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India: Shameless failure of state to control Hindu supremacists

by Antara Dev Sen

Friday 5 September 2008, by siawi

Inert Orissa Government Accomplice in Crimes Against Christians

(Published in: Asian Age, September 4, 2008)

by Antara Dev Sen

Wherever you look, there is some Hindutva hungama. Till this week, you had Hindu-Muslim violence up in Jammu and Kashmir as the bizarre BJP-inspired bickering over the Amarnath land controversy dragged on for over two months. In Orissa, Hindutva goons are killing Christians and destroying churches, homes, schools and shops. In Madhya Pradesh, fundamentalist Hindus assaulted and killed Muslims to commemorate a bandh on the Amarnath land issue. In Gujarat, Narendra Modi’s demonising of Muslims continues as he urgently presses the Prime Minister for special security laws to further harass them.

In Maharashtra, Bal Thackeray calls for Hindu suicide bombers who would blow themselves up among Muslims and thus make India safer. In Uttar Pradesh, two men closely linked to the Bajrang Dal are blown to bits when the bombs they were making explode. And in Delhi, several politicians and activists call for a ban on the right-wing Hindu Bajrang Dal, like the ban on the Muslim Simi (Students’ Islamic Movement of India). And there are always the sulking saffron-wallahs who must attack M.F. Husain.

This time they vandalised an exhibition of his photographs organised by Sahmat in Delhi. Hemmed in by all this, it is impossible to miss the palpable Hindutva terror closing in on non-Hindutva Indians.

Take the Christian killings in Kandhamal, Orissa. Rampaging Hindu mobs brandishing guns, swords, bombs and stuff targeted Christians. Thousands of Christian homes, scores of churches and several convents were destroyed. We won’t get to know the exact figures till much later — if ever. Till now, the official death toll is 16. And after more than a week of bloodshed and vandalism, in spite of curfews and police presence, thousands of terrified Christians are still hiding in the forests.

The bloodshed started with the murder of VHP leader Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati on August 23 by Maoists. The rowdies of the Hindutva parivar immediately launched their "revenge" killings of Christians. No, the fact that their Hindu supremacist leader was not killed by a Christian, but by Naxalites who were probably Hindu by birth, was irrelevant. As it is, the logic of revenge killings — hitting back at imagined "attackers" — is spectacularly wrong. And when the violence is part of drumming up sectarian hatred for ethnic cleansing, the target group can be blamed for no reason.

The Maoists have explained that they killed the swami because he was a "rabid anti-Christian ideologue and persecutor of innocent Christians who was responsible for the burning down of over 400 churches in Kandhamal district alone." In fact, this Hindutva leader was known for his fierce resentment of the success of Christian missionaries in winning over people with healthcare, education, food and dignity in this desperately poor tribal area. He had apparently organised thousands of "reconversions" into Hinduism, and had been encouraging violence against the "Other" for decades. Apart from conversions to Hinduism (often forced), Christians, Muslims, adivasis and Dalits in Orissa have been attacked physically (rape, abuse, vandalising homes, torching places of worship are common) and through social and economic boycotts. They have also been harassed through the peculiar use of law, like the Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act (1960) being used to harass primarily Muslims and Dalits.

Last December, the Hindutva brigade launched a furious attack on Christians which left around 10 dead and hundreds missing. Apparently, it was retaliation to an assault on the swami, but it is widely believed that it was pre-planned, with state connivance, after a hate campaign was built up against Christians as "conversion terrorists".

The National Minorities Commission stated it was a premeditated attack. But nobody has been punished — or is even close to being held guilty for the cold-blooded murder of Indian citizens. "How long will we go on killing the dead?" asked poet Jayanta Mahapatra (Gujarat, 2002). "How long will we see the same truth with different eyes?/ Is this evening or a dark, hard, elusive darkness/ where the God I choose suits one better than a lie?"

There has been a sustained hate campaign against Christians in Orissa for decades. Churches have been destroyed, idols broken, the Bible burned. This criminal hatred had stormed into our national conscience 10 years ago, in 1999. That year, in January, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two little boys were burned alive in Keonjhar. In February, Catholic nun Jacqueline Mary was gangraped in Mayurbhanj. In August, Shiekh Rehman, a Muslim merchant, was mutilated and burned to death in public in Mayurbhanj. In September, Arul Das, a Catholic priest, was murdered, also in Mayurbhanj. Hard to believe that this Mayurbhanj was once the glorious centre of culture, renowned for its artistic sensitivities, the pride of Orissa.

When chief minister Naveen Patnaik finally bestirred himself and went to visit the victims this week, they told him to go away. He had failed them miserably. And many blamed his alliance with the BJP for his inability to control the violence against Christians.

His shameless failure of governance was also evident the last time round — when he celebrated 10 years in power with pomp and glory while Kandhamal burned over Christmas 2007. The Hindutva goons were given a free hand as the police were called away from the districts to help in the celebrations in the capital.

The sustained attacks on Christians in Orissa reminds one of the ferocious attacks on Muslims in Gujarat earlier. State support seems evident, apparently the police had been asked not to intervene.

The rule of the Hindutva brigade was also clear in the violence against Muslims in Indore in July, where the police seemed complicit and the violence was drummed up out of nowhere.

When we have such terrible precedents like Gujarat 2002, can we afford to look dispassionately at these cauldrons of sectarian hatred? By turning away we are inviting more terrorism, as helpless, desperate people turn to inhuman means to counter the inhuman treatment we mete out to them.

"And what do we pray for at the end of all this?/ That man may not run to thatch,/ veils may not be torn, heads should not be severed?... / And if severed, no one should play football with them…" (Keki Daruwala, On the Horror in Gujarat, 2002)

We have really hit rock bottom. We need to climb back up into human society. And banish this "hard, elusive darkness where the God I choose suits one better than a lie".

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: sen littlemag.com