Short-circuits and communal violence in India

1 May 2015

 

Short circuits and communal violence

 

John Dayal

 

The Christian leadership in India should perhaps hire better electrical engineers, instead of going screaming to the national media and international forums about increasing persecution of the community in the country. The Delhi police says fires in two Delhi churches were caused by short circuits. The desecration of statues in two churches were petty vandalism, while two others were mere thefts. Nothing communal or targetted about the six cases in the national capital.

 

In one of the cases where a Grotto in a Catholic church was vandalised, the police arrested three inebriated Sikh young men whose images had been apparently recorded in the closed circuit TV camera.

 

Elsewhere in the country, a love-lorn Muslim rickshaw puller was arrested for decapitating a statue of Jesus and tying the statue of Mary with a dog chain in Agra. And for the rape of a 72 year old Nun in Bengal, police arrested Muslim men said to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh who were apprehended as far away as Ludhiana in Punjab and Bangladesh. This must be one of those coincidences.

 

The Delhi Police Commissioner, Mr. B S Bassi, has apparently sent a long confidential report to the Ministry of Home Affairs which somewhere got leaked as “exclusives” to every news channel. It is a coincidence that the Bassi Report comes within hours of the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom publishing its annual report for 2014, in which it puts India in the list of Tier Two countries under watch for religious freedom transgressions. Neighbour Pakistan, if it is any consolidation, is a Tier 1 country together with some theocracies and dictatorships .

 

The police commissioner had said much the same two months ago when he was summoned by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. And indeed, the Union Home Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, had done so even earlier, talking to a group that had been beaten up and detained by the police on the eve of the state elections in Delhi. And two months before that, Mr. Modi had told a delegation led by an Archbishop which had come to greet him on the eve of Christmas that Christians were exaggerating this, “making mountains out of molehills,” as he colourfully put it, and their actions would impact the government’s development agenda.

 

To substantiate there twas nothing religious about such crimes, Mr Bassi had earlier

produced statistics to show that 206 temples, 30 gurdwaras, 14 mosques and three churches were burgled in 2014. This would be some contribution to interfaith dialogue on security issues. Far be it from me to call it an attempted white-wash.

 

There is no clarification by the commissioner, or by the government, on communal and targetted violence against Muslims, though also figures in the US report. But that could possibly be because of a presumption in government and political circles that the US, with all too many resident Islamophobes, is bothered just about the Christian community which, to quote Chief Justice Dattu, gets so much money from the West.

 

But persecution is not about the desecration of a church, or the smashing of a Marian statue. It takes many forms. Churches are not burnt in China, but there is fear in the community. Though not as it may be in some Islamic countries where violent death is always a breath away. Bhutan, with its quotient of happiness, is also as intolerant as the Maldives when it comes to “alien” faiths though no one has been killed. India records from 150 to 250 cases of some form of violence against Christians every year.

 

It has always been, everywhere, about defining the other. But in popular, even academic and parliamentary discourse, Indians are talking of “Indic religions” and “Semitic” religions, holding Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism with about 500,000 of his followers has nothing out of the ordinary, but every Tribal’s voluntary change of faith a crime that can put him in Jail, together with anyone else caught with a Bible. A dozen or so Christians, including one pastor, and a baby of less than a year, spent Christmas 2014 in a Madhya Pradesh police lockup on the demand of the local political leaders. Madhya Pradesh has a so called Freedom of Religion” Act. But this routinely also happens in states which do not have such a statute. In Chhatisgarh, several villages have passed resolutions banning the entry of religious persons from any community other than Hindus.

 

Mr. Modi’s government says there was violence against Christians even during the government of the United Progressive Alliance, chaired by a person of Italian catholic descent, with a Sikh as prime minister.

 

How does that minimise the undercurrents if communalism and hatred that are, unfortunately such a deep part of the landscape, and escalating with each passing year? Governments have come and gone, and even the Congress as a strong section that says the party should not be seen as “appeasing” or being sympathetic to Christians and Muslims.

 

But the common factor is the pungent hatred spewed by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak sangh and the organisations that are collected in its Sangh parivar. Mr. Modi has said everyone should feel safe in the country; but not once has he named the Sangh. Perhaps he cannot. Many of the hate mongers are in his party in Parliament. At least two are in his Council of ministers. It is difficult to believe that they do not have his permission, or at least his indulgence.

 

 

Nepal Earthquake aftermath : no place for hate gods

27 april 2015

 

No place for hate-quakes

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

Back  in 2001, a minister of a south Indian state said that the  earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat, on Republic Day which killed 12,300 men, women and children, was divine punishment for the sins of those ruling the state.  He was sacked. It is not known if he blamed god for losing a lucrative position. One refrains from naming the honourable former minister for perhaps he may have repented.

 

But thoughtlessness and lunacy of that scale follow natural disasters as inevitable aftershocks, specially when high faith and instant politics find a common home. We should be used to it by now, perhaps.

 

The venerable Shakshi Maharaj feels, and says so before large and doting crowds and news cameras, that the Himalayan tragedy is because Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice president, visited  the Kedarnath Dham temple in the mountains. Mr Gandhi, the son of the Italy-born Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, eats beef and participated in the opening of the doors of the holy temple after its winter closure, without undergoing ritual purification for his sin.

Far away across the globe in Los Angeles, California ,where beef is not illegal, former policemen turned preacher Tony Miano says God is angry. The precautions against future quakes, he suggests, is for the people not to rebuild all the pagan structures that have fallen, but convert to  Mr Miano’s faith.  The gentleman was so far known for what his critics call his”homophobia”.

And by way of an inter-faith consonance, an Iranian cleric,  Moulvi Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi goes on record to say that “Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” to which Iran is particularly prone.

 

Faith is strong in the Asia south of the young Himalayan ranges, but it remains personal, and even theocracies routinely wage war, or at least try to crack down,  on religious fundamentalism when it morphs into unacceptable extremism.  Faith also retains a cosy relationship with science, and no one mocks senior scientists when they visit a temple and crack a coconut before firing a rocket to launch a mission to Mars.

 

The mountains quaked in Nepal because of a slip in the Indian plate’s grinding under the Eurasian Plate in its inexorable tectonic northward movement,  which birthed the Himalayas, and thereby the nighty rivers of the subcontinent and their civilisation. Scientists apprehend a far more severe quake in the future than the one that has wrought such tragedy for so many.

 

This tragedy does not need political meddling, or one-up-manship. There are no brownie points for governments and heads of governments, and no photo opportunities for politico-cultural organisations in uniform. What Nepal needs today are more personnel, including dogs, trained in rescue, medical and para-medical staff and hospital equipment, temporary safe shelters, ambulances, food, specially baby food, warm clothing, torches and batteries, ambulances and fuel, and as someone reminded, sanitary towels.

 

And, of course, prayers to a loving God for his compassion for the victims of a disaster.

 

 

 

 

Manufacturing a lie

1 may2015

FINAL CUT

 

How the Sangh Parivar manufacturers a lie

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

Since the change in the national government in May 2014, there has been a staple in the armoury of the various spokesmen of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, and its mother force, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, when they have to face criticism that their cadres are attacking churches, or molesting pastors and Nuns. “This is the work of Christians, as was found in the gang rapes of the Nuns in Jhabua when Mr. Digvijay Singh was the chief minister,” RSS spokesman Dr. Rakesh Sinha has said on many Television new Channels in the past ten months or so.

uns and looting of a remote convent near Jhabua in central Madhya Pradesh state.

This writer has some personal knowledge about the Jhabua gang-rape case, and how this lie was born, and then manipulated and used by the BJP leadership and the Sangh over the years in a process that would have done Herr Joseph Goebbels proud.

As journalists at that time reported, at about 2:00 a.m. on September 23, 1998, four nuns who operated a medical clinic in Preetisharan Ashram in Nawapura village in the Tribal-dominated Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh, were gang raped by more than a dozen men. According to Father Lucas, who was then secretary of Indore Diocese, a group of about 20 or so armed men tried to enter the convent by pretending to be the relatives of a sick boy who needed medical attention. When the nuns refused to open the gate, the men forced their way in and looted cash and valuables. They then proceeded to gang rape the four nuns who had taken refuge in the chapel.

The gang rape shocked the nation, and the world. The Congress government in the state first tried to shrug it off as just another incident. A woman functionary of a national commission in fact remarked “Why do you send Nuns to forests; don’t you know Tribals are rapists.” The BJP first condemned the crime, but Vishwa Hindu Parishad secretary Baikunth Lal Sharma Prem, who later became a BJP Member of the Lok Sabha and now goes around dressed as a Sikh, claimed that the incident reflected the “anger of patriotic Hindu youth against the anti-national forces. Kanchan Gupta, the editor of BJP Today and a BJP spokesperson said, “It’s only a rape.”

We were able to get an FIR registered. Eventually, 24 men were identified, but not all could be arrested, and escaped punishment. The criminal trial itself was traumatic for the nuns, and the public prosecutor was accused of doing a shoddy job. Eventually, only 10 of the 24 were sentenced to various terms in prison. While six were acquitted, the rest were never brought to book.

But meanwhile rumours had began that 12 of the accused were Christians. Home Minister L. K. Advani immediately made a statement in Parliament that 12 of the 24 accused rapists belonged to the Christian community. Sadhvi Uma Bharati [and her honorific is the equivalent of a Nun], a former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh who is now a minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, repeated the insinuation.

We followed up the allegation that Christians were involved in the rape. In fact, when the first 17 men were arrested, and identified by the victims, the Superintendent of police had categorically said there were no Christians among them. Bishop George Anathil of Indore diocese, in which Jhabua is located, wrote to the newspapers which had printed the erroneous reports, saying a detailed investigation had been done in every church in the area and not one of the accused had been found to be a Christian. We asked the newspapers to print the rejoinder. The editors failed to do so.

The lie has been repeated by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar ever since. The Congress lost power in the state to the BJP soon thereafter. The BJP is still ruling the state.

 

The younger generation of media persons, and the common people, knows only the lie; they have neither the patience nor the inclination to establish the truth, even though some of them are not faithful to the ideology of the Sangh and the BJP.

 

——

 

 

 

 

No Peace for Greenpeace

No peace for Greenpeace, or even the mighty Ford Foundation

 

With FCRA registrations required to be renewed in 2016, thousands of voluntary groups, including those of the church, are being coerced

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru loved people, and groups, who worked for their fellow man, or assisted him to develop the new India he envisioned after Independence. Gandhians, as they came to be called, were among the first of these groups carrying on pursuits and organisations that Mahatma Gandhi or his associates had started. Perhaps they did not think of themselves as NGOs, the famous acronym that still expands as Non Governmental Organisations, and therefore does not include arms of the government which sometimes masquerade as voice of the people in international conferences, specially those relating to human rights, nuclear energy, and peace. They are better known as GONGOS, government-organised NGOs. Some of them spy on NGOs, others present the government’s point of view, supplementing the official delegation, so to say.

 

Mr. Nehru’s daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, did not dislike NGOs and had continued to patronise most of her father’s favourites, Including the Ford Foundation despite her distance from the United States in the run up to the 1971 crisis with Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. But by 1974, she was looking askance at the Gandhians, who she suspected were part of the conspiracy that was seeing mounting unrest against her government. When she lost the Allahabad High Court challenge by the maverick Ran Narain to her election, she imposed a State of Internal Emergency, which Mr. Siddharth Shankar Ray claimed was at his advice. While suspending most civil rights, she also imposed a new law, called the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act to starve the Gandhi peace Foundation and other NGOs of funds, and thereby their ability to reach out to the people.

 

The ruler’s paranoia against anyone remotely suspected of working against her, or him, had well and truly taken root in the Indian soil as perhaps in feudal times, or the height of the British Raj.

 

Mr. Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister, may ridicule the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, but like his Bharatiya Janata party predecessor in office, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, is a secret admirer of some of them. Mr Vajpayee fancied himself a latter day avatara of Mr Nehru. Mr Modi thinks of himself as an iron fisted ruler like Mrs Gandhi who saw her as a one-man Cabinet, and a ruler who made neighbouring heads of government quake in their shoes. And perhaps he wants to borrow from Mr. Rajiv Gandhi the love for technology. But it is Mrs. Gandhi he borrows his vindictiveness, and a tendency never to forgive.

 

There would not seem to be very many other reasons to explain the overkill and single-minded pursuit of NGOs and activists he suspects to have been targetting him in Gujarat since 2002, and in New Delhi since he took over as Prime Minister in ay 2014. He has not forgotten or forgiven that Teesta Setalvad and her NGOs put several of his party men, and at least one minister, in jail for the massacre of Muslims in the pogrom of 2002, and got his visa to the US withdrawn till he got a diplomatic immunity after assuming the prime minister’s office. He has not forgiven others for persisting with follow ups of extrajudicial killings. Above all, he has not forgotten that Greenpeace has been fighting all his friends, from Vedanta and the Ambani brothers to Mr Adani, also of Gujarat, who want easy terms and fast track acquisition of land that sits over mineral deposits or is planned for future infrastructure but now is home and food-producer to Tribals and farmers.

 

He is now chasing them ruthlessly, using the Home ministry to stop their activists, such as Ms. Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, from going to international meetings, suspending or cancelling their FCRA permits, and in the case of activists, trying to scare or starve them into inaction, if not penury. And when possible, the Intelligence Bureau and the Police are pressed into service. Outside official circles, cadres of the Sangh Parivar use social media to threaten and coerce activists, and blacken the image of the NGOs. The Sangh funds are sourced in ways that have never been explained, or investigated by the government.

 

But it remains to be seen if the government has taken on too much in challenging Ford Foundation and Greenpeace, both highly respected in the west, with strong support on Capitol Hill in Washington and government houses in the capitals of western Europe

 

It used to be said once that if you have heard of the United States, you have heard of the Ford Foundation, set up by the family that launched the automobile revolution which clogs Delhi’s roads, and pollutes out air. But Ford is a favourite of India’s movers and shakers, beginning from the great Jawaharlal Nehru. As many have pointed out, barring perhaps the communists, all too many think tanks, including the redoubtable Centre for Police Research and the Centre for Study of developing Societies have benefitted from its generosity. Inevitably, it has had a tremendous impact on police making, arguably for the good.

 

To use its own words from its official website, “The Ford Foundation supports visionary leaders and organisations on the front-lines of social change worldwide.” Its goals for more than half a century have been “to strengthen democratic values, Reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.”

 

One does not recall it funding anything that went against the national and corporate interests of the US, but there still remains a large area, including human rights initiatives, where it lends a helping hand. Even by 2002 when it celebrated 50 years in India, the Foundation said that it had spent $500 million in the country. In the last five years, it distributed $50 million to groups in India. By now it has several projects in collaboration with state governments too. Even think tanks of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have had a project or two active with the foundation over the years.

 

But Mr. Modi, it seems, is willing to forget all that just to punish the Foundation for financing Teesta Setalvad’s activities which he thinks are directed singularly against him. The Foundation is now on his watch list. An NGO cannot access Ford funds without seeking prior permission from the government, even if it has FCRA registration.

 

Greenpeace does not have the clout of the US foundation, but can be quite an irritant for governments and corporations, howsoever mighty they may be. Greenpeace, as we know, was born about the time Indira Gandhi was liberating Bangladesh in 1971. In faraway, cold, Canada, dreaming a green and peaceful world, a small team of activists set sail from Vancouver, in an old fishing boat. As Greenpeace historians describe its birth, “These activists, the founders of Greenpeace, believed a few individuals could make a difference. Their mission was to “bear witness” to US underground nuclear testing at Amchitka, a tiny island off the West Coast of Alaska, which is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone regions. Amchitka was the last refuge for 3000 endangered sea otters, and home to bald eagles, peregrine falcons and other wildlife.

 

“Even though their old boat, the Phyllis Cormack, was intercepted before it got to Amchitka, the journey sparked a flurry of public interest. The US still detonated the bomb, but the voice of reason had been heard. Nuclear testing on Amchitka ended that same year, and the island was later declared a bird sanctuary.”

Greenpeace is now an international organisation, headquartered in Amsterdam, and with a vibrant branch in India which began in 2001, and in 41 other countries. From ints offices in Bangalore and New Delhi, it coordinates work on four broad campaigns — stopping climate change, encouraging sustainable agriculture, preserving the oceans and preventing another nuclear catastrophe. Over the years Greenpeace India has built a strong base of supporters spread across the country and says two-thirds of its funding is generated within India. Greenpeace received foreign funding averaging Rs. 7.5 crore annually between 2009 and 2012.

Greenpeace India Executive Director, Mr. Samit Aich, says Delhi High Court in January this year had ordered that the NGO be allowed to access funds sent by its international office. The judge had also observed in court that the Home ministry’s action to stop funds access to funds from Greenpeace International was ‘arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional’. The court said the government did not present any evidence against Greenpeace International to substantiate why it has put them on a prior approval list. Aich feels the government wanted to prevent Greenpeace India from accessing funds from them in a timely and predictable manner. “This is having a real impact on the scale of our campaigns for clean air, standing forests, safe food and cheaper, cleaner electricity.” [See Indian Currents interview with Mr. Samit Aich, the Executive director of Greenpeace India.]

Some 45,000 organisations are registered with the Ministry of Home Affair’s FCRA division. The ministry has in media leaks said these NGOs are classified into three broad categories. The current focus is on those suspected of activities prejudicial to national interest and security. The other two groups are those suspected of violating registration norms, and those possibly laundering money.

Ant national activities have not been defined by the ministry, but can range from organising tribals and fishermen to supporting movements that target the corporate sector. The government says NGOs, particularly those involved in protests against the Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu, received foreign funds. It also alleges NGOs use FCRA channels to launder funds, but despite probing about 20 of the, has not been able to make any convictions.

Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr. Kiren Rijiju in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha to Mrs. Wansuk Syiem said adverse reports were received from intelligence agencies against NGOs such as Tuticorin Diocesan Association, Tuticorin, East Coast Research and Development Trust, Thoothukudi, Centre for Promotion and Social Concerns, Madurai and Greenpeace India Society, Chennai. Based on inspections/ investigations, the FCRA registration of Tuticorin Diocesan Association and Centre for Promotion and Social Concerns were suspended and their bank accounts frozen. FCRA registration of East Coast Research and Development Trust was cancelled.

According to published data, in 2011-12, notices were sent to 21,493 associations who were found to have not submitted annual return for the years 2006-2007, 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. In October last year, 10,343 were given a month’s notice to give their annual returns. The government says the addresses of 8,975 were wrong and another 632 did not respond. All lost their registration.

Donors are difficult to classify so easily, but various governments have consistently targeted many large charity group, including Cordaid, the Catholic agency. The Modi government has expanded the list. Ministry records show in 2011-12, NGOs had received Rs. 11,546 crore from abroad. Of these, 20,297 grants were below Rs. 1 crore and 148 above Rs. 10 crore. The highest amount came from the US as usual. Small funds came from Rwanda, Latvia, Angola, Tonga, Malawi and Suriname.

Of about 3,000 foreign donors, and action has been taken against only 16 [by putting them on the Home Ministry’s pre-approval list] for funding campaigns prejudicial to national security,” the official said.

 

Ironically a few friends of Mr. Modi have also been targetted, including the NGOs of Ms. Madhu Kishwar, who was a strong defender of the then Gujarat chief minister. Ms. Kishwar, and several RSS acolytes which have targetted church connected NGOs, have been demanding a total ban on all foreign assistance to the voluntary sector. They say the government should set up a central fund to finance the activities of the voluntary sector. This, critics fear, will make the NGOs totally subservient to the government and political dispensation in power, and will make the voluntary sector just an arm of the ruling party.

 

In 2016, the registration of some 16,000 NGOs will be checked and there is apprehension that the Home Ministry will use this process to try to target organisations which have embarrassed the prime minister, or challenged his development programmes, including the land acquisition bill, as anti-people laws that are designed to help the national and international corporate sector.

— —

 

Throttling NGOs

India chokes NGOs dependent on Western charity

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

After trying to bludgeon the Catholic church in Tamil Nadu into submission and withdrawing its support to the protest against the Russian-aided nuclear power plant in Koodmakulam, the Indian government now seems bent upon choking civil society voices seen as challenging it on issues such as torture, religious freedom, and the life and death powers the military exercises over citizens in the country’s north eastern states.

 

The weapon of choice is the threat to cancel licenses under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act that allows non-government organization, especially religious groups of all faiths, and Human Rights advocacy activists, to carry on their work with foreign financial help in an impoverished country where corporate and individual philanthropy is virtually unknown.

 

While a large number of Hindu God men and women are also major recipients of donations from international charities, including church agencies in Europe and the United States, Indian Catholic and Protestant groups, with slim local resources, are to a large extent dependent on foreign funds to carry on their charitable and development work among India’s poor and marginalized communities. The Christian institutions working in education and health sectors among the Tribals and the Dalits, once branded, as untouchables in the iron Caste system, are particularly vulnerable. As it is, the meltdown in the west has severely impacted on their work.

 

After arbitrarily cancelling as many as 4,300 FCRA permits – on specious arguments that their addresses could not be verified — the Union government is now issuing orders virtually banning some European and US funding agencies from the country. Indian groups have been told they need to take prior permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which also controls the intelligence agencies and some central police forces, before they can submit their projects to funding agencies named in the government’s prohibitory list.

 

Prime among them is Cordaid, a Dutch Catholic charity that is accused of having given funds to some Indian NGOs who are working for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that is responsible for many human rights abuses in Kashmir valley and the North Eastern States. The Reserve Bank of India has circulated an order to all banks in India that they have to inform it if they notice any transfer of funds from Cordaid to local NGOs. Cordaid is also held responsible for partly funding the India Against Corruption trust headed by social activist Anna Hazare and his erstwhile colleague Arvind Kejriwal whose newly formed political party is challenging the ruling Congress and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

 

Authoritative sources in the government say several other European charities, specially from the Scandinavian countries, are also on the government’s radar, as are many Indian NGOs with whom they have had relationship in the past.

 

The NGOs affected by the government withdrawing their FCRA permits have protested, but only a few of them have had the precious license restored. In a few other cases including some high profile advocacy groups, permission has been given for them to operate their bank accounts for payment of essential services, but they cannot withdraw any money in cash.

 

This has, understandably, created a panic among organisations working in development and training at the grassroots. Among those who risk going bankrupt for want of funds are several groups working among victims of violence against the Christian community in Kandhamal district of Orissa state.

 

Mr. Sanjay Patra, a highly respected transparency expert heading the Financial Management Services Foundation, there is no reason for the government’s paranoia, as there are several other laws on the books to check any misuse of funds, or diversion of money to terrorism on insurrectionist activities. Mr. Patra is also a leading light of the Voluntary Associations Network of India [VANI], which provides an interface with the government. VANI is now engaging with the government to get the FCRA licenses restored for the NGOs that have fallen foul of the authorities. VANI is also urging the government to change provisions in the FCRA rules that make it mandatory for all NGOs to seek a renewal of their permissions every five years instead of the earlier permanent ones. Anyway, money received from foreign charities under FCRA rules can be used only in designated activities and cannot be diverted to other areas.

 

Of the more than two million NGOs registered in the country those registered under FCRA are 38436. Of them, 21508 Associations reported a total receipt of an amount of Rs. 10,337.59 crore [about US Dollars 195 million] as foreign contribution. Many have FCRA permits but actually do not get any funds from abroad.

The government says the NGO sector in India is vulnerable to the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing, and therefore requires some form of policing of their funds and activities. But it has not been able to adduce any real evidence indicting the NGOs or linking them with terrorist or other unlawful groups other than in political rhetoric. According to government data, list of donor countries is headed by the USA (Rs. 3105.73 crore) followed by Germany (Rs. 1046.30 crore) and UK (Rs. 1038.68 crore).

The FCRA law is a reflection of India’s paranoia on what is euphemistically called the “foreign hand”, or fears that the West is intervening in Indian politics and culture. India’s right wing has accused the West of financing conversions to Christianity and supporting “Christian” insurrectionist groups in states such as Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya in the North East. No evidence has ever been adduced for this, other than political gossip and innuendo.

The law was drafted by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government in 1975 when she declared a State of Internal Emergency, all but suspended the Constitution and imposed censorship on the Media, arresting thousands of political dissidents and leaders of political parties. The government then said that Socialist leader Mr. Jaiprakash Narain, leading a movement against corruption and for democratic reforms, and several Gandhian groups supporting him were funded by western agencies and were trying to induce the Indian army to mutiny. Subsequent governments overturned many of Mrs. Gandhi’s laws, but retained the FCRA as a useful instrument to tame civil society.

 

Fact Finding Team report on Murder of Sr Valsa John

Fact Finding Team demands Judicial enquiry CBI probe into murder of Sr. Valsa John in Jharkhand coal mines area

New Delhi: A Fact Finding team that went to the Pachwara coal mines in Jharkhand leased by the Punjab State Electricity Board has demanded a Judicial Enquiry or a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigations into the murder of Catholic Nun Sr. Valsa John on 15th November 2011, as also into the scenario of violence in the area which has in recent times seen more than three violent deaths, police firing and deep rooted unrest amongst the Santhal Tribals.

 

The fact finding group was shocked at the apathy of the authorities and the control that the management of the mines have gained in the region where human rights groups have tried to assert issues of identity and the Tribals’ ownership of the land which has been taken away from them.

 

It is to was also told by the people/ villagers that prior to this killing, in Panchwara several villagers namely Vijay Hembrom, Joseph Soren, Raghuvir Ray, were killed as they were with the people protesting and later their death was dumped as mere accidents.

 

As Sr. Valsa was killed apparently in the context of her uniting and moiling the Tribals in opposition to the mining in the area and then for ensuring that they got their due rights by way of rehabilitation, the fact finding team, has also demanded the judicial enquiry or CBI probe go thoroughly into the entire circumstances in which the mine was leased to the PSEB and its private partner, and the role, if any, of the coal mafia.

 

Posthumously, Sr. Valsa is being vilified by vested interests who need to be identified and their role investigated. There has been a concerted effort in the local Hindi media to cast aspersions on her integrity and even her character. It is important that deep investigations are carried out not just into her murder, but the grassroots situation and events since the mine was leased out by the government.

 

While commending the church for its grass roots identification with the plight of the people in remote areas, the Fact finding team has also called on the State authorities to give proper appreciation to the work of Nuns, religious brothers and Fathers who are working among tribal’s and rural areas to ensure their safety and security.

The following is the text of the report of the Fact Finding Team:

Fact Finding Team report demands Judicial enquiry CBI probe into murder of Sr. Valsa John in Jharkhand coal mines area

A Fact Finding Team consisting of: Dr. John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council, government of India, Sr. Mary Scaria SCJM, Advocate, Supreme Court, Sr. Helen Saldhana, Secretary, Women’s Commission, Catholic Bishops Conference of India, and Mr. John Mathew, photo journalist and photographer, reached Jharkhand on the 6th January, 2012, to do an on the spot study of the situation and the events surrounding finding the murder of Sr. Valsa John SCJM in the colliery area of village Pachwara in Pakur district of Santhal Pargana region.

 

  1. BACK GROUND

 

Sr. Valsa John was brutally murdered in the night of 15th November, 2011 in a mud-and-thatch house where she was staying in Panchwara Pakur District, Santhal Pargana, Jharkhand,.

 

Sr. Valsa was born in Kerala. She graduated from college, and after a course in Teachers Training, she joined a school in Edappally, Kochi, Kerala .Inspired by the life of the missionaries and the struggles of the poor in North India, she opted to join the religious order of “ Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary(SCJM) ” which was pursuing such work. She opted to work among tribals, especially the women, children and the poorest of the poor in remote villages in Pakur District of Jharkhand. She worked in the tribal villages for about 12 years.

 

Events came to a head when the farmlands of the tribals were leased/ allocated to a coal mine jointly owned by the Punjab State Electricity Board and a Calcutta based company PANEM Coal Mines Pvt Ltd Company which held two thirds of the shares. The joint venture company was given a 40 year lease on the land.

 

Inevitably, Sr. Valsa’s work shifted to the struggle of the people who suddenly found themselves displaced.

 

Barring a brief hiatus, she stood by them till her dying day.

            

  1. Known Facts of the case:

On the night of 15th November 2011, a crowd of near about 50 people, armed with traditional weapons came at around 10.30 pm and surrounded the house where Sr. Valsa was staying after her recent return from Kerala. First they tied the few youth who were present in the premises. Then they entered the house and dragged Mr. Sonaram Hembron, the owner of the house, and threatened to kill him if he did not hand over Sr. Valsa to them.

 

They thrashed him and barged into the house. At first they did not find the Nun and they moved out. The Fact Finding team was however told by local women that somebody from the entrance of the mud house called out to say that he saw her at 4 pm the same day. The mob returned and searched again. They found Sr. Valsa under a bundle of cloths and a mat behind a box. They dragged her out, slashed her mouth and neck with apparently a machete and axe. According to the members of the family staying in the house, no sound came from Sr. Valsa.

 

The Fact finding team was told two of the killers got in the waiting jeep and drove off while the others took route to escape from the crime scene . It is said that there were outsiders — other than the villagers — who were involved in the murder, though it was not clear if anyone from the village or nearby hamlets had been seen with the killer group. The entire operation was completed in 3-5 minutes.

 

The Fact Finding Team has been told seven young men are in police custody.

 

According to the eye witnesses, the killers were associated with the PANEM Coal Mines Ltd. As sub contractors in the movement of the coal to the railhead and similar operations.

 

It was also told by the villagers that prior to this killing, in Panchwara several villagers namely Vijay Hembrom, Joseph Soren, Raghuvir Ray, were killed as they were with the people protesting and later their death was dumped as mere accidents.

 

  1. Sequence of events:

 

3.1. The build up to the murder:

Since the early 2000s, the Panem Coal Mines Pvt. Ltd, a project of Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) and Eastern Minerals and Trading Agency (EMTA) from West Bengal, had been trying to acquire land for mining operations in the coal reserves of Pachwara and 32 other surrounding villages.

Sr. Valsa John, who had been staying in Panchwara since 2000, and prior to that in Jiapani, Amarapada tried to help the people to organize themselves against the coal mining company acquiring the land of the villagers. Sr. Valsa took up the cause of tribal people displaced by mining around Pakur, about 400 km (250 kilometers) north-east of the state capital Ranchi.

Sr. Valsa John was patently a person with total dedication to the cause of the poor tribals. This is borne out by the testimony of the local people of the Santhal community, which is one of the biggest communities in the area. Sr. Valsa learnt the language of the people and spoke fluent Santali. Her women colleagues among the local tribals said she tried to provide a new direction, encouraging them to take up organized farming and to fight social evils.

3.2. The survey of the village land, Pachwara and the birth of a movement:

 

Sr. Valsa suspected something foul during a land survey in the village Pachwara. The survey team could not satisfy her queries and that made her to go out for more information. A total of 1151.70 acres of land was to be acquired for the captive coal mine for the Punjab Electricity Board. More than half of this (674.2 acres) was agricultural land – an alarming situation as agriculture being the mainstay of the life of the Santhals. A large scale displacement of many families were to follow with no clear terms of compensation defined.

 

Educating and sensitising the people in their rights, Sr. Valsa was able to build a movement from the scratch. It was called Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan (RMPBA), after a mountain held holy by the tribals.

 

The team gathered from the villagers and Church groups that Sr. John specifically organized the local people to protest against the exploitation by the coal mafia. She had the support of other social activists like Majhi Haddam, the traditional administrative Headman of the Santhal tribe, who worked to organize the Community. Her actions marked her out in the eyes of the coal mafia.

 

3.3. Various stages of the Movement

 

The Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan (RMPBA) faced many ups and downs. The Administration and they tried every trick in the book to weaken the Movement. They offered the village youth with lucrative offers with the sole intent to disrupt the protests. This divided the tribals into pro- and anti- Panem factions. But the basics of the Movement were strong and the pro-Panem faction couldn’t achieve much.

 

Further came the arm-twisting of the administration to exploit the legal machinery. Multiple cases were imposed on key persons of the Movement including seven cases against Sr. Valsa John. Valsa and many others had to leave the village for the forest for more than a month. The Movement remained intact and gained attention from every quarters, media, politicians, locals and activists.

 

The Fact Finding team was told the displaced poor people failed to get justice from all corners including High Court and Supreme Court. Moreover they were harassed by the mining company, police and the administration to withdraw their protest. Sr. Valsa was a major obstacle for them. She courageously stood and supported the movement of the people and their efforts against the coal miners.

 

3.4. Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)

 

It was also told to the team that when people could not withstand such harassments they were forced to make an agreement (MoU) with the company at last. Sr. Valsa had a decisive role in formulating this agreement to protect the interests of the people, and making the company to accept it. Sr. Valsa saw that the MoU Monitoring Committee (MC) consisted of two representatives from each village, three from the movement, three from the traditional leadership and three from the Company itself. Thus the Committee (MC) was consisted only of the Project affected persons and the Company and no one from administrative and political side.

 

Relentless struggle and persistence of the Movement finally brought the Panem management on the discussion board resulting it in the December 2006 Agreement. Although the MoU was signed in 2006, the Company did not do justice to the people as per the MoU. That led to tension mounting and the protest continued in the area. Under the leadership of Sr. Valsa the local people had led agitations against the PANEM coal mines located in Alubera and Panchuara areas under Amarparda block Pakur district, in 2005, 2006 and she was arrested in 2007 but she remained steadfast .

 

Sr. Valsa tried her best to bring justice to the displaced people as per MoU. Along with the people she demanded honest implementation of MoU. She urged the Company to establish schools for the displaced children for their education as per MoU. She demanded compensations like alternative agricultural lands, employment to local youths and proper drinking water etc.

 

  1. Team with the Nuns of Sr. Valsa’s Congregation at Jiapani

 

The Fact Finding team visited to the SCJM sisters Convent at Jiapani. Although the Nuns there were hospitable, they did not provide any information. This was rather disappointing. The team felt that they were either afraid of the consequence as they are living in the vulnerable area and giving any information may have future repercussions to them as well as their work and service to the people around, including the help to the poor students.

 

The Nuns said once in the past, around 2006 and 2007, barricades had been put up in the village and Sr. Valsa had “guards” around her with traditional weapons who would not allow anyone to meet her. Even the Nuns were not allowed to meet Valsa. Questions arise as to who was threatening Sr. Valsa for the villagers to offer her such protection. The Superior of the Convent said she went to the police to claim the body of Sr. Valsa after the postmortem examination.

 

The nuns said the PANEM company was helping them with scholarships for the poor children in the institution for their education.

 

4.1. Team with PANEM Officials

 

The Team reached the PANEM office around 10 a.m. on 7th January, 2012 no high officials were in the office yet. The office had as statue of the previous Executive Director who had been shot dead in the mining area some time ago. The tram asked to see the incumbent Executive Director (ED) . The watchman took the team members into the offices. While waiting for the officer, the team was met by one Mr. Srivastava who introduced himself as the Human Resource Manager. He said the PANEM Company had begin mining in 9 villages of Pakur District. The company, he said, saw that the people get all that they need. He said he met Sr. Valsa once or twice on his routine visits to the village. Earlier, junior staff at the mine’s office told the team that Sr. Valsa had come to the office several times.

 

Mr. Nirpender Kumar (ED ) arrived in the office after his prayers. He had a long bindi on his forehead, which endorsed that he was praying. On hearing that the team had come to find out more about Sr. Valsa, the ED made a quick call to someone – possibly the police – and enquired about the status of the case. According to him he had never met Sr. Valsa but read the news about her brutal murder in the newspapers. `It was unfortunate. She was doing a good work for the people,’ he told the team.

 

He narrated how well the Company had been working for the welfare of the people . They are paying the compensation, the villagers are given education, the locals children are sent to different places for education and the company is paying their fees. The company, he said, had given an ambulance to each village for taking people to hospital in case of any emergency.

 

As there had been a lot of rumours on the nuns integrity in some of the print media and allegations that she been taking the money and she was working for the company [Mr. Simon Marandi MLA had been quoted by the Times of India saying Sr. Valsa “paid wither life for her greed for money”] the team asked the Panem officials whether she was dealing with compensation money. The ED denied all such allegations about her. He said there was no cash dealing between the Sr. Valsa and the company. The money was given to the people by cheque and they went to the bank and encashed them in person. Sr. Valsa had nothing to do with the money. She never received any money as salary even for teaching in the school.

 

The ED, HR manager and other officials took the Fact Finding team to the site of the mine and told them the process of taking out the coal from the seam under layers of earth and rock. Also present were a few men there who looked like perhaps government officials who said they were scientists from Dhanbad, who came there to look into the possibilities of safe blasting of the mine. They left post haste once they discovered the identity of the fact finding team.

 

4.2. Team at Panchubera Village –

 

On visiting Panchubera, the team were led to the house where Valsa lived. The few villagers in the area looked frightened and timid. The team talked with the people as some of them knew Hindi to converse.

The team was told they would be able to meet a girl who had been raped, and whose case Dr. Valsa had taken up with the police. [One theory was that it was because she had espoused the girl’s case, that Sr. Valsa had been killed by friends of the alleged rapist. The girl had been called to the police station and was therefore not present, but the team met her mother who was still in shock.

 

4.3. Sr. Valsa’s Home and Life style

 

The people there then led the team to the little mud house where she was living. It is a very small room, in a traditional village hut, which was plastered with cow dung. It had no windows. The neighbours got a oil lamp so that team members could see inside the room where Sr. Valsa was killed. Her blood still stained the mud wall although no blood was found on the floor as the family has already cleaned up the floor.

 

In one corner of the house there were a few small utensils, also a small cot, and a mat made of bamboo leaves, on which she used to sleep. The company had offered a concrete house for her but she refused to accept it as she preferred to live and share the life of the poor people by living in their huts, a woman who had known Sr. Valsa, said .

 

The women the team met were heartbroken and were weeping. “We lost our didi’ they told the team. They are terrified and intimidated; They told the team that they lost their `himath’(strength). “ hum darte hai , abhi hamare pas kyoi nahi he hame chalane keliehe (We are afraid and we have no one to give the team the lead the team)” . Ek din veh hame bi marenge (One day they will kill us too) . Bahuth log chale gai hamare group se kyoke ki sub ko company pasise de rahi hai’ {many people have left our group because the company is giving them money], said one of the women. The team was also told that the former pradhan whose house Sr. Valsa was living early had thrown her out when she confronted his son who already joined the coal company and have already bought three dumper trucks and had given them on hire to the company for transportation of the coal from the mine to Dhanbad and Asansol railheads. People said that he already has built a big house. His becoming rich suddenly paved way for other group members to also fall prey to PANEM’s offer for a better life if they live the village and joined them

4.4. Sr. Valsa John’s belongings.

The team also found a trunk, which was kept outside the room of Sr. Valsa .The villagers said the trunk belonged to the family, which was given to her for her use. A few books, and a copy of the Constitution of India was also there.

 

4.5. Meeting with Church personnel

 

The Church personnel that the team met did not provide any information except most of them felt that there was some one behind the murder. A number of the Church people vouched for Valsa’s commitment and integrity while some refused to say anything. The church personals also told the team that the mafia threatened her several times. She had to live in thick forest for long time. Bow and arrow wielding tribals were her body guards. They kept on accompanying her. Once she successfully completed the literacy campaign in a village she used to move to another hamlet.

 

  1. Valsa was under constant threat from PANEM Company

The team was told Sr. Valsa had been under constant threat, possibly people associated with the PANEM Company. This was known to many people. The Superintendent of Police has confirmed that she had filed an FIR three years ago where she reported that she was facing threats. This instance had been already in the print and electronic media. The team felt that there was culpability of the police machinery, who knew the life of the Sr. was in danger did not take any action either to launch an investigation or to provide her protection.

 

  1. Post murder developments:

 

The team feels that after such a brutal murder of Sr. Valsa the police and administration is trying to mislead the nation public attention through various means. The police, State and some sections of the media are trying to pass the blame on Sr. Valsa herself. The police has also not shown any zeal in questioning company officials. The current focus is on the rape case of one as Sr. Valsa was going to see the police in connection with matter on the 16th November, 2011.

 

The team was perturbed to learn from many local people that after the murder of the Sr. Valsa, PANEM personnel had been the first ones to be on the scene of the crime even before the police arrived. Someone from among them had taken away the registers which Sr. Valsa used to maintain with meticulous details of the recipients/villagers receiving compensation for the acquisition of their land.

 

It is intriguing why the police and the mine company want the general public to believe that the Maoist are behind the murder. When there were more than 50 people reportedly involved in the brutal murder, the police has so far able to arrest only seven persons.

 

The team was also told that the pamphlets showing Maoist owning responsibility for killing Sr. Valsa was also brought to the police reportedly by the PANEM officials.

 

Several important questions arise and they are :

 

  • Why did the PANEM officials rush to the place of murder and why did they take away the register immediately she was done away? What could have been the reason – whether there would have been evidences that would go against them?
  • Why did the Panem official take the “Maoist” placard to the police? It is to be presumed that no one will pick up anything from the crime scene till the panchanama / police report is being done by the police.
  • Where does/ who has hidden the weapons used for killing Sr. Valsa?
  • Who may have used the locals to kill Valsa ?
  • Why the team was not allowed to meet the rape victim, who may have given the team some firsthand information?
  • Who did the Panem ED Panem phone from his office calling up to the PS while we were there and enquiring about the progress of the case ? Was it an indication given to the police that the team should not be allowed to meet the rape victim , who may tell the team some inside story ?
  • Why did the local boys rape the girl , at that particular day ? because the girl was in the village moving along with the same people , and why the police refused to take down her compliant which forced Sr. Valsa to seek an appointment with the SP on the 16th November? Was there a nexus between the police and the administration and the PANEM officials?
  • Why the investigation is not moving?
  • Are the local administration attempting to suppress the truth by intimidating the villagers and anti-displacement activists?

 

  1. Our Finding

 

After listening to various people, the church personals, the nuns, company, the villagers, the administration and seeing the places for ourselves the team is forced to make the following findings/ conclusion:

 

  • Valsa had become an eye sore to the coal mafia also the administration as they were able to win over the innocent people with by gratifying them with dumpers/ money, etc..
  • Valsa was a hindrance to their furtherance in the mining as they are planning to acquire more lands of the tribal’s which is already began and Sr. Valsa may have come down on them heavily with the terms and conditions of the MoU that they have signed between the company and the movement.
  • The company realized that as long as Sr. Valsa is there the people cannot be displaced easily and cannot be cheated
  • The administration and the MLA seem to be hand in gloves with the company in all things.

 

The pervasive nexus between powerful mining company and the State machinery has resulted in a lackadaisical investigations into the murder of a Catholic Nun who had worked for protecting the rights of the people and restoring them their human dignity

 

The Fact Finding team condemns the barbaric murder of a religious Sister who committed and devoted her whole life for the poor.

 

The Fact finding team demands:

 

  1. Justice to Valsa by the immediate arrest of the real culprits and posthumous restoring of her dignity and reputation.
  2. Initiate criminal proceedings against the police officers who failed in their duty to save Sr. Valsa knowing her life was in danger and she was apprehensive of her security.
  3. A judicial enquiry and at least a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigations into the murder d circumstances surrounding the entire case.
  4. Follow and abide by the terms and conditions enlisted in the MoU signed between the PANEM Company and the Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan (RMPBA).
  5. A white paper on the allocation of tribal land to mining companies.

 

 

 

 

Act of Hate in City of Love

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

 

John Dayal

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Forcible stersilsiations and second class citizens

The Door to a Theocratic Dictatorship

 

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

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

——-

 

 

 

 

The Christian Community in India : a 2015 Status Report

The Christian Community in India 2015

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Modi’s 300 days

Hate, persecution and Impunity

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

————