Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The deadly spark of anti-Christianism

Wednesday, 29 October , 2008, 23:54
Last Updated: Monday, 03 November , 2008, 17:55

Bhaskar Roy, who retired recently as a senior government official with decades of national and international experience, is an expert on international relations and Indian strategic interests.

"One spark can set a thousand prairies on fire,” wrote the legendary Mao Zedong. He proved it by launching the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution (GPCR) in 1966 with the slogan “bombard the headquarters”. The Revolution, which had anything, but “culture” in it, ravaged China for ten years till Mao died in 1976.

The not so small spark lit by the Bajrang Dal in Orissa’s Khandamal district, raping, killing, burning and driving out Christians in retaliation to the killing of Swami Lakshmanand Saraswati and some others of his Ashram, quickly spread to Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and even touched Delhi.

Some groups like the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have become self-proclaimed guardians of Hindu culture. Their actions, however, suggest they hardly understand the meaning of the word culture or “Sanskriti” . Goondaism is anathema to Hindu culture and tradition.

Political leaders of almost all hues have also played their roles by both omission or commission, as the case may be. Although the two organizations are linked to the BJP, a close look at the opinion in the highest level in the BJP would suggest many of them do not subscribe to such acts from their affiliated organizations. Some of the BJP leaders who came and spoke on television talk shows and debates always tried to obfuscate the real issue. In politics, this is understandable, but the issue must be addressed on a much larger context.

The UPA Government at the Centre was, as always, on half measures. Why was the dispatch of paramilitary forces to Khandamal delayed by four days despite a request for the same from the Orissa Government? The explanation from the Central Government that it took time to pull out the forces from other duties, does not appear convincing. The protestations from the Union Home Minister were feeble.

Karnataka, the next most affected state, is an example to be noted. The BJP Chief Minister of the State pretended to be blissfully unaware of the real intensity of the attacks. It was appalling to hear him describe the ransacking and burning of a church by Bajrang Dal mobs as having been caused by an electrical short circuit!

Till recently, vote bank politics was played on Muslims and castes. It would be unfortunate if even the Christians were drawn into it. The Christian community in India has by and large stayed out of the politics of religious divide. Why force them into it now?

Returning to Khandamal, the Maoists have claimed more than once that they killed Saraswati because he was engaged in coercing Christians to return to Hinduism. It has also been reported that there were about forty people armed with guns and other weapons who attacked the ashram. The Christians of Khandamal obviously did not have such weapons, nor did the organization.

Therefore, why did the Bajrangis not take on the Maoists, but, as it appears, used the incident to turn on the weak community?. Orissa Chief Minister Navin Patnaik Naveen Pattanaik is, by no imagination, a communalist. It appears he was not kept adequately informed by his coalition partners in his Ministry and the local administration in Khandamal.

The Khandamal case has another face. It is a struggle between two groups of have-nots. It is a very poor place. There is a question about access to reserved jobs for the lower castes and land. Those who change their religion are no longer eligible for these reserved jobs.

This is an anomaly that the Central Government must address. Reservations are based on historical neglect of certain sections of society. Changing one’s religion on a person’s freewill does not change his historical predicament. In Khandamal, one of the points of contention was the alleged attempt by Christians to hide their religion and lay claims to reserved employment. Unfortunately, these problems were turned to political opportunism, and spread across the country.

The issue of conversion has become a central debate. The Christian missionaries brought education and healthcare to India. They are still involved in these areas. The question is whether they are using these and relief efforts and jobs to entice the have-nots to change their religion. There is a counter question, also. Can groups like the Bajrang Dal and the VHP provide these people with their basic human rights? These are questions that merit a much larger debate at the national level.

The leaders of the church have their responsibility, too. It is a fact that missionaries take advantage of situations at times to entice conversion. The New Light Church of Bangalore owes an explanation to the people about a book circulated that insults Hindu gods and goddesses. The writings of this book reflect the writings in another book published by the Southern Baptists in the USA a few years ago.

The involvement of external interests in religion in India and in other non-Christian countries is not new. But this is no excuse for persecution of Christians for political and economic reasons. If there is a problem, it is for the authorities to investigate and bring out the truth. Vigilante justice on any ground proven, imagined or deliberately construed is unacceptable.

Political leaders of the country must understand that the anti-Christian riots have been taken serious note of abroad. Even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s attention was drawn to this issue by French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

India is on the verge of entering the highest levels of the global community. Along with China, it is about to enter the Group of Eight (G8) countries. It has broken through the nuclear cage. The successful launch of the Chandrayaan-I moon mission on October 22 took India to the top four countries in the world in this area. India’s membership to an expanded UN’s Permanent Security Council, mainly with western support – the US, the UK, Germany, France, Russia and, of course, Japan -- is on the anvil. The US and the West European countries have strong Christian lobbies, which they cannot ignore. The attacks on Christians in India have been taken note of by the churches, the governments and the media in these countries with consternation.

The political leaders in India must contemplate deeply how far they are willing to risk the country’s destiny for narrow and eventually fragmenting vote bank interests.

The nation’s interests are supreme. But one wrong spark can burn it down.

The views expressed in the article are of the author’s and not of Sify.com