Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Faith accompli - HINDUSTAN TIMES - November 4, 2006

HINDUSTAN TIMES - November 4, 2006
November 4, 2006 Soumitro Das,
September 15, 2008
First Published: 20:36 IST(15/9/2008)
Last Updated: 21:46 IST(15/9/2008)

Faith accompli
The violence against Christians in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and now in Karnataka should be seen at various levels — from the economy of conversion to the historical roots and real meaning of conversion. 
First, funding. Nobody seems to know exactly how much money the VHP receives from abroad. The only figure we have is $1.7 million from the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) that raises money from individuals and corporations in the United States (including Cisco and Sun Microsystems) to distribute them among a plethora of Sangh parivar agencies, some of whom work for 'tribal welfare'.
On the Christian side, thanks to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, the Home Ministry is in possession of  the Annual Report on Foreign Contributions for 2005-06.  It lays out in minute detail the funds received by churches and Christian organisations in India. We know, for example, that the top donors are church-based or Christian-inspired organisations from the US, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. We also know that a greater part of the funds — Rs 7,785 crore — goes to mainly Christian and church-based organisations in India. According to the Home Ministry's analysis, the major part of the fund are spent on disaster relief and establishment costs. Welfare of scheduled tribes gets only Rs 25 crore and welfare of scheduled Castes only Rs 9 crore. The rest of the money goes into social work — building of schools, colleges, hospitals, etc. Nowhere is the word proselytisation mentioned. There are also no records of mass conversions.
Hence, the Sangh parivar's argument that Christian charitable and social work is a disguise to convert 'innocent, illiterate' tribals and Dalits is a lie — at least as  far as the records go. The Home Ministry report also tells us that the bulk of the money is spent in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi — not in Orissa or Gujarat.
Now to come to the violence at  Kandhmal in Orissa. The man, Laxmananda Saraswati, whose murder had sparked off the latest round of violence, was a VHP sant who was at the forefront of the VHP's ghar wapasi ('home coming') movement that consisted of reconverting tribals and Dalits who had been converted by the Christian missionaries.
At one level, the violence that followed Saraswati's death was a result of a century-old conflict between the tribal Kandhs and the Dalit Pano. The former accuse the latter of stealing their land, aided by missionaries who, on their part, continue to occupy land that belongs to the state. The Panos who have converted to Christianity in large numbers are clamouring for Scheduled Tribe status because their conversion  has not mitigated the effects of caste prejudice against them. As a Scheduled Tribe the Panos hope to preserve their religious identity and also be eligible for reserved government jobs. This infuriates the Kandhs as well as the VHP.
Conversion has two dimensions to it. In the first place, it is an intensely personal affair. It is this individual realisation occurring over a period of time that makes the conversion of entire communities a slow, painstaking and laborious  process. It is also this individual repudiation of Hinduism that rattles the VHP beyond measure. It means that the tribal or the Dalit in question is no longer bound by any fate or destiny, but is, in fact, a free agent who can transform his life by changing his value and belief system.
The second dimension of conversion is that it is a political act. When, over a period of  time, an entire community is converted, it has revolutionary implications. What does it mean for a Dalit to convert to Christianity? To know that, one has to understand where the Dalit is coming from. He lives beyond the pale of 'caste Hindu' society — even his  shadow is considered polluting  in  some  regions of this country; the jobs that he  does are considered the most filthy — dealing with animal hides (chamars), disposing of the corpse after cremation (doms) and cleaning the night soil (bhangis). He does not have the right to use a mechanised transport, wear nice clothes, or jewellery. His house is frequently burned, his women are routinely raped. He lives in a night without end.
Then, he finds a God who, like him, suffered excruciating pain, who chose his  disciples among the poor and the wretched and gave his own life  so that others could find  salvation through his  suffering.  The Dalit also understands that, in the light of Jesus' story, the Hindus do not seem to have a moral order, that the only thing that counts for them is ritual purity and impurity. Instead of good and evil, Hinduism deals in the categories of ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness. The community, fortified by its realisation that the Hindu world view is only one among many others and not even of the most superior kind, gradually revolts and crosses over to Christianity.
Thus what began as a conversion of an individual ends as a collective revolt against the oppression, the brutality and the inhuman humiliations of caste society. That is what the VHP and the Sangh parivar do not want. They want to crush this revolt.
Soumitro Das is a Kolkata-based writer



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Wednesday, September 10, 2008



Aditi Tandon Writes From Kandhamal
The anti-Christian flame in Kandhamal may have become dimmer for a  while, but it is far from blown out. Fuelling it is the issue of conversion, which has become a determinant of people's lives in this part of the country.
Several Christians in 11 blocks of the tribal districts are said to have been "forcibly converted" as Hindus in the past 17 days of mayhem; the rest say they are facing a choice between life and
"The radicals have told us that we can live here only as Hindus. They are giving deadlines to people to convert or be prepared to face the worst. They asked my family to fall in line by 8 pm on
September 3. When we did not agree to convert, they razed our properties," Jitender Digal, a refugee at Bijaya High School camp in Raikia block, told The Tribune.
In Kandhamal, minorities furnish proof of how "force and fear" is being used to deter people from their faith. Lalu Naik of Balliguda block shows this correspondent a letter whose text, he says, the
radicals have framed for the Christians to follow. Signed by Lalu's father Babulal Naik and 10 members of his family, the letter reads: "Shrijukta Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) mahodaya (Respected VHP official), I was a Christian until now, but I voluntarily want to embrace Hinduism."
The sample, claim refugees, is meant to facilitate Christians' conversion to Hindu religion. Such letters have been floating around for a fortnight, with covert but stern messages to Christians to
convert. The first targets in this "war" of conversion are pastors, now hiding in the relief camps by thousands. Three of them - Samuel Naik, Akhar Digal and Dibya Digal from Raikia and Udaygiri blocks - have already lost their lives in the recent violence. In each case, the killers first asked the victims if they were ready to become Hindus, say relatives.
Samuel Naik's son Ramesh, who witnessed killings of his father and grandmother, recounts, "They gave three warnings to my father. When he refused to abandon his faith, they slaughtered him. My
grandmother met the same fate." Ramesh is now hiding at the G Udaygiri camp, while his mother Upojini Naik is at the Raikia relief camp, where over 200 pastors are seeking refuge.
Among them are Subodh Naik, Bijay Pradhan, Subodh Digal and Ulkeshan Naik, who claim being on the radicals' hit list. "They want us to join them and prove our loyalty by attacking churches and killing Christians. They have threatened to eliminate us if we don't listen to them." Many pastors are missing or feared dead.
As for forcible conversions, they are mostly reported to be happening in G Udaygiri, Raikia, Tikabali, Chakapad and Balliguda blocks, with Christians now demanding a separate district. Ashok Behera, a camper at Tikabali, says, "We want a district with a Christian collector, a Christian SP and a Christian block development officer. We have lost faith in the system as close to 2,000 Christians have been converted."
VHP leaders for their part remain adamant as ever, claiming they will "do everything possible to protect the Hindu faith in Orissa." Kabi Chandra Nath, who assumed charge of the Jalaspeta ashram after Laxmananda Saraswati's death, goes to the extent of defending the radical stand, saying, "We are not converting anyone. We are simply bringing misguided followers back to the fold." Never mind the cost.
retrieved on 9th September 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

Orissa: Hindutva's Violent History....By Angana Chatterji

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 35, Dated September 13, 2008; click on MAG

Hindutva's production of culture and nation is often marked by savagery. On 23 August 2008, Lakshmanananda Saraswati, Orissa's Hindu nationalist icon, was murdered with four disciples in Jalespeta in Kandhamal district. State authorities alleged the attackers to be Maoists (and a group has subsequently claimed the murder). But the Sangh Parviar held the Christian community responsible, even though there is no evidence or history to suggest the armed mobilisation of Christian groups in Orissa.
After the murder, the All India Christian Council stated: "The Christian community in India abhors violence, condemns all acts of terrorism, and opposes groups of people taking the law into their own hands". Gouri Prasad Rath, General Secretary, VHP-Orissa, stated: "Christians have killed Swamiji. We will give a befitting reply. We would be forced to opt for violent protests if action is not taken against the killers".
Following which, violence engulfed the district. Churches and Christian houses razed to the ground, frightened Christians hiding in the jungles or in relief camps. Officials record the death toll at 13, local leaders at 20, while the Asian Centre for Human Rights noted 50. On 27 August, Christian organisations filed a Writ Petition in the Orissa High Court asking for a CBI inquiry.
The Sangh's history in postcolonial Orissa is long and violent. Virulent Hindutva campaigns against minority groups reverberated in Rourkela in 1964, Cuttack in 1968 and 1992, Bhadrak in 1986 and 1991, Soro in 1991. The Kandhamal riots were not unforeseen.
Since 2000, the Sangh has been strengthened by the Bharatiya Janata Party's coalition government with the Biju Janata Dal. In October 2002, a Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district declared the formation of the first Hindu 'suicide squad'. In March 2006, Rath stated that the 'VHP believes that the security measures initiated by the Government [for protection of Hindus] are not adequate and hence Hindu society has taken the responsibility for it'. (Pointing to the extra-legal nature of such "security measures", in June 2008, Bal Thackeray said, "Hindu suicide squads should be readied to ensure existence of Hindu society and to protect the nation".)
The VHP has 1,25,000 primary workers in Orissa. The RSS operates 6,000 shakhas with a 1,50,000 plus cadre. The Bajrang Dal has 50,000 activists working in 200 akharas. BJP workers number above 4,50,000. BJP Mohila Morcha, Durga Vahini (7,000 outfits in 117 sites), and Rashtriya Sevika Samiti (80 centres) are three major Sangh women's organisations. BJP Yuva Morcha, Youth Wing, Adivasi Morcha and Mohila Morcha have a prominent base. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh manages 171 trade unions with a cadre of 1,82,000. The 30,000-strong Bharatiya Kisan Sangh functions in 100 blocks. The Sangh also operates various trusts and branches of national and international institutions to aid fundraising, including Friends of Tribal Society, Samarpan Charitable Trust, Sookruti, Yasodha Sadan, and Odisha International Centre. Sectarian development and education are carried out by Ekal Vidyalayas, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashrams/Parishads (VKAs), Vivekananda Kendras, Shiksha Vikas Samitis and Sewa Bharatis -- cementing the brickwork for hate and civil polarisation.
This massive mobilisation has erupted in ugly incidents against both Christians and Muslims. In 1998, 5,000 Sangh activists allegedly attacked the Christian dominated Ramgiri - Udaygiri villages in Gajapati district, setting fire to 92 homes, a church, police station, and several government vehicles. Earlier, Sangh activists allegedly entered the local jail forcibly and burned two Christian prisoners to death. In 1999, Graham Staines, 58, an Australian missionary and his 10 and 6 year-old sons were torched in Manoharpur village in Keonjhar. A Catholic nun, Jacqueline Mary was gang raped by men in Mayurbhanj and Arul Das, a Catholic priest, was murdered in Jamabani, Mayurbhanj, followed by the destruction of churches in Kandhamal. In 2002, the VHP converted 5,000 people to Hinduism. In 2003, the VKA organised a 15,000-member rally in Bhubaneswar, propagating that Adivasi (and Dalit) converts to Christianity be denied affirmative action. In 2004, seven women and a male pastor were forcibly tonsured in Kilipal, Jagatsinghpur district, and a social and economic boycott was imposed against them. A Catholic church was vandalised, figures of Mary and Jesus shattered, and the community targeted in Raikia. In 2005, Gilbert Raj, a Baptist pastor, was murdered and Dilip Dalai, a Pentecostal pastor, was stabbed to death at his residence in Begunia, Khordha district.
Change the cast, the story is still the same. 1998: A truck transporting cattle owned by a Muslim man was looted and burned, the driver's aide beaten to death in Keonjhar district. 1999: Shiekh Rehman, a male Muslim clothes merchant, was mutilated and burned to death in a public execution at the weekly market in Mayurbhanj, and social and economic boycotts placed against the Muslim community. 2001: In Pitaipura village, Jagatsinghpur, Hindu communalists attempted to orchestrate a land-grab connected to a Muslim graveyard. On November 20, 2001, around 3,000 Hindu activists from nearby villages rioted. Muslim houses were torched, Muslim women were ill-treated, their property, including goats and other animals, stolen. 2005: In Kendrapara, a male contractor was shot on Govari Embankment Road, supposedly by members of a Muslim gang. Sangh groups claimed the shooting was part of a gang war associated with Islamic extremism and called for a 12-hour bandh. Hindu right-wing organisations are alleged to have looted and set Muslim shops on fire.
It is Saraswati who pioneered the Hinduisation of Kandhamal since 1969. Hindu activists targeted Adivasis, Dalits, Christians and Muslims through socio-economic boycotts and forced conversions to Hinduism (named 're'conversion, presupposing Adivasis and Dalits as 'originally' Hindus).
Kandhamal first witnessed Hindutva violence in 1986. The VKAs, instated in 1987, worked to Hinduise Kondh and Kui Adivasis and polarise relations between them and Pana Dalit Christians. Kandhamal remains socio-economically vulnerable, a large percentage of its population living in poverty. Approximately 90 percent of Dalits are landless. A majority of Christians are landless or marginal landholders. Hindutva ideologues say Dalits have acquired economic benefits, augmented by Christianisation. This is not borne out in reality.
In October 2005, converting 200 Bonda Adivasi Christians to Hinduism in Malkangiri, Saraswati reportedly said: "How will we… make India a completely Hindu country? The feeling of Hindutva should come within the hearts and minds of all the people." In April 2006, celebrating RSS architect Golwalkar's centenary, Saraswati presided over seven yagnas, culminating at Chakapad, attended by 30,000 Adivasis. In September 2007, supporting the VHP's statewide road-rail blockade against the supposed destruction of the mythic 'Ram Setu', Saraswati reportedly conducted a Ram Dhanu Rath Yatra to mobilise Adivasis.
In 2008, Hindutva discourse named Christians as 'conversion terrorists'. But the number of such conversions is highly inflated. The Hindu Right claims there are rampant and forced conversions in Phulbani-Kandhamal. But the Christian population in Kandhamal is 1,17,950 while Hindus number 5,27,757. Orissa Christians numbered 8,97,861 in the 2001 census -- only 2.4 percent of the state's population. Yet, Christian conversions are storied as debilitating to the majority status of Hindus while Muslims are seen as 'infiltrating' from Bangladesh, dislocating the 'Oriya (and Indian) nation'.
The right to religious conversion is constitutionally authorised. Historically, conversions from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam have been a way to escape caste oppression and social stigma for Adivasis and Dalits. In February 2006, the VHP called for a law banning (non-Hindu) religious conversions. In June 2008, it urged that religious conversion be decreed a 'heinous crime' across India.
'Reconversion' strategies of the Sangh appear to be shifting in Orissa. The Sangh reportedly proposed to 'reconvert' 10,000 Christians in 2007. But fewer public conversion ceremonies were held in 2007 than in 2004-2006. Converting politicised Adivasi and Dalit Christians to Hinduism is proving difficult. The Sangh has instead increased its emphasis on the Hinduisation of Adivasis through their participation in Hindu rituals, which, in effect, 'convert' Adivasis by assuming that they are Hindu. Such 'conversion' tactics are diffused and need not negotiate certain legalities, which public and stated conversion ceremonies must.
The draconian Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA), 1967, must be repealed. There are enough provisions under the Indian Penal Code to prevent and prohibit conversions under duress. But consenting converts to Christianity are repeatedly charged under OFRA, while Hindutva perpetrators of forcible conversions are not. The Sangh contends that 'reconversion' to Hinduism through its 'Ghar Vapasi' (homecoming) campaign is not conversion but return to Hinduism, the 'original' faith. This allows Hindutva activists to dispense with the procedures for conversion under OFRA.
The Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960 should also be repealed. It is utilised to target livelihood practices of economically disenfranchised groups, Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, who engage in cattle trade and cow slaughter. Provisions prohibiting cruelty to animals exist under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
In fact, an urgent CBI investigation into the activities of the VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal is crucial as per the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Groups such as the VHP and VKA are registered as cultural and charitable organisations but their work appears to be political in nature. They should be audited and recognised as political organisations, and their charitable status and privileges reviewed.
The state and central government's refusal to restrain Hindu militias evidences their linkage with Hindutva (BJP), soft Hindutva (Congress), and the capitulation of dominant civil society to Hindu majoritarianism. How would the nation have reacted if groups with any other affiliation than militant Hinduism executed riot after riot: Calcutta 1946, Kota 1953, Rourkela 1964, Ranchi 1967, Ahmedabad 1969, Bhiwandi 1970, Aligarh 1978, Jamshedpur 1979, Moradabad 1980, Meerut 1982, Hyderabad 1983, Assam 1983, Delhi 1984, Bhagalpur 1989, Bhadrak 1991, Ayodhya 1992, Mumbai 1992, Gujarat 2002, Marad 2003, Jammu 2008?
The BJD-BJP government has repeatedly failed to honour the constitutional mandate separating religion from state. In 2005-2006, Advocate Mihir Desai and I convened the Indian People's Tribunal on Communalism in Orissa, led by Retired Kerala Chief Justice, K. K. Usha. The Tribunal's findings detailed the formidable mobilisation by majoritarian communalist organisations, including in Kandhamal, and the Sangh's visible presence in twenty-five of thirty districts. The  report did not invoke any response from the state or central government.
In January 2000, The Asian Age reported: "'One village, one shakha' is the new slogan of the RSS as it aims to saffronise the entire Gujarat state by 2005." Then ensued the genocide of March 2002. In 2003, Subash Chouhan, then Bajrang Dal state convener, stated: "Orissa is the second Hindu Rajya (to Gujarat)."
We all know what happened in Kandhamal in December 2007, and again now.
The communal situation in Orissa is dire. State and civil society resistance to Hindutva's ritual and catalytic abuse cannot wait.

Angana Chatterji is associate professor of anthropology at California Institute of Integral Studies and author of a forthcoming book: Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India's Present, Narratives from Orissa.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Who's the real Hindu? by : Karan Thapar , Hindustan Times August 30, 2008

Does the VHP have the right to speak for you or I?   Do they reflect
our views?   Do we endorse their behaviour?   They call themselves the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad, but who says they represent all of us?   This
Sunday morning, I want to draw a clear line of distinction between
them and everyone else.   My hunch is many of you will agree.
Let me start with the question of conversion -  an issue that greatly
exercises the VHP.   I imagine there are hundreds of millions of
Hindus who are peaceful, tolerant, devoted to their faith, but above
all, happy to live alongside Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists,
Jains and Jews.   If any one of us were to change our faith how does
it affect the next man or woman?   And even if that happens with
inducements, it can only prove that the forsaken faith had a tenuous
and shallow hold.   So why do the VHP and its unruly storm troopers,
the Bajrang Dal, froth at the mouth if you, I or our neighbours
convert?   What is it to do with them?   Let me put it bluntly, even
crudely.   If I want to sell my soul   and trade in my present gods
for a new lot,  why shouldn' t I?   Even if the act diminishes me in
your eyes, it's my right to do so.   So if thousands or even millions
of Dalits, who have been despised and ostracised for generations,
choose to become Christian, Buddhist or Muslim, either to escape the
discrimination of their Hindu faith or because some other has lured
them with food and cash, it' s their right.   Arguably you may believe
you should ask them to reconsider, although I would call that
interference, but you certainly have no duty or right to stop them.
In fact, I doubt if you are morally correct in even seeking to place
obstacles in their way.   The so-called Freedom of Religion Acts,
which aim to do just that, are, in fact, tantamount to obstruction
of conversion laws and therefore, at the very least, questionable.
However, what' s even worse is how the VHP responds to this matter.
Periodically they resort to violence including outright murder.   What
happened to Graham Staines in Orissa was not unique.   Last week it
happened again.   Apart from the utter and contemptible criminality of
such behaviour, is this how we Hindus wish to behave?   Is this how we
want our faith defended?   Is this how we want to be seen?   I have no
doubt the answer is no.   An unequivocal, unchanging and ever-lasting
The only problem is it can' t be heard.   And it needs to be.   I
therefore believe the time has come for the silent majority of
Hindus ?   both those who ardently practice their faith as well as
those who were born into it but may not be overtly religious or
devout ?   to speak out.   We cannot accept the desecration of churches,
the burning to death of innocent caretakers of orphanages, the
storming of Christian and Muslim hamlets even if these acts are
allegedly done in defence of our faith.   Indeed, they do not defend
but shame Hinduism.   That' s my central point. I' m sorry but when I
read that the VHP has ransacked and killed I' m not just
embarrassed, I feel ashamed.   Never of being hindu but of what some
Hindus do in our shared faith' s name.
This is why its incumbent on Naveen Patnaik, Orissa' s Chief
Minister, to take tough, unremitting action against the VHP and its
junior wing, the Bajrang Dal.   This is a test not just of his
governance, but of his character.   And I know and accept this could
affect his political survival.   But when it' s a struggle between
your commitment to your principles and your political convenience is
there room for choice?   For ordinary politicians, possibly, but for
the Naveen I know, very definitely not.
So let me end by saying:  I' m waiting, Naveen.   In fact, I want to
say I' m not alone.   There are hundreds of millions of Hindus, like
you and me, waiting silently ? but increasingly impatiently. Please
act for all of us.