Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christians under attack

Thu, 2008-01-10 02:36

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

For a country that swears by secularism attacks on the minority communities is a matter of deep concern. The outside world cares little if these attacks are sporadic or frequent. For the world it matters even less if the offence against the minorities comes from the state or a small organised section of fundamentalists among the majority community, even if that is true in most cases.

The history of Hindu-Muslim clashes is old and looks intractable. Though few and far between, there have been Hindu-Sikh clashes. And in recent years the Christian community has also been subjected to frequent attacks in a number of states. It hardly lessens the guilt that the clashes are more or less confined to small tribal belts in one or more states. The crimes against Christians have included murder, arson and rape with the law enforcing agencies unable to take preventive action despite intelligence warnings of impending trouble.

Christianity in India is nearly as old as the religion itself. The oppressive caste system in the majority community was one of the factors that led to its expansion in India over the centuries. The community has a high percentage of literacy and is known to be peaceful and docile with no history of enmity with other communities.

Orissa had shocked much of India and the outside world in 1999 when a 58-year old Australian missionary, who had worked among leprosy sufferers for 34 years, and his two sons aged 10 and 8 were burnt alive by a Bajrang Dal mob, led by Dara Singh who saw his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment even as he refuses to express any regrets for what he did.

More shocking was the effort of the BJP-led NDA government of the time ruling at the centre not to take a serious note of the crime because the perpetrators belonged to the Sangh Parivar to which the dominant party in the ruling coalition owed allegiance. One union minister in the coalition, a Christian to boot, appeared eager to dilute the allegations against the Bajrang Dal. The then prime minister tried to sidestep the issue by saying that the matter needed a national debate; a formula that he wanted applied to Gujarat too. He later went on to claim that reducing communal violence was one of the great achievements of his government!

The Orissa incident was condemned worldwide, much to the embarrassment of the country though not the Sangh Parivar. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the NDA government of failing to prevent violence against Christians and compounding that lapse by ‘exploiting’ communal tensions for ‘political ends’. In a 37-page report, it said that attacks on Christians had increased ‘significantly after the BJP came to power (at the centre) in 1998’.

The BJP-led government at the centre has since gone but that has apparently not reduced the tension between the Hindu fundamentalists and Christians in the tribal belts of Orissa as well as some nearby states in eastern and central India. With nearly 95 percent of its population Hindu, the minorities constitute a very small number of Orissa’s population. Even among the scheduled tribes in the state, over 88 percent are Hindus and only a little over 7 percent are Christians.

Attacks on such tiny population in one state cannot be justified on any ground. The entire tribal belt in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgrah and Gujarat, where Hindu-Muslim tensions have taken a dangerous turn in recent years, is equally afflicted by Hindu-Christian tensions. Rajasthan is another state to witness Christian bashing and not just in remote villages but also in some of the big towns.

If the Sangh Parivar is to be believed proselytiser priests are at the root of the clashes with the Christians. The Christians deny the charge that they offer inducements or force the largely illiterate but poor and neglected people in the tribal belts to convert. There is no justification for use of force or even any kind of inducement to convert a person. But by the same token ‘re-conversion’ can also be faulted. Several Indian states, Orissa among them, have laws that ban forcible conversions. How many times have acts of ‘forcible’ conversions been brought to the notice of police?

But assuming that even the police cannot altogether prevent conversions that result out of ‘force’ or some allurement, there is a more important related aspect to the proselytising controversy. Even the Sangh Parivar says that almost all the cases of ‘forcible’ conversion are reported from among the Adivasis who are among the most backward. The booming economy has not made much difference to their lot. They are not considered part of the mainstream and they hardly command any respect from the caste-ridden society.

If anyone or any group is really concerned about the Adivasis they should be really emulating the Christian missionaries in reaching out to them, spreading education and attending to their sick and hungry. It is only in the last few years that the Sangh Parivar has tried to reach out to the Adivasis but with a political agenda—wean them away from rivals and enlist them as supporters.

The Sangh Parivar may have opened schools in the tribal belt of a few states but it is yet to match the missionaries’ efforts in opening health care centres. No Sangh Parivar member has, for instance, rendered the kind of service to the lepers in Orissa’s Adivasi belt that Graham Staines, the Australian missionary killed in Orissa in 1999, did?

If Hindu fundamentalists are really concerned about forcible conversion they have to adopt a two-pronged strategy to stop it. Give the poor their self-respect and meet their needs for some of the basic facilities like schools and hospitals—and jobs.

Unprovoked attacks on the Christian community whether in a remote village or in towns will not serve any purpose other than defaming the country and weakening its roots.

- Syndicate Feature -

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