citizens in a nation founded on the principles of the Hindu deity’s kingdom. Savarkar, is deified himself by proponents of religious nationalism, hailed as one of the greatest of freedom fighters and given the honorific Veer. Even Bhagat Singh is just called Shaheed-e-Azam. His detractors, mostly not in political power in th present times, routinely remind us of his many gratuitous and groveling letters to the British rulers seeking forgiveness, swearing loyalty, and pleading release from incarceration.

 

One learnt many things from a reading of Hindu Rashtra Darshan, though expectedly one did not find a definition of Hindu Rashtra that would stand the a universal test of a modern nation. But even Mr. Savarkar, now placed in the sanctum sanctorum, offers a semblance of equality to all humans in his Rashtra, other than Muslims of course, for that would puncture his entire thesis. Says Savarkar: “The Hindustan Sanghastanists Party aims to base the future constitution of Hindusthan on the broad principle that all citizens should have equal rights and obligations irrespective of caste and creed, race or religion, provided hey avow and owe an exclusive and devoted allegiance to the Hindustani state…whatever restrictions will be in the interest of of the public peace and order of National emergency and will not be based on any religious or racial considerations, but on common National Grounds.’ Savarkar did ruin this republican and democratic promise with his exhortation to Christians, Sikhs and other religious groups to side with Hindus against Muslims in the political discourse of the times, but that one points out just to put the Rashtra Darshan in perspective.

 

It was therefore with growing trepidation overtaking one’s academic and professional curiosity that one read, and saw on Television news channels and on YouTube, the various statements by bright young and middle-aged luminaries of the Sangh Parivar that owes so much to Mr. Savarkar and his fascination with some west European theses of resolving competing identities.

 

They were openly very hostile to Muslims, which ifor Islamophobia has a long and hoary tradition in India dating back, in political expression, to some of the early 20th century leaders of the Indian National Congress who befriended Gandhi when he first landed in Mumbai from South Africa. Mr. Savarkar, and later Mr. Golwalkar, just distilled it, wedded it to a Golden Age and purity, presenting it as Religious Nationalism.

 

It was not even lumping together of Christians with Muslims, something that even some Christians have never thought about generally in political, social and constitutional discourse within the community, particularly on issues of the Dalit question, or in making common cause on several other issues. The Sangh had a living and active history of dislike of Christians despite Mr. Savarkar approving of the community’s peaceful coexistence, specially in south India, with the Hindu community. It is not just identifying the community – barring the Syrian Christians of the Kerala coastal land strip – with the Portuguese “invasion” and the British Raj, or the Anglo-Indians, or thinking of them as “collaborators” with the foreigners in the Freedom struggle. Christian historians and church luminaries while thumping their chests at the number of schools, colleges and hospitals they founded, have never really tried to assert their presence in the social and political dynamics of the country, thereby giving a fillip to the Sangh argument.

 

But the biggest weapon in the armory of the Sangh Parivar is the thousands of words they can sieve out of the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar critiquing, criticizing, condemning and mocking “missionaries” even as they, at least on record, professed their admiration for Jesus Christ.

 

What worried one were two issues which have nothing to do with issues of Faith, philosophy, or even of ideology as one would think in the context of say, the Communist Parties, the Dravida Parties, and even a theocratic party such as the Akali Dal in the Punjab. These were the issues of, first, advocating forcible sterilization of Muslims and Christians to reduce their population to reduce demographic threat to Hindus, and second, to disenfranchise them to eliminate their political presence in the country.

 

Both are grave issues, and one is surprised the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, has not found it fit to denounce this in his many electoral-sounding speeches abroad, though he did abuse perhaps with basis the earlier Congress government led by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh, of all sorts of evil doings. Perhaps his hand-picked staff did not tell him what was happening back home.

 

Both issues go far beyond mere violence, hate campaigns, Ghar Wapsi, desecration of churches [and the St. Mary’s church at Agra was vandalized and statues broken while Mr. Modi was in Canada].

 

The argument of disenfranchisement of religious minorities questions the foundations of independent India, the validity of the Constitution and its assurances of citizenship and the rights and duties that derive from it, and India’s adherence to th Charter of the United Nations on whose Security Council it so desperately seeks a Permanent Seat.

 

The call for forcible sterilizations of Christian and Muslim men and women, presumably in the reproductive age though that is no guaranteed zone, may be born out of a demographic paranoia of being overtaken by alien hordes, but is firmly rooted in historic roots of euthanasia, eugenics and :final solutions” that have, in the past, brought about such tragedy on the global scale, and not just by the Nazis led by Reichsfuhrer Adolf Hitler. No one has yet recommended abortions of second and third pregnancies before sterilization, but that is a matter of time.

 

Just to recall some of the more pungent bits from their present day followers as reported in the media: The vice-president of the All India Hindu Mahasabha party, Sadhvi Deva Thakur, was filmed saying that “the population of Muslims and Christians is growing day by day”. She called for the imposition of a state of emergency, saying: “Muslims and Christians will have to be forced to undergo sterilization so that they cannot increase their number. She also exhorted Hindus to “have more children and increase their population”, adding that “idols of Hindu gods and goddesses should be placed in mosques and churches”.

 

According to the mass-circulated Hindustan Times, the Shiv Sena claimed the growing population of Muslims and Christians would have ramifications for India and urged Muslim leaders to promote family planning within the minority community. The Sena’s stance, outlined in an editorial in its mouthpiece “Saamna”, came just three days after party leader Sanjay Raut said the voting rights of Muslims should be revoked for some years to ensure the community is not used for vote bank politics. “India is facing the problem of population explosion. The population of Muslims in India is going to be more than Pakistan or Indonesia. This will hurt the culture and social fabric of a Hindu nation,” the editorial contended.

 

The Sena also came out in support of Hindu Mahasabha leader Sadhvi Deva Thakur, who recently said Muslims and Christians should be forcibly sterilized because their growing numbers posed a danger to Hindus. “The furore raised following her statement was unnecessary. She used the word sterilization instead of family planning. But the truth is that the growing population is a problem and family planning is needed,” the editorial said. The editorial contended that family planning and population control were one and the same thing. “When we raise the demand for performing ‘nasbandi’ — sorry, family planning — it is in the best interests of the country and the Muslim community… With family planning, they will be able to feed and educate the children and live better lives…” the Sena said. The editorial claimed that if the Muslim population continued to grow, it might lead to the formation of a “new Pakistan” that will not be able to provide a healthy, disease-free lifestyle for Muslims.

 

In Haridwar, meanwhile, BJP Member of Parliament and their lead speaker in debates on secularism, Yogi Adityanath called for barring non-Hindus in Har Ki Pauri, a famous ghat along the banks of the Ganga in Haridwar. “Non-Hindus should be prohibited from visiting Hari Ki Pauri. It is necessary both from the point of view of religion and the security of the ghat,” Adityanath said addressing a felicitation ceremony organized by the Panchayati Akhara Udaseen (Naya). One of the most popular tourist spots in Uttarakhand, Har Ki Pauri is visited by people from across the country throughout the year, especially on auspicious occasions, to take a holy dip in the Ganga. Adityanath is also a leader of the Ghar Wapsi campaign.

 

Memories of the State of Emergency, imposed by the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi from mid 1975 to early 1977, remain forever fresh in community memory. Mrs. Gandhi’s younger son, Mr. Sanjay Gandhi – whose wife and son are pillars now of the BJP, the first a cabinet minister in Mr. Modi’s government – masterminded mass demolitions in various metropolitan towns, specially the national capital, Delhi. He is equally remembered for triggering mass and forcible sterilization of men and women to contain the population, in general, and going by many accounts, the population of Muslims in North India as a special focus. There were police firings and many deaths in several towns and villages when the local people resisted, according to contemporary accounts.

 

More recently, the notorious government of the state of Chhattisgarh was in focus because of botched surgeries in mass sterilization campaigns of Tribals and Dalit women in its move to curb their population. The fear is yet to die out in the interior areas of that state which is rapidly losing its Tribal character.

 

Changing or modifying demographic patterns by such drastic means are born of a politics rooted in paranoia of other communities deemed to be alien or hostile. Muslims have long been classified as such in the right wing political discourse. Now, Christians are firmly in that bracket.

 

But this fear of Hindus being overwhelmed by Muslims is not based on statistical reality. The Christians remain a mere 2.3 percent of the population, coagulated in just some regions and very thinly spread out elsewhere so that they are almost irrelevant in political reckoning. Their presence in three north eastern states – Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland – has been touted as a threat to national integrity, but that is generally treated as an index of the lunacy of the right wing in the country.

 

The Muslim population – once the target of jibes from the then Chief minister of Gujarat, Mr. Modi himself for allegedly taking four wives to produce 20 children in that infamous slogan Hum Panch, Hamare Pachchis – has according to the Indian census started shrinking with its rate of growth far less than in earlier decades, though still higher than the national average. The US-based PEW international survey of religions say that while Islam may by 2070 just edge out Christianity as the world’s leading faith population, Hinduism will maintain its hegemony in India. It will in fact grow as a percentage term and in absolute numbers both in Western Europe and the United States, but also in other places such as the countries in the Pacific and Indian oceans and in the Caribbean.

 

Voices in civil society have sought to question this deviation from the Constitution which brooks no second-class citizenship for Christians and Muslims, or for that matter, for Sikhs and Buddhists, Jains and Baha’is.

 

But it suits the Sangh Parivar and Mr. Modi’s BJP to keep the cauldron of mutual suspicion between communities and an escalating hate boiling in the pursuit of absolute, and presumably perpetual, political power.

 

One is therefore not surprised at Mr. Modi’s silence on this. One is indeed surprised that neither the Supreme Court and the respective High Courts, nor the Election Commission have taken cognizance of these statements, which would not have been tolerated if they had been made by mortals lesser than this luminaries of the Sangh.

——-

 

 

 

 

The Christian Community in India : a 2015 Status Report

The Christian Community in India 2015

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

It does not happen to “other people”. It happens to “us”, though this may not be apparent at first sight. This is the sort of truism that social-psychologists, cultural anthropologists, and even environmental scientist have been stressing on a range of issues a diverse as the impact of climate change to that of cinema on peoples and communities. Faith communities cannot, and do not, remain untouched with what is happening around them. In fact, their response to these developments pretty much defines their future cohesiveness and growth, and the robustness of their faith in their God. In Many ways, the Christian community in India, a mere 2.3 per cent of the population, coalesced in a few areas of Southern and North-Eastern regions of the country and scattered in vulnerable segments in other parts of the large land mass, best reflects this link between cause and effect in a very critical juncture of the nation’s history.

 

We are a faith people divide by race, ethnicity, language, denominations and economic strata, unlike the more homogenous populations in other parts of the world. Add to this issues of caste, and the presence of two very large religious communities, the overwhelming Hindu population and the world’s second largest Muslim group, as well and the Sikhs who are about as many in numbers as the Christians but far more economically and politically powerful, and one can see the complex societal matrix in which followers of Jesus Christ find themselves 15 years into the 21st century.

 

The recent universal religious growth survey by the US-based Pew Foundation has predicted a very bright future for Islam, universally, and in India. Globally, by 2050, it may be just a whisker less that the Christian population, but by 2070, it may well be the largest single religious group. In India, Islam will grow and while it becomes the world’s largest national group, it will still be far below the Hindu population, which will hold its own both globally and in the political borders of the country. In fact, Hinduism will grow very much abroad, in the US and Europe, and in other countries where it already is sizable, if not majority, faith such as Mauritius, and various other Indian Ocean, Pacific and Caribbean islands.

 

PEW does not predict any large comparable growth for the Christian population that is organically linked with many international factors, specially in relation of the situation of the Church in Europe. Claims by the more triumphal church plants remain just that – claims. And those Dalits who love Christ by their heart and soul, but understandably also love the benefits accruing from government laws for reservation of sears in Parliament and legislatures, government employment and educational institutions, will continue to be recorded as Hindus in the official records till the Supreme court outlaws the notorious Section 3 of Article 341 of the Constitution. Going by the statements of the ministers in Mr. Namenda Modi’s Cabinet, that does not sound possible for a long, long time. It was the Congress which closed the doors of Christians of Dalit Christians anyway, it needs be remembered.

 

It is, however, not an issue of numbers that is important. More important is that neither international nor Indian researchers and missiologists have made any deep study of how political developments, and the growth of Hindutva – which is seeing phenomenal impetus in the second coming of the National Development Alliance government with Mr. Narendra Modi at the helm — will impact the Christian community in the short and the long term. It impacts almost every sphere, the growth of the faith, the educational, livelihood and economic status and competitiveness, and the future of the Dalit Christian and Adivasi communities within the faith. This needs to be done, and perhaps on an urgent basis. Relationships within village communities, and perhaps even extended families will be impacted.

 

The Modi government, it is becoming increasingly clear, intends to remain focused on expanding the national penetration of the religious nationalism ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the fountain-head of Hindutva, whose cadres and polarizing hate campaigns against Muslims and Christians brought it to power ten months ago. Its secondary objective is to try to keep alive the flow of foreign investments and the Indian corporate sector, even if it means whittling away whatever safeguards there are to protect the environment, land and forest rights and basic constitutional rights of association such as trade unions.

 

Since May 2014, when the Modi government was sworn in, there has been a marked shift in public discourse. The 300 days have seen an assault on democratic structures, the education and knowledge system, Human Rights organisations and Rights Defenders and coercive action using the Intelligence Bureau and the systems if the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act and the Passport laws to crack down on NGOs working in areas of empowerment of the marginalised sections of society, including Dalits, Tribals, Fishermen and women, and issues of environment, climate, forests, land and water rights.

 

Environmental norms have been diminished to an extent that now they will be almost non existent, threatening the environment and the climate. Land acquisition laws are being changed to benefit crony capital. These impact states such as Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh which have reasonable population of Tribal and Dalit Christians.

 

The immediate focus is on the threat to secularism, which underpins India’s modern existence as a country, and impacts deeply on the Christian existence.

 

Despite a tongue lashing by President Pranab Mukherjee on Republic Day and repeated assertions of freedom of faith by Vice President Hamid Ansari – not counting the naming and shaming done by visiting United States President Barack Obama – the government has learnt little. Mr. Modi, at a public function called by the Syro Malabar Catholic church, spoke of security of minorities, but failed to name the Sangh Parivar as the spruce of much violence. In fact, he put the aggressors and the victims on the same platform.

 

His Home minister, Mr Rajnath Singh, a former president of the BJP and like Mr. Modi, a lifelong member of the RSS, has been transparent in announcing his sympathies. He has called for a national ban on conversions, a national ban on beef, total opposition for scheduled caste rights for Dalit Christians and Muslims. And he too has hedged in saying he will punish the spewing of hate and coercion.

 

The civil society report “300 Days –Documenting Sangh Hate and Communal Violence Under the Narendra Modi Regime” lists 168 targeting Christians. Desecration and destruction of churches, assault on pastors, illegal police detention of church workers, and denial of Constitutional rights of Freedom of Faith aggravate the coercion and terror unleashed in campaigns of Ghar Wapsi and cries of Love Jihad.

 

An analysis shows Chhattisgarh topping the list with 28 incidents of crime, followed closely by neighbouring Madhya Pradesh with 26, Uttar Pradesh with 18 and Telengana, a newly carved out of Andhra Pradesh, with 15 incidents.   Of the deaths in communally targeted violence, two were killed in Orissa and Telengana, 8 in Gujarat, 12 in Maharashtra, 6 in Karnataka and 25 in Uttar Pradesh. Apart from these, 108 people were killed in Assam in attacks by Bodo militant groups. The violence peaked between August and October with 56 cases, before zooming up to 25 cases during the Christmas season, including the burning of the Catholic church of St Sebastian in Dilshad garden in the national capital of New Delhi.

Much of the violence, 54 percent, is of threats, intimidation, coercion, often with the police looking on. Physical violence constituted a quarter of all cases, 24 per cent], and violence against Christian women, a trend that is increasingly being seen since the carnage in Kandhamal, Odisha, in 2007 and 2008, was 11 per cent. Breaking of statues and the Cross and other acts of desecration were recorded in about 8 per cent of the cases, but many more were also consequent to other forms of violence against institutions.

A disturbing trend is the rising communal violence in West Bengal where the BJP and the RSS have redoubled their efforts to fill what they see is a political vacancy following the decline of the Communist Party of India Marxist and the Congress party in recent times. The violence has peaked in the gang rape of a 72 year old Nun in a convent and school in West Bengal. The official apparatus is now busy trying to prove to the world that it is just another crime, committed by foreigners or professional criminals.

There are fears at a severe whittling down of the 15 Point Programme for Minorities, a lifeline for many severely economic backward communities, and specially their youth seeking higher education and professional training.

 

Mr. Modi’s conditional “assurance” to religious minorities is challenged and countered by Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the powerful Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, who asserts, repeatedly, that every Indian is a Hindu, and minorities will have to learn their place in the country. Speaking at the 50th Anniversary of foundation of its religious wing, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Sarsanghchalak bluntly stated that “Hindutva is the identity of India and it has the capacity to swallow other identities. We just need to restore those capacities.” In Cuttack, he asserted that India is a Hindu state and “citizens of Hindustan should be known as Hindus”. Sadhvi Prachi, a central minister, Members of Parliament Sakshi Maharaj and Adityanath are among those urging measures to check Muslims, including encouraging Hindu women to have from four to ten children each. In Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and other states, the terror, physical violence and social ostracising of Dalit and Tribal Christians, in particular, continues.

 

The Indian Government sees an absolute ban on conversions to Christianity as the only way they can control Hindu religious nationalist elements from attacking Nuns, clergy and churches, big and small, from the forests of Central India to the national capital, New Delhi. And going by statements made by Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi’s senior ministers, the first contours of such a law may soon become apparent.

 

The discourse is already heating up to a fever pitch as Mr. Modi prepares his party for the State legislative assembly elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where his Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, hopes to wrest power. These are among the biggest states in the Union of India, and the only ones in the so-called Cow belt of the Gangetic plains where the party does not control the provincial governments.

 

The BJP had repeatedly promised such a law made to their core constituency in their successful campaign in the General elections of 2014. This was reviving an unfulfilled dream that dates back to 1978 when Mr. OP Tyagi of the then unified Janata party moved a Private members draft legislation, ironically called the Freedom of Religion Bill, in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament In 1999, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Prime Minister, revived the debate on the Bill when more than two dozen small churches were destroyed, allegedly by Sangh cadres, in Gujarat’s Dangs region on the eve of Christmas 1998.

 

State anti conversion laws have survived Christian challenge in the High courts, most recently in Himachal Pradesh, and in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has upheld such laws to be valid, maintaining that while citizens had the freedom to chose, or change, their faith, the constitutional right to propagate religion did not mean the right to “convert another person to one’s own religion.”

 

A national law will require an amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees Freedom of Faith. The government is in no position to do so with its minority presence in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper, where it was recently embarrassed when the Opposition forced an amendment to the Address of the President of India to the Joint Session of Parliament.

 

The religious minorities have not really been able to forge a united movement against such laws in the states, and it has been left to the Christians to seek recourse in the courts. The Sikh community, despite the violence unleashed against it during a period of insurrectionist terrorism   in the 1970s and the 1980s, has not been impacted. While it attracts many Hindus to its fold, it does not actively seek converts. Muslims in India have not been accused of any magnitude of conversions, other than being repeatedly accused of increasing their population by large and polygamous families.

 

Among Christians, prelates of some of the Syrian denominations in Kerala have often said their churches have not been involved in proselytization, blaming it on evangelical groups.

 

But increasingly in recent years, human rights and freedom of faith activists within the Christian community, and in civil society, have felt that the fundamental Constitutional right of freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, circumscribed only by issues of law and order and health, has to be defended to prevent a further erosion of civil liberties which could alter the basic character of Indian democracy.

 

India is, at present, perhaps the only real multi-religious and multi-cultural country in Asia. Its neighboring countries are either theocracies or democracies where the majority religion, linked with ethnicity, is overwhelmingly powerful, as in Sri Lanka which has only recently emerged from a three decade long civil war. Keeping it genuinely secular is important to regional peace.

 

Hate, persecution and impunity — 300 days of Mr. Modi

Modi’s 300 days

Hate, persecution and Impunity

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party Government of Mr. Narendra Modi, it is becoming increasingly clear, intends to remain focused on expanding the national penetration of the religious nationalism ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak sangh, whose cadres and polarising hate campaigns against Muslims and Christians brought it to power ten months ago. Its secondary objective is to try to keep alive the flow of foreign investments and the Indian corporate sector, even if it means whittling away whatever safeguards there are to protect the environment, land and forest rights and basic constitutional rights of association such as trade unions.

 

Since May 2014, there has been a marked shift in public discourse.

 

The 300 days have seen an assault on democratic structures, the education and knowledge system, Human Rights organisations and Rights Defenders and coercive action using the Intelligence Bureau and the systems if the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act and the Passport laws to crack down on NGOs working in areas of empowerment of the marginalised sections of society, including Dalits, Tribals, Fishermen and women, and issues of environment, climate, forests, land and water rights.

 

Environmental norms have been diminished to an extent that now they will be almost non existent, threatening the environment and the climate. Land acquisition laws are being changed to benefit crony capital.

 

The immediate focus is on the threat to secularism, which underpins India’s modern existence as a country.

 

Despite a tongue lashing by President Pranab Mukherjee on Republic Day and repeated assertions of freedom of faith by Vice President Hamid Ansari – not counting the naming and shaming done by visiting United States President Barack Obama – the government has learnt little. Mr Modi, at a public function called by the Syro Malabar Catholic church, spoke of security of minorities, but failed to name the Sangh parivar as the spruce of much violence. In fact, he put the aggressors and the victims on the same platform.

 

His Home minister, Mr Rajnath Singh, a former president of the BJP and like Mr Modi, a lifelong member of the RSS, has been transparent in announcing his sympathies. He has called for a national ban on conversions, a national ban on beef, total opposition for scheduled caste rights for Dalit Christians and Muslims. And he too has hedged in saying he will punish the spewing of hate and coercion.

 

This official patronage and impetus given to the divisive and corrosive politics of the Sangh Parivar in the 300 days of the government of Mr. Narendra Modi has further endangered the security of religious minorities, assaulted national institutions and the education system. Mr. Modi came into office riding a promise of development, his election campaign fuelled by unbridled hate against Muslims and Christians. Development remains a mirage, but the hate has fuelled violence across the country.

 

A civil society report “300 Days –Documenting Sangh Hate and Communal Violence Under the Narendra Modi Regime” lists least 43 deaths, Muslim and Christian, in over 600 cases of violence, 168 targeting Christians and the rest Muslims. The number of dead is other than the 108 killed in Assam in attacks by armed tribal political groups on Muslims. Desecration and destruction of churches, assault on pastors, illegal police detention of church workers, and denial of Constitutional rights of Freedom of Faith aggravate the coercion and terror unleashed in campaigns of Ghar Wapsi and cries of Love Jihad.

 

An analysis of the Christian data alone shows Chhattisgarh topping the list with 28 incidents of crime, followed closely by neighbouring Madhya Pradesh with 26, Uttar Pradesh with 18 and Telengana, a newly carved out of Andhra Pradesh, with 15 incidents.   Of the deaths in communally targeted violence, two were killed in Orissa and Telengana, 8 in Gujarat, 12 in Maharashtra, 6 in Karnataka and 25 in Uttar Pradesh. Apart from these, 108 people were killed in Assam in attacks by Bodo militant groups. The violence peaked between August and October with 56 cases, before zooming up to 25 cases during the Christmas season, including the burning of the Catholic church of St Sebastian in Dilshad garden in the national capital of New Delhi.

Much of the violence, 54 percent, is of threats, intimidation, coercion, often with the police looking on. Physical violence constituted a quarter of all cases, 24 per cent], and violence against Christian women, a trend that is increasingly being seen since the carnage in Kandhamal, Odisha, in 2007 and 2008, was 11 per cent. Breaking of statues and the Cross and other acts of desecration were recorded in about 8 per cent of the cases, but many more were also consequent to other forms of violence against institutions.

A disturbing trend is the rising communal violence in West Bengal where the BJP and the RSS have redoubled their efforts to fill what they see is a political vacancy following the decline of the Communist Party of India Marxist and the Congress party in recent times. The violence has peaked in the gang rape of a 72 year old Nun in a convent and school in West Bengal. The official apparatus is now busy trying to prove to the world that it is just another crime, committed by foreigners or professional criminals.

There has been a relentless foregrounding of communal identities, a ceaseless attempt to create a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The BJP leaders guaranteed to abuse, ridicule and threaten minorities. Hate statements by Union and state ministers, threats by Members of Parliament, state politicians, and cadres in saffron caps or Khaki shorts resonate through the landscape. But most cases go unreported, unrecorded by police.

 

The Prime Minister refuses to reprimand his Cabinet colleagues, restrain the members of his party members or silence the Sangh Parivar which claims to have propelled him to power in New Delhi. Mr. Modi calls for a ten-year moratorium on communal and caste violence. His government soon declares Christmas to be a “Good Governance Day” in honour of the BJP leader and former Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee. There are fears at a severe whittling down of the 15 Point Programme for Minorities, a lifeline for many severely economic backward communities, and specially their youth seeking higher education and professional training.

 

Mr. Modi’s “assurance” to religious minorities is challenged and countered by Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the powerful Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, who asserts, repeatedly, that every Indian is a Hindu, and minorities will have to learn their place in the country. Speaking at the 50th Anniversary of foundation of its religious wing, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Sarsanghchalak bluntly stated that “Hindutva is the identity of India and it has the capacity to swallow other identities. We just need to restore those capacities.” In Cuttack, he asserted that India is a Hindu state and “citizens of Hindustan should be known as Hindus”. Sadhvi Prachi, a central minister, Members of Parliament Sakshi Maharaj and Adityanath are among those urging measures to check Muslims, including encouraging Hindu women to have from four to ten children each. In Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and other states, the terror, physical violence and social ostracising of Dalit and Tribal Christians, in particular, continues.

 

But India was not meant to be, and cannot be, a homogenised nation-state, the sort of “one nation, one people, one culture” that the Sangh parivar speaks about. A common allegiance to the Constitution and its guarantees of religious and cultural freedom is the basic ingredient for lasting peace, and therefore an environment in which all communities can prosper.

 

The government and state structures must communicate with religious, ethnic and cultural minorities, address their fears of threats to their identity and security and economic progress.

 

And the Hindu majority community should not have any fear of a demographic threat from Muslims and Christians. That is the sort of paranoia that religious nationalism and its proponents seek to propagate for their ulterior ends. As the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, which has set up a helpline for Christians in distress or facing violence, says: “We love India. It is our motherland. All we seek are rights of a citizen of India, including those of security, expression, association and Faith.” Hopefully, Mr. Modi is listening. Even if Mr Rajnath Singh, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat and sundry Sadhvis and Sants, in government, the BJP, or elsewhere, are not.

 

————

 

 

The Politics of Beef In India

Food, faith and politics

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

 

“Congratulations Maharashtra: It is now safer to be cow than a woman, Dalit or Muslim in the state”, a Tweet by anonymous but popular commentator @RushieExplains went viral on social media when the President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, signed into law a twenty-year old legislation banning the slaughter of cows, bulls bullocks in that state, making it the 23rd state to criminalize the production or eating of beef and beef products, in fact the possession of the meat, a serious offence inciting a five year prison term. The irony was because the current punishments under Indian law 2 years for drunken driving, the sort indulged in by film stars and billionaires, 2 years for manslaughter, three years for theft, 5 years for cow slaughter, 7 years for conversions by priests, specially if involving Tribals and Dalits to Christianity. Indian law has no punishment for marital rape.

 

The cow as the holy animal of Hindus has always been a disputed belief. Prof D N Jha in his book ‘The Myth of the Holy Cow’ explains this misrepresentation of cow’s holiness. Rigveda has references of cow being one of the most commonly consumed food item among the Brahmins. The practice of cow slaughter was an integral part of the Aryan cult. Jha writes cow and bull meat was one of the favourite delicacies of the Hindu deity Indra. Swami Vivekananda, whose name is now a chant in the corridors of power said: ‘You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.’ [Vivekananda speaking at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, USA (2 February 1900) on the theme of ‘Buddhist India’, cited in Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3, (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997), p. 536].  Further research sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission established that “Vedic Aryans, including the Brahmanas, ate fish, meat and even beef. A distinguished guest was honoured with beef served at a meal. Although the Vedic Aryans ate beef, milch cows were not killed. [C. Kunhan Raja, ‘Vedic Culture’, cited in the series, Suniti Kumar Chatterji and others (eds.), The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol 1 (Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission, 1993), p. 217].

Not many Indians, even if they are non-vegetarians, can really afford meat of any kind in the manner that it is consumed in the rest of the world where the flesh of animals, birds or fish is the main staple, and starch, grain or potato, and vegetables the accompaniment. In South Asia, the starch is the staple, and the protein whether flesh or from pulses, the condiment to make it palatable or moist. This has to do with the purchasing capacity of the people, rather than any dietary preferences. And unlike the West where prime cuts of quality beef can be really expensive, the meat of the buffalo, the old and exhausted cow and bulls and bullocks of no further use to the farmer or tradesman are butchered, is about the cheapest protein consumed by religions and ethnic minorities and the Dalits. But even then, the consumption figures are low.

The decision to curtail or ban the meat of the cow, then, is a matter not so much of faith, or economics, as of practical politics, even though the governments claim that bovines enrich the soil and the environment by helping farmers on synthetic fertilizers. The argument is easily countered by critics who point out that marginal farmers can hardly afford to take care of cattle no longer useful as milch or draught animals who then are turned out to die miserably of starvation.

The Congress was the first to poeticize the cow, so to say, and Mahatma Gandhi and his peers in the early 20th century used it to full measure. It would be remembered that the electoral symbol of the cow for years was a pair of bullocks under yoke, succeeded later by a cow and calf. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has hijacked the iconography and the political symbolism. The general elections, and the elections to the state assemblies, some of which the BJP won, culminated in the humiliating drubbing in the Delhi polls. The one cheerful strain through the last year has been the fact that the core vote share of the BJP has remained at just over 30 percent, or a third of the voting public. It is this core that the BJP has to preserve as it cobbles coalitions and economic arguments to win in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It desperately needs to win big in these two mammoth states which send a good number of members to the Rajya Sabha where the BJP government is in a minority and has been defeated on the Vote of Thanks to the Address of the President. With UP and Bihar in its fold, it can in the next two years get a majority in the two houses of Parliament and be able to enact ay law it wants to. The emotional appeal of the cow will be very useful, even if the misogynist statements of some RSS luminaries put off a section of the people now supporting the party.

 

Cardinal Cleemis rises to the occasion

In the face of adversity, Cardinal Cleemis speaks words of courage

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

 

 

He impressive formal religious title, Moran Mor Baselios Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos, is the Major Archbishop-Catholicos, and first Cardinal, of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. Sometimes he is also called Cardinal Thottunkal. But in recent times, the youngest person to be named a Cardinal has become internationally known, in media and political circles, as the official voice of the Christian community in India in the face of persecution and violence as a plain-speaking President of the supra-ritual Catholic Bishops Conference of India, and chair of the National United Christian Forum. The NUCF consists of the CBCI, the National Council of Churches in India, and the Evangelical Fellowship of India.

 

The first one to hit the headlines globally as facing up to Prime Minsters and political thugs was the late Alan de Lastic, of European and Burmese descent and friend of Mother Teresa,who was Archbishop of Delhi in the 1990s, and president of the CBCI before his untimely death in an accident while on a visit to Poland. Archbishop Alan stood upto the powerful, and very popular, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at a very critical time in India’s recent history when the Bharatiya Janata party, engine by the aggressive religious nationalism of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, history had formed a government for the first time.

 

Archbishop Alan faced some serious issues — Nuns were raped in Jhabua and the Sangh Parivar launched a vicious propaganda campaign, aided and abetted by crooks in the administration as much as by right wing supporters in the media, to meddle in the investigation and judicial process, and then to put the blame on the Christians. His firmness and compassion gave heart to the victims, and strengthened the church and activists. He led the Dalit Christian agitation with a unique peaceful civil disobedience leading to his courting arrest on Parliament Street in November 1997. In 1998 Christmas season, Sangh gangs, some of them infiltrators from Maharashtra, destroyed almost three dozen village churches in the forested South Gujarat region of the Dangs. The Archbishop despatched a Fact Finding team, and his complaint to the Central Government forced the then prime minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee to take a helicopter to the Dangs. And when Mr. Vajpayee sought to side track the discourse, calling for a national debate on conversions, Alan told him that while the Church was not afraid of a debate on this issue, the matter had been settled in the Constituent Assembly in a thorough discussion and brooked no reopening which would seriously risk injury to the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of faith. Mfr. Vajpayee dropped the matter.

 

Cardinal Cleemis will be the first to say he is nowhere close to the stature of Archbishop Alan, but it is a coincidence that he too is called upon to speak when the BJP is again in power after a ten year hiatus, propelled by a far more aggressive and pugnacious RSS. Mr. Narendra Modi’s government has reopened the pursuit of a national law against conversions, this time to divert attention from the Sangh-backed hate campaign and violence targetted at the Christian community. There has been a gang-raped, still not satisfactory investigated. There have been two murders, and more than 170 other acts of persecution, Ghar Wapsi and terrorising of Dalits and Tribals in the months Mr. Modi has been in power.

 

The Cardinal has led from the front. In the process, he has had no hesitation in using words very different from the polite phrases he used when he made his first formal call on the new prime minister. He had asked for a “chance” for Mr Modi and not to pre-judge him because of his record as the Gujarat Chief Minister or his association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). This had created some consternation in civil society, and in the Catholic community which was observing the BJP government trying to coerce anyone it thought would be a hurdle in its crony capitalist policies.”The remarks would only help Modi to get more acceptability,” CPM leader Pinarayi had said in Kerala.

 

Cleemis proved his critics wrong. He called special meetings at the CBCI, consulted with theorists, lawyers, scholars. In brilliantly sharp public communications, the CBCI said “The recent controversies in the name of religious reconversions portray a negative image about India. Communal polarisation and the bid to homogenise India are posing threat to all minorities – women, Dalits, and all linguistic, cultural and religious minorities. Ghar Wapsi is a political process, carried out by the powerful exponents of religious nationalism – much against the principle of Secularism. It does not even have the legitimacy of freedom of political expression.”

 

It is his punchline that has given hope to civil society that the church will not be cowed into silence or submission. Shaken by the gang-rape of a 72 year old Nun in West Bengal in March this year, even while Maharashtra and Haryana were announcing laws with harsh punishment for anyone found in possession of beef, the Cardinal said “India should be as concerned about the welfare of its people as it is about its cows.” Archbishop Alan would have approved of the cutting-edge comment.

 

 

 

The anti conversion rhetoric boils over

can control Hindu religious nationalist elements from attacking Nuns, clergy and churches, big and small, from the forests of Central India to the national capital, New Delhi. And going by statements made by Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi’s senior ministers, the first contours of such a law may soon become apparent. Civil Rights groups have recorded 168 incidents of targeted violence against the Christian community in the 300 days Mr. Modi has been in power.

 

The discourse is already heating up to a fever pitch as Mr. Modi prepares his party for the State legislative assembly elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where his Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, hopes to wrest power. These are among the biggest states in the Union of India, and the only ones in the so-called Cow belt of the Gangetic plains where the party does not control the provincial governments.

 

The BJP had repeatedly promised such a law made to their core constituency, of upper caste and well off Hindus, in their successful campaign in the General elections of 2014. This was reviving an unfulfilled dream that dates back to 1978 when Mr. OP Tyagi of the then unified Janata party moved a Private members draft legislation, ironically called the Freedom of Religion Bill, in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. Although the Bill did not mention any religion by name, it was directed at Christianity.

 

Despite the support it had from Mr. Morarji Desai, the prime minister, the Bill fell through as the government collapsed when the socialist members objected to the “dual membership” that several ministers and party-men had in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, RSS. Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, Mr Desai’s minister for External affairs, and Mr. L. K. Advani, the Information Minister, were members of the RSS, and then broke away to form the BJP.

 

In 1999, Mr. Vajpayee, then Prime Minister, revived the debate on the Bill when more than two dozen small churches were destroyed, allegedly by Sangh cadres, in Gujarat’s Dangs region on the eve of Christmas 1998. Mr. Vajpayee had visited the Dangs to see the damage, and apparently felt the Christian community had brought it upon itself by its work in the area. Mr. Vajpayee was challenged by the Late Catholic Bishops Conference President, Alan De Lastic, the Archbishop of Delhi, who reminded the Prime Minister that the debate on propagation of religion was effectively settled in the Constituent Assembly.

 

The RSS, and even local Gandhians, were keen to have a law against conversions. Mr. Vajpayee did not have the strength to bring a national law. But the Gujarat state government under Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi later passed a Freedom of Religion Act criminalizing conversions traced to force or fraud. Such laws had been enforced earlier in Arunachal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and later by Himachal Pradesh, prescribing stiff punishment for those found guilty. Tamil Nadu too passed the law, but the chief minister, Ms. J Jayalalitha, soon withdrew it bowing to a major protest by the Christian community which had a political clout in districts in the state.

 

These provincial laws have survived Christian challenge in the High courts, most recently in Himachal Pradesh, and in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has upheld such laws to be valid, maintaining that while citizens had the freedom to chose, or change, their faith, the constitutional right to propagate religion did not mean the right to “convert another person to one’s own religion.” Clergy, then, does not have the right to convert anyone.

 

In between its campaigns warning that Muslims will overwhelm the “Hindu nation”, the RSS has maintained its pitch demanding that there be a national law to curb the growth in the Christian population, which it says, has been brought about by uncontrolled proselytization by western evangelical groups and politically powerful Catholics in the Congress party.

 

A national law will require an amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees Freedom of Faith. The government is in no position to do so with its minority presence in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper, where it was recently embarrassed when the Opposition forced an amendment to the Address of the President of India to the Joint Session of Parliament.

 

The Prime Minister, even as he praises the social work of the Christian community, darkly hints at the culpability of religious minorities in communal discord. His ministers are more forthright. Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely and other junior ministers have repeatedly spoken of the urgent need to have a national law against conversions to check the violence against the Christian community.

 

The most direct so far has been the Home Minister, Rajnath Singh who said a few days ago that while he had no issues with the pace of growth of the Muslim population, he wanted and anti-conversion law. “It does not matter how many Muslims are there. If their population is increasing, let it increase. We have no issues. But the cycle of conversions must stop,” Mr. Singh told a conference of state minority commissions in Delhi. Without naming her, he revived the RSS fulminations against Mother Teresa’s work as being motivated by her zeal to convert people to Christianity. “Why do we do conversions? If we want to do service, let us do service. But should service be done for the purpose of religious conversion. Do not do this (conversions). Leave it.” He feels, as does his party, that conversions will change the demography of India, and therefore make it lose its cultural Hindu identity.

 

While President Pranab Mukherjee has decried violence against religious minorities, he has not spoken on this issue. It has been left to Vice President Hamid Ansari to caution against such State meddling any more in religion.. More than once, the Vice president has stressed the freedom to change one’s religion or belief is a fundamental right, and asserted that no religion should be given an “official status.” But his is a lonely voice.

 

The religious minorities have not really been able to forge a united movement against such laws in the states, and it has been left to the Christians to seek recourse in the courts. The Sikh community, despite the violence unleashed against it during a period of insurrectionist terrorism   in the 1970s and the 1980s, has not been impacted. While it attracts many Hindus to its fold, it does not actively seek converts. Muslims in India have not been accused of any magnitude of conversions, other than being repeatedly accused of increasing their population by large and polygamous families.

 

Among Christians, prelates of some of the Syrian denominations in Kerala have often said their churches have not been involved in proselytization, blaming it on evangelical groups.

 

But increasingly in recent years, human rights and freedom of faith activists within the Christian community, and in civil society, have felt that the fundamental Constitutional right of freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, circumscribed only by issues of law and order and health, has to be defended to prevent a further erosion of civil liberties which could alter the basic character of Indian democracy.

 

India is, at present, perhaps the only real multi-religious and multi-cultural country in Asia. Its neighboring countries are either theocracies or democracies where the majority religion, linked with ethnicity, is overwhelmingly powerful, as in Sri Lanka which has only recently emerged from a three decade long civil war.

 

Caste and the Court

Heartbreak for Dalit Christians; fillip for ‘Ghar Wapsi’

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

Twice last February, the Supreme Court of India gave two rulings that have a grave import for the Christian community – and for that matter, the Muslims. And, as directly, for the social discourse of political Hindutva and the sometimes very violent organisations that enforce its diktat in the country.

 

On 6th February 2015, the Supreme Court referred the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims Scheduled Caste status issue case (Civil Writ Petition 180/2004) to a Constitution Bench of the court. This marked a period of further heartbreak for the perhaps 15 million [1.5 crore] if not more Christians who have converted from what were once the untouchable castes of Hinduism, later called the politically-incorrect Harijans by Mahatma Gandhi, and known under law as the Scheduled Castes. Their numbers remain indeterminate for many are loth to register themselves in the Census by their practiced faith for fear of legal repercussions or social wrath. They had been fighting in the court for the restoration of their rights of reservations in elective posts, government jobs and education, since 2005, which had been taken away by the infamous Presidential Order of 1950, enacted as Article 341 [iii] later through a Constitutional amendment. They will now have to wait many more years for justice. The Chief Justice of India is yet to name the Constitutional bench to hear the important case. When it is set up, it will have to consider the two issues together.

 

In the second judgment on 26th February, in a case known as the K. P. Manu vs. Chairman, Scrutiny Committee for Verification of Community Certificate, [CIVIL APPEAL No. 7065 OF 2008], the court ruled that a Dalit Hindu who had embraced Christianity and then re-converted to Hinduism would be eligible for reservation benefits for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes if the re-conversion was genuine. The bench held that a person shall not be deprived of quota benefits if he or she decides to “reconvert” to Hinduism and adopts the caste of his forefathers just because he has a Christian spouse or was born to Christian parents. It further held that “There has been detailed study to indicate that the Scheduled Caste persons belonging to Hindu religion, who had embraced Christianity with some kind of hope or aspiration, have remained socially, educationally and economically backward.”

 

The Supreme Court bench laid down three main parameters for deciding whether a person who had reconverted to Hinduism from another religion embraced earlier was eligible to get the government benefits Dalit and tribal Hindus are entitled to. There must be “absolutely clear-cut proof that he belongs to the caste that has been recognised by the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950″. Second, it has to be established that there has been “re-conversion to the original religion to which the (person’s) parents and earlier generations had belonged”. And, third, there has to be “evidence establishing the acceptance by the community”.

 

The second judgment has been widely panned, by social activists as much as by jurists. “I am taken aback by the verdict as it has opened the door for a particular ideology to impose its agenda,” Supreme Court lawyer Rebecca Mammen John was quoted in  Firstpost. Suggesting the judiciary to be more careful while pronouncing judgement on controversial issues, she said, “Given the kind of politics being practiced these days in the country, the judiciary should be circumspect before such rulings.” Nitya Ramachandran, another senior lawyer said, “The SC verdict has certified the fact that class and caste bias persist even after the conversion. All religious communities should seriously think over it to make the society free from all kind of discrimination.” Describing the SC verdict “unfortunate” in the sense that it “gives reservation benefits to only those who re-convert, not those who converted because of atrocities in Hinduism”, Samar Anarya of Asian Human Rights Commission said, “We demand reservation benefits to all Dalits irrespective of relgion.”

 

Quite expectedly, the Sangh Parivar has enthusiastically welcomed it. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad describes the ruling as an “approval” for its controversial Ghar Wapsi programme According to VHP national joint secretary Surendra Jain, quoted in Firstpost, “Pseudo secularists who were objecting to our campaign should now change their minds and start supporting us if they have faith in the judicial system of the country. If there is a problem in the Hindu community, its solution lies also within the community. Those who converted to Christianity are facing worst discrimination. Dalit Christians are not free to offer prayers in any church they want. They have separate churches and graveyards. They are fed up and want to return the Hindu fold. If we are facilitating their homecoming, what is wrong in this.

 

The judgement does indeed seem to legitimize ‘Ghar Wapsi’, while making it prohibitive and punitive for any Dalit to exercise his or her freedom of faith and convert to Islam or Christianity. Conversions to Buddhism and Sikhism do not invite this punishment.

 

The entire question of caste and religion needs to be decided by a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court once and for all. How can one religion be called a ‘Way of Life’ and not a religion, as in the well known Justice J. S. Verma ruling, and yet conversions to or from it invite such contradictory results? Leaving Hinduism means losing all rights, including reserved seats to legislatures and parliamentarians apart from quotas in jobs and education. Dalit Christians and Muslims had challenged this dichotomy in a PIL before the court.

 

This is not the first time a Supreme Court Judge has interpreted religious “scripture”. One did so in his last judgment (on the Babri Masjid Case) on the eve of his retirement. It is harder in India to separate church from state because religion plays dominates so many social rituals. Still, it needs to be done.

 

The court has acknowledged there has been detailed study to indicate the Scheduled Caste persons belonging to Hindu religion, who had embraced Christianity with some kind of hope or aspiration, have remained socially, educationally and economically backward. But the implication seems to be that this is a failure of the church to lift the status of such people, and not what several national commissions have found that it is inherent in the Indian social milieu. [A sad aside to this is that Rev Dr. James Massey, who the court cited as confirming disempowerment of the community, died a few days ago, as did Dr. Ninan Koshy whose indictment of caste divisions in the Christian community of Kerala first brought the issue in the open. Both were also pioneers of the Dalit Christian movement.]

 

The government also tacitly accepted that these castes were not merely confined to Hinduism too, which soon extended these rights to Dalits who converted to Sikhism and to Buddhism, religions which had challenged the Vedic stranglehold.  While conversions to Sikhism has been a continuous process since the religion was founded by Guru Nanak, there have been a series of mass conversions of Dalits to Buddhism after 1956 when the constitution writer Dr. B R Ambedkar, changed his faith to Buddhism along with 5,00,000 of his Dalit followers in Nagpur.  But the Congress government under Dr. Manmohan Singh refused to give the affidavit that the Supreme Court asked for in the tortuous course of the PIL hearings between 2005 and 2014, apparently for fear it would politically antagonize powerful Hindu upper caste groups. The Bharatiya Janata Party had categorically rejected the Christian demand, and its members had impleaded themselves in the hearings to argue against the PIL.

 

The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, headed by former chief Justice Misra, and a committee report by academics had also recorded that castes and its infirmities followed Dalits in whichever religion they went. Justice Misra, found, and ruled, that caste in India transcends religion, and exists and is practiced in this day and age in Hinduism, of course, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity. This was also the conclusion of  research studies by universities  which found considerable evidence of caste-based discrimination exists in Kerala, but also in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra, Telengana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Bengal, Punjab, Jammu, Haryana and Rajasthan. It has led to caste violence within the church in several areas.

 

Theologian John C. B Webster, Dr. James Massey and others have also worked on aspects of Dalit Christians. This is now a matter of deep study by theologians, sociologists and activists at par with the study of Race in the Western church.

 

Other than material issues, there remains the more complex issue of political empowerment. There are seats for SCs in state legislatures as well as in the Lok Sabha, in Panchayats and other forums. Dalits professing Christianity, and Islam for

that matter, do not qualify under the Representation of People’s Act and the Panchayati Raj legislation. There is also the matter of caste persecution and the protection of the  law. Discrimination continues to exist in the larger society. The struggle for Dalit Christians for this political empowerment continues even if the Church were to find resources — keeping future changes in the FCRA also in mind — to ensure economic uplift as also universal education for the community. [See accompanying article on the debate in Cyberspace]

 

Not that Hinduism escapes scrutiny. Another fallout of this judgement will be for the reformists in the Hindu faith because of its implications that caste prejudice is alive and active in the religion. Or is the Indian government’s point of view that untouchability and discrimination is still a hallmark of Hinduism despite being  outlawed in 1950?

 

For human rights activists stressing citizenship, this focuses on the wider issue of whether Freedom of Faith, a Constitutional guarantee, be just for People Like Us? Why should a Dalit lose all his little hard earned perks if  choses Christ, or Allah? And is affirmative action only for Dalits who remain within Hinduism, and by extension, Buddhism and Sikhism. Article 341 [iii] therefore is not a sociological fence. It is a legal barrier constructed to prevent Dalits leaving the Hindu fold. This, in fact, was the first anti Conversion law. And it covers the entire country.

 

It needs be remembered that among the many assertions in their agenda of religious and caste supremacy that the Bharatiya Janata Party_ and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh tandem wants to impose in the Hindu Rashtra of their dreams, a national Anti-Conversion Act is at the top of the list.

 

 

The Saint, the Fanatic and the Miracle

The Saint, the Fanatic and the Miracle

 

The Politics of RSS tirade against Teresa

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

One wonders if the Vatican will recognize the happenings in India in the last week of February 2015 as the Miracle it is looking forward before it canonizes Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, the Macedonia-born Albanian nun of the Loreto Convent who came to India, founded the Missionaries of Charity, took the country’s submerged tenth of the population to heart as an Indian citizen, was given the Nobel Prize, the highest Indian honour of the Bharat Ratna, and became immortal as Mother Teresa. A title given by the people, much as the honorific of the Mahatma was given to another person who gave his life for political freedom for his homeland.

 

The latest “miracle” was a social revolution in some ways, a great churning and unification. A vast section of the billion-strong Hindu population rose in righteous indignation when the supreme leader of the nation’s fundamentalist group of religious nationalists chose to vilify the Mother, accusing her of using her works of love and charity as means of converting Hindus to Christianity in India. The Mother’s defenders ranged from film actors, men and women, to sports icons turned parliamentarians, such as Mr. Navjot Singh Siddhu. There was an angry interlude in Parliament where some of the most luminous members spoke of what she meant to them, and to the people of India. Many, including the Chief Minister of Delhi, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, fondly and gratefully, recalled their own days of service in her ashram in Kolkata, and how their meeting her changed their lives. The people of the City of Kolkata took it as a personal affront. For once, spokespersons of the Christian community became redundant, though, for the record, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India and the Archbishop of Delhi issued statements

 

Mother Teresa is not yet a saint in the Catholic church. Love her or hate her, but her main work was with her hands, and with her heart, with people who even religion had forgotten. It was Caritas, Love, which is much more than charity or good works. She had been abused vilified, opposed even in her lifetime, and by experts who knew their theology and their sociology. Many have written books, some made documentary films against her. Hundreds of millions across the world, and a fair proportion of Hindus in India, called her a Saint long before her cause went to the Vatican.

 

What had happened in India this week was not a religious phenomenon, nor a clash of civilisations or anything as profound and epochal as much as it was a political issue, though people for their own reasons did not so want to call it.

 

Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, RSS, is not a spiritual leader. He is a politician who heads a political and social group that thrives in the legal shadows and seeks to mobilize Hindus on an ideological argument of religious nationalism. The RSS has spawned a large brood of other organizations under the collective of the Sangh Parivar with the Bharatiya Janata Party, currently in power, as its political wing. The two most famous contemporary volunteer-leaders of the RSS are Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime minister of India from 1998 to 2004, and Mr. Narendra Modi, who swept into power in May 2014. The Madhya Pradesh government, headed three terms by anther volunteer-leader, Mr. Chauhan, has just declared that the RSS is a cultural organisation and government employees are free to become members if they so wish. He has not clarified if policemen and judicial officials can also join the group which was banned for a time after one of its members assassinated Mahatma Gandhi back in 1948.

 

Mr. Bhagwat, as reported in the media this week, told a meeting that while Mother Teresa may be known for her service, the real motive for her work with the poor, the orphans and the dying destitute was her desire to convert people to Christianity.

 

The importance of Mr. Bhagwat’s statement is in its timing, not in its content which is quite consistent with what he and his predecessors have been saying every since the Mother started picking up people on the verge of death on the streets of the city, and taking them home to a few moments of dignity and the experience of human love.

 

Mr. Bhagwat timed his remarks within a few days of the widely welcomed speech of the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, assuring Indians of their Constitutional guarantee of freedom of faith, and of security. Mr. Modi did seek to put the majority and minority communities in the same frame as equally culpable, but nonetheless, Christians in particular saw his remarks as a condemnation of the violence that has taken place against the community not just in the forests of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, but even in the national Capital, New Delhi. Mr. Modi had not named the RSS and the Hindutva Parivar, but Christians had presumed that his remarks were also directed against that group.

 

Mr. Bhagwat too has continued to stress that India is a Hindu Rashtra, with one people professing one religion, a sort of a theocracy and not the polyglot, multi-ethnic country with just about every religion of the world, knit into a secular and functional democracy. Several leading lights of the ruling party also seem to believe this to be the case. There has been remarkably little toning down of the rhetoric despite a severe drubbing the party received some weeks ago in elections to the Legislative Assembly of the national Capital territory of Delhi.

 

His remarks also came on the eve of the RSS-affiliate Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP], which works amongst indigenous Tribes, celebrating its golden jubilee on 28 February in Kandhamal district of Orissa State, which saw massive religious violence against Christians in 2007 and 2008 in which more than 120 persons were killed, a nun and other women raped, 6,000 houses and 300 churches destroyed. Dr. Praveen Togadia, the international head of the VHP is the chief guest at those celebrations. His role in precipitating that violence, which followed the assassination of a senior VHP leader in the district, was alleged, but never investigated. The district’s Christians had sought protection from the state government to ensure there was no hate, and no violence. The entry of Mr. Togadia to Kandhamal for the meeting was subsequently banned by the district administration.

 

Mr. Bhagwat’s statement reopens a larger political debate on the revival of religious propaganda to divert the attention of the people from issues of governance and economic recovery that Mr. Modi had promised in his electoral campaign, but is finding it increasingly hard to deliver. And though the government has made half-hearted efforts to insulate itself from the fall-out of such remarks, there are arguments by academicians, political observers and civil society that Mr. Modi and Mr. Bhagwat could be acting in tandem. A sort of Good Cop, Bad Cop partnership.

 

Many luminaries of the BJP have come to the defence of Mr. Bhagwat even as the Prime Minister fails to denounce his statement. One of them is Ms. Meenakshi Lekhi, a lawyer and now Member of the Lok Sabha from Delhi. She is also, and perhaps even better known as the daughter in law of the late Supreme Court senior lawyer, Mr. P N Lekhi who was in his time as well known as the redoubtable Mr. Ram Jethmalani for his pugnacious defence of the Sangh Parivar. In blogs and articles, she sought to trash the defenders of the Mother, in particular her biographer Mr. Naveen Chawla, a former Chief Election Commissioner of India.

 

Ms. Lekhi’s arguments were based on the dictionary meaning of the term Missionary, which – and she quoted – the Oxford Dictionary said was a person sent on a religious mission, especially one sent to promote Christianity in a foreign country, and Merriam Webster’s said was person who is sent to a foreign country to do religious work (such as to convince people to join a religion or to help people who are sick, poor, etc.) “Keeping these very simple definitions in mind, I would like to ask Mr. Chawla that when Mother Teresa herself said she was a missionary, if admirers, biographers and world leaders also identified Mother Teresa as a missionary, why are you [Mr. Chawla] then trying to wipe clean the annals of history by claiming that she is NOT a missionary, that she is not one who served in the name of religion, that she is not one who laboured to get people within the fold of Christianity, and that she was not here to promote Christianity?”

 

Ms. Lekhi, like a good lawyer, quoted also from the 275-rule called ‘The Constitutions’ of the Missionaries of Charity’, and from the website of the Order that “devotional materials are distributed to the poor in the course of their work. ”Why is this fact being contested then? Do not take away from that noble woman that which has been the very core of her identity and her work – the promotion of Christianity and what is evident in the name of the organisation itself… At least Mother Teresa had the courage of conviction and honesty of purpose and never shied away from missionary activities, unlike organisations who do it under deceptive garbs.”

 

The BJP government has been making a case of late against what it describers as missionary work, a carry-all term that now seems to include all Christian social activity and lumps it as propagation of faith with a view to proselytization. The entire discourse around the need for a national law to curb conversions, and the move to curtail the already restrictive Foreign Contributions Regulation Act for Non-Governmental Organisations in the development and empowerment sectors, is precipitated on the argument that it creates rifts in rural and tribal society and also impacts the development objectives of the government.

 

Mother Teresa’s personal conviction that her work was propelled by Christ, who she loved with her life, and who she saw in every human being, and more so those in suffering, was sought to being reduced to a political argument of destabilizing Indian or specifically Hindu society.

 

Indians rejected the Sangh argument almost as soon as it was made. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal criticised Mr. Bhagwat’s comments, saying “I worked with Mother Teresa for a few months at Nirmal Hriday ashram in Kolkata. She was a noble soul. Please spare her.” Others pointed to the fact that the Missionaries of Charity had their ashrams in just about every country on every continent in the world.

The well-known police officer, Mr. Julio Rebiero, in an article summed it up for most admirers of the Mother, “As Ambassador to Romania I was concurrently accredited to Albania, the country of Mother Teresa’s origin.  On one of my visits to Tirana, Albania’s capital city, my wife and I were lunching with Reis Malile, the Foreign Minister and his wife when a message was received that Mother Teresa was on her way to Romania from Rome and wanted me to accompany her.  The Albanian Foreign Minister told me that they considered Mother to be their own and his government was very keen for her to open a centre of the Missionaries of Charity in Tirana.  Their talks with her had bogged down because of Mother’s insistence on positioning a Catholic Priest in her proposed centre.  This was not acceptable to the Albanian government as it was officially an Atheist State and did not allow the open practice of any religion.  Reis Malile wanted me to explain to Mother that Albania had been predominantly Muslim before all religions were banned.  If they allowed a Catholic Priest they would also have to allow Muslim Mullas and that would open the gates for myriad problems that they did not wish to face.  When I mentioned this to Mother she was very clear that god could be worshipped by different people by different names and in different forms and she saw no merit in the Albanian government’s denial of the right to worship to Muslims, Christians or other faiths. After the Communists were replaced and religions worship was permitted in Albania Mother Teresa was approached by some young boys to cut the ribbon before their entry into a Mosque which the government had earlier converted into a museum but was now restored as a place of worship. Mother Teresa willingly went and cut the ribbon. When I asked her about it she said that god is one and if Muslims want to worship god it is a good thing that they were doing and they needed to be encouraged.”

This is an argument that is politically not what the Sangh Parivar wants to hear. Its stock in trade is identifying Muslims as a people who will overwhelm the Hindus of India, its solitary power base, by a rapid growth of their population through polygamy and large families. It generates paranoia and hatred against Christians substituting proselytizing as the cause of the population growth.

—–

Open Letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi

A Muslim Prayer Cap would have been more affective, Mr.Modi

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

 

Mr. Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, does not take kindly to advice, specially of the unsolicited variety. But let me risk it;

 

Mr. Prime Minister, you would have done better, achieved a thousand times more, and  helped India’s cultural integrity, unity and amity – and therefore its prosperity – by the simple visual action of putting on a Muslim Prayer cap, delicately crocheted in white cotton thread, in front of the global TV news cameras. You need not have gone to a Jumna Masjid, or even to a meeting of your favourite Muslim leaders in Gujarat, or a private function at the homes of the three Muslim ministers in the Union government and the Bharatiya Janata party top leadership.

 

That would have perhaps undone much of the damage to your reputation among religious minorities since you infamously refused to wear a cap innocently offered with much love by a insignificant moulvi some time ago. It could not have undone culpability in the 2002 massacre of Muslims, but would have been a salve, no doubts about. One of the fascinating thing about you is how impressive and even magnificent you look wearing the various head-dress of various communities and groups in the beautiful and diverse country that is your and my motherland.

 

Muslims are the second largest majority in India, as they say, five times larger than the Christians in the land. They came a few decades after Islam was founded, and ar indistinguishable from anyone  of us. They have beards, but both you and I also sport facial hair, albeit neatly trimmed.  In the 1,000 or so cases of targetted violence against religious minorities, Muslims  have been victims perhaps 8,500 times. Christians about 150, as recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India report for 2014. They are subject of much targetted hate. They have been called traitors by your ardent followers and political aides, Pakistani agents, breeding like rabbits to overwhelm the One Billion Hindu population, and seducing young women in Love Jihad. In contrast, Christians are accused merely of  using Dollars to Harvest Souls. Just two Christians have been killed last year. We are still awaiting data on the number of Muslims killed.

 

But you, Sir, chose a Christian,  a Catholic, platform to articulate your commitment to secularism.

 

The Syro Malabar Catholic Church invited you to a function to celebrate the celebrations of the  canonization of two Catholic Saints born in Kerala. We would be ingrates if we did not therefore thank you for speaking up at last on hate crimes, as we had been urging you to do for the past six months, and specially as we requested you to do when a delegation met you at your residence on Christmas eve last. You were not exactly very warm at that meeting, blaming the Christian community of [exaggerating] minor incidents in the international media, even insinuating their “compulsions’ prevented them from standing with you on your development agenda.

 

You made the statement now, at a time of your choosing, and in many ways, at an audience of your choosing. There was no occasion for questions, no opportunities to request you to explain some ambiguities in your address, deliberate it would seem, and a few omissions. A major omission is  any reference to the 60 year old issue of Dalit Chrisians and their demands for parity in Scheduled Caste rights with Sikhs and Buddhists [and of course Hindus] of Dalit origin.

 

But your statement now is a change from what you had said then, after first ordering the cameras to be switched off. I would like to hope you wants it to address the Trust Deficit of religious minorities – not just Christians — in your Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh Parivar, now certainly quite the mainstream of political discourse with its religious nationalism, which claims to have brought it to power. In many ways, however, it is addressed to an international audience, and specially the investing bankers and corporate giants, whose concern at the Human Rights and Freedom of Faith issues in India – which ranks as a Country of Concern in many international lists – was articulated by United States President Mr. Barack Obama as much as by the Editorial in the New York Times.  The Indian development agenda depends on massive infusions of western capital.

 

It will be of abiding intellectual speculation why you did not chose to make your statement at public meeting of the Muslim Ulema.  Muslims outnumber Christians in India by a factor of five. I said earlier, that may have been more affective in repairing the damage done to your image by the 2002 Gujarat riots and the recent abuse on Muslims by popular BJP leaders in the party’s electoral campaigns and public programmes. But perhaps it may not have helped you in the context of the current wave of Islamaphobia in parts of the Western world and its media.
Freedom of Faith is a part of the Indian Civilisation, of that there can be no doubt. Buddha and Mahavira’s rejection of Vedic hegemony is a part of that intellectual and expressional freedom. And the birth, much later, of the Sikh faith. The incorporation of freedom of faith and expression in the Constitution of India was also a consequence of the Freedom Struggle that saw the participation of all ethnic, linguistic and religious communities in the cause of Independence, equality and justice.  India is also a signatory to the United Nations Charter and its Declarations on Freedom of Faith and on Civil Liberties, stressed once again in the documents of the Hague convention which was called to celebrate them. As Prime Minister, you and your government have taken an oath to protect the Constitution, and all that it guarantees to citizens of India, and in fact, to even others who may be resident in the land.

 

There has been much tragedy and human suffering because the Constitutional guarantees have not been fully practiced. And because some political groups with  an ideology of religious nationalism and peculiar definition of patriotism have enjoyed immunity and government patronage, and protection.

 

We are happy that you did not call for a “ten-year moratorium” as you had in your speech on Independence Day last year, but said “We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard.” The talk of moratorium had not gone down well with civil society, and had seemed very cynical.
The minorities have not been attacking anyone. Neither have they exceeded, or violated, the limits set by the law of the land in their exercise of their rights to profess, practice and propagate their faith. You nonetheless brushed over the, warning against both minority and majority intolerance. The attempt at parity has its own meaning, and implications in small towns and villages where police seem to believe it is the Muslim, or the Christian, who is the cause of all troubles.

 

Despite the existence of laws against religious conversions, called Freedom of Relgion Acts, in six states – and with your government ministers demanding such a law for the entire country — even politically hostile governments have not been able to indict anyone for inducing anyone to become a Christian through force or through fraudulent means. You yet chose to allude to “fraud”. It was clear where your mind lay. You did not refer to the issue of Dalit Christians, raised by Bishops who spoke before you at the function. Your party and your government are opposed to restoring Dalit Christians rights given to others of these castes, arguing this would open the floodgates of conversions out of Hinduism.
One cannot but welcome any direction from government that anticipates and prevents targetted religious violence and hate.  This actually needs a comprehensive law. The BJP has consistently opposed such a law, which Congress governments half-heartedly tried to bring in the last two Parliaments. But even in the absence of such a law, there are provisions regulations that can be substantially used by the governments in the States to control hate campaigns, coercion and violence. It remains to be seen if state governments and their police forces will act against hate crimes and hate mongers.

 

And the future will tell if groups professing religious nationalism have you as the Christian leaders have heard you. TV debates suggest the Sangh Parivar has not heard you. Or perhaps they think the Prime Minister does not mean what you says.

 

The Christian community in India is concerned at the intensity of the targeted and communal violence directed against it almost on a pan India basis. Violence against Christians picked up in independent India in the early 1990s reaching its peak in 2008 – 2009 with more than 1,000 incidents of violence and hate crimes reported against the Christian community. This continues today in the form of vicious hate campaigns, physical violence, police complicity. State impunity contributes to the persecution of the Christian community in many states of India.

 

Human Rights and Civil Society groups have documented the death of at least two persons in 2014, killed for their Christian faith. The list of incidents reflects 147 cases, with many more going unreported and undocumented. The two cases of death in communal anti Christian violence were reported from Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

 

An analysis of the data shows Chhattisgarh topping the list with 28 incidents of crime, followed closely by neighbouring Madhya Pradesh with 26, Uttar Pradesh with 18 and Telengana, a new state carved out of Andhra Pradesh, with 15 incidents. Much of the violence has taken place after the new government of the National Democratic Alliance came into power on 26 May, 2014.

 

The violence peaked between August and October with 56 cases, before zooming up to 25 cases during the Christmas season. The violence has continued well into the New Year 2015, with more Catholic churches in the capital city of Delhi targeted as incidents continue in other states.

 

Much of the violence, 54 percent, is of threats, intimidation, coercion, often with the police looking on. Physical violence constituted a quarter of all cases, (24 %), and violence against Christian women, a trend that is increasingly being seen since the carnage in Kandhamal, Odisha, in 2007 and 2008, was 11%. Breaking of statues and the Cross, and other acts of desecration were recorded in about 8 % of the cases, but many more were also consequent to other forms of violence against institutions. A disturbing trend was violence against Christians in West Bengal, where though one case was formally reported; there have been increasing incidents of hate speech and intimidation.

 

Police inaction and its failure to arrest the guilty in most cases, its propensity to try to minimize the crime, and in rural areas especially, its open partisanship has almost become the norm. Police ineptitude in forensic investigations has been seen even in New Delhi where four of the five cases in the months of December 2014 and January 2015 have seen no progress in the investigations. In the one case where there were arrests, the Church and the community have cast doubts on the police version of the motives of the suspects whose images were recorded in the Close Circuit TV cameras installed in the church.

 

The President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, noted the rise of communalism and the targeting of religious minorities in your ad- dress to the Nation on 25th January 2015, the eve of Republic Day. President Mukherjee said “In an international environment where so many countries are sinking into the morass of theocratic violence … We have always reposed our trust in faith – equality where every faith is equal before law, and every culture blends into another to create a positive dynamic. The violence of the tongue cuts and wounds people’s hearts. The Indian Constitution is the holy book of democracy. It is a lodestar for the socio- economic transformation of an India whose civilisation has celebrated pluralism, advocated tolerance and promoted goodwill be- tween diverse communities. These values, however, need to be preserved with utmost care and vigilance.”

 

Mr. Mukherjee touched a point that has worried many among even those who voted for Mr. Modi hoping you would bring about a change from the corruption and economic coma in which the country had found itself in the last few years. The Union and State governments have been dismissive of the Christian complaints of targeted violence and persecution, both by political non-State actors and other elements.

 

Words alone will not be sufficient, Mr. Modi. The government must take urgent and effective measures to restore the rule of law and curb the targeted and communal violence. The guilty must be traced, and action under the law should be taken. Police officers must be held accountable for communal crimes in their jurisdiction.

 

EFI-RLC and others have made some recommendations to your government. I would wish your staff in the Prime Ministers Office convey them to you. These are simple:

 

  •  Enact a comprehensive hate crimes legislation to safeguard the rights of religious minorities.
  •  The Ministry of Home Affairs should provide trainings on human rights and religious freedom standards and practices to the 
state and central police and judiciary;
  •  Although maintenance of public order is a state responsibility, the central government should issue an advisory to the state 
governments to repeal the anti-conversion laws;
  •  The government should ensure an active Commission for Human Rights and Commission for Minorities is operational in every 
state, and that members of each commission are appointed by transparent and non-partisan procedures;
  •  Prevent and pursue through the judicial process, all violent acts against religious and tribal minorities and Dalits.

 

We would be even more grateful if some of these could be implemented.

 

God bless you

 

And God Bless India