Caste and the Court

Heartbreak for Dalit Christians; fillip for ‘Ghar Wapsi’

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The Saint, the Fanatic and the Miracle

The Saint, the Fanatic and the Miracle

 

The Politics of RSS tirade against Teresa

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

—–

Open Letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi

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

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

God bless you

 

And God Bless India

 

 

The Rhetoric of Narendra Modi

Great Speech, Mr. Modi, but is the Sangh Parivar listening?

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

An Officer and a Man of God

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

A day before, and a day after Republic Day, the Presidents of India and the United States of America reminded the Government and People of India just how important Freedom of Faith was to the health of democracy in the country.

 

As Mr. Obama said, “Our freedom of religion is written into our founding documents.  It’s part of America’s very first amendment.  Your Article 25 says that all people are “equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.… Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.”

 

The celebratory week would not pass before Article 25 and the promise of the Constitution would be out to test in Tamil Nadu in the curious case of Mr. C Umashankar. He is an officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre of the Indian Administrative Series – the most powerful branch of the civil services — and is accused of preaching and propagating his religion in public. The state is governed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, an old friend of the Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, and of his Bharatiya Janata Party.

 

Mr. Umashankar was born in the Dalit community, and is an ardent speaker in meetings organised by church groups in his home state. He is a Christian.

 

He has been served a notice to stop his activities, and runs the risk of police action under India’s own blasphemy laws for disturbing the peace, and for converting people ti Christianity. The state does not have laws against conversions, and no one has said he is using force and fraudulent methods in his church work.. Civil society has not missed the irony that the officer is being hounded by a state government which thinks nothing of idolizing a convicted political personality, former chief minister Ms. J Jayalalitha, or supporting religious leaders with a criminal past.

 

His case poses some crucial questions concerning his rights as a citizen of India, the limits of the code of conduct for a government servant or a government person under the law, which includes people like ministers and public functionaries drawing their salaries from the Consolidated fund of India, and on the definition of proselytizing, conversions and issues like public order

 

Umashankar has every right to profess his faith as a Christian, new or old. He has every right to profess, practice and propagate it in his personal time even if he is a government servant. Most Indians if a certain age would have seen photographs of presidents and prime ministers – from the first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad to the current one, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee — going to temples bare bodied, and in public, not private, audience under the glare of television lights. So have prime ministers from Mr. Gulzari Lal Nanda to Mr. Narendra Modi been seen professing their religion in public, giving religious statements, and because they are on national TV while praising their own relgion and its past, they are also propagating it to all those who can hear and see them.

 

Most police stations and many government offices have idols, calendars and pictures, garlanded and often with incense sticks burning before them, in police stations, government offices, court compounds. A very large percentage of government officials, all the way to the Supreme court, sport religious symbols publicly on their bodies. There are Vinayaka temples inside court campuses. Saraswati pooja is performed in the court.

 

Umashankar, by all evidence, has never mixed his official and individual identities. There has been no fault found in his official conduct. He believes in his faith, his divinity, his Holy book. He has also taken an oath to protect the condition as an officer of the union of India in an All-India civil service. The charge is that he is converting. He is not a pastor or priest. He is a preacher. If someone asks him to pray for healing, he does so. He does not claim he is a god man. This is a matter of faith. This is not creating a law and order problem. He is not a charlatan, a magic man or a voodoo or magic medicine seller. He is not a quack. And on the issue of law and order, it is the fundamentalist Hindutva activists who are the ones who are really guilty, who are creating the law and order crisis. One would wonder why the state government and the local police are not taking action against them. It remains to be seen how this case will play out in courts and administrative tribunals.

 

Raj Dharma in 2015

Raj Dharma in 2015

President Pranab Mukherjee imparts Mr. Narendra Modi a lesson in development and its relationship with Freedom of Faith and Human rights. So does a visitor

JOHN DAYAL

 

Mr. Narendra Modi, India’s larger than life Prime Minister, has a huge ego. The people of Gujarat have known that for much of the new Century when he was their Chief Minister. The nation has got to know of this after he took office in May 2014. They had a closer look at the man when he went to the United States and spoke at Madison Gardens hall. But the closest look of all was when he shook hands at Rashtrapati Bhawan with visiting US President Barak Obama, or “my friend Barack with whom I do gup-shup [make small talk]” as he prefers to call the first Afro-American in White House.

 

The cameras focused on Mr. Modi’s blue-grey pinstripe formal suit. It was patently a bespoke piece of apparel. The close up lens then showed the world that the pin-stripes were his full name “narendradamodardasmodi” in capital letters woven in golden thread into the woolen warp and weft. Investigative journalism traced it to an artisan mill in the United Kingdom, and a bespoke tailor in London’s Seville Row. The estimated cost was placed at more than 10,000 Pound Sterling, or in Indian rupee terms, at least 10 Lakh.

 

But this is not about expensive suits. Mr. Modi has a taste for good things, turbans, writing instruments and studded watches worthy of the pockets and wrists of some of his billionaire friends. And he has right to wear them if he as declared them to the Income tax department, the government, and the Election Commission. Even some reporters and editors wear such stuff. As indeed do most – but not all – politicians and even clerics of most religions.

 

In fact, this is not about his arrogance either, or that he administers India through a powerful Prime Minister’s Office that has made the Cabinet system of Constitutional governance all but redundant. Or that he does not like to be told that there is something that he, his government, his political party or the cadres of his old group, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have done wrong.

 

But suit and watches notwithstanding, in two days around Republic Day, the powerful Mr. Modi got two extraordinary lessons in Raj Dharma that even the great Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the prime minister those days, could not really give him in 2002.

 

Mr. Modi was politely reminded in rather sharp language that India’s religious minorities, particularly, were uncomfortable, and their plight would seriously impact the promise of development on which he rode to power last years.

 

United States President Barack Obama hogged the international headlines with his “Town hall” speech in New Delhi, as he concluded his three day visit to India for its Republic Day, with a rather sharp lesson on what makes a country great – not economic progress or military might, but the unity of the people brought about by a shared destiny, the hope of progress in the most marginalised, and the sense of security among its religious minorities.

 

But it was the Indian President, the 79-year old soft-spoken Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, who from a State platform, delivered a homily that is the strongest caution yet on the threat posed to the unity and progress of India from the religious nationalism of the RSS. Mr. Mukherjee did not name the RSS, or its many associates in the Sangh Parivar family, but his address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day on 26th January – which marks the promulgation of the Constitution in 1950 – dwelt at some length on the issue.

 

President Mukherjee in his address said “In an international environment where so many countries are sinking into the morass of theocratic violence … We have always reposed our trust in faith-equality where every faith is equal before the law and every culture blends into another to create a positive dynamic.  The violence of the tongue cuts and wounds people’s hearts. The Indian Constitution is the holy book of democracy. It is a lodestar for the socio-economic transformation of an India whose civilization has celebrated pluralism, advocated tolerance and promoted goodwill between diverse communities. These values, however, need to be preserved with utmost care and vigilance.”

 

Mr. Mukherjee touched a point that has worried many among even those who voted for Mr. Modi hoping he would bring abut a change from the corruption and economic coma in which the country had found itself in the last years of the Congress regime led by Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. This was the increasing cacophony of many in the BJP, including some Ministers and Members of Parliament, who were supporting a demand that India mark itself out as a Hindu Rashtra or Nation, and stop appeasing Muslims, and Christians, both seen as enemies of the nation and the majority community. And some among them were quite stridently asking that the Constitution be scrapped and replaced by a more “nationalistic” one rooted not in western concepts but in India’s Hindu tradition.

 

Industrialists, bankers and businessmen hoping that the new regime would be able to attract international investors and partners, specially from the United States, found the response turning tepid, despite Mr. Modi’s much touted visits to Washington, new York, Beijing and Tokyo. Investors were hesitant not just because economic reforms were not taking place at the speed that had been promised, but the country’s human rights environment had, if anything, sharply deteriorated.

 

The so called Ghar Wapsi, or Home coming, that the Sangh Parivar had launched soon after the general elections to forcibly convert Dalit and Tribal Christians and Muslims to Hinduism had been put on hold for the week ahead of President Obama’s State visit, but it was never in doubt that it, and violence targetting religious groups, would be resumed. And so it did, a day after Mr. Obama left India. Recent data shows almost 150 recorded cases of violence against Christians last year, and several in recent days. The violence against Muslims is feared to be several times more.

 

The hate campaign has, meanwhile, been whipped into a frenzy with inspired leaks from the government that the Muslim population has soared in the 2011 population. [Indian Currents covered in an earlier issue]. The official desegregated data of religious populations is among the last to be made public, but there is always an argument that the Muslims breed at a rate that would make them overtake the Hindu population within the 21st Century. The leaked data does show that there is an increase in the Muslim population. Even though the growth rate of the Muslim population has slowed from 29% to 24% between 1991 and 2001, it is still higher than the national average of 18% for the decade. According to reports in the Times of India, the most rapid rise in the share of Muslims in the total population was witnessed in Assam, which borders Bangladesh from where large numbers of Muslims are said to have infiltrated in recent decades.

 

It is not just fringe elements or political mavericks who suggest solutions that would be deemed anti-democratic even in military dictatorships – including disenfranchisement of religious groups, or asking Hindu women to produce ten or even more children to maintain a demographic superiority. There is a raging controversy now on a series of media advertisements by the national government that has illustrations of the illustrated Preamble of the Constitution without two crucial words “Secular” and “socialist”. These words were not there in the document that was signed on 26th January 1950, but were introduced in an amendment passed by parliament in the 1970s. Many of the social legislation that was passed in the closing decades of the last century, including employment for rural poor, and scholarships for Muslim youth in particular, were born of those two words.

 

The noted lawyer and currently Union Minister for Information technology, Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad, is among those who seem to endorse the debate on this issue. In a way, this is in line with the argument that had been advanced when Mr. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister at the head of the first National Democratic Alliance of the BJP, that the Constitution needed a comprehensive review. In the event, the Justice Venkatachelliah commission he had appointed did not suggest deletion of the words Secular and Socialism even if they had been adopted by parliament in the years if the State of Emergency.

 

The talk in the highest quarter that the Constitution is better off without socialism and secularism has understandably sent shock waves among the rural poor, Tribals, Dalits, as well as Muslims and Christians. There is therefore a growing demand that the Modi government heed the President Mukherjee’s caution and stop political discourse becoming a competition in hysteria that is abhorrent to traditional ethos and Constitutional values. In the words of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights president, Dr. Michael Williams, “It is significant that the Hon’ble President of India has stressed the sanctity of the Constitution. He is concerned at what he sees happening in India – the hate campaigns, the coercion and the violence against religious minorities, Dalits, Tribals and women.”

 

President Barack Obama’s parting, and cutting, remarks are evidence that the world is watching India as it stakes its claim to be a member of the elite global economic and strategic clubs. As Mr. Obama said, “Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all God’s children — all equal in His eyes and worthy of His love… Our freedom of religion is written into our founding documents.  It’s part of America’s very first amendment.  Your Article 25 says that all people are “equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”  In both our countries — in all countries — upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it’s also the responsibility of every person. … Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.”

 

The issue of targetted hate and even targetted government action against minorities is illustrated in the curious case of Mr. C Umashankar, an officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre of the Indian Administrative Series – the most powerful branch of the civil services — who is accused of preaching and propagating his religion in public. Tamil Nadu is ruled by the all India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, AIADMK, an ally of Mr. Modi.

 

Mr. Umashankar, according to information, was born in the Dalit community, and is an ardent speaker in meetings organised by church groups in his home state.

 

He has been served a notice to stop his activities, and runs the risk of police action under India’s own blasphemy laws. Civil society has not missed the irony that the officer is being hounded by a state government which thinks nothing of idolizing a convicted political personality, former chief minister Ms. J Jayalalitha, or supporting religious leaders with a criminal past.

 

His case poses some crucial questions concerning his rights as a citizen of India, the limits of the code of conduct for a government servant or a government person under the law, which includes people like ministers and public functionaries drawing their salaries from the Consolidated fund of India, and on the definition of proselytizing, conversions and issues like public order

 

Umashankar has every right to profess his faith as a Christian, new or old. He has every right to profess, practice and propagate it in his personal time even if he is a government servant. Most Indians if a certain age would have seen photographs of presidents and prime ministers – from the first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad to the current one, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee — going to temples bare bodied, and in public, not private, audience under the glare of television lights. So have prime ministers from Mr. Gulzari Lal Nanda to Mr. Narendra Modi been seen professing their relgion in public, giving religious statements, and because they are on national TV while praising their own relgion and its past, they are also propagating it to all those who can hear and see them.

 

Most police stations and many government offices have idols, calendars and pictures, garlanded and often with incense sticks burning before them, in police stations, government offices, court compounds. A very large percentage of government officials, all the way to the Supreme court, sport religious symbols publicly on their bodies. Justice Chandru, retired judge of Madras high court, wrote that while it may very well be correct to expect civil servants to not publicly propagate a religion, the practice of Indian secularism has never meant strong separation from religion. There are Vinayaka temples inside court campuses. Saraswati pooja is performed in the court. Some Muslim judges go for prayers during working hours on Fridays. There is a separate place for Muslims to pray in high court campus. The government funds the Kailash trip and Haj. And a non-Hindu can’t be made chairman of HR & CE board. If none of these is a problem then why should Umashankar’s preaching be one, asks Justice Chandru and wonders if such things get noticed only when the concerned person is from a minority community . When the government has no consistent policy on religious issues, nor does it have specific conduct rules, denying the right to preach or propagate a particular religion is not correct.

 

Umashankar, by all evidence, has never mixed his official and individual identities. There has been no fault found in his official conduct. He believes in his faith, his divinity, his Holy book. He has also taken an oath to protect the condition as an officer of the union of India in an All-India civil service. The charge is that he is converting. He is not a pastor or priest. He is a preacher. If someone asks him to pray for healing, he does so. He does not claim he is a god man. This is a matter of faith, not justiciable. This is not creating a law and order problem. He is not a charlatan, a magic man or a voodoo or magic medicine seller. He is not a quack. And on the issue of law and order, it is the fundamentalist Hindutva activists who are the ones who are really guilty, who are creating the law and order crisis. One would wonder why the state government and the local police are not taking action against them. It remains to be seen how this case will play out in courts and administrative tribunals in coming days.

 

Remedies against communalism, and steps to strengthen secularism, would have to be found within the country. It will not do for the west, and specially the United States, to presume they can arm-twist India to improve its human rights record. This can be counter-productive, feeding into the paranoia of the Sangh Parivar in the short run.

 

But a continuing international dialogue on Human rights is a good thing. With China, the US has integrated tis dialogue in the dialogue on economic cooperation and trade. There has been a move by Members of the Democratic party in the US Congress – their lower house of Parliament – to introduce such a content in the economic discourse with India. The resolution Number 417 was introduced on 18 November 2013, but is yet to collect the required number of signatures to make it effective.

 

The resolution calls for religious freedom and related human rights to be included in the United States-India Strategic Dialogue and for such issues to be raised directly with federal and state Indian government officials. It refers to the 2002 anti Muslim violence in Gujarat and says the state government has not adequately pursued justice for the victims of religious violence in 2002 and expresses concern regarding reports about the complicity of local officials.

The resolution also calls on Gujarat and other Indian states with anti-conversion laws to repeal such legislation and ensure freedom to practice, propagate, and profess religion as enshrined in the Indian constitution. It urges all political parties and religious organizations to publicly oppose the exploitation of religious differences and denounce harassment and violence against religious minorities. An important suggestion is the establishment of an impartial body of interfaith religious leaders, human rights advocates, legal experts, and government officials to discuss and recommend actions to promote religious tolerance and understanding.

 

There is no indication that the US or India referred to this resolution in the bilateral talks this Republic Day. But they are part of the civil society discourse. And a major target of the Sangh Parivar trolls in social media.

————

 

 

Celebrating the Life and Times of Indian Nuns and Priests

The Challenge is in the soil of India

JOHN DAYAL

Nine years ago, in 2006, I wrote a Public Note, by way to a statement to the media and to the law leadership in India when the Bar Council of India moved the Supreme Court of India, opposing the admission of Catholic consecrated women and men practicing as lawyers in various courts of law. As many others, among them Hindu and Muslim jurists, I too was shocked at the approach and perhaps even implied bigotry in that organisation managing the professional aspects of lawyering. The matter had been adequately settled in the Bombay High Court many years ago when it upheld the marked difference between the vocation of a priest and a nun and their specialized secular profession. The matter was later upheld once again in the Kerala High Court.

I asked :“If the Bar Council feels it still needs to agitate the matter in the highest court of the land, it will have to explain itself to the common man. What does it oppose – the entry of highly committed rand deeply religious activists with a social conscience seeking legal redress for the common man, the poor and the marginalized, demanding equity in law, and providing a voice to the meek? Is it opposed to low cost and free legal aid available to gender victims, to Dalits and the starving. Does it not like commitment and excellence?

“Theologically and under legal definitions, the vocation of a religious is very different from his or her professional career. A priest or nun, after years of theological, philosophical and spiritual training – apart from secular studies – makes a commitment, even a covenant, with God to serve his people to the end of their lives, making sacrifices most humans would not. Many of these priests serve in parishes in religious duties. Many others train as teachers, social workers, doctors, scientists, and even motor mechanics and serve their local brothers and sisters. If the Bar Council is making a difference between professionals – the Advocate Act bars even law degree holders in a full time job in industry or education from practicing in courts – it needs to remembered that when nuns and priests are employed in the university or hospitals, they get full salaries as given to their secular colleagues. It is another matter that most of them deposit this salary with their congregations. Therefore nuns and priests are not employees of a church organisation or of a bishop or superior. Nuns and priests, who are lawyers, whether in Mumbai, Allahabad, Lucknow, Calcutta or Delhi, have done a tremendous job in legal aid and civil society. This I can vouch for by my personal and long experience in long years or working with them. They must be accepted as lawyers and allowed to practice in court in the defence of the poor.”

I have not always been a practicing Catholic, spending as an avowedly Left-wing writer and activist almost my entire youth and two thirds of my professional life as an investigating journalist, Editor and documentary film maker reporting on political, economic and development issues relating to farmers, labour, religious minorities, Tribals, Dalits and others forced to live on the margins of government and public consciousness in the country, and other parts of the world. This is an ideological battleground, and those witnessing it cannot remain untouched with the hidden and open violence against the poor and the weak, with the state complicit, and impunity rampant. This also gave me an opportunity to see the rawness of life at the grassroots, the victimization, and the terror. It also helped understand the political economy, and the lack of social interventions by civil society. Above all, it helped me see the nexus, collaboration and conspiracy between big capital, politicians, the bureaucracy and the criminal justice apparatus — block level judicial officers all the way to the high courts and the   capricious lawyers – as it operates in real life.

The Church — Catholic, protestant, evangelical, Pentecost — was among the few organisations present at the grassroots, sometimes even where the government instruments and personnel were absent, such as in health and education, and there was no civil society, no Non-Governmental Organisations, and in the early years, not a single member of any of the Sangh Parivar organisations. It was not that the church presence was always useful. Sometimes it was just one person, and while he or she could take a ill person to the nearest dispensary, there was little else that was done, other than perhaps a basic evangelisation, and that too not in a very enlightened manner. And sometimes, the church presence became just another part of the formal structures, the church personnel doing the bidding of the local political and administrative bosses. In effect, they became little more than service providers.

But even in the 1970s in my travels in areas that were forested, or were populated by Tribals and Dalits, as they are now generally known, I would meet Catholic consecrated men – I would much rather call them Brothers, Religious Sisters or Nuns and Fathers – working deep in the hinterland, in the areas inhabited by the poorest of the poor.

And they were often working in politically and physically hostile areas long before the hoodlums of the Sangh Parivar sought to make these areas more inhospitable to anyone who challenged their divisive and hate-filled ideology. Even during the terrible days of the Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi during 1975-1977, when all voices were stifled and police and bureaucracy ruled as petty dictators in some banana republic, there were men and women brining solace to the victims, if bit actually challenging the czars of the ruling structure. I do not know if any priest or Nun was arrested by the police those days. Perhaps not, but many surely would have been warned off, and told to stop their activities.

Many years later, I had another cathartic, even shattering experience that confirmed my oft-articulated sentiment that Catholic Nuns are ordinary women challenged to do extraordinary deeds, that they voluntarily identify themselves entirely with the fate of the poor and marginalised who are at risk of life, liberty or dignity. Some of these religious women for this with their lives. This was my visit to the small hut that Sister Valsa John of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary called home in a distant village in Pachaura, In Pakur in Dumka district of Jharkhand, and where she was brutally murdered in late at night on Tuesday, 15th November 2011. She had been attacked by a group of about 45 men armed with swords, axes and other weapons. Her head was nearly severed from her body. Some Maoist literature and a spade were left behind. The immediate suspicion was that she was killed for she had taken sides with the local Tribals in their long standing confrontation with the corporate sector mining the area for coal. Years later, the suspicions of a conspiracy remain in the public mind, and in mine.

Valsa’s death, the impunity of the state, has made me ask many questions of myself, the laity, other religious, and of course of the Church hierarchy Why are these people honoured, often in a token gesture, after their death by violence or in God’s own time of old age, but never celebrated when they are alive, and why is their work never really acknowledged unless it is in their role as principals and teachers of popular “convent” schools and colleges in metropolitan cities. Above all, where would be the Catholic church in particular, but without its consecrated people, followed by the next question why despite a couple of hundred thousand trained and untrained pastors and bible teacher, the protestant and independent churches have not been able to get trained and committed people who are not mere employees, but the very soul of the social and evangelistic outreach of the faith.

The future of the Church in general, and its evangelistic and social outreach, beyond the homilies and the rituals, depends on its consecrated personnel. Of that there is no doubt in my mind. The Lay component of the church does not lack the zeal, nor the divine calling, to be use and help to his of her fellow human beings. Their limited potential of this intervention despite their more intrinsic “dialogue of life” with people of other religions and social identities in the neighbourhood, is because of the nature of the church in India and the demographic and economic, social and caste compulsions of the people. The membership of the church is largely Dalit, Tribal, peasantry and what can be called the lower economic strata, or at best the lower middle class. There are very few people who can really be counted as economically well off, or rich, despite the high visibility of some tokens of wealth, specially jewelry and large houses on small plots of land, that one gets to see on the western coast of India or in some urban pockets. The issues of living an every day life of survival, trying to eke out a livelihood in an economically hostile ecology looms large on the common Christian. Add to it the vagaries of development in the areas which much of the Christian community lives in, the forested rural hinterland of central India, the plateau of south India, the Dalit hamlets and the mission compounds of north Indian states, there is little surprise that Christian youth find themselves sucked early into the rat race, with no tine to cater to their evolving social consciousness. Outside Kerala, perhaps, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, the Christian presence in trade unions, political parties and other mass organisations in small, and often all but non existent.

This in many ways also shows itself in the lack of political training, if not illiteracy, in the community, despite the thesis that those in some southern and north eastern states play an important role in the political processes of their regions. This is largely because they have large concentrations of populations in limited areas or pockets. This stratification may give them an enviable presence in the electoral politics of their districts, but still keeps them far away from influencing the national political discourse.

This political emasculation, if one can so definite it, makes the community very helpless in a rapidly changing political and economic discourse which is marked by extremely right wing, casteist and communal political on the one hand and a development model propounded not just by the Bharatiya Janata party and the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, but also by regional parties which govern various states specially those rich in natural resources such as Orissa. The recent legislative “economic reforms” that the government has brought in, many of them through ordinances as they could go through the Rajya Sabha where the BJP still does not have a majority of the vote, make it easy for government to transfer tribal and forest lands for industry, risking not just the life and livelihood of the common people but the security if a very fragile ecology and a rapidly depleting forest cover. The only beneficiaries are crony capitalism.

Some would argue that even more critical predation is that of the mind, specially of the very young. The secular and tolerant fabric of society is sought to be changed by that old fascist trick of indoctrination of the pliant psyche and intellect, catching them young, so to speak.

The fact that the Sangh Parivar runs over 57,000 ideology based schools for children in villages across several states, and specially in areas populated by Tribals and the Dalits, groups once called Untoucbable, makes available a cadre of youth and their parents ready to do their bidding in unraveling the secular heritage of the country’s freedom struggle. The stage is being set for this. The government’s senior minister, Mr. Venkiah Naidu, a former president of the BJP, has called for a national law against religious conversions. These laws exist in six states, and have been passed by two more states but yet made cleared by the Governors. It is a matter of a few months before they too are brought into force. These laws have also led to some considerable violence against religious groups in the years they have been in force. United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteurs for Religious Freedom have slammed these laws as infringing the basic rights of freedom of faith and belief, enunciated in the UN bill of Rights, and in fact, an important part of the Indian Constitution.

Other ministers have suggested an immediate enactment of a Common Civil Code, seemingly a good thing, but rooted in the unsubstantiated premise that Muslims can marry four wives at a time, are breeding too fast, and will outnumber the Hindus soon. The law will also impact on Christian personal laws and customs, particularly in rural populations where tradition and custom are the glue that holds their society together.

Mr. Modi’s minister for education, the former TV actor Mrs. Smriti Boman Irani, who has ordered a revision of text books, particularly of history, to incorporate more of ancient Indian traditions including references of Hindu sacred texts. Various important councils in the ministry are now chaired by luminaries wedded to the thesis that India is the fountainhead of all knowledge in the world. The BJP and the Minister hold Hindu sacred texts are the 5,000-year-old source of knowledge on such diverse subjects as plastic surgery, aviation, nuclear weaponry and genetic engineering.

How are these to be questioned, and the trends reversed? The church no longer runs the most educational institutions in the country, with the RSS, the corporate sector, and the government which too is now almost entirely in control of the Sangh ideology have collectively overwhelmed whatever were the values that the Catholic and protestant schools sought to teach for almost a century and a half through much of the landmass, reaching deep into remote areas.

This massive education system, and the growing population of the rural and urban marginalised, therefore pose a tremendous, even an exciting, challenge to the church in general, and in particular to its fighting arm, the consecrated men and women. It remains to be seen if they will rise to the occasion as they have done in the past in the pioneering tradition of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia. There is the other nagging question if the lay community will be able to continue to give of its sons and daughters to the church in terms of local vocation. The focal points of such calling have always changed with the times, and new areas have emerged to help change the ethnic profile, but not the strength of character and tempo, of those who seek a future in the service of the church and the people.

The growth of the church in India, and its ability to help change the welfare and human rights discourse in India to the advantage of the common people, is, I feel confident, safe in the hands of these brave and committed men and women.

A Division of Labour

A DIVISION OF LABOUR

 

JOHN DAYAL

The good news is that with the Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, there is no subterfuge, no deception, no mirages created with mirrors. You get what you see. Or what you want to see, as in the case of the Gujarati Non Resident Indians gathered in Madison Square Gardens in new York during his visit to the United Nations and the United States in September last year.

This transparency is also the case with the leaders and foot soldiers of the Sangh Parivar, that very interesting and rapidly expanding First Family fathered by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and consisting of such vigorous siblings as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and the Bajrang Dal. In recent times, scores of new groups have been born to this Parivar with names ranging from various Sene to the Hindu Jagriti Manch and others researching the ancient sciences of the Rashtra. They make no bones of the findings of their researches. Everyone in India is a Hindu; in fact everyone in many parts of the world is a Hindu. If not, they are aliens, therefore anti nationals, if not traitors.

The Christians, specially in villages, hamlets in Dalit “bastis” and Tribal areas, who have been target of conversions to Hinduism, politely called Ghar Wapsi, the Hindi for “Home-Coming” — Hindi sort of camouflages and sanitizes the violence, coercion and hate inherent in the phenomenon — have known it for several decades. Now Muslims are increasingly getting a taste of this pill, sugar-coated last year by the promise they can enter a caste of their choice, perhaps even that of the twice born Brahmin, instead of being relegated to that the Dalit, once called Untouchable.

Mr. Modi has never hidden the fact that he has been a member of the RSS since his childhood, and spent almost all of his adult life as a Pracharak, the teacher-evangelist who leads the indoctrination of young men, barring the years he held Constitutional office as the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat and now, the Prime Minister of India.

A delegation of Christian leaders from Delhi saw the real man when they called on the Mr. Modi, at his official residence, 7 Race Course Road, on 24th December 2014 to greet him a day which for them, as for billions of others in the world, was a day of good tidings and great joy, though he had rechristened it Good Governance Day on which government officers and some ministers worked hard to spread his message. This Christmas visit had been the practice when Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister at the head of the first National Democratic Alliance, though in his case, the greeting was also very personal as it was also his birthday. The practice continued in the decade that Dr. Manmohan Singh held office as the Prime Minister leading the United Progressive Alliance.

Those present in that meeting hall narrate what followed, and in great detail, though perhaps in whispers and with a sense of disbelief. Mr. Modi accepted the bouquet flowers, as he did another from a family and a third group, posed for photographs – mercifully no “Selfies’ as had happened with senior TV and print journalists at his Meet-the-Press earlier last month – and then made it clear the meeting was over. At this time, a few lay members of the delegation told the Prime Minister they were deeply concerned at the violent and coercive targetting of the Christian community, specially in rural areas of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the “Ghar Wapsi” programmes of the Sangh Parivar that were disturbing the peace across the country. The Prime Minister, they said, could break his silence and reassure the community. His voice would perhaps end this impunity and persecution.

Mr. Modi turned, and ordered the cameras to be turned off – the Prime Ministerial functions are routinely video-graphed by official cameramen. We have just paraphrased versions of an acerbic diatribe that followed. Mr. Modi said the Christian community was making a mountain of a molehill. It was educated, had great access to the media and to international advocacy agencies that blew events out of proportion. He could not take cognisance of every small event, or speak on it. His focus was on development. Even as the delegation sought to assure him the community was all for the development of their motherland, Mr. Modi said with deliberate coldness “Your compulsions are different. You may not be able to stand with me.” He did not clarify his remark in any detail.

But his party men have made it quote clear that anyone who is not volubly supportive of the Prime Minister and his alliterative agenda of development is against the national interest, and therefore, by implication, a bit of an anti-national, if not a traitor. This definition puts a strain, not just on religious minorities, but also on Dalits and Tribals seeking the protection of their rights, their land and their resources. It also pushes into a corner civil society and sections of the majority community if they oppose the excesses of the Sangh Parivar, specially its maverick groups. These include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, the Bajrang Dal and a score or more new “senas” and Manch that have sprouted specially in the North and Central region of the country and are the main engines of the aggressive Ghar Wapsi targetting the poorest sections of the Muslim and Christian communities in small towns and villages.

No one seems willing to point out, or admit, that while conversions of a religious nature are an exercise in free will and constitutional rights of freedom of conscience, be it from Christianity to Hinduism, Islam to Hinduism, Sikhism to Hinduism or vice versa, Ghar Wapsi is a political process carried out by powerful exponents of religious nationalism. It does not even have the legitimacy of freedom of political expression, which can make many a senior leader switch from the Congress to the BJP.

On the eve of the Republic Day visit of the United States President, Mr. Barak Obama, there have been statements by the President of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr. Amit Shah, freshly exonerated of charges of multiple murders in Gujarat, that the Ghar Wapsi campaign does not have the support of the party or the government. There have also been stories planted in a pliant television and print media that Mr. Modi is annoyed at the Ghar Wapsi events as they hurt India’s image, and therefore his project to invite foreign investments.

But this could be little more than eyewash. Many years ago, the eminent jurist, Mr. A. G. Noorani, wrote a book “A Division of Labour” in which he meticulously documented evidence and arguments to prove that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its daughter-groups such as the VHP worked in tandem, their cadres, programmes and grassroots work merging seamlessly in targetting various sectors and peoples. The Ghar Wapsi, and similar programmes, are led by senior members of the Sangh and the BJP, including such luminaries as Adityanath, the head of the Gorakhpur Math, and the lead speaker of the BJP in Parliament on issues of religion and culture. Defending Ghar Wapsi as “natural” and calling for a national law against conversions are former BJP president and currently union minister, Mr. Venkiah Naidu, Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitely, and several other of their colleagues in New Delhi and the state capitals. Official spokesmen of the party routinely wage a daily battle on satellite news channels denouncing “missionaries” and linking development with an end to what they say is a missionary effort to change the demography of the nation. The violence by their non-state associates, well documented by the media, has been severe, involving active participation of local civil and police authorities. The impunity is total. The government’s silence is loud.

There is also reason to question the model of development that has been presented. All too much data has been adduced since the May 26, 2014 swearing in of Mr. Modi as chief minister. His campaign had harped on what he had “done” in Gujarat in almost two and a half terms as Chief minister. But as friends and foes have pointed out, other than assisting crony capitalists, the growth model did precious little to improve the state’s status which continues to be one of the worst in the country, and the world, on social indices such as child health, infant mortality and other norms that people internationally take as inseparable from economic growth.

Translated to the national scale, this growth model is seeing the death of the process that protected the rights of the working class, the Tribals, and the protection of India’s precious forest cover, and the environment in general. Land acquisition reforms, as they are ironically called, will make it easy for the state to grab tribal lands not just for highways, but also to be given away to industries, including the piratical mining sector with its history of pillage and rapine of virgin forests. And this is just the beginning.

The Church in India, and globally, is committed to a preferential option for the poor. As, indeed, it is bound by faith to give witness to the Word. Both are impossible to practice if there is no courage to challenge the forces that seek to circumscribe, control and even stop this twin process, by force if required.

The leadership of the Church, and of other religious minorities, need to fathom how they respond to this challenge, and engage with the lunatic fringe, the ruling political party, and the head of the government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is not going to be an easy task.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Selfies, Responding to the Regime

Handling Mr. Modi

JOHN DAYAL

It was not the Christmas response a delegation of Christian leaders from Delhi were expecting when they called on the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, at his residence on 24th December 2014 to greet him a day which for them, as for billions of others in the world, was a day of good tidings and great joy. This was the practice when Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister at the head of the first National Democratic Alliance, and continued in the decade that Dr. Manmohan Singh held office as the Prime Minister leading the United Progressive Alliance.

This reporter was not an eye witness, but those who were narrate what followed, and in great detail, though perhaps in whispers and with a sense of disbelief. Mr. Modi accepted the bouquet, as he did another from a family and a third group, posed for photographs – mercifully no “Selfies’ as had happened with senior TV and print journalists at his Meet-the-Press earlier last month – and then made it clear the meeting was over. At this time, a few lay members of the delegation told the Prime Minister they were deeply concerned at the violent and coercive targetting of the Christian community, specially in rural areas of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the Ghar Wapsi programmes of the Sangh Parivar that were disturbing the peace across the country. The Prime Minister, they said, could break his silence and reassure the community. His voice would perhaps end this impunity and persecution.

Mr. Modi turned, and ordered the cameras to be turned off – the Prime Ministerial functions are routinely video-graphed by official cameramen. We have just paraphrased versions of an acerbic diatribe that followed. Mr. Modi, in affect, said the Christian community was making a mountain of a molehill. It was educated, had great access to the media and to international advocacy agencies which blew events out of proportion. He could not take cognisance of every small event, or speak on it. His focus was on development. Even as the delegation sought to assure him the community was all for the development of their motherland, Mr. Modi said with deliberate coldness “Your compulsions ar different. You may not be able to stand with me.” He did not clarify his remark in any detail.

But his party men have made it quote clear that anyone who is not volubly supportive of the Prime Minister and his alliterative agenda of development is against the national interest, and therefore, by implication, a bit of an anti-national, if not a traitor. This definition puts a strain, not just on religious minorities, but also on Dalits and Tribals seeking the protection of their rights, their land and their resources. It also pushes into a corner civil society and sections of the majority community if they oppose the excesses of the Sangh Parivar, specially its maverick groups. These include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, the Bajrang Dal and a score or more new “senas” and Manch that have sprouted specially in the North and Central region of the country and are the main engines of the aggressive Ghar Wapsi targetting the poorest sections of the Muslim and Christian communities in small towns and villages.

On the eve of the Republic Day visit of the United States President, Mr. Barak Obama, there have been statements by the President of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr. Amit Shah, freshly exonerated of charges of multiple murders in Gujarat, that the Ghar Wapsi campaign does not have the support of the party or the government. There have also been stories planted in a pliant television and print media that Mr. Modi is annoyed at the Ghar Wapsi events as they hurt India’s image, and therefore his project to invite foreign investments.

But this could be little more than eyewash. Many years ago, the eminent jurist, Mr. A. G. Noorani, wrote a book “A Division of Labour” in which he meticulously documented evidence and arguments to prove that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its daughter-groups such as the VHP worked in tandem, their cadres, programmes and grassroots work merging seamlessly in targetting various sectors and peoples. The Ghar Wapsi, and similar programmes, are led by senior members of the Sangh and the BJP, including such luminaries as Adityanath, the head of the Gorakhpur Math, and the lead speaker of the BJP in Parliament on issues of religion and culture. Defending Ghar Wapsi as “natural” and calling for a national law against conversions are former BJP president and currently union minister, Mr. Venkiah Naidu, and several other of his colleagues in New Delhi and the state capitals. Official spokesmen of the party routinely wage a daily battle on satellite news channels denouncing “missionaries” and linking development with an end to what they say is a missionary effort to change the demography of the nation.

The leadership of the Church, and of other religious minorities, need to fathom how they respond to this challenge, and engage with the lunatic fringe, the ruling political party, and the head of the government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is not going to be an easy task.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith and Democracy

It is not freedoms of Expression and Faith that are under threat; the Constitution of India and Democracy are the targets

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

There is an element or irony, which has not gone entirely unnoticed, in the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, announcing that what the world knows as Christmas will henceforth will be celebrated in India as “Good Governance Day”, with a slew of activities in honour of the first Bharatiya Janata Party prime minister who was in office between 21998 and 2004. After a ten-year interlude of rule by the Congress under Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Mr. Modi won a mandate for the second BJP government in New Delhi.

 

His agenda was Development, which needed not just economic growth but a ruthlessness in ensuring that there was no resistance to it. Nothing in the social and political structures in tribal villages, among the small peasantry and the working class, that would thwart the engines of such development, big national capital, multinational corporations. And of that ephemeral thing called Foreign Direct Investment – an omnibus term that includes traders who make a profit on borrowing money from the US at a 2 per cent interest and putting it in India at a 12 per cent rate, others who have laundered Indian money on which they avoided taxes and routed it back through havens such as Mauritius, and Indian businesses who settled the blue line in their units abroad by investing their Dollars and Euros in their Indian companies for the same reason. The trouble with such FDI, of course, is that it goes back to foreign lands at the press of a computer key with the same speed with which it came in when the investor panics.

 

Many of the “reforms” to make this dream possible are on their way. Tribals are all but losing their lands to mining giants because villages could lose their veto. Trade unions, all but defunct in the liberalisation programmes the Congress regime in 2004-2014, now face annihilation. Land acquisition rules will make it convenient to force projects wherever it is profitable for the cronies.

 

But the dream is possibly running into problems not thought of in the rhetoric if the general elections. And there is opposition to the campaign to end what the BJP has called, with great derision, “entitlements” of the common people. They may change the name of the Mahatma Gandhi National rural Employment Scheme and merge schemes named after Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi into umbrellas named after Bharatiya Janata party and Sangh stalwarts, but subsidies to farmers, rural landless, and urban poor are needed if the 50 per cent, in real time, in abject poverty are not to rise in a bloody revolution.

 

And this forces Mr. Modi to look for other agendas. He does not have to look far. Mr. Vajpayee’s legacy, and the Sangh Parivar’s dreams, provide handy tracks on which the prime minister can tread.

 

The most dangerous of these is removing the roadblock of the current contents of the Indian Constitution, or at least those that are seen as a hindrance in the construction or reconstruction of the India that was in the scriptures and stories of old. This is something the Sangh, and even the BJP, has always spoken about, rejecting the document signed by the Constituent Assembly and brought into force in 1950. They call this document a relic of a colonial, and Christian, alien thesis which has no place in the Indian culture in which it has no roots.

 

The Constitution has sustained itself now for six and a half decades, but it remains a fragile document. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that its basic features cannot be altered. But it permits amendments to bring it in tune with the times, and to cater to new situations. All Statutes must be relevant to the age. Constitutional provisions for sort of suspending fundamental rights by declaring a state of National Emergency have been used in times of the wars with China and Pakistan, specially in 1971.

 

But Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1975 showed the Constitution could be suspended, so to say, even for political, partisan and personal reasons. After her election was upturned by the Allahabad high court fir using government machinery in her campaign, she declared a state of Emergency in June that year saying there was national anarchy and peoples groups were trying t overthrow the government. Till she revoked it and called for general elections in 1977, the Emergency saw the country ruled by extra-constitutional centres of authority.

 

Mr. Vajpayee too saw much in the Constitution that he wanted changed. His government never did have the majority in Parliament, specially the Lok Sabha, to implement his dream project, but he did start the process. The Commission to review the Constitution was set up by his government, chaired by former Chief Justice and former Chairman of the National Human Rights commission, Justice M N Venkatachelliah. Among the proposals before it was one by BJP leader and Vice President of India, Bhairon Singh Sekhawat who said the election process must be changed so that parliament and state legislatures had fixed terms for five years, all the elections were held on the same state, no-confidence motions had to be backed by an alternative “confidence motion”, and that the two Houses of Parliament would directly elect the Prime minister in case a party did not have a clear majority.

 

Mr. Venkatachelliah did not suggest anything so drastic, but he did call for electoral reforms as a matter of urgency.

 

Constitutional experts and the then Opposition party, the Congress, as well as the Left group, saw a greater conspiracy. They said a fixed term for elected representatives is an attempt to introduce a presidential form of government, which has been BJP’s pet prescription for India’s ills. As India Today recorded, “The proposal to bring in an alternative formation along with a no-confidence motion had no takers in the 1998 debate, which Vajpayee lost by a vote.”

 

Mr. Modi has made it amply clear, if not in so many words then by other means, that he is very fond of a presidential system. Among his first few actions was to chose a cabinet of persons with little political strength on their own, his keeping all major decision-making powers to himself, his orders asking all Secretaries heading various central ministers to report to him directly and approach him when they wanted to him bypassing their Ministers, and finally getting an Act of Parliament changed to get a man of his choice as the head of the Prime Ministers Office. For all practical purposes, the concept of a Government run by a Council of Ministers with Cabinet responsibility is no longer operative. Mr. Modi is the Government of India.

 

He will, of course, not have his way right away, but he sure can try to bulldoze some important laws. The BJP has a clear, but bare, majority in the Lok Sabha and unless such groups as the All India Anna DMK of Tamil Nadu and the Biju Janata Dal of Orissa back him up together with the current partners in the NDA [The Trinamool Congress is now a strong enemy after the CBI targetting Ms. Mamta Banerjee and her cabinet colleagues in the multi billion rupees Sharada ponzy scam] even moving a major Constitutional amendment in the Lok Sabha will be impossible. He does not have the numbers.

 

In the Rajya Sabha, the combined opposition is twice as numerous as his BJP and allies. But the situation will change drastically in the net biennial elections, and in less than four years, the BJP may well be in an absolute majority.

 

What happens when Mr. Modi prepares for the 2019 general elections is anyone’s guess.

 

But meanwhile, despite his rather curious call for a “ten year moratorium” on caste and communal violence – not an end to such mayhem, just a postponement – he has maintained a resounding silence on voices from his huge army of supporters and ideological colleagues that in affect call for a throwing away of the Constitution and all its basic values, speedily those relating to freedoms of relgion and belief, and in fact of citizenship. The Constitution’s first few sentences group the freedoms of Expression and relgion in one phrase.

 

There are now open calls for religious cleansing if Bharatavarsha. And their shouts find an echo in the pronouncements of Mr. Modi’s ministers. As Dr. Faisal Devji, Director of the Asian Studies Centre at the University of Oxford says, ”More interesting than the shifting balance of power between the BJP and its “family” of non-state Hindu organisations, however, might be the fact that Hindu nationalism has never possessed a theory of state. Unlike the vision of an Islamic state, for instance, with its distinctive if non-egalitarian constitutional structure, Hindu nationalism has no alternative political model, apart from an insistence on the dominance of majoritarian culture and concerns. And this is its triumph as much as tragedy, since the absence of a distinctive theory of state repeatedly casts Hindu nationalism back into a social movement, one that can only make claims on cultural and demographic rather than constitutional grounds.”

 

On 18th December 2014, which is the official National Minorities Day, Mr. Rajeshwar Singh, the head of the Dharm Jagran Manch [Faith awakening forum] declared on national television news channels that the Manch had set a 2021 deadline to cleanse India of the “alien Islam and Christianity”. Another group said Christians would not be allowed in the Himalayan regions, sacred to the Hindus. The hate speeches went viral on social media, and then in the major newspapers across the country.

 

The Indian government has so far not indicated if Mr. Rajeshwar Singh is being prosecuted under India’s strict laws against religious discord, used so far largely to target Christian pastors, and in recent months, Muslim youth active on Face Book who vent their anger against the State.

 

But members of the Union Council of Ministers, and official spokesmen of the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, which controls much of the Indian provincial governments, have been voluble in support of the Sangh Parivar. The Parivar is a very large and almost Omni-present family of Hindu militant organisations created by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in the past two decades, of which the Dharma Jagran Manch, the Bajrang Dal and the powerful Vishwa Hindu Parishad are among the more prominent groups with aggressive cadres.

 

Political analysts have said it would be erroneous to assume that under the government of Mr. Modi, the RSS has reoriented its goals. Each time the BJP assumes power, its ideologues get emboldened. Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee was in power in New Delhi when major attacks took place on Christians. Over 30 village churches were destroyed in Dangs in Gujarat on Christmas Eve in 1998. Australian leprosy worker Graham Staines and his sons were burnt alive in January 1999, and of a Catholic priest Fr George Kuzhikandam in Mathura, not too far from New Delhi, as he lay asleep in his church in June 2000. Christmas eve violence in 2007 in Kandhamal, Orissa, was a precursor of the 2008 pogrom, was when the BJP was in power in coalition government. Mr. Modi has made no bones of the fact that he was a leader of the RSS, and continues to profess its ideology.

 

RSS affiliated groups have launched a campaign to convert the poorer Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, a process they call Ghar Wapsi, or home coming under their argument that every Indian is actually a Hindu, and Christians and Muslims are those who have strayed, or have been bought over by missionaries. In turn, the Sangh groups have called for a war chest for the Ghar Wapsi, earmarking Rupees 500,000 for every Muslim they convert, and Rupees 200,000 for every Christian. The different rates are presumably because Muslims are felt to be more difficult to “persuade’ for a change of faith.

 

In the central Indian State of Chhattisgarh, where some months ago radical groups enacted villages banning the entry of essentially Christian pastors and religious services other than those of the Hindus, the focus is now on Catholic Schools. In its Bastar Tribal region, Christian schools, which are otherwise in great demand, need to install statues of the Hindu goddess of learning, Saraswati. And priests running these institutions can no longer be called “father’, but need to be called “Pracharya”, a teacher. Protestant pastors are now beaten up, home churches raided almost as a matter of routine, with the police looking on, or an active participant. Santa Claus, of course, has been proscribed. Needless to say, the State has been governed by the BJP for the past 12 years.

 

The fact that the Sangh Parivar runs over 57,000 ideology based schools for children in villages across several states, and specially in areas populated by Tribals and the Dalits, groups once called Untoucbable, makes available a cadre of youth and their parents ready to do their bidding.

 

The BJP’s response has been to suggest that the religious cleansing deadline needs to be seen in the context of fiery speeches by Muslim TV evangelists and western campaigns to spread Christianity. The government’s senior minister, Mr. Venkiah Naidu, a former president of the BJP, has called for a national law against religious conversions. These laws exist in six states, and have been passed by two more states but yet made cleared by the Governors. It is a matter of a few months before they too are brought into force. These laws have also led to some considerable violence against religious groups in the years they have been in force.

 

United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteurs for Religious Freedom have slammed these laws as infringing the basic rights of freedom of faith and belief, enunciated in the UN bill of Rights, and in fact, an important part of the Indian Constitution.

 

Other ministers have suggested an immediate enactment of a Common Civil Code, seemingly a good thing, but rooted in the unsubstantiated premise that Muslims can marry four wives at a time, are breeding too fast, and will outnumber the Hindus soon. The law will also impact on Christian personal laws and customs, particularly in rural populations where tradition and custom are the glue that holds their society together.

 

Mr. Modi’s minister for education, the former TV actor Mrs. Smriti Boman Irani, who has ordered a revision of text books, particularly of history, to incorporate more of ancient Indian traditions including references of Hindu sacred texts. Various important councils in the ministry are now chaired by luminaries wedded to the thesis that India is the fountainhead of all knowledge in the world. The BJP and the Minister hold Hindu sacred texts are the 5,000-year-old source of knowledge on such diverse subjects as plastic surgery, aviation, nuclear weaponry and genetic engineering.

 

Her officials passed orders earlier this month that Christmas Day will now be called “Good Governance Day” in honour of the birthday, not of Jesus, but of Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the first BJP Prime Minister who ruled from 1998 to 2004, and is now critically ill and has not been seen in public for several years. Academic institutions from junior schools to Universities were keep their doors open and organise social programmes for the students, supervised by the teachers. Christmas was not to be a holiday any more.

 

An outcry by Church and Civil Society, an acrimonious clash in Parliament where Mr. Modi still does not have a majority in the Upper House, Rajya Sabha, forced the government to dilute its order. Christmas remains a Holiday, but the “educational” programmes of declamations and other activities will also be held, with Principals and officials told to report to the government that they did indeed comply with the order.

 

Muslims and Christians feel they are being encircled in a vicious and tightening noose, in the villages and small towns by Sangh cadres who have the police on their side, and nationally by the Federal and State governments who seem to endorse the hate campaigns and the violence.

 

But for Civil society, the threat is to the Constitution of India which ahs evolved as a great international democratic document that protects the subcontinent-sized country’s hundreds of cultures, languages, races and faith. All too many people in office and heading Sangh groups have said the Constitution is a British inheritance that has no place in Hindu Rashtra, the Land of the Hindus.

 

Without a State of Emergency being declared, the Extra-Constitutional Centres of authority seem to be active.