Witness to a murder in Orissa

HOW A 20 YEAR OLD GIRL WAS BURNT TO DEATH BY A CHEERING CROWD

Fr. Edward Sequeira, a priest belonging to the Society of Divine Word (SVD), was one of those who was seriously injured when his mission station was attacked by the mob in Orissa.

Currently recuperating at Burla Medical College Hospital, Sambalpur, Fr. Sequeira, upon gaining consciousness, narrated the story to his brother Commodore Valentine Sequeira who writes:

A large mob of more than 700 people were returning after attending the cremation of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati who was killed along with four others Saturday evening by suspected Maoist guerrillas at his Jalespata ashram.

The mob was chanting anti-Christian slogans and when they reached Padampur in Bargarh district, they attacked the orphanage where Fr Edward lived.

Ms. Rajni, a 20-year-old student who lived in the orphanage and was also working as an auxiliary nurse in the orphanage confronted them.

When Fr Sequeira arrived at the spot, the mob locked him and Rajni into separate rooms, and ordered the children to vacate the orphanage. The mob then ransacked Fr Sequeira’s room, poured petrol on him, Rajni and set the orphanage on fire.

“I was engulfed in flames, I could hear the cries of Rajni and the mob was cheering and shouting through the windows,” recalls Fr Sequeira.

He however, managed to crawl to the bathroom, beat out the flames and closed the windows.

“When I started to suffocate I found a crack on the wall that was damaged in the attack and kept my nose there to breath some air. All the while I could hear the cries of Rajni from the next room where she was writhing in agony. After sometime, there was silence and I thought she must have managed to escape from the room,” recalled Fr Sequeira.

Unknown to Fr Edward, the girl was burnt alive and had breathed her last.

People from the neighborhood who heard the cries of children rushed to the rescue, broke the walls and brought him to safety. That is when the mob attacked him again outside the orphanage and beat him up mercilessly till he became unconscious. He was initially rushed to the hospital at Padampur and later with the help of local officials was shifted to Burla Medical College Hospital, in Sambalpur.

Srinagar priest…

Srinagar priest arrest opens Pandora’s box

Conversions, Shariah kangaroo courts, the law of the land and fragile unity of minorities

JOHN DAYAL

In retrospect, the church in India has displayed remarkable sobriety and a sense of responsibility in their response to the arrest in Srinagar of Reverend Chander Mani Khanna, pastor of the All Saints Church. The Muslim Ulema of the rest of India have been reluctant to condemn the arrest, precipitated by the demand of a local Mufti. The vital issues of the rights of minorities, and freedom faith are however involved, which impinge on all minorities even in states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Orissa and remain relevant in Kashmir. I suppose one can understand their reluctance in the backdrop of the complexities and sensitivities involved in anything that is concerned with the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The same is the reason perhaps for the silence of civil society in India and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Only journalists and activists Seema Mustafa in New Delhi and Javed Anand in Mumbai have dared spoken, pleading for caution but articulating the voice of sanity and freedom.

Before anything else, it is important to recall the political geography of Jammu and Kashmir. It is, of course, an inseparable member state of the Union of India, as patriotic voices constantly remind us. It was once ruled by a Hindu King, the late Hari Singh, not much liked by the large Muslim population of the Valley of Srinagar, which is one of the three district entities that make up the state. The other two are the areas of Jammu, with a huge Hindu population and a record number of temples, and Ladakh, an almost entirely Buddhist region with just a handful of Muslims, Hindus and Christians. The tiny Christian minority in the State lives largely in the Jammu region, mostly of Dalit origin, with about 500 in the valley and a much smaller population in Ladakh. For some time after Independence and the ascension of the state to the Union of India, J and K, as it is known popularly, had its own prime minister and sadr-e-riyasat, [head of state] Karan Singh, before they were designated chief minister and Governor respectively. Special status is accorded to the State under Article 370, many Indian institutions have no jurisdiction in the state and many laws have to be extended to the region through the state legislature.

India and Pakistan have fought four  wars over the State, the last being the infamous Kargil glacier  encounter which cost both countries precious human lives with tension still prevailing in the uninhabitable heights. In the habitable valley, there is another confrontation. Half a million Indian soldiers, by some counts, are in the valley tackling both the border situation and a continuing confrontation with terrorists as well as with the civilian population, The confrontation has been violent most of the time. Many innocents have been killed, entirely illegally. Women and children have been victims. A major victim of the communalised situation in the valley has been the exodus of the Hindu Pundit population to Jammu, Delhi and refugee camps elsewhere. A sad aftermath has been the rise of fundamentalism and the supremacy of a doctrinaire kind of politico-religious Islamic clergy.

The seeds of the confrontation with the Christian community lies in the powerful segment of this clergy which is carving  out its space in challenge to the established state government, the other political groups, the military and the political parties. As Seema Mustafa points out, the vast majority of Kashmiris in the valley, all Muslim, are peaceful people adhering to a soft and melodious Sufi Islam, far removed from the stridency of Wahabism espoused  by the extremist groups. But there do not seem to be any routes of approaches to  the aggressive clergy,

Apart from the confrontation with the state forces, and  the occasional violence on the small number of Pundits who remain in Srinagar and some rural areas of the valley, there has been violence against Christians in the past too. On 26 February 2011 , the school run by a Christian family  was burnt. The government helped with the reconstruction. Before this the Tyndale Biscoe School  Tangmarg was burnt , The Good Shepherd School of the Roman Catholic church at Pulwama was burnt. The community as a whole has suffered much, in silence. The people, who speak with us on conditions of anonymity, and the family of Rev Khanna, say the situation is very volatile and bad, stressing they do not want to add fire to the situation there at present  “but try to apply some political pressure from outside the state in an silent manner so that we get what we want and the lives of people are safe also”.

This is a sentiment shared by Seema Mustafa who says “We must take into account the sensitivity of Kashmir as it is different from Madhya Pradesh and UP. That is imperative or anything you say will create more trouble than the initial trouble itself. Unlike the popular perception created here, Kashmiris are secular people and we can reach out to many there to ensure that sane voices emerge. The state government has created additional trouble with the arrest, and that needs to be countered as well. The separatists can be persuaded to give a statement for secular harmony, I am sure, as can civil society, and for the release of the pastor. But it has to be worked out properly.’

Pastor Khanna is a well known personality in Srinagar. Dr Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical  Fellowship of India and outgoing secretary of the National United Christian Forum, says “I  have known Rev. Khanna for many years. He in fact was involved in reconciliation work in Kashmir valley. He confidently went to Srinagar from Jammu, much against the advice of all. I am sure that he has done no wrong. We need to move soon on some sort of a dialogue to stop rumours, the latest being; now it is the turn of Christians to leave the valley. There are about 400 Christians working in schools and hospitals, a few in government service.”

The events leading up to Khanna’s formal arrest at the behest of a Mullah, the Grand Mufti,  have opened up serious questions  that need to be addressed. Pastor Khanna had baptised some people in the church during the regular baptism ceremonies. A few of those were former Muslims who had been coming to the church for a long time. All were adults. A video was made of this event and put on YouTube on the Internet. The pastor was summoned, not by the police, but by the Mufti, He was questioned for seven hours, harangued, threatened. The government became scared, or possibly wanted to divert attention from other on-going crises in the state, not the least of which is an accusation against chief minister Omar Abdullah of involvement in the murder of a member of his own party who had become a criminal.

The police told Khanna they were protecting him, then raided his church, and finally arrested him on charges of fomenting communal strife. The church feels cornered. It took days for the local church to make statement. The NHRC, National Commission for Minorities and he National Advisory Council and others are silent though they have been informed by many.  The political parties are mute.    Civil society is dead in Srinagar, and silent in India. No group of activists has yet denounced the arrest or the kangaroo court. Right wing Hindutva groups agree with the mullahs. Political action is patently required and people have call upon the President of India, the prime minister, the governor of the state of J and K and the leaders of various political groups to take steps to get the priest out of the police lockup

Above all, the frail relationship between Muslims and Christians — both minorities in India – is under great stress. Remember, Christians had made common cause with Muslims in their hour of crisis in Gujarat 2002 and elsewhere.

The media, as usual, seems barking up the wrong tree, giving tendentious stories, not questioning how religious groups  over-rule or act on behalf of the police. This is how a local newspaper reported the episode: Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Central Kashmir Range, A G Mir told ‘Kashmir Images’ that Khanna has been arrested by Police Station Ram Munshi Bagh and  FIR 186 of 2011 under section 153A and 295A registered against him. Police have also registered a case against six unidentified Kashmiri youngsters who were allegedly baptized by the Christian priest. Kashmir’s Grand Mufti, Mufti Bashir-ud-din last month summoned the priest to his court to explain about the alleged attempts of conversion. The Pastor, however, was out of station and had sought time to appear before the Grand Mufti, who heads Court of Islamic Jurisprudence in Kashmir. And finally when Khanna presented himself before a group of 15 Islamic scholars and representatives of various religious groups headed by the Grand Mufti, he denied his involvement first, but later on confessed his complicity. Initially he did not accept that he was doing this,” Mufti Bashiruddin said. The Pastor reportedly said he was on a “peace mission promoting communal harmony between Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians. But when confronted by some boys, he had no option but to accept,” the Grand Mufti said, adding that they had a CD containing evidence about how the Pastor was performing conversions. The Pastor has confessed to having converted 15 boys so far and promised to give their list to the Grand Mufti, reports said. “The Pastor said some NGOs and intellectuals were with him in this mission and some of them had accompanied him to South Africa to preach Christianity,” said the Grand Mufti. Terming the issue a “grave” one, he said Muslim ‘Ulema’ (scholars) from various organizations including the Jamat-e-Islami, the Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadees, the Islamic Study Circle and the Nadwatul Ulema would meet again to take a final decision.As of now I have reserved my judgment. The Ulema council was scheduled to meet on November 19, but it has been postponed,” the Grand Mufti said.”

The Church of North India and the local Christian community  deny any wrong doing by the pastor. They have also reaffirmed their resolve  to continue with their mission of service in the valley and the state.

The most incisive comment has come from Javed Anand, general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy  of Mumbai. ” Addressing the media, Kashmir’s grand mufti, Mohammed Bashiruddin warned that such activities “warrant action as per Islamic law” and will not be tolerated. “There will be serious consequences of this. We will implement our part and the government should implement its,” the mufti thundered. What’s Islamic law and a shariah court doing in a secular democratic polity?  … For what crime has Khanna been booked? Unlike states like Gujarat, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, J&K does not have a law against conversions. But where there is a will there’s a way. The pastor has been charged under sections 153A and 295A of the Ranbir Penal Code, the J&K equivalent of the Indian Penal Code. Section 153A pertains to the offense of “Promoting enmity between different groups…” and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”. Section 295A has to do with “Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”.

“Why should conversion of a few Muslims to Christianity be deemed a malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings? Why should it be tantamount to promoting enmity between different groups? These might be questions for you and me. But Omar Abdullah and his police may well be wondering whether the FIR and the arrest are enough to douse the flames. The worse quite possibly is yet to come. A Dharma Sansad comprising of leaders of different Muslim sects in Kashmir is to meet soon to deliberate over the “grave issue” and decide on further course of action. The responses to the video-clip have apparently been venomous. “We promise to kill all Christian missionaries and burn their buildings, schools and churches!” pronounces one of them while another proclaims, “We should burn this priest to death!” Echoes of Pakistan’s obnoxious blasphemy laws?

“It is far from clear whether the priest is in fact guilty of a cash-for-conversion deal. Only a thorough and impartial investigation could establish if there’s any truth in the charge. But in the brand of Islam the grand mufti and most mainstream Muslim organizations espouse, the issue of inducement is irrelevant. The theology is simple: for conversion into Islam, there’s Divine reward aplenty for both the converter and the converted; but conversion out of Islam is gunaah-e-azeem(mahapaap), treason of the highest order, deserving of the harshest punishment.” Human rights groups and Muslim bodies from the Valley and elsewhere especially, must denounce the hounding of the pastor and the ‘Islamisers’ reminded that Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees to all citizens “the right freely to profess, practice and propagate (their) religion”.

The last word, of course has not been said. Even as efforts continue to get the pastor out of prison on bail, or to get him transferred to the Jammu jail for safety reasons, National Commission for Minorities vice chairman Dr. Hmar T Sang liana was paying a visit to Srinagar to meet with various groups and the government. Efforts were also on to open a dialogue with various national and Kashmir Muslim groups  for a long term peace with a broad basic agreement that the dialogue must continue in an environment of mutual understanding, and not in short term grandstanding. The government, meanwhile, is being encouraged to stick to the points in law and not to exacerbate the situation in the guise of buying peace.

-          – -

[First published in Indian Currents, New Delhi]

 

From Thomas Christians to Crypto Christians

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From Thomas the Apostle to Crypto Christians

Life and Times of a Minority Community in India

John Dayal

11.4.2014

India has one of the oldest Christian communities in the world – the Thomas, or Syrian Christians of Kerala in the South. It also has one of the largest underground churches of the world, the faithful from among the Dalits and sections of the Tribal Christians, who disclose their identities at risk of losing a slew of economic and political rights, and sometimes, their life. As the first group revels in its antiquity and its acceptance by the political and cultural “mainstream” of India, the second suffers by being branded “Crypto Christians”, and forced to live a unique double life, Hindus in the public domain, and on official records, while privately professing faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Adding to the baffling variety is yet another group of people, Kristu Bhaktas, who profess faith in Christ but also continue to worship gods of the Hindu pantheon. For the most, Indian Christians are indistinguishable in culture, and often in dress and food habits, from their Hindu neighbours. They share the regional, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity that marks India. And despite conversion and education, many also retain the caste affiliations and structures that beset Hindu society even in the 21st Century.

More Christians in India then officially counted
The official Census is therefore not the best guide to the number of Christians in India. Anyway, the desegregated Census data on the religion-wise composition of the population is not available after 2001 because the Indian government feels the disclosure of such information will ignite and inflame passions in a society deeply divided in faith and belief identities.

Recent years have seen rising fears amongst a section of the majority Hindus that the religious minorities, and in particular the Muslim population with its relatively higher rate of growth because of large families, will either overtake them, or overwhelm them. The decadal growth rate of the Muslims was around 36 percent, which was up from 30 percent between 1981 and 1991 respectively. The Hindu growth rate had fallen to 20 percent from 23 percent in the same corresponding period.

This paranoia, and the continuing rift between religious communities created by the partition of India in 1947, has led to repeated confrontation and violence. Over 30,000 major incidents of religious violence have been recorded in more then 65 years of independence.

According to the 2001 Census, Hindus constitute 80.5 percent of the population which was 1.02 billion at that time (Census 2011: 1,21 billion). The Muslims were 11.4 percent, Christians constituted 2.3 percent, Sikhs 1.9 percent, Buddhists 0.8 percent, Jains 0.4 percent. India also has Jews, Zoroastrians and Baha’is, while many tribal people profess traditional faiths including ancestor worship. However, no one believed the official figures that Christians constituted just 2.3 percent of the population. The Catholic Church, Protestant groups and particularly the Pentecostal churches collectively claim a total figure that may be two or three times the official Census numbers.

Christian centers in the South and Northeast
Social scientists and researchers say there are a number of reasons why this may in fact be true. The enumerators’ questions in the Census operations discouraged members of the former untouchable castes, who call themselves Dalits and are called Scheduled Castes by the government, from registering themselves as Christians. These are communities, specially in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, who avoid registering themselves officially as such in order to continue taking advantage of government’s affirmative action programmes that include reservations in academic institutions, the civil service, and legislatures. Official conversion to Christianity would make them ineligible under Article 341 (iii) of the Constitution, which holds such affirmative action only for Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. This law has been challenged twice in the Supreme Court, which upheld it the first time, but five years ago reopened hearings on a public interest litigation by Dalit Christians.

Other Christians profess their faith only secretly, in order to avoid the negative ramifications of doing so more openly, specially in their families or villages. Others, such as the Kristu Bhaktas of Varanasi, express a devotion to Christ, but not exclusively. Their Hindu critics call these “hidden faithful” or “silent believers”, many of whom regularly come to small village churches, “Crypto Christians” and “quasi Christians”.

Statisticians Todd Johnson and Kenneth Ross estimate that India’s Christians constitute 4.8 percent of the population at 58 million, a figure accepted by some academicians such as Chad Bauman, Vice President of the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies in the United States. Jason Mandryk puts the figure even higher, at 71 million, or 5.84 percent of the population, and reports that others estimate it as high as 9 percent.

The Indian Christian population is unevenly distributed. In some states and districts the Christian population is negligible, whereas in others Christians predominate. In the South, Christians constitute 35.5 percent of the population of Kerala, and 19 percent of the population of Tamil Nadu. But the biggest concentration is in the culturally and ethnically distinct small Northeastern states of Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Mizoram.

With 17 million members, Roman Catholicism is the largest denomination in India. The Catholic Church has three Rites in India – the universal Latin Rite which dominates with over 10 million members, the Syro Malabar Rite with a claimed 6 million members, and the Syro Malankara, with a million members. With 2 million members, the Church of South India is the largest protestant church in the country. The Seventh-Day Adventists, Oriental Orthodox Churches, United Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Believers Church each claim between 1 and 2 million members. The Church of North India claims 1.5 millions. Church scholars suggest as much as half of India’s Christians are now associated with Evangelical, Charismatic, Pentecostal and other independent “Renewalist” churches and denominations.

A matter of history – Arrival of Christians dates back centurie

There is some evidence in India and in the Levant and West Asia that speaks of a lively interaction between the peoples long before Jesus Christ. Historians of the microscopic Jewish community in India believe their ancestors came to the western coast between 1,000 BCE (the era before Christ) to about 70 AD. The decrees of Persian emperor Xerxes, called Ahasuerus, speak about Jews dispersed through the length and breadth of his empire which stretched to India. The small Jewish communities lived prospered in several places along the western Malabar coast. Thomas the Apostle would have found himself at home, if indeed he came to India as folklore, if not documented history, would have it.

A school of thought believes that there were several men with the name Thomas, arriving at different times within the first four centuries, culminating finally in the transit of Thomas of Cana in the fourth century with a homesteading boatload of Christians. A patina of strong belief has come to cover the factoid of the Apostle’s coming to India. In Mylapore (today part of Chennai) in Tamil Nadu, for instance, there is a rock which is said to bear the footprint of the saint. Local legend has it that Thomas the Apostle had a successful mission in the Chera empire. Many centuries later Italian Jesuit missionary, Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656), was donning the robes of the local savants, the sadhu and the sanyasin, and speaking in local tongue of Jesus Christ.

Franciscan friars were among the first to have had come to India, albeit in rather tentative missions. Franciscan John de Montecorvino came in 1293 AD, and in the next twenty years, there were isolated Franciscan missions along the western Ghats. Tragedy interrupted the Franciscan mission, when four friars were murdered at Thana, near Bombay. Dominican Jordan Catalano of Serverac was appointed the first Latin Bishop of Quilon (today Kollam, Kerala) in 1329 AD, with the Papal envoy, Giovanni de Marignolli coming to Quilon in 1348.

First missionary wave: Portuguese, Spanish, French and Dutch

But much of contemporary Christianity in the subcontinent in its modern form owes its expansion to the two swift political and missionary waves. The first flush was of the Portuguese and Spanish, the French, and the Dutch. The second was of the British, with the East India Company, the Church of England and the British Missionary Society and the many others who followed in their footsteps.

Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama’s fleet of three small ships rounded the Cape of Good Hope in Africa in 1498, picked up an Arab pilot in Zanzibar, and gently glided into the bustling port of Calicut (today Kozhikode, Kerala). The admiral must have been considerably surprised to find a vibrant and prosperous Christian presence in an India which he thought to be a rich but pagan subcontinent, to be civilised and to be exploited for its fine calico and rare spices. The Portuguese presence is perhaps the most well documented chapter in India’s political and religious history, and it left an indelible mark on the ancient nation. Their missionary activity was carried out under the Padroado system, the patronage of the colonial power.

The Portuguese colonisation saw the benign as well as the brutal face of a colonial presence. A harsh military regime, an exploitative commercial system, and the dreaded Inquisition, all trod the lush landscape of Goa, and south towards Kerala. Goa remains a cultural island with a startling fusion of its Portuguese past and its Hindu antiquity. And enshrined in Goa remains the mortal body of the greatest man who ever breathed the scents of the frangipani in its monsoon air – Francis Xavier. Francis Xavier founded the College of St Paul in Goa to train Asian missionaries. Moghul emperor Jalalluddin Akbar known as Akbar the Great, who had a Catholic wife, is known to have invited some Jesuits to come to his court.

Second missionary wave: East India Company and Anglican Church 

The other naval power of the day, England, had been biding its time. The East India Company received its charter from Queen Elizabeth on the last day of the year 1600. Its ships sailed to Surat in the state of Gujarat with Anglican chaplains. The local ruler issued a royal firman giving the East India Company the right to trade. Surat became the English headquarters, from where pincer movements established bases in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. The Anglican Church when it came with the British found the foundations to be strong enough to build Christianity in its own image. Surprisingly, the East India Company did not greatly encourage the early missionaries, forcing many of them to initiate their work in the more hospitable nearby colonies of the Dutch or the French.

Probably one reason for the company’s reluctance to encourage the missionaries too much was the belief of the directors that the Portuguese had failed to consolidate their position in India because of their involvement with the Church and their proselytizing zeal. The great William Carey, considered one of the fathers of the Indian renaissance, began his missionary work in the Dutch colony of Serampore in 1801, commencing his career as a professor of Bengali which he had by then mastered, and then of Sanskrit, the tongue of the ancient Indian scriptures. Carey has earned his place in the hearts of the Indian Christians for initiating the translation of the Bible into Indian languages.

The consolidation of the India States under British hegemony after the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, or the First war of Independence as we call it in India, opened up new frontiers. It was during this period that mass conversions took place in the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra, then called the Madras Presidency, in undivided Punjab, the tribal belts of Chhota Nagpur in central India and the till then almost inaccessible hills of the north-eastern areas bordering Burma and China. This phase of Christianity, with its close links with the foreign colonial power, was to have long lasting and deep social and political effects which precipitated a crisis of identity for the Indian Christian of the pre-Independence era, and since Independence have continued to dog their footsteps in their endeavour to find for themselves roots as Indian Christians.

Latter day historians have found fault with the zealous speed of the mass conversions and the antipathy of some missionaries to the traditions of indigenous religions and customs. Mahatma Gandhi with his usual directness and economy of words, had no patience with the impoverishment of culture which he felt had resulted from the work of the missionaries. The debate continues, now as much within the Church as outside. Eminent diplomat and Congress parliamentarian Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote in defence of the missionaries : “Christian missionary activity in almost all of mainstream India was confined to good works. We need go no further than Mother Teresa to ask ourselves what these good works were. Their major religious successes were in those remote, far flung areas where 5,000 years of Hinduism had failed to penetrate.”

Christians believe in the secularism of the Indian state and society

There has been almost no political, civil or military position in the country that Christians have not filled at one time or the other. They have been governors and chief ministers, ministers and judges. They have commanded the armies, air force and the navy of Independent India in war and peace – the only minority community to have headed all three wings of the armed forces in the past decades. They have been popular artistes and writers, not identified by the tag of their religion, but by their commitment to their work. So have Christian institutions continued the intensity of their work. Christian schools and colleges retain the loyalty of all communities.

The Indian Christian is sensitive to any outside effort that seeks to, or even seems to, deprive him of his Indian identity, or to subvert the tolerance of the national ethos that has helped nurture him through close to two thousand years. At its most innocent, external prejudice takes the shape of enforced stereotypes in popular films of Bollywood which show Christians as gangsters or moronic priests, as a community of lax sexual morals.

More sinister is the repeated effort to target majority anger against the missionaries, or to raise bogeys of extra-territorial loyalties for a community, and to shackle the clergy under the guise of preventing forced conversions. The Church, as a policy, has declared that proselytization is not its priority in the 21st century, when the focus is on peace, justice and the family.

But yet there are fringe political groups and individuals who have tried to explore how far they can go in confrontation with the community. The anti-conversion laws passed in several states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh, and the large scale violence in the Kandhamal region of Orissa or in Mangalore of Karnataka (both 2008) where many Christians were killed and churches were destroyed, shocked the community. However, it did not make it lose faith in the essential secularism of the Indian state and society. The Indian Christian’s detractors have, to their regret, found the nation at large standing in support of the Christians. And the Christians themselves have sunk denominational differences and old gripes on litany and liturgy to challenge these adventurist excursions

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The Hate Crimes Increase

Early Warning – increasing hate crimes alarm religious minorities

JOHN DAYAL

Several political columnists have in recent weeks noted how elements of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, professing a right wing ultra-nationalist and Hindu majoritarian political ideology, have moved from the fringes where they were for decades, to the centre stage of the national discourse in India after Mr. Narendra Modi came to power in May this year in the wake of a massive electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP.

The BJP is unabashed about its links with the RSS and the expanding group of organisations it has spawned, collectively known as the Sangh Parivar. Mr. Modi is himself a former RSS leader, as are several of his Cabinet colleagues. Some ranking RSS officials have in recent weeks been inducted as general secretaries of the BJP, leaving absolutely no one in any doubt of the seamless fusion of the political party and the Sangh which styles itself as a social and cultural organisations.

RSS chief Mr. Mohan Bhagwat has repeated asserted that everyone in India is Hindu, including Muslims and Christians, because this is the land of the Hindu people and civilisation. The Sangh ideologue MG Vaidya said on 19th May, three days after the election results, that they can now tackle issues such as the building of the Ram temple on the site of the Babri mosque they demolished in 1992 Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Mr. Ashok Singhal, said “if [Muslims] keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?”.

Mr. Seshadri Chari, former editor of RSS mouthpiece Organiser and member of the BJP national executive, who enjoys a deserved reputation as a sober and reflective commentator, is quoted in the Outlook Magazine saying says that Hindus have always been a majority in India but the manifestation of majoritarianism has been reflected in the cultural and social field. “Now it is reflected in the politics of the country. A large number of foot-soldiers in the RSS-BJP do believe that the political Hindu has arrived.”

This was apparent in the absolutely poisonous and acrid discussion that took place in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament two days before Independence Day, when the BJP’s lead speaker, Adityanath, the deputy head of religious cult in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, got away with demonising the Muslim community and others. The Congress was ineffective in rebutting him and his colleagues, and so were the others in pinning down the very aggressive and very big BJP group in the Lok Sabha. The Lok Sabha debate, the fielding of Adityanath as the key speaker for his party, and the applause he received from the leaders and other members on the BJP benches, set to rest any polite talk that Mr. Modi’s political high command distances itself from the lunacy of the Sangh Parivar.

That in itself would not been much of an issue where its lax electoral laws turn a blind eye to many religious groups – including Sikhs, Muslims and even Christian apart from Hindus – intervening in the political process with registered political parties that contest and win elections, and occasionally even control state governments.

The crisis comes, as it has this time, when rogue elements choose to challenge the law and indulge in targetted mass violence assuming, and seemingly correctly, that the new dispensation will stop them. One group even set up a “Hindu Helpline” to assist anyone from the majority community who is being harassed by Muslims.

The rash of violence against Muslims in north India, and increasing incidents of coercion and assault against Christians in Central and north India, has alarmed religious minorities in the country.

The figures of communal violence, and actions that fell just sort of violence, are not officially declared, but estimates of cases since the BJP victory announcement on 16th May 2014 range upwards of 1,000, most incidents taking place in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra which face elections later this year to state legislatures. Reputations of Mr. Modi, his Gujarat lieutenant and now the new BJP president Amit Shah, and the RSS, are at stake..

The violence against Muslims has been well recorded. The anti-Christian violence has gone under the radar. Taken together, they indicate a massive drive to saffronise the countryside, villages, small towns and tribal areas away from the big towns which were the foci of violence in past years. Bastar in Chhattisgarh is the new flashpoint.

The Christian leadership has expressed alarm at the sharp rise in hate campaigns by the Sangh’s political and cultural organisations. This threat of purging Christians from villages extends from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to now Uttar Pradesh, to the borders of the national capital of New Delhi. Condemning the threat of Shuddhhikaran, [purification], they say it in real terms means forcible conversion to Hinduism.

There has been no response from the state and federal governments yet to the June 2014 dictat by several village Panchayats in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, to ban the entry of Christian workers in their areas. The Panchayats decided only Hindu religious workers will be allowed into the village areas in the Tribal belt, and only Hindu places of worship could be constructed henceforth. This decision is of course entirely illegal, and violative of the provisions in the Constitution of freedom of expression and of movement.

The coercive methodology of branding every Tribal as a Hindu has led to much violence in several central Indian states, including the pogrom in Kandhamal in Orissa in August 2008. Such threats by Sangh Parivar groups were largely heard in a big way during the early years of the NDA government of Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, especially in the tribal areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan. In the Dangs, more than two dozen village churches were burnt down on Christmas eve in 1998, followed by the gruesome burning alive of Australian medical missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his young sons Timothy and Philip in Manouharpur in Orissa in January 2009. Many other murders followed, including that of a Catholic priest, Fr. Arun Doss, in that region

The Prime Minister and his Minister for Home Affairs, Mr. Rajnath Singh, have not sent out strong signals that the rule of law will be enforced, and religious minorities and their freedom of faith will be fully protected. Mr. Modi’s announcement in his Independence Day oration asking for a “ten-year moratorium” on all forms of sectorial violence has muddled the civil discourse. Human rights and religious minority groups have questioned him on why he sought a ten-year hiatus, and did not appeal for an end to violence against religious and caste groups. One cynical explanation is that the BJP seeks peace for the ten years when it hopes to rule the country in increasing strength, but may face a difficult election ten years from now.

Mr. Modi has an opportunity to restore faith in harmony and secularism in the country. But there is little of hope that filters through his current strategy of silence on most issues of concern to the country, other than in a few public speeches where rhetoric and slogans substitute for substance.

A POISONOUS DEBATE IN THE INDIAN PARLIAMENT

Igniting a tinder box

JOHN DAYAL

The war crimes against civilisations and religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East by Israel and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS, leave the international community and its media very little time perhaps to see religious polarisation in India that portends no good for the nation, the region and indeed the world. No militias and armies are involved here, but it is no less sinister for that.

Still not recovered from the many ghastly anti-Muslim riots of past decades culminating in Gujarat in 2002 and Muzaffarnagar on the eve of the general elections in 2014 — and not forgetting the anti Christian pogrom in Kandhamal in 2008 – India seems perched on a tinder-box, with the matchstick firmly in the hands of the Sangh Parivar, which correctly thinks it had a major role to play in the elevation of Mr. Narendra Modi as Prime minister at the head of a triumphant Bharatiya Janata party.

An absolutely poisonous and acrid discussion took place in the Lok Sabha two days before Independence Day when the nation expected Mr. Modi to fully unfold what he meant by the “development agenda” which was the core of his election campaign. The people also sought reassurance that he would be inclusive and would articulate his faith in India’s cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity and constitutional plurality.

If that Lok Sabha debate had taken place in a public plaza, the main speakers would have been promptly arrested under the Indian penal Code for disparaging peoples groups and religions, and fomenting hate between communities. But they were protected by Parliamentary immunity. The BJP’s lead speaker, Adityanath, the head of religious cult in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh got away with demonising the Muslim community and others. The Congress was ineffective in rebutting him and his colleagues, and so were the others in pinning down the very aggressive and very big BJP group in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress president, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, chose to speak outside the legislative chambers, accusing the BJP and its politico-cultural cohorts of fomenting violence against religious minorities. But the Congress, routed in the general elections, has also lost much moral ground on issues of plurality, harmony and peace with its cynical approach to the subject, and the fact that a significant number of its members and its to leaders themselves have what is popularly called a “saffron streak””, or sympathies with those holding a majoritarian world view. The Congress, when it was in power for ten years, failed miserably to enact a law against inter-religious and targetted violence, as it had failed in the past to give Dalits who converted to Islam and Christianity their constitutional dues. And in all debates of this kind, the Sangh, reminding it of the role of its cadres and leaders in the massacre of Sikhs in New Delhi in 1984, slams it into silence.

The Lok Sabha debate, the fielding of Adityanath as the key speaker for his party, and the applause he received from the leaders and other members on the BJP benches, has set to rest any polite talk that Mr. Modi’s political high command distances itself from the lunacy of the Sangh Parivar, which has consistently been on an upswing since its hordes demolished in the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya on 6 December 2006, perhaps the blackest day in the history of Indian secularism. This was not just for the destruction of a building whose origins, ownership and functions were challenged in courts, but for the immunity and the impunity. None of the top leaders of the BJP who propelled that destruction have been every punished, and a few are now in the Union cabinet or are waiting to become Governors.

The RSS is clearly not in fear, not yet, that its hold on Mr. Modi is threatened, even if the prime minister functions as if India were a Presidential democracy like the United states, and his ministers merely nominees without a constitutional responsibility. So far, the RSS and the government are working in tandem.

The figures of communal violence, and actions that fell just sort of violence, are not officially declared, but estimates of cases since the BJP victory announcement on 16th May 2014 range upwards from 1,000 to maybe double of that, in states as varied as Uttar Pradesh in the north and Maharashtra in the west. The common factor is that these states are due for elections to legislative assemblies, by elections or by elections to the Lok Sabha. That the BJP lost the three assembly by-elections and subsequent village elections in Himachal Pradesh makes the stakes high for the reputation of Mr. Modi, his Gujarat lieutenant and now the new BJP president Amit Shah, and the RSS.

The developments leading to a saffronisation of the instruments of governance, and the grassroots, since 16 May 2014 has been tabulated meticulously by activists. Mr. Modi chose as ministerial colleagues not just those involve in the Babri episode, but also Mr. Sanjeev Baliyan, who was accused of fomenting anti Muslim violence in Muzaffarnagar. There was of course no Muslim MP on the BJP Lok Sabha benches. The Union minister for Minority affairs, Dr. Najma Heputallah, a solitary face of the minorities in the cabinet, chose to aggravate matters by announcing Muslims were not a minority, Parsis were. It was perhaps axiomatic that Hindutva associates in in Pune battered a Muslim Information Technology engineer to death. The language row announcing the supremacy of Hindi, and the need for Sanskrit, the saffronisation of education promised by the new Human resource Development minister Mrs. Smriti Irani and others allowed suit. Mr. Modi made his preferences very clear appointing his top bureaucrat aides from the Vivekananda International Foundation, a think tank close to the Sangh ideology.

The Sangh itself has not been slow in pushing its agenda. Ideologue MG Vaidya said on 19th May, three days after the election results, that the BJP in power can now tackle Ram Mandir, Article 370 and other issues, a move seconded by a new junior minister. VHP leader Ashok Singhal, said “if [Muslims] keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?”, Another took it to its logical conclusion, declaring Modi will restore Hindutva rule, like king Prithviraj Chauhan of history. As the RSS got ready for a 10 storey office complex in Delhi, other controversies came in quick sensation. India’s only woman tennis superstar ever, Sania Mirza, was pilloried as a daughter in law of Pakistan for marrying a cricket of that country. The RSS criticizes minority status to Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists as a conspiracy to divide Hindu society.

The idiocy reached in peak in the statement by the deputy chief minister of Goa, a state where the Sangh has become the cultural and “moral” police, that “I am a Hindu Christian and this is a Hindu Rashtra”. Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS head, formally elaborated this proclaiming, “This is Hindustan. Everyone is a Hindu.”

Sangh groups have now threatened to launch a “shuddhikaran” or purification drive in villages in North India and in Tribal India to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. Helplines have eben launched with the promise that Sangh activists will reach everywhere to assist Hindus in distress.

Such is the paranoia being built in the majority community in a well thought-out programme.

The results are becoming visible in short order. The violence against Muslims has been well recorded. The anti-Christian violence has gone under the radar. Taken together, they indicate a massive drive to saffronise the countryside, villages, small towns and tribal areas away from the big towns which were the foci of violence in past years. Bastar in Chhattisgarh is the new flashpoint.

The Christian leadership has expressed alarm at the sharp rise in hate campaigns by the Sangh’s political and cultural organisations. This threat of purging Christians from villages extends from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to now Uttar Pradesh, to the borders of the national capital of New Delhi. Condemning the threat of Shuddhhikaran, [purification], they say it in real terms means forcible conversion to Hinduism. These threats by Sangh Parivar groups were largely heard in a big way during the early years of the NDA government of Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, especially in the tribal areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The Sangh Parivar gets emboldened when it feels it will protected by the State and Central governments. In the past, this has led to large-scale violence against religious minorities as in Gujarat and in Kandhamal.

The Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi and his Home Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, must send out strong signals that the rule of law will be enforced, and religious minorities and their freedom of faith will be fully protected.

As the countryside sees communities being rent asunder, civil society has little hope from Mr. Rajnath Singh, who many think has been. Effectively marginalised in the Cabinet.

Mr. Modi has an opportunity to restore faith in harmony and secularism. It remains to be seen if he sees healing wounds and removing fears as part of his slogan of “Good Governance.’

 

 

Will “The Idea of India” Survive?

JOHN DAYAL

 

It is not a jubilee year for independent India, but it is nonetheless a landmark anniversary. Not since Mrs. Indira Gandhi, second only to her father Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru as the country’s longest serving prime minister, lost office and Mr. Morarji Desai assumed power at the head of the Janata Party, a motley group supported by the RSS on the one hand and the socialists and Leftists on the other, has there been such a drastic change, even a reversal, of ideologies, policies and a vision for the future.

 

The factors that led to the defeat of Mrs. Gandhi in 1977 are now well known. She halted democracy in its tracks, and gifted the country’s governance to her son Mr. Sanjay Gandhi who emerged as the undisputed extra-constitutional centre of power and authority. For all practical purposes, the Constitution was suspended, and an unofficial dictatorship came into being. The trains ran on time, and government employees came to office been before the gates were opened, not because the work culture had changed overnight but there was a looming threat of their services being suspended, or even terminated. The Supreme Court and High courts became mild, if not subservient. There were mass sterilizations, and quotas for government and public sector staff to bring men and women, sometimes teenagers, to undergo sterilisation operations and tubectomies. Slums were wiped out from the face of the national capital, their poor and marginalised families shifted to refugee camps far away, so they would not be seen. There was of course no dissent; every critic was in jail. The media was censored, and others observed a self-censorship even more severe than the official one. Doordarshan, India’s lone television channel, preoccupied itself with patriotic messages of nationalism, and the faces of Mrs. Gandhi and Mr. Sanjay Gandhi.

 

I mention the Emergency [1975-77] for two reasons, other than the reminder that next year, 2015, we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the darkest period in democratic Indian history. The first reason for the total recall is that the Emergency shattered the belief that the foundations of Indian democracy are so strong and rooted in the Freedom Struggle, that they cannot be shaken even momentarily. The second is that a “popular” and “strong” leader with a mass following and little opposition, and perhaps assisted by extra-constitutional power centres, can if she or he wants to, do just about anything with the governance machinery.

 

Mr. Morarji Desai who became prime minister after her defeat had to make a clean break from the past. He was unequal to the task, shackled as he was by ideological contradictions in his party. But the Jana Sangh, the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the was a part of the government, made full use of the opportunity, penetrating the Media and various wings of the government including the Police and the education sector. This was of great help to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the new version of the Jan Sangh, when it came to power in 1998 in the National Democratic Alliance.

 

The current Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, does not face the issues that confronted Mr. Desai. Dr., Manmohan Singh, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Prime Minister did not alter the democratic fabric. He followed a neo liberal economic and development policy that quite mirrored the ideological thesis of the BJP. He pandered to the same industrial and corporate interest groups that ten years later were to sponsor Mr. Modi. UPA chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi did press for some reforms for the poor, including such momentous measures as the Right to Education, Information and Food, and the safety net of a minimum employment period for the rural destitute. But this was just a populist adjunct, severely hampered by a non cooperative system, massive corruption, and pilloried in the media by the rich.

 

For Mr. Modi, in fact, it has been a seamless transition as far as economic policy, foreign affairs and development strategies go. The first budget of his government shows how little has changed. The same tokens for the poor, the same major concessions for the corporate sector are the Budget’s highlights.

 

Mr. Modi’s speeches in Parliament and the symbolism of his spectacular swearing in ceremony in the majestic Forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan, with the heads of South Asian nations in attendance, and his intervention in the administrative structures give ample evidence that he sees himself as the sole repository of political and governance power, so endowed by the massive mandate he earned for himself, and by extension for his party, in the 2014 general elections.

 

Should one expect ruthlessness in his regime not seen since the mid 1970s is a question that troubles political observers and analysts and members of the civil society. When he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat for well over ten years, he did run it as a personal fiefdom. The political apparatus was redundant, public opinion irrelevant, the media unseen and unheard and even the subordinate judiciary more often pliant than otherwise. Is that model of governance transferable to the Union headquarters. Perhaps not. Time alone can tell.

 

But some recent decisions have been most disturbing. An Intelligence Bureau report was deliberately leaked to allege that Non Governmental Organisations, specially those working in the environmental and development sectors, and those working with the people at the grassroots in empowering them in their Constitutional and God-given rights, have been working against national development and economic interests, and are the cause of the decline in the rate of growth and the blocking of big projects with foreign investment. This is patently a ruse to silence dissent and smother the voice of the people. It also totally disempowers civil society, of which the Christian church is so much a part in its commitment to the poor, limiting its work to being a service provider in the educational and health sectors, and perhaps in building houses during natural disasters.

 

Many analysts have said that Mr. Modi rides two horses. One is the Development and Good Governance agenda which he has repeatedly articulated as his Mantra in Gujarat and in New Delhi since he became Prime Minister. The other remains Hindutva, the right wing hyper nationalist argument of supremacy and sole inheritor of the Indian civilization and culture for which religious minorities are aliens in the land, and even Tribals need to be Hinduised to fit them in the cultural matrix that will brook no variety, do diversity, no separate ethnicities and identities. There is nothing hidden in this agenda. This was articulated openly, and often just within the boundaries prescribed by the Election Commission, during the political campaign over 2013 and 2014.

 

If the development agenda fails, he will ride full gallop on the Hindutva horse, if he wants to win the next elections in 2019.

 

Can the development agenda succeed in the circumstances that the Indian economy finds itself in this globalised world is then the big question. A hugely deficit monsoon that the weather officer darkly predicts is the least of the worries. There is no fear of famine. There are enough food stocks in government and private stockpiles to take care of the hungry for the next three years, leaving sizable quantities as seeds for future years. The fear is of increasing misery in the rural countryside. India has a scandalous record of farmers committing suicide when their crops fail, not because of the crop-failure as such but because of the criminal pressure of lending agencies and private exploiters who want their money back with usurious interest added on. There is no real public sector insurance to take care of this even as banks overlook and often write off huge loans given to the corporate sector.

 

Building highways does not generate mass employment, as the country saw during the regime of Mr. Vajpayee and his Golden Quadrangle. In this age of high technology, only a few technicians are required to run the powerful machines. And there is no long term employment generation in the countryside because central and state governments fail to, or do not have the resources to, encourage the sort of industrial and business growth that is required to employ the local educated and semi skilled workers, and the large number of the landless labour. Bullet trains are meant for the upper crust who are afraid of flying, so to say, and are not seen as a boon for labour, not even in Japan where they originated, nor in China which adopted them for connecting its massive economic powerhouses on its east coast.

 

There will be 100 million young men and women looking for jobs, apart from those in the un-cleared backlog. Encashing the demographic dividend will not, therefore, be an easy task with the main markets in Europe and North America still not out of the doldrums, and little spare capital from abroad for the much wonted Foreign Direct Investment that is such a pet of Union Finance Minister. And this is not even hinting that much of this FDI is really Indian black money generated by the Indian corporate world which is then laundered through tax havens in various countries including Mauritius whose prime minister was such an honoured guest at Mr. Modi’s Rashtrapati Bhawan extravaganza when he was sworn in as Prime Minister.

 

The Budget presented in Parliament by the Union Finance [and Defence] Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitely, acknowledges this economic crisis, though by blaming the preceding government of Dr. Man Mohan Singh. It acknowledges the threat posed by the fuel bill, as much because of the troubles in West Asia from whence comes much of India’s oil, as the country’s own failure to tap its natural reserves in basins on the east and western coasts.

 

The economy’s refusal to resurrect itself in a rapid manner and the failure to create jobs on a massive scale are dangerous portends. They may collectively pose a threat to the self-confidence of the government, and frustrate Mr. Modi in his self-appointed role as the man who would deliver India from all its Ills and past failures.

 

Much will depend on how he responds to a future economic crisis. He just cannot afford a failure. The people would pray that the crisis does not come about.

 

And, I suppose, a prayer is needed.

 

The BJP’s election rhetoric, amplified by honourable members of the Sangh Parivar and such pillars of support as yoga industrialist Ram Dev, left no one in any doubt as to the ideological foundations of the group which was then aspiring for power.

 

Once in power, they have been true to this promise in a large measure. The call for a Uniform Civil Code, which is now popularly understood as a punitive measure against the Muslims to control their demographic growth, Article 370 governing relations between New Delhi and the state of Jammu and Kashmir, were the early signs. The massive changes that have started taking place in the Ministry of Human Resources Development under the euphemism of harking back to the ancient Indian cultural values, and the sudden attack on perceived vestiges of western culture such as the English language and the so called “pub culture’ are weather wanes of future storms.

 

In turn, they have encouraged maverick groups across the country. There have been actions that injure the Muslim community in a rash of hate crimes. One such was the lynching in Pune of an Informational Technology engineer whose solitary crime was that he was a Muslim, had a beard and was wearing what is now known as a Muslim dress just when a local fundamentalist goon brigade was hunting for targets on who it could vent its anger for a social media slight to a Hindu icon.

 

The Christian community has not been spared. There has been a rash of attacks on pastors and home churches in several states. In the State of Chhattisgarh in the tribal Bastar region, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram have persuaded many village local self-government Panchayats to pass “resolutions” banning any religious activity in their areas banning the “official” Hindu worship, structures and religious practices. The matter may be taken to court as it clearly violates the guarantees of freedom of faith, expression and movement.

 

Patently, there is a growing environment of laissez faire and disregard for the law at the grassroots where local extremist militant groups thinks they will be protected if they act against religious minorities. This puts the Indian church under stress. Together with administrative actions like scrutiny and harassment by the Intelligence bureau, threats to permits to receive donations and grants from foreign countries under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, and the bigotry of the local police and subordinate judiciary, these serve to silence and emasculate the church. Little wonder that Church hierarchies, Catholic and Protestant, have been so silent since Mr. Modi took over. Many religious leaders in fact are singing praises of the new Prime Minister, some delving into theology to call him a “gift from God”.

 

I do not blame them. The first human instinct is of survival, to live to fight another day, perhaps. But silence at critical times leaves the victims directionless, and very depressed. It breeds a mood of helplessness. It also robs the Church of its very important role of a watchdog of the interests of the poor, the marginalised, the helpless. The Indian church hierarchy has seldom critiqued development and technology policies of the governments in the past, and it is not expected to do so now. This is a great pity.

 

Now, as never before, is the time for the spirit of the people to assert and defend the Idea of India. This is an India, which is, above all, inclusive. It acknowledges and celebrates diversity, cultural, ethnic, social, religious, linguistic and ethnic. It cares for the poor and the marginalised without rejecting development and growth. It loves the antiquity of the Indian civilization while rejecting such intrusions as the intrusion of the concept of untouchability and patriarchy. It protects the environment, the forests, and mountains and the rivers, each one of which is holy.

 

This was the India for which out forefathers fought in the Struggle for Independence under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the Father of Modern India and its scientific temper, and others. Nehru may be a reviled figure now in certain political circles, but we risk the future of coming generations if we revile and reject this dream of a modern, plural India, which has its doors, and windows open for fresh wings to blow in from all directions, and which would hold its head high in the comity of nations.

 

This vision needs to be reiterated from the ramparts of the Red Fort every Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

India’s Religious Minorities, Dalits and Tribals weep alone

John Dayal

India’s several religious minorities weep alone when they are in pain. So to do the Dalits and the Indigenous people, called Tribals or Adivasis.

There are a few vibrant human rights groups, who organize factfinding missions, go to the media and demonstrate before parliament. But there has seldom been a national outrage, cutting across ethnicities, languages and caste barriers, which would force policy and judicial reforms, or change the mindset that has fueled so much violence since independence.

The most terrible single episode in this tortured history was the massacre of almost 5,000 Sikhs, 3,500 of them in the national capital Delhi, in October 1984.

The chain of events began when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent the Army into the Golden Temple, holy to the Sikhs, to neutralize a group of armed extremists. The Army killed the leader of the group, Bhindranwale, and destroyed the Akal Takht, the seat of supreme command of the faith.

Two of Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards shot her dead in retaliation. Subsequently Hindu mobs, and a few others, armed with weapons and cans of gasoline, caught and burned alive any man they could see on the road who had a beard and wore a turban. The city burned for three days.

A few newspapers recorded the tragedy for posterity, but there was no protest worth the name. In fact, there was an undercurrent of condoning the violence as a reaction to Gandhi’s murder. Her son and successor as prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, said: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes a little.”

Three decades later, the victims live with their memories. The widows and their families fight lonely legal battles in the courts. But the media barely covers recent developments. The country has moved on, fleetingly referring to the carnage when there are elections in the Punjab, which has a Sikh majority.

India’s Muslims, estimated at 150 million or more in a population of 1.25 billion, have suffered several such massacres in the tens of thousands of “communal riots” of mass violence involving them and Hindus since independence.

Some of the major ones have been in Ahmedabad in 1969, Bhagalpur in 1989, Mumbai in 1992–3, and the infamous Gujarat pogroms of 2002. Barring the few social activists who made a noise, it was left to Muslims to bandage their own wounds and rebuild their burned houses.

There was very little justice and no closure. And, as with the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, there has been that underlying murmur that justifies the killings and arson.

In 2008, Christians in Kandhamal in Orissa and Mangalore in Karnataka suffered violence at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups. In the aftermath they, too, were left to fend for themselves in terms of relief, rehabilitation, and the long and expensive struggle for justice.

An effort to mobilize national support for justice on the sixth anniversary of the violence has elicited almost no response. For the Dalits, the former Untouchables, this is something they have long understood: they will have to fight their own battles, expecting and demanding nothing from the upper and middle castes of the social hierarchy.

In recent years, cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore have seen major protests against the rape of women, but there has been no such mobilization when the victim has been a Dalit. It is for sociologists and social psychologists to explain such large-scale apathy. It will not do to blame just the lunatic fringe that is visible and voluble on social media, or the so-called cultural groups, which have been responsible for the rise to power of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

They have played a role, but they have fed on something deeper, and nurtured the religious and cultural divides that today polarize the national polity.

The impact on the minority communities has been the consolidation of a dangerous insularity. It is not that they actually want to live in ghettoes for a sense of security.

There seem to be other reasons. Perhaps it is fatalism.

Despite frequent attacks on house churches and pastors in rural and tribal areas, Christians are not as stressed as Muslims, who have developed a deep distrust of the police and criminal justice systems. But they are no different in their collective responses to the pain of others.

In a situation so emotionally and psychologically fragile, the communities have turned inwards, closing their eyes and ears to happenings in their neighborhood to other minorities.

The Church has not been seen as a defender of the human rights of Muslims. And it is only recently that it has aligned itself with the Dalits and tribals. The government’s recent use of its intelligence agencies to monitor church and other voluntary groups has for now effectively silenced even these protests.

One would think this insularity is the reason why the Church in India has been so quiet regarding the aggression shown by Israel to eliminate Hamas from Gaza, with its collateral damage in the deaths of civilian men, women and children. In fact, a large section of the Christian community has been openly supportive of Israel, upholding it as the Chosen People of God.

The Muslim community organized protests in support of the people of Gaza, but the average Indian has followed the government’s lead of supporting Israel’s “right of self defence”. Christians have not organized a single demonstration, or even issued a statement from the leadership.

A section of concerned Christian intellectuals have expressed anxiety at the community’s insularity, and the perceived failure of the Church to come out of its shell and speak out against violence, and for human rights and justice, especially in the Middle East.

It will not do for the community to wake up only when some of its own people are affected. Compassion cannot be sectarian, and concern for human rights and justice has to transcend self interest.

 

A double threat

Silencing dissent, and sowing hate

JOHN DAYAL

The report of the Intelligence Bureau under the government of the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, demonising Non Government Organisations, NGOs, and several activists including a Catholic priest, the late Fr. Tom Kotcherry, for working against Indian national interests was a precursor of more direct action to come. The administration took immediate action, ordering Greenpeace, which it had targetted as the prime culprit in delaying if not preventing big money projects in Tribal areas, to take prior permission before it sought any funding from international agencies. That is not to say that the earlier Congress had not used the notorious Foreign Contribution Act to punish NGOs in Tamil Nadu, including a Catholic diocese, for supporting the movement of the local people against the Koodmakulam nuclear power plant which the Union and State governments wanted not so much for the electricity it would produce but for the political gains it could bring to the Congress and the all India Anna DMK. And the risks from the Russian made reactor could be overlooked in the name of development.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi differs in a critical area from its Congress predecessor. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government led by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was pilloried for its sloth, its corruption and its inability to control the price line. But it had a human face that changed the life of the rural poor through a slew of welfare programmes that did reduce a little from the pain of poverty. Above all, it did not seek to divide the people on lines of religion or egg them on to violence.

Mr. Modi’s government carries a deadly political baggage that seeks to do just that, polarise communities, ranging the majority faith against religions that it brands as alien. In the mineral rich and heavily forested tribal belt that extends from Jharkhand to Madhya Pradesh and beyond, including much of Chhattisgarh and Orissa, this polarising of the countryside has the immediate impact of almost totally wrecking the unity of the people against exploitative and environmentally destructive industrial and mining projects of national and international monopolies. By demolishing ethical NGOs empowering people on the one hand and people’s unity in mass movements on the other, the government opens the hinterland for exploitation by crony capitalists.

It is in this light that one has to see the move in May 2014 by several village Panchayats in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, prompted by the Sangh Parivar’s units such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, to ban the entry of Christian workers, and worship, in their areas. The resolution came to light a few days ago. The Panchayat diktat is that only Hindu religious workers will be allowed into the village areas in the Tribal belt. This is of course entirely illegal, and violative of the provisions in the Constitution of freedom of expression and of movement. The coercive methodology of branding every Tribal as a Hindu, and to turn him or her to oppose Christians, injures the secular nature of society, and the peace that has existed over a long time.

Such bans on a particular faith and the friction they breed, can so easily lead to violence against religious minorities. Memories of the massive violence in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008, which had its roots in such indoctrination and communalisation, are still fresh, and the struggle for justice for the victims still continues in the High court and the Supreme Court. The Governments of the State of Chhattisgarh and the Union must therefore act urgently to stem this explosive evil while there is still time.

 

 

 

 

 

The Report of the Intelligence Bureau on NGOs

A Blow to social action

 

Church work for the marginalised may suffer as Government cracks down on NGO activities on empowering people

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

The Church in India – Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal – may in future confine itself to just worship and running Colleges, schools, hospitals and some charity activities, if current political trends play out their expected course. The church’s ‘preferential action for the poor,’ its track record in giving a voice to the voiceless and activities in the training and empowerment of Tribals, the Dalits and other marginalised groups, would invite close government scrutiny in the future. And in a worst case scenario, its resources could be cut off and its personnel find their activities restrained under the twin onslaught of a major move to take the infamous Foreign Contributions Regulation Act to new levels of strictness and harshness, and a fresh bout of police and political action – including by self styled ‘social-cultural’ groups such as the right wing Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its branches such as Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram which works in central India’s vast Chhotanagpur Tribal belt.

 

The Church will not be alone in being impacted in this doomsday scenario of something horribly gone wrong in India’s political discourse and its development landscape. Keeping it company will be major Non Governmental Organisations, NGOs, funded by international organisations involved in rights-based campaigns against the denudation of forests and ravaging of rivers, and supporting people’s protests and movements against genetically modified crops such as cotton and brinjal, the dangers of suspect nuclear power plans in the post Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japanon 11 March 2011, or the resistance of Orissa Tribals to the attempts of Korean giant Posco to mine their sacred hills and forests.

 

This seemingly alarmist projection is born of the enthusiastic support of the new government in New Delhi led by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party to a report by the Intelligence Bureau [IB], leaked to select media, on what it says is the loss to the national exchequer, and to the country’s development, by the work of organisations receiving foreign funding through the FCRA. The report, which hogged Television News headlines for days, specifically focused on a short list of NGOs and some of the country’s most well known rights activists. Highlighted were the activities of such organisations as Greenpeace, and such people as the late Fr Tom Kotcherry of the Fisherman’s movement, Vandana Shiva working on food and crop issues and S P Udaykumar of Tamil Nadu who was involved in the struggle of sea coast dwellers who were afraid the nuclear power plant being built by Russian assistance in Koodmakulam in Trinalvelli district of Tamil Nadu was not safe and would poison the coastal waters. The government had already blacklisted the European finding agency Cordaid. It went on to now put severe restrictions on the FCRA licence of Greenpeace, saying it would have to take prior permission before it could receive funding in future for its projects.

The Church of the region was in the past dragged into the controversy, and the FCRA of a Catholic diocese was impacted. Some of its clergy and religious were also subjected to police scrutiny, and action.

 

This reporter has an e-copy of the photocopy of the IB report, which was leaked on TV and is now going viral on the Internet. The document says the NGOs’ activities are “contributing to the negative impact on India’s GDP growth assessed to be 2 – 3 % p.a. The IB did not indicate how it reached this conclusion or the data on which it was based. Circumstantial evidence suggests that this targetting of NGOs would benefit international companies such as Vedanta and Posco, and some of the Indian corporate giants whose projects have faced popular protest.

 

It is important to quote the TimesNow reportage on the IB report as it was the first news channel to which the intelligence agency gave its secret document.

 

On 12th June 2014, its prime time report said:

“NGOs use funds for fuelling protests: IB report to PMO — An Intelligence Bureau report to the Prime Minister’s Office and other departments has noted that funding of several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) is “cleverly disguised” as donations for issues like human rights and instead used for funding protests to stall
developmental projects. These funds were mostly used to fuel protests against developmental projects relating to coal, bauxite mining, oil exploration, nuclear plants and linking of rivers, resulting in stalling or slowing down of these projects, the report said.  The report submitted to the PMO and other important ministries like Finance and Home also claims that laptop of one of the foreign activists of an NGO contained scanned map of India with 16 nuclear plants (existing and proposed) and five Uranium mine locations marked prominently.
“It [the IB report] said that some organisations in Western countries have also developed “deniability” by pursuing “transit-funding models” where by European donors and also governments are asked to fund some NGOs in India.  ”These include the Netherlands and Danish governments and multiple state funded donors based in these countries, apart from some Scandinavian NGOs, which normally focus on the environmental impact of development,” the report, submitted also to National Security Adviser and Cabinet Secretariat, alleged.  It said that in the last few years, the country has been facing problems from these organisations which have stepped up efforts to encourage growth retarding campaigns in India, focused on extractive industries including anti-coal, anti-uranium and anti-bauxite mining, oil exploration, Genetically modified organisms and foods, climate change and anti-nuclear issues.
“The report named two anti-nuclear organisations National Alliance of Anti Nuclear Movements (NAAM) and People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)– spearheaded by US-educated S P Udayakumar who allegedly received “unsolicited contract” from a US university.  During effective monitoring, “Udaykumar’s contact in Germany—Sonntag Rainer Hermann—was deported from Chennai on 2012 and his laptop contained scanned map of India with 16 nuclear plants (existing and proposed) and five Uranium mine locations marked prominently,” the report said.  The map also included contact details of “50 anti-nuclear activists hand written on small slips of paper along with Blackberry PIN graph and was sent through email to five prominent anti-nuclear activists including Udayakumar.”  ”Sustained analysis revealed that the name slips on the map were hand-written in order to avoid possible detection by text search algorithms installed e-gateways,” it said.”

 

Udaykumar, and everyone else mentioned in the IB report denied every single charge, stressing the legitimacy of their work, and the transparency of their funding. Udaykumar specially maintained he was being framed and his remunerations as a researcher and writer published by respected international journals were being called clandestine funding.

 

Church organisations have not commented on the report. This silence has been noticed. Civil society has been vocal, even though activists have also noted the silence of several prominent voices that are perhaps afraid of the system, or anticipate action against them if they side with the protests.

 

Researcher and writer Pushpa Sundar who has written a book on the subject of NGOs and development, says; “What is disturbing about the report is that the room for legitimate dissent by civil society seems to be shrinking. It is only when governments refuse to listen to grievances that peaceful protests turn ugly and civil society organisations resort to action to hold up projects. The action initiated by NGOs is on behalf of the sections of society that have no voice in corridors of power. If the political representatives play their role well then civil society would not need to resort to agitation. Besides, it is not necessarily foreign money, which is used for agitations. The anti-corruption movement was genuinely a people’s movement, funded by small donations, and even those donations that were received were from Indians settled abroad. Even here foreign funding was used to discredit the movement.”

The FCRA and NGO data has been on the Internet ever since the coming into effect of the Right to Information Act – itself the successful product of a prolonged NGO movement which first began in Rajasthan.

 

  • 22,702 of the estimated 20 lakh NGOs filed returns on funding in 2011-12
  • 13,291 NGOs received foreign funds; 9,509 reported receiving no foreign contribution
  • Rs 11,546.29 crore is the quantum of foreign funds received by NGOs in India
  • Rs 7,000 crore received by NGOs in five states: Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka
  • Rs 233.38 crore, the highest amount received, by World Vision of India, Chennai
  • Rs 99.20 crore was the highest donation, from Compassion International, USA
  • Rs 418.37 crore was the donation from the Netherlands
  • 148 NGOs received foreign funds in excess of Rs 10 crore
  • 178 NGOs received funds between Rs 5-10 crore; 1,702 between Rs 1-5 crore
  • 39.73% was the highest year-on-year jump in foreign contribution to NGOs, in 2006-07
  • Rs 2,253 crore of foreign contributions to NGOs goes towards ‘non-core’ activities

[Data from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs 2011-2012]

 

Among the definite purposes for which foreign contribution was received and utilized, the highest amount of foreign contribution was utilised for Establishment Expense, followed by Rural Development , Relief/Rehabilitation of victims of natural calamities, Welfare of Children and Construction and maintenance of schools/colleges.

 

Among the recipients have also been religious organisations, including some very prominent Hindu god-men and god-women.

 

The government does not release data on how much does the Indian corporate and business sector, the only other non-governmental group that can finance the NGOs, actually spends that money on social outreach. Most critics have slammed this sector’s much flaunted Corporate Social Responsibility as a sham, and an excuse to contribute to society just a minor percentage of the profits it makes from the people and by exploiting the country’s natural resources.

But neither the media nor the government want to highlight another major recipient of foreign money, the Sangh Parivar, and much of it is not even through the FCRA bank channels. Writers Pragya Singh and Abhijit Mazumdar in a recent article in Outlook magazine pointed out “The RSS itself is an unregistered body and submits neither income tax returns nor does it have a licence to receive money from abroad. But many of the NGOs affiliated to it are among the NGOs in India that received foreign money.

 

“The growth of the RSS provoked a group of US intellectuals in 2002 to ask around about its funding. They published a detailed account of how the American charity, India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), donated much of its basket to the RSS, VHP and other Sangh-affiliated NGOs in India. Information in the public domain shows that between 1994 and 2000, most of IDRF’s $5 million fund poured into Sangh-affiliated NGOs.  In those years, when a donor asked IDRF to pick an NGO on their behalf, 83 per cent of the donation wound up in a “Sangh-affiliated” one, the study discovered.. The campaign had explored the IDRF’s role in funding the ‘Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra’  which promotes “ghar wapasi” (conversion of Christian tribals to Hinduism) of tribals even at the cost of escalating violence and tensions. The IDRF annual report for 2012 shows that over $1.2 million (Rs 7.2 crore) was sent to India during the year. The following year, another million dollars (Rs 6 crore) found its way to NGOs, including Vanvasi Kalyan cen­tres across India, especially in tribal regions like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.”

 

Needless to say, RSS-affiliated NGOs receive large sums also from governments of states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies. No data, however, is officially available.

 

The rule of thumb seems to be that organisations and NGOs that have political patronage or deemed to be nationalistic and benign, where as those that work with the people in the areas that government and others do not want to enter.

 

But it must be said that the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, is following in the footsteps of his predecessors Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh, is trying to stifle dissent by starving NGOs of foreign donations.

 

As I have pointed out in my writings in the past, the FCRA has an evil history – it was conceived in sin, so to speak, and nurtured in suspicion and hate. It was an illegitimate child of the State of Emergency” that was imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. The law was brought about to curb foreign money coming to certain institutions associated, ironically with Jay Prakash Narain and some Gandhians, who, she feared, were hell bent on fomenting a coup against her.

 

Successive governments chose not to repeal the FCRA though they demolished several other measures she had installed during the Emergency. The 1977 elections that threw her out and brought the first Janata party into power, with Morarjee Desai as Prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee as foreign minister, George Fernandes as Industry minister and Lal Krishna Advani as Information and Broadcasting minister, retained it. Charan Singh and Rajiv Gandhi, in their premierships, also retained the law, as did Rajiv’s cabinet colleague turned foe, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, socialist “Young Turk” Chandrashekhar, “poor farmer” Deve Gowda mild mannered “punjabiyat” ambassador Inder Kumar Gujral when it came their turn to rule. Each found some reason to stick with the FCRA despite a sustained outcry by civil society and developmental NGOs who saw in it nothing but memories of a tyrannical and dictatorial period in India’s history.

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was arguably the worst ever in its record of misusing the FCRA provisions to curb dissent and throttle the voices of civil society. Their home minister, “Iron man” Lal Krishna Advani   added innuendo to the normal rhetoric, repeatedly insinuating that Christian organisations were receiving massive funds for conversions, and Muslims were getting money for setting up madrasas to teach terrorism. Ministers from Mr. Advani downwards hinted they had direct evidence of all this, but each one of the worthies has shied away from the open demand by human rights groups and Christian organisations that the government come up with the proof. Dr. Manmohan Singh in his time made the FCRA provisions even harsher.

 

If honest investigations were to be done, many things would be clear. Terrorists, Muslims, Sikhs, Maoists or Hindus, or other insurrectionist groups, do not get their money from banking channels that the FCRA imposes. They get their money through Hawala or the underground drug, gun-running and the human trafficking rackets use.

 

In fact, FCRA has hurt innocent NGOs and well-meaning social workers. It has led to the fattening of crooked chartered accountants and consultants who specialize in expediting FCRA clearances, obviously in league with corrupt officials and politicians. It has also led to corruption among some sectors of civil society.

 

Experts have pointed out that if government has any concerns that the there is inadequate compliance with reporting the cure lies in strengthening overseeing bodies like the charities commissioner and the registrars of societies rather than penalizing a whole sector and creating ever more procedures which will only burden these bodies more.

 

But in real terms, there is no place for such a law in a democracy. Laws such as FEMA – the Foreign Exchange Management Act – for the corporate sector and other statutory provisions not only take care of all concerns but prevent the isolation and targetting of the apolitical social sector, of which the Christian church is such an important part. FCRA will always mean a knuckle-duster, if not a bludgeon, in the hands of a hostile and coercive regime, or a crooked official.

 

Expectations from the Narendra Modi Government 2014 — An agenda beyond development

To make a country without fear

 

John Dayal

 

A lynching in the country is not a good backdrop for a new government to begin the serious work of good governance that was promised in the winning election 2014 manifesto. Nor is it a good omen as a new Lok Sabha begins its inaugural session of a five-year tenure that perhaps will be less stormy and contentious than the one preceding it, its peace assured by the overwhelming majority of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The numbers leave little space for dissent, even if the emasculated and truncated Opposition to the initiative to raise issues that the Treasury benches and the government collectively think of as contentious. The riotous assemblies of the past on issues such as Telengana, the Women’s Reservation Bill, the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill, albeit very briefly, and even the Tamil issue will arguably remain just in the memories of the media and the TV-watching public.

 

Long before the general elections, the re-structuring of the Bharatiya Janata Party had given an indication of the vision for the future, with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and Mr. Narendra Modi together micro-managing the nation-wide choice of the candidates, with the cadres deployed all the way down to the electorate at the level of individual booths. There were close to a million polling stations, so that should a fair indication of the scale of the exercise and the numbers of cadres involved, working with other BJP supporters, and surely with excellent lines of information, command and control.

 

The long election campaign was vicious and unsparing, bruising, divisive and coercive, even threatening in a manner never seen before. The sophisticated social media, presumably manned by “modern” and educated young men and women, many of them living in the United States of America, often crossed the lines of legality, while their trolls operated essentially on the wrong side of the Information Technology legislation. Political leaders and activists, among them many who are now in the Union Council of Ministers, pandered to the lowest common denominator in an effort, so very successful in retrospect, to consolidate the majority communities. The electoral rout of the so-called secular parties and those representing the marginalised and the subaltern groups indicates how wide the communal chasm had grown in the last one year, peaking in Muzaffarnagar, with that infamous pogrom in turn fuelling the separation of peoples. It is a matter of speculation as to how long it will take for wounds to heal and suspicion to fade away. That, of course, would also depend on how long it will take for the defeated political parties and groups to recover, regroup and rebuild themselves into potent political entities. And that, in turn, would depend on whether the vanquished have learnt lessons from the battle. That, some say, seems a tall order.

 

The all-conquering Mr. Narendra Modi, the new prime minister has taken early and dramatic steps in an effort to prove that he is his own man, with a visible bow to his alma mater, the Sangh. The core group of his Cabinet is men and women fiercely loyal to him, even as the bulk of the lesser portfolios are filled by Sangh nominees, including a man who is an accused in the Muzaffarnagar violence, and representatives of the allies in the National Democratic alliance. The minorities, Dalits and Tribals have token representation. He has accommodated one competitor, the redoubtable Mrs. Shushma Swaraj, but has kept out patriarchs Mr. Lal Krishna Advani and Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi.

 

His swearing-in sought to mute fears of a hawkish image by an invitation to the heads of government of the countries of the neighbourhood, including the prime minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif even though some of his senior party colleagues, including former BJP president Mr. Nitin Gadkari, had all but declared that India reserved the nuclear option if Islamabad provoked the country. Every neighbour obliged. His inaugural address as Prime minister spoke of development and inclusiveness. The oath taking ceremony further spelled out the economic agenda, so to speak, in the major presence of India Inc., led by the Ambani family, fellow Gujaratis, as well as the more controversial Mr. Adani, and many more. And while perhaps the promise of inclusiveness was reflected in a number of Bohra leaders, and some other Muslim religious heads, also Protestant Christian Bishops and pastors, this was rather offset by the entire Sangh hierarchy present on the front seats at the Rashtrapati Bhawan ceremony. The man not present was Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh head, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat. The Organiser, the official mouthpiece of the Sangh recorded that those present included religious leaders Sri Sri Ravishankar, Jagadguru Ramanandacharya, Swami Ramandrachrya as well as Mr. Rameshbhai Ojha, Acharya Balkrishna, Mr. Bhaiyujji Maharaj, Sadhvi Rithambhra and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Mr. Ashok Singhal.

 

And perhaps therein lies the fear that extreme religious elements may see in the BJP-Modi landslide – that it was on a 31 per cent of the vote is largely irrelevant in the popular discourse – an opportunity for themselves, if not a licence.

 

The French political scientist, Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot who has written several books on the rise of the saffron brotherhood, noted “Except in Uttar Pradesh, where polarisation was the repertoire Mr. Amit Shah [the BJP campaign manager] orchestrated for delivering votes in a key state, Mr. Modi projected a rather soft Hindutva-based discourse this time. Whether this style will continue to prevail will largely depend on how his government will succeed in delivering economic growth. If he can quickly achieve positive results on the economic front and revive growth and create jobs, and can thus remain popular – the economy is definitely his top priority – then the development plank will be sufficient for him. If, however, he is not successful on the economic front, there will be strong criticism not just amongst the liberals but in his own camp. He may then resort to the Hindutva-based polarisation strategy.”

 

Delivering on the economy is not one man’s job, or even of one government. In his election rhetoric, Mr. Modi spoke of development, but never spelt it out in detail. It remained a phrase, a matter of interpretation. The United Progressive Alliance government of economist Dr. Manmohan Singh was accused of policy paralysis. Mr. Modi has done away with collective decision making mechanism thought of by his predecessor, including such holy cows as Groups of Ministers, and Empowered Group of Ministers [which by the way were instruments that led to the creation of Telengana]. Mr. Modi made it clear that it would be he, and not his cabinet colleagues, who would take policy decisions, leaving them the job of the day-to-day running of ministries whose numbers would also be reduced in time through the clubbing of several departments. He appointed a Principal Secretary using a Presidential Ordinance to overcome some legal barriers. He met with the heads of all the departments, Secretaries to the Government, and told the bureaucrats they had a direct access to him on the mobile phone to get the work done. Mr. Modi would indeed be the Chief Executive Officer of the new dispensation.

 

But India now lives in a globalised economic world and everything from Foreign Direct Investment to join ventures needs willing partners in the US and Europe even as they struggle in their own economic doldrums. The balancing of internal development, infrastructure projects and the vexatious issue of transferring land and forests to industries for exploitation and use remains a political landmine that can turn quite few friends into enemies, and provoke mass unrest in sensitive regions.

 

Thought inevitably turns to Prof. Jeffrelot’s common-sense premonition. In a very short time, there have been voices from within the council of ministers and the larger political family that the election verdict is for implementing the most confrontationist subjects on the agenda. Within a day of taking oath, a junior minister in the Prime Minister’s office spoke of reopening the issue of abrogating Article 370, which is critical to the state of Jammu and Kashmir’s ascension to the Union of India. The minister said talks had begun with stakeholders, provoking an ominous statement from the state Chief Minister that “long after this government is memory, either Article 370 will remain, or Jammu and Kashmir will not remain in India”. The political spectrum of the valley of Kashmir came together on the point, and Dr. Karan Singh, the last Maharajah’s son and himself the last Sadr-e-Riyasat, in a rare statement advised caution on an issue that had international as well national implications.

 

As if that were not enough, there has been a very visible attempt to raise the national temperature by immediately bringing up the issue of a Uniform Civil Code, which is seen as thinly veiled attempt against Muslim personal law. Other religious communities too have in the past vigorously opposed such a move unless there is a universal code which a citizen can voluntarily adopt, much as he Special Marriages Act. This has been a pet project of the Sangh Parivar, which sees the Muslim community as the font of a demographic conspiracy to overwhelm India. Its most obscene representation was in the slogan “Ham Panch, Hamare Pachhis”, suggesting that a Muslim man and his four wives would produce twenty-five offspring to upset the religious population balance in India. In actual fact, polygamy is the Muslim community is perhaps no higher than the hidden polygamy in some other communities.

 

The second pet project, “Indianising Indian education” was tried out in NDA-I under the venerable Mr. Tal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister and the learned Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi as minister for Human Resource Development. Much of the strategy revolves around changes in the curricula, in the text and ancillary books and in pedagogy. The Madhya Pradesh government’s Surya namashkar and efforts to make Yoga compulsory in schools is but a dramatic sign of it.

 

The tens of thousands of Ekal Vidyalayas and Shishu Mandirs run by the Sangh, often in remote villages, practice this education system. Their target is to have one such school, mostly a single-teacher institution, every one of the 6,38,000 villages in India. They are far away from the target, but they plan to get there. Even in their present numbers, such schools outstrip the total number of Christian schools and Islamic madrasas in the country, though official figures are not available.

 

The new HRD cabinet Minister, Mrs. Smriti Zubin Irani, mired in an unseemly controversy about her undergraduate status, has nonetheless announced that the education system would have to look into Indian culture for inspiration. Her fans in academia have seen this as the go ahead for purging textual material and curricula of things seen as Nehruvian, western, or for that matter, Islamic. Several leaders, and smaller fries including those who lead moral policing groups, want a drastic overhaul, restructuring the entire secondary school system. These perhaps are explained as the over-enthusiasm of a euphoric group.

 

All these are issues pertaining to the system, and will require major administrative and legislative action. They can also not be done in a day, or even by the next academic session howsoever hard Mrs. Irani, and those pushing her, may try. Despite the crushing majority in the Lok Sabha, Mr. Modi may also not try major amendments to the Constitution. The fierce independence exercised by the leaders of ruling groups in Tamil Nadu, Orissa and West Bengal, as well as insufficient numbers in the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha, are current bulwarks against such adventure. But that is not to say Mr. Modi and his government may not launch another Constitution Review Committee on the pattern of the Justice Venkatacheliah-chaired National Commission to review the working of the Constitution was set by NDA Government of India led by Vajpayee on 22 February 2000 for suggesting possible amendments to the Constitution of India. They have the mandate of numbers to do this, though one would like to hope Mr. Modi will not exercise this option.

 

What concerns the common people, specially members of religious minority communities as well as Dalits and Tribals, are matters of security, issue of their self respect, welfare, economic development, identity, and of course the protection of the law. They also want safeguards against the excesses of the law, and of the law-keepers.

 

The UPA government led by the Congress was not innocent in this. In fact, it was very guilty. There was large-scale community profiling. The government could not deliver on safety and security. It waffled on bringing forth Equal Opportunity Commission laws. It betrayed the minorities by almost deliberately and cynically ensuring that the Prevention of Communal and Targetted Violence Act was never passed by Parliament. Its Home Minister of the time, Mr. P C Chidambaram must take much if the blame. The blackest mark against the UPA on this score was the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which was used to arrest, humiliate, torture and incarcerate a large number of Muslim young men, as also those of the Christian and Sikh communities, if in much less numbers. And the Congress government could not either tame or contain extremist political elements spewing hate and indulging in violence.

 

The world is watching if the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, can rise to the occasion and contain these forces that so intimidate society with their violence, their moral policing and their efforts, so successful in the short run, to bridle the freedom of speech. Collectively, the result is great tragedy, and further dividing of people.

Mr. Modi will have to ensure that the death of a 28-year-old Information Technology professional in Pune, Mr. Mohsen Sadiq Shaikh, will be the last such incident of intolerance, psychotic hysteria and brutal violence during his term in office. The police say Mr. Shaikh was waylaid and bludgeoned to death in the wake of a morphed image the late Shiv Sena patriarch Mr. Bal Thackeray and Maratha icon Chhatrapati Shivaji on Facebook. Mr. Shaikh sported a beard and wore a skullcap, easily identifying him as a Muslim. That he was entirely innocent did not matter. That he was a Muslim, did. He paid for his identity with his life. His alleged killers, belonging to the Hindu Rashtra Sena, exchanged an ominous message on their mobiles: ‘Pahili wicket padli’, The first wicket has fallen, according to Pune joint commissioner of police, Mr. Sanjay Kumar. Considering the content of the message exchanged by the accused and the weapons they were carrying, the police are probing whether the attack was planned in advance. The city was under curfew for several hours.

This ideology surely cannot be allowed to propagate, or continue. The law must, of course, take its course. But it is for the government now in power in New Delhi to send out strong messages of comfort and reassurance to a traumatised people who otherwise may fear the worst. There can be no licence allowed to self-styled moral and cultural police groups. Mr. Modi and his party, the BJP, will have to show in word and deed that they are genuinely inclusive, and that every Indian citizen, whichever religious, cultural or ethnic group he or she may belong to, enjoys the Constitutional right of life and liberty and the freedom of faith in full measure. The law and justice system will, it is to be hoped, ensure this, with the backing of the political dispensation in power. Mr. Modi will have to see that such groups do not hold the government hostage, even if they think they helped it come to power.

Development alone, however visible it may become under Mr. Modi, will have little meaning for a people who are otherwise living in fear of any sort.