Ram Puniyani


Orissa is witnessing unprecedented violence against the tiny Christian minority. On August 23, 2008, Swami Laxmananand along with his four followers was killed, probably by a group of Maoists. Immediately, anti-Christian violence began on big scale.


The way it began it seemed as if preparations for it were well afoot. It was systematic and widespread. It sounded as if the preparation was already there, just the pretext was being waited for. So far many innocent Christians have been killed, wounded and rendered homeless apart from many Churches having been torched. The RSS combine, VHP-Adivasi Kalyan Ashram-Bajarang Dal, allege that the Swami was killed by Christians, or there is collusion between Maoists and Christians. It is unlikely that there is any such alliance between the two. Any way, what is important is that the crime of murder of Swami must be properly investigated and guilty must be punished as per the law of the land.


Just to recall, the anti Christian tirade was also launched in December 2007, around Christmas time. That time also the pretext was that Christians have beaten up Swami and so this ‘revenge’. For RSS combine launching such bouts of violence by now is becoming a child’s play. Search for a pretext, launch your well-oiled machinery for the communal agenda, communalize the society along religious lines and strengthen your political base seems to be its trajectory. The similar phenomenon was observed in Gujarat, after the burning of Sabarmati coach S 6 at Godhra. Modi announced that it had been done by local Muslims. There was no need to wait for the proper investigation, no need to follow the norm of railway board that every such event must be investigated, and tirade was launched with full vigor, and split in the society along religious lines was brought in ensuring BJP coming back to power. This victory of BJP was despite the decline of popularity of BJP. Anti incumbency was nullified and Modi returned to power to further his agenda. Power of polarizing the society by communal violence was at display at its worst.


This, by now is the standard technique, spread canards, myths, biases against minorities, look for pretext and go for the kill under the tolerating eyes of communalized state apparatus. If BJP is in power or is an ally in the seat of power, the job is easier. Anti Christian violence went on higher gear in the same year in which BJP came to power in the Center in 1996. The pretext was that Christian missionaries are converting the gullible Adivasis by force, fraud and allurement. This incitement was skillfully utilized by Adivasis Kalyan Ashram, VHP and Bajrang dal, and the violence started going up in intensity over the years. The most ghastly of this was seen in the burning alive of Pastor Graham Stains along with his two innocent sons, aged 11 and 7 years. This was immediately followed by the murder of Fr. Arul Das. Also Sheikh Rahman was killed on the charges of trading in cows for slaughter. Anti Christian atmosphere was built up and as this was more in the remote places where Adivasis do not have easy access to law, police etc, anyway their efficacy in helping minorities from the onslaught of RSS combine is also doubtful by now, the process has been going on and on. The violence kept on simmering and kept taking intense forms around the Christmas time. In a way a new Christmas ritual of burning churches and beating up Christians around Christmas time became a sort of annual event. It is immaterial that the number of Christians is miniscule in Indian society, it is immaterial that Christian missionaries have been working in India from first century A.D. itself, it is immaterial that the despite the allegations from RSS combine, the population of Christians as per the census figures has been declining constantly. In the face of these facts the argument proffered was that since the converts to Christianity don’t want to lose their privileges that don’t declare their true religion and are crypto Christians. The simple point is that Adivasis, where the missionary work is maximum, don’t lose such privileges after conversion. Goebbles must be turning in his grave with his followers surpassing him many times over!


It is not a mere coincidence that maximum violence in Adivasi areas has been seen in the poorest regions. Dangs in Gujarat is the poorest district of Gujarat, and Orissa is amongst the poorest states of the country. The main reason for violence against Christians is to ensure that the welfare, and educational services offered by them do not reach the Adivasis and that they remain poor and illiterate, that the status quo in these areas prevails so that the democratic space for these wretched of the society is blocked by the religiosity cultivated through Swamis. We saw two processes of co-option and one political process of intimidation in these regions. Through Swamis, Laxmananad (Orissa), Aseemanand (Dangs) and followers of Asaram bapu in Jhabua area, they did the cooption work, Gharvapasi, conversion in to Hinduism. Through mega processes like Shabri Kumbh in Dangs, Hindu Sangams in other Adivasi areas, an intimidating atmosphere has been created to draw them to RSS fold. The other process is the political one. This is the building up of mechanism where by Dara Singh and his clones are ready waiting for pretexts to pounce upon the social fabric of unity. The violence is made to look as spontaneous and is a part of a process of revenge. It is neither; it is a well planned unfolding of RSS agenda. Even Wadhva Commission, pointed out that there was no conversion activity by Pastor Stains. The civic rights groups have pointed out that the violence has political foundations and has nothing to do with religion or conversion. A Peoples tribunal headed by retired Justice Usha also warned about the preparedness of the communal organizations for violence.


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 an 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 all the Adivasi areas, a dangerous situation, and occasionally an apparent calm prevail. While Swami Laxmananand’s killers deserve punishment, the Swami’s followers are spreading hate in these areas and vitiating the atmosphere. One can also see the communalization of state apparatus and BJP protecting its marauding mobs either by pulling the strings from the seats of power or by spreading the canards against the weaker sections of society. Interestingly as pointed out above, the December 2007 violence was launched on the pretext that Christians have beaten up the Swami! We do need to look back and check the activities of those spreading hate in the name of religion. While the Christian sects are dime a dozen, all are not in the business of proselytization. Few of them must be indulging in wrong practices, but surely the law of the land can take care of those not following it. Permitting violence by the state machinery is tantamount to violation of the oath taken by those in power, and they should be suspended from the seats of power. And if they are not able to protect the innocent citizens of their state, why should they continue to rule? The question is which political force is above suspicion and honest enough to abide by the laws of Indian constitution? The question also arises, is the state bureaucracy and police honest enough to protect the minorities? It is time to introspect and set the things right at the deeper level of governance and politics.


(September 2008)

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