Kandhamal Day Interview of John Dayal

On 7th Anniversary of Kandhamal Violence:

‘The RSS has succeeded in penetrating in Odisha, particularly in its rural areas, causing hatred and dividing society, which lived for so long in peace’: John Dayal

Interview with Civil Rights Activist John Dayal by Md. Eisa, Abdul Raheem Umary and Abhay Kumar for Mainstream Magazine August 30, 2014

Seven years after the outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district of Odisha, killing more than a hundred Christians, mostly Dalits and Tribals, and displacing sixty thousand of them, justice remains denied to the victims and survivors. While the civil society is observing the anniversary of Kandhamal violence on August 25 all across the country, Md. Eisa, Abdul Raheem Umary and Abhay Kumar conversed with John Dayal, a well known civil rights activist who has been a leading voice of the justice for the Kandhamal victims, on Friday afternoon at New Delhi’s India International Centre. The 66-year old Dayal, who is also a member of the National Integration Council (NIC), secretary-general of the All India Christian Council, and former president of the All India Catholic Union, speaks about a whole range of issues including the continuing sufferings of the victims, the causes of the delay in justice, the ongoing discrimination against Christians in Odisha and the looming threat from Hindutva outfits etc. The excerpts are as follows:

On the seventh anniversary of Kandhamal violence, could you kindly tell us about the condition of the victims and survivors? What kinds of problems have they been facing?

Given the fact that Christians constitute a small population of India, the magnitude of the Kandhamal violence is terrible. This is the biggest attack in the history of Christianity of India in 300 years as 120 people, according to my calculation, were killed; as many as 6,000 houses were burnt; and around 60,000 others were displaced. People had to take shelter in forests to save their lives as threats were given to them that they could only be safe in their homes if they live as Hindus. So many lives, particularly youth, have been ruined. Many young eyes had a dream of becoming doctors and engineers but their dreams were all of a sudden shattered. There are still 10,000 victims of Kandhamal, who have not been able to go home due to fear. Another 10,000 are forced to work as labourers elsewhere in the country. Girls have been trafficked. This is happening because there has been an atmosphere of impunity—nobody fears the law. On top of this the minority Christians continue to face discrimination. We have documented that government schemes like NREGA was denied to Christian victims of violence, and now students and other government employees are haunted because they are suspected to have been using certificates as Scheduled castes though they have converted to Christianity.

The RSS has succeeded in penetrating Odisha, particularly in its rural and Tribal areas, causing hatred and dividing society, which lived for so long in peace. The activities of Sangh Parivar continue unabated and their hate campaign goes unchecked. With the BJP in power, at the Centre, the possibility of an eruption of violence, if not in Kandhamal then in any other Adivasi parts of Odisha cannot be ruled out. As for the question on relief, rehabilitation, and bringing of the perpetrators of the violence to book, there has not been much really done by the government. Most of the criminals, who were involved in anti-minority violence, are yet to be punished by the criminal legal system. The conviction rate, due to lack of evidence gathered by the police, is very low. As a result there have been just two convictions in 30 cases of murder. In most of cases judges have acquitted the perpetrators due to the want of witness and lack of evidence. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on record told the State Legislative Assembly that the members of the RSS were involved in the Kandhamal violence, yet nothing has been done to identify the aggressors and the groups which were responsible for the attacks. The state government has singularly failed to curb hate campaigns in Kandhamal and all the Adivasis belts. Even the government has refused to acknowledge the true figure of deaths so that it may not have to pay compensation. While the compensation to widows has not been enough, the compensation for the loss of goods has been non-existent, that is to say, zero. In other words, the state remains unwilling to assist victims rebuild their lives.

In your view, who is to blame for the delay in justice?

The state government and the police have shown gross incompetence, indifference and total lack of political will. I will also blame the criminal legal system which has shown the tendency of bigotry at the lower levels.

There is also a view that secular forces are not enthusiastic in taking up the issue of the victims of Kandhamal violence?

The civil society in India suffers from many constraints. It lacks numerical strength. It is also partially dependent on funds for its work. Unfortunately, there is also a section of people in civil society for whom the issue of human rights is not a mission but a project. But it is also true that there remains a significant section among civil society, whose only concern is the pursuit of justice. Another threat to the civil society has recently come from the new BJP government at the Centre, which has used an Intelligence Bureau report against it, alleging that the civil society has a foreign connection. I have written about this to stress the point that such coercive tactics of the Government is aimed at harassing vulnerable sections of society. Yet another worrying development is the increasingly tendency of civil society to remain sectarian and narrow in their approach. This is true of Christians, Muslims, Dalits, women and other movements etc. We must confront state and fight violence and communalism unitedly. As for political groups, we, barring the Left, have found very little support for these issues from the mainstream parties. Moreover, the trade Union movements have sharply declined since the beginning of liberalisation since the 1990s and the current government poses a great threat to labour forces. That is why there is a need to build a united front against communalism. But there is a note of caution–these moments cannot just be launched to get some electoral benefits but they should instead be directed at addressing the problems at the grass-root level so that the ideology of Sangh Parivar can be fought. Such united front must be formed to save this country from a looming and grave tragedy.

How do you respond to a firmly-rooted perception among a section of society that Christian missionaries are receiving funds from foreign countries and they are working hard to change demography of Odisha by converting the large chunk of Adivasis and Dalits to Christianity?

Everybody in organised sectors receives funds from non-Indian sources. The funds are received by Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, Sikhs and as well as by a large number of Hindus groups. As for the distribution of funds, Christian groups spend 90 per cent of the received funds on education, health, sanitation, environment, micro financial project as well as the empowerments of Dalits including “Hindu” Dalits. The remaining 10 per cent goes to the Church personnel. Let me stress the point that there is no foreign Christian missionary working in India as the Government of India does not give visa to Christians from the East or the West, who want to come to India as preachers or teachers. The Christians of India have as much democratic right to work in their own country as any other religious groups such as the propagators of the Ramakrishna Mission. On the propaganda of demographic change done by Christians, it is nothing but a myth. The Adivasis, who were not Hindus, have been converted to Hinduism. The VHP and its outfits have much greater resources including money and muscle power to work in Kandhamal and other parts of Odisha. If you go by the Census, you will find that the number of Hindus in Adivasi India has rapidly increased. The Hindu Right also propagates the lies that the Christians are using coercion to convert people. Christians have never resorted to coercion as it is both illegal and against the faith. Moreover, one should not forget that the police of this country are almost Hindus by faith, while politics, judiciary and rural areas are dominated by Hindus. How is it then possible for a small minority, Christians, to use force for converting Dalits and Adivasis? Are Dalits and Adivasis are fools? They are not. They know more botany than many scientists. Let me also reiterate the point that the Hindutva forces have resources thousands of times more than Christians could ever have.

Odisha has overwhelming population of Hindus (94%) while Christians (2.4%) constitute a very small minority. How have then the RSS and its outfits been able to have a large section of people believe Christianity as a threat? In other words, will you call Odisha as the RSS and its outfits’ laboratory against Christians as Gujarat is considered as the laboratory against Muslim?

This figure is incorrect because this assumes that every Adivasi is a Hindu, which is not correct.

But it is also true that in Odisha there is now a long history of hate crime and violence against Christian community. The Sangh Parivar has to invent an enemy to bring people close to the RSS organisations and their ideology. Hate and violence are part of RSS’ strategy to increase its presence. Please remember that Odisha has also seen violence against Muslims. Kerala High Court Justice Usha and scholar Angana Chatterjee documented the existence of communalism in Odisha long before the Kandhamal incident, which, in turn, invited the wrath of Hindutva forces, which disturbed their press conference in Bhubaneswar.

The RSS have instigated Adivasis Kandhas to attack Panas Dalit Christians. Why have the RSS been succeeding in pitting two subalterns, Adivasis and Dalits, against each other?

It is the RSS’ agenda to divide subalterns. The unity of subalterns is the only real threat that it perceive in its pursuit of unstinted control over Indian and its resources.This is my overarching argument. The RSS has been able to penetrate both Kandhas and Panasbut it is equally true that all Kandhas are not Hindus, nor are all Panas Christians. The deaths and loss have been inflicted on both Kandhas and Panas Christians. The 2008 Kandhamal incident, therefore, was violence against Christians. We need to challenge the Hindutva strategy to divide the subaltern groups and workers. We need to work towards forging a secular society of working classes, Adivasis, Dalits etc.

Are the strategies of the RSS to deal with Muslim and Christian “threat” different?

In some aspects, the RSS would differently perceive Muslims and Christians. The RSS feels a demographic threat from Islam, which accounts for its Islamophobia. RSS’ Islamophobia has largely succeeded here, infecting a large section of society, including a section of Buddhists, Sikhs and Christian communities. The source of RSS’ threat, flowing from Christianity, is not numbers or possibility of a demographic change but the values of Christianity, which pose Hindu social order a challenge. As Christian community works among the subalterns and work with them for social justice, they are perceived as a threat by Hindutva forces.

There has recently been a spurt of incidents of communal violence at many places, including western UP. Do you think that Indian state, despite being secular and democratic as per constitution, is completely callous to the issue of minorities?

Despite their election manifesto, we have seen over the last 40 years that the gap between major political groups has been decreasing when it comes to their political will to combat hate campaigns and communalism. This explains the failure of the Congress government to bring out Anti-Communal Violence Bill, despite being in power for 10 uninterrupted years.

Do you think that with Modi as the PM at the Centre with full majority of the BJP on its own, your campaign for justice has become more difficult?

The campaign for social justice has never been easy but it is true that it has becomes even more difficult when the BJP has come to power.But this will not dishearten us.Our struggle for harmonious and united peaceful society in India will continue. We will fight for upholding the very idea of India as enshrined in the Constitution and envisioned by Jawaharlal Nehru.

Md. Eisa (mdeisajnu@gmail.com), Abdul Raheem Umary (pzabdulraheemumary@gmail.com) and Abhay Kumar (debatingissues@gmail.com) are pursing PhD at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“reconversions” in Uttar Pradesh, as promised

Raising the temperature in rural India


This is not a Minority Report the church in India was expecting on the first 100 days of the government of the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, who his ardent devotees in his Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideologue engine the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh expect to take the country in its golden age of development and global pre-eminence.

A recent rash of incidents against smaller church groups and believers in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, following the ban on Christian activity in several villages of the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, have caught the church leadership by surprise. And has also stunned it into silence, at least for the moment. There has been no media statement by any senior religious leader, no demonstrations and protests, no memoranda to Mr. Modi.

The response has, in fact, come from civil society whose members, veterans of long years of challenge to the hyper-nationalist political religious groups, collectively called the Sangh Parivar, see the anti Christian violence as but a part of a larger conspiracy to polarize the polity further and consolidate the electorate gains of the recent general elections.

The Christians are targetted in what is called Ghar Wapsi, or Home-coming, which is a polite word for coercive conversion of the Indigenous people’s groups in Tribal India. The process against Dalits, the former untouchable castes who profess the Christian faith, is called Shuddhikaran, or purification, an ironic phrase, which holds “non-Indic” or Semitic religions to be polluting

The popular rage against Muslims, specially in rural areas and small towns, is built upon the myth of Love Jihad, an allegation that Islamic young men have been trained to seducing Hindu women to force a demographic change in India and reduce the Hindu population to a minority. Demographers, sociologists and gender activists have dismissed Love Jihad as a political humbug. Many of the scores of incidents of violence against Muslims in Uttar Pradesh this year have been triggered by such rumours.

Unlike Chhattisgarh which is ruled by the BJP, Uttar Pradesh is governed by the Samajwadi Party of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. The Samajwadi Party and the BJP are locked in a bitter struggle for political supremacy.

One of several cases of coercive action including physical violence from this region include the August 27, 2014 conversion of a large family of Dalits who were members of the Seventh Day Adventist church in Asroi village, some 30 km south of the university town of Aligarh in Hathras District. An aggressive group of activists of the Sangh Parivar brought with them a Hindu priest and a photograph of a deity and performed a “hawan” or fire-worship ceremony to “purify” the small church into a temple. The police arrested several of the miscreants. The one room church is locked up, and the village now has no Christian presence. The media in the region, which sides with the BJP, said the Dalits returned to Hinduism because they received no benefits from the church.

In the Greater Noida area also in western Uttar Pradesh, 10 pastors were thrashed by a mob led by a local political leader, and dragged to the police brought in for questioning to Surajpur Police station in Greater Noida on Saturday over allegations that they were “forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity”. The police also joined the group to beat the pastors. Days later, an enquiry by senior officers exonerated the pastors and said the politicians had made a false allegation to incite the mob and rouse religious passions in the villages.

These incidents have deeply disturbed the community. The situation in the rural areas is exacerbated to a situation where Christian pastors and persons who have been attacked are afraid to even file a complaint with the police as they feel totally isolated and surrounded.

The acts of violence also take away much from the reassurance that was sought to be given by some leaders of the larger denominations that Mr. Modi would control extremist Hindutva elements so that he could channelize national energies into development of infrastructure, social amenities and economic growth.

Civil society groups caution that the Christian community must not be lulled into a false sense of security presuming the focus of the Sangh Parivar is on neutralizing the political clout of the Muslim community which is seen as an ally of the Samajwadi party and other groups. The BJP has recently nominated the controversial religious leader Adityanath, who is also a member of Parliament, to lead its election campaign in Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Adityanath has taken up his new tsk with gusto, with a series of virulent verbal attacks on the Muslim community.

The well-known sociologist, Prof. Shiv Visvanathan recently wrote: “The new majority wants to capture history and politics and rewrite culture to align it with its subconscious. The tyranny of an exploding subconscious, where the majority literally launders its repressions, creates clouds of uncertainty. There is fear, doubt and suspicion. The regime stays silent as little obscenities are enacted.”

Civil Society, which had organised a national campaign to educate the people about the “Idea of India”, a secular, plural and inclusive country, is planning a national convention to sensitise the people on the need for the unity of the people to thwart any political conspiracy that threatens peace between religious communities and freedom of faith.

Religious minorities hope such efforts will bear fruit. In a country as large as India, with 600,000 villages and a police force grossly inadequate, ill-equipped and ill-trained, succor lies in the wisdom and tolerance of the common people.

Talking to Caesar

Church and the Narendra Modi Modi government


The popular idiom in international human rights discourse is that there can never be a “boycott” of any one, be it governments, non-state actors, political parties, institutions or individuals. There must be a constant engagement. There must always be scope to explore channels of communication, leading possibly to dialogue. And dialogue can be an end in itself in the short and medium term, even if there is little hope of success, or even understanding in the beginning.

It must hold true of the Indian church’s religious leadership seeking a dialogue with Mr. Narendra Modi, the prime minister of the country. The Prime Minister’s is a Constitutional position. And the Indian Government is a creation of the Constitution. So presumably even if it is the Bharatiya Janata Party which has won the popular mandate to govern this nation of 1.25 billion people, and there is need to engage with it. Many in the Church – most “major” denominations, certainly – had been eager to  be seen with Mr. Modi even when he was just the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat, with the baggage of his image of the man who presided over a government which sat idle as the Muslim community in the state capital was being butchered in the most brutal manner by hordes of  the Sangh Parivar. “We have no orders to save you,” was the title of a contemporary investigative report, which quoted police officers. Years later, Mr. Modi was to famously tell an international broadcast media that he felt sad. “Would one not feel sad if a puppy came under our car?”

Mr. Modi still does not answer questions on the 2002 violence.  In his Independence Day speech after unfurling the national flag at the Red Fort in New Delhi, Mr. Modi called for “development and governance”, the slogans that brought him to power, and he called for toilets and gender security. And, then, he called for a “ten-year moratorium” on violence which had roots in caste, ethnic identities or religious confrontations. No one has so far asked him why he did not call for a zero tolerance policy on such violence, and action against the hate campaigns that lead to it. A ten-year moratorium would end in 2024, which presumes a ten-year reign for the BJP, assuming it wins the 2019 general elections. This is a calendar fraught with dangerous implications, as political pundits and human rights activists have pointed out.

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

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

That puts religious minorities on notice. It is for Mr. Modi to assure them that the Constitution, and the rule of law will prevail.  This cannot be done through moratoriums. This should be the backbone of the promise of good governance.


Witness to a murder in Orissa


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Srinagar priest…

Srinagar priest arrest opens Pandora’s box

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-          – -

[First published in Indian Currents, New Delhi]


From Thomas Christians to Crypto Christians


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From Thomas the Apostle to Crypto Christians

Life and Times of a Minority Community in India

John Dayal


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A matter of history – Arrival of Christians dates back centurie

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

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

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

First missionary wave: Portuguese, Spanish, French and Dutch

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

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

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

Second missionary wave: East India Company and Anglican Church 

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

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

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

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

Christians believe in the secularism of the Indian state and society

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

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

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

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

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The Hate Crimes Increase

Early Warning – increasing hate crimes alarm religious minorities


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Igniting a tinder box


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Will “The Idea of India” Survive?



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


And, I suppose, a prayer is needed.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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










India’s Religious Minorities, Dalits and Tribals weep alone

John Dayal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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