By Ram Puniyani
02 January, 2008Countercurrents.org
Gladys Stains is a name etched in our memory for wrong reasons. Her husband and two sons were torched to death around a decade ago in Keonjhar Manoharpur Orissa. She wrote to Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh recently, to ensure that communal peace is restored in Orissa. This she did in the backdrop of the scattered attacks on Christians, over 40 churches torched in Orissa (24 Dec. 2007). In the violence which broke out, many of the people have been severely injured. Some of the priest and laity have run for shelter, leaving their homes and hiding in the forests in the biting cold. All this has happened in the Adivasi area in and around Phulbani and Kandhamal. The timing is around the Christmas celebrations, 2007.
It is no coincident that the BJP is part of the ruling coalition in Orissa, and those involved in the vandalism are part of some or the other organization directly affiliated with the RSS. The major such are Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Bajrang dal and their local variants. While the media reports are sketchy, the Citizens Inquiry team, which was to visit the area has been denied permission to visit the districts and was escorted out of the area. The attacks on minorities and weaker sections is launched for short term or long term political goals, but the care is taken that a pretext is manufactured and then the attacks are unleashed. In this case it has been said that Swami Lakkhanand was attacked by Christians and so the retaliation. One is supposed to believe that a Swami from the majority community, with sizeable following, will be attacked by the section of miniscule minority!
The Christmas season is the chosen time for anti Christian attacks. Earlier also such occasions have been chosen for beating and attacking the Christian community, notably in Dangs in 1998. This time in Phulbani area the declarations being made by the Swami and associates is that the presence of Christians will not be tolerated in the Adivasi areas. The visible attacks on Christian minorities started from 1996. The areas selected for these attacks have spread over from Gujarat, Dangs on the extreme West, to the Orissa on extreme east of the tribal belt. It is in these areas that anti Christian violence have been going on in scattered form since then. Most of these acts of violence have a bit different characteristic, i.e. unlike the anti Muslim violence which is more in the cities and occurs as spurts of killing hundred or thousands in a single go, here the cauldron is kept boiling continuously. The intensity is that of a slow but sustained intimidation and attack.
The most ghastly anti Christian violence was that done by Bajrang Dal activist, Dara Singh, who instigated the Adivasis and led the burning of Pastor Graham Stewart Stains. He and his organization kept propagating for months that pastor has come from Australia for converting the gullible Adivasis to Christianity, that his work amongst the leprosy patients is just a ploy to do his ?real work? of conversions. The Wadhwa commission, appointed by the NDA Govt. with Advani as the Home minister, in the aftermath of this brutal killing, concluded that the pastor was not involved in any conversion activities and that the percentage of Christian population in the area has remained static despite the Pastor working in the area.
At national level the attacks on Christians have been investigated by different civic groups, compiled in 'The Politics behind Anti Christian Violence' (Media House, Delhi) Most of the reports conclude that the attacks have been deliberately stepped up in the Adivasi areas. The main targets of these attacks are the Christian missionaries working in the area of education. The contrast is very glaring. The city based Christian mission institutions are upheld and respected for their contribution in the area of education, while in the Adivasi areas the same are being hounded out. The reports also observe that the RSS affiliates have been trying to do anti Christian propaganda along with Ghar Vapasi (re-conversion in to Hinduism) campaign. The major work of Ghar Vapasi has been undertaken in the BJP ruled states, or in the states where BJP has been sharing power.
The subtle assistance of the state machinery in the anti Christian tirade is always at the service of RSS affilaites. The Ghar Vapasi asserts that Adivasis are basically Hindus, who had to flee to the forests to escape the conversion by Muslim invaders, so they are 'nationally' Hindus, who have forgotten the Hindu rituals and gods and so have fallen low in the hierarchy of Hindu religion. This ritual of re-conversion is supposed to religiously restore them to their old Hindu glory!
The case of Orissa was specifically investigated by India Peoples Tribunal, led by Justice K.K.Usha (retired) of Kerala High court in 2006 (Communalism in Orissa) This tribunal forewarns about the shape of things to come. " The tribunal assessed the spread of communal organizations in Orissa, which has been accompanied by a series of small and large events and some riots?such violations are utilized to generate the threat and reality of greater violence, and build and infrastructure of fear and intimidation."
It further notes that minorities are being grossly ill treated; there is gross inaction of the state Govt to take action. Outlining the mechanism of the communalization, it points out, "The report also describes in considerable detail how the cadre of majoritarian communal organizations is indoctrinated in hatred and violence against other communities it holds to be inherently inferior. If such communalization is undertaken in Orissa, it is indicative of the future of the nation. The signs are truly ominous for India's democratic future." (p 70)
In these Adivasi areas swamis have made their permanent Ashrams, Lakkhanand, in Orissa, Assemanand in Dangs, and followers of Asaram bapu in Jhabua area to name a few. Also Hindu Samgams, congregations, are being held, the culmination of which was the Shabri Kumbh in Dangs where thousands of Adivasis were brought. In those areas the Hindutva organizations spread the intimidating rumors that those who do not attend these functions will be dealt with in due course.
Interestingly these are precisely the areas which are the poorest; these are the areas where the problem of land, education, water and food is the highest. Anti Christian violence is in the continuation of RSS agenda of Hindu Rasthra, Pehle kasai Phir Isai (First the Muslims then Christians). There is an additional factor in the anti Christian violence.
One concedes that there may be many a Christian groups who might be focusing on the conversion work, within the bounds of Indian constitution, of course. But one has to note that in India, overall population of Christian minorities is declining over a period of last four decades, (1971--2.60%, 1981--2.44% , 1991--2.34%, and 2001--2.30%).
While Christianity is a very old religion here, during last nineteen centuries or so only 2.odd percent have become Christians. The major problem is that the effort of missionaries to reach education to the adivasi areas. Educated Adivasi, empowered Adivasi will be more aware of her rights and that's precisely what RSS combine cannot stand. That the tiny minority can be a threat to the huge majority of Hindus is quiet a concoction. There is a need to deal these violations of human rights firmly, there is a need to curb the hate other propaganda in these areas and of course the need to promote modern education and other welfare schemes in these areas. Christmas which should be a festival of joy is being turned into an annual ritual of violence and mayhem by the RSS combine.
Ram Puniyani is a Professor in Biomedical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai. Apart from his teaching and research activities, he pursues a parallel track concerned with issues related to social problems, particularly the ones related to preservation of democratic and secular ethos in our life. More information at http://www.pluralindia.com/drPuniyani.htm