Mental shift

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Posts Tagged ‘BJP’

Is BJP pushing Hindutva in Karnataka?

Posted by jytmkh on September 17, 2008

The attacks on churches in three districts of Karnataka has Christians in the state alarmed and angry. They are convinced that the state government is not doing all it could to protect minorities.

“We suspect that this could be the BJP agenda to target the minorities, particularly the Christians because we are a very soft target, unlike others who may retaliate against them we know. We feel because of this we are being picked upon by these extremist Sangh Parivar elements under the patronage of the BJP as a whole,” said former DGP F T R Colaso.

Karnataka’s history of communal tension does predate this BJP government.(Watch)

Chikmagalur district, where churches were also attacked on Sunday sees heightened tension every December, when saffron outfits insist on taking out a procession to the Datta Peetha – also the site of a sufi shrine. This despite restrictions and a history of communal flare-ups here.

Churches have been attacked in the state before. Back in the year 2000 a series of blasts in churches was eventually laid at the door of the Deendar Anjuman. The Bajrang Dal is also believed to be part of attacks on churches in more recent years.

Coastal Karnataka – a BJP stronghold – has been communally sensitive for years now. And it is clear that the state government is taking at least as critical a view of reported forced conversions as they are of the attacks on churches.

“We oppose this deceitful conversion, especially books, literature, pamphlets decrying Hindu gods and all that has come to light today. One small section that indulges in this illegal conversion believes that by producing such literature they can do something. Action will be taken as under IPC it warrants action. But direct attack on these places was unwanted,” said Karnataka Home Minister V S Acharya.

Now in power, the BJP has a direct interest in maintaining law and order in the state. And if this comes in conflict with the violent actions of other members of the Sangh Pariwar, the party will have to perform a tricky balancing act.(NDTV)


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Bharat Mata is stifled by saffron

Posted by jytmkh on September 15, 2008

Ponni Arasu

I write this piece sitting in the capital of the only south Indian state which is ruled by the BJP. Within a few months of the BJP coming to power, the repercussions are crystal clear. Saffron shines through every nook and corner of this IT hub, which is already struggling to deal with  a range of inequalities. Churches, Christian schools and Muslim and Christian individuals  and communities are being attacked regularly in the state. The pattern is familiar. The Nazi model is sound and can be replicated anywhere and thus Karnataka is now replicating the realities of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Human rights activists, researchers and lawyers working on arrange of issue are beginning to come together to prepare for a long tussle with Hindu fundamentalist forces.   I wish this dramatic narration was an exaggeration. What is it that brings rights activists across the board together when it comes to Hindu fundamentalism in India? Is it just the magnitude of the issue that has hit us violently in the past? That seems to be too inadequate a reason. The essential reason is that the Hindutva ideology believes in building ONE kind of nation. In this nation there will be Hindus and those who agree to live subservient to the Hindus. These Hindus are also not a generic category. To be Indian is to be Hindu. The ideal Hindu is a ‘healthy’, upper caste, rich, heterosexual man. All other Hindus exist to assist in the life of this “complete man”. This man is to then ‘guard’ ‘mother India’.  It is these self-appointed ‘guardians’ of the nation who attacked cinema halls across the country which screened Deepa Mehta’s lesbian-themed film Fire. One such ‘guardian’ is vehemently contesting the challenge to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises the existence and the lives of LGBT persons, in the Delhi high Court. This is part of the long strenuous relationship between Hindu fundamentalists and sexuality rights activists in India. This relationship is not just a contestation over simpler questions of sexuality identities or practices. It is a question of culture and nation. Fire, they screamed, showcased things that are against Indian culture, as is Valentine’s day celebrations or even Eid and Christmas as they might soon declare. Poorer Hindu and Muslim men and women, those not part of the  Archies cards version of ‘love’, but who sneak away to local parks to whisper sweet nothings or just converse casually are assaulted by the ‘guardians’. Art exhibitions are ransacked and all those involved physically hurt for allegedly ‘disrespecting’ the ‘gods’ , who apparently cannot be, at any cost, imagined or portrayed by anyone else but the ‘guardians’, in a manner that they decide.  These ‘guardians’ are not just here to guard what they believe is theirs. They are here to decide how we ALL live; who we love, which gods we pray to and how. If you dare to exist any other way, you are to die. And die not as an individual but as a community. The list of people the VHP, Bajrang Dal or RSS attack in India today is eerily similar to those sent to concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Communists there — human rights activists here. Binayak Sen is a case in point. Jews there — Muslims, Christians, dalits, tribals and god knows how many other communities here. Both lists have one thing, literally, in common — homosexuals. The similarity between these lists is not a coincidence and does not end there. They have in common the focus on propaganda, the belief in violence and acts of social good (education and other welfare) as a tool to breed hatred of the imagined ‘other’.  This imagined ‘other’ in effect is each and every person who believes in the right to make one’s own choices in terms of god, work, love and life. This ‘other’ is one who believes that all human beings deserve equal opportunities and equal rights to live their lives with respect and dignity. This ‘other’ captures the spirit of the Indian constitution and our long history of social struggles for justice and equality.  It is the ‘guardians of this nation’ who seem to be out of place. What gave them the right to fix our ‘culture’? A culture is one that has space for everyone, equally irrespective of their caste, class, region, religion, gender or sexuality. It is this culture that gave us the sensuous sculptures of Khajuraho, the Kama Sutra, the love story of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin and Amir Khusro. It gave us the paintings of M F Hussain and movies like My brother Nikhil. This culture made space for queer columns in popular newspapers! Culture is an entity that is to give space for all those who choose to be part of it to change, transform and build so as to ensure warmth, love and camaraderie.


Whatever may be the violent dreams and  aspirations of these  alleged ‘guardians’, lives and struggles will go on with heads held high and hearts that have the courage to love. “Hate is more lasting than dislike”, said Adolf Hitler but then again “love will keep us alive and kicking!” (Expressbuzz)


Ponni Arasu  is a queer, feminist  activist and researcher  and currently works with  the Alternative Law Forum,  Bangalore. She can  be contacted at

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A tragedy foretold (Editorial on Orissa Violence in The Statesman)

Posted by jytmkh on September 8, 2008

Way back in 1966, students set ablaze two churches by the side of a college in the heart of the divisional town of Berhampore in Orissa. The indiscretion was more a youthful prank carried out by agitating students on the spur of the moment and not communally motivated violence. 
Compared to the Hindi heartland, communal disturbances were a relatively rare phenomenon in Orissa till the eighties. The atrocities unleashed on the Hindus in East Pakistan in 1964 set off a serious communal backlash in parts of eastern India, including Kolkata, Jamshedpur, Ranchi and Rourkela.  
The riots in the Rourkela Steel Township against the Muslim community were the first major outbreak of communal violence in post-independence Orissa. Since then there has been no significant Hindu-Muslim strife in the state, though lately Hindu fundamentalist forces have launched a sustained violent campaign against the indigenous Christian community in the remote tribal areas of the state. 

Communal hatred

Since 1999, BJP affiliates like the Bajrang Dal, Viswa Hindu Parishad, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram have systematically fomented communal hatred and engineered inter-religious clashes at different places in Orissa in a bid to expand their parent party’s political support base. The post-Babari attacks on the religious minorities include social and economic boycotts, vandalism, torching of private and public properties, physical and emotional threats, abuse and violence, including torture, rape, arson and murder. 
In January 1999, Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh and his associates murdered Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, in Keonjhar district when they were sleeping in their camper. Next month, Jacqueline Mary, a Catholic nun, was gang-raped by some men in the neighbouring Mayurbhanj district. In September 1999, Atul Das, a Catholic priest, was murdered in the same Mayurbhanj district. 
In February 2004, in Jagatsinghpur district, seven Christian women and a male pastor were forcibly tonsured and a social boycott was imposed on them, which continues till today. In August 2004, a church in Phulbani district was attacked. In 2007 alone, thousands of Adivasis and Dalits were forcibly converted to Hinduism. 
Hindu majoritarianism operates with the aim to maintain dominance and Hinduise non-Hindus and other marginal and secular groups, including Christians, Muslims, Adivasis and Dalits, as a part of the goal of turning India into an exclusively Hindu state. 
The Sangh Parivar perceives and projects itself as an adjunct and/or adversary to the state that offsets governmental failure to dispense “morality” and “progress” to citizens. The Hindu communalists use local militarism (as in Kandhamal) as consort to state controlled militarisation (as in Kashipur, where in December 2000, three Adivasis were killed in police firing, and Kalinga Nagar, where in January 2006, 12 Adivasis and a policeman were killed in police firing). 
Hindu communalist groups are estimated to have proliferated in 10,000-14,000 villages through sectarian relief work in the aftermath of the devastating 1999 cyclone. In 1965-1966, the RSS announced the Go Raksha Andolan across India. In 1967, the VHP started operating in Orissa, with Raghunath Sethi, a Dalit RSS pracharak, as its secretary, and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) started its Orissa chapter. During 1967-69, the RSS entrusted Lakhan (later Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati), a Hindu proselytiser, with the task of regularising the mandate of the Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act of 1960. 
The Sangh Parivar extended its reach to Adivasi localities in the state, via the VHP, appointing Lakshmanananda Saraswati, in 1969, and Raghunath Sethi to oversee the Hinduisation and Sanskritisation of Phulbani/Kandhamal district. 
Drawing upon such mobilisations in Phulbani and other places, Golwalkar convened a full-scale RSS training camp in Orissa in 1967 to provide RSS cadres with in-state training. In 1970, the Sangh acclaimed Orissa as an “advanced prant”.
Allegations of proselytisation are a common and key political issue in Kandhamal and other adjoining districts. Rival political parties exploit communal tensions between the tribal Kandhs and the Dalit Panas. Over the years, a large number of Panas have become Christians, while many Kandhs have affiliated with the VHP and the BJP. 
In the 1990s, the list of Scheduled Tribes was amended with three more groups ~ Kui, Kuvi and Kuee  ~ designated as ST in addition to those included in the original list. Those on the ST list are entitled to state benefits and reserved jobs. Many Panas speak kui dialect and demand ST status. This apart, a conflict over land rights arose as land rights of the tribals in Orissa are protected under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. 
Tension rose further when the Delimitation Commission reserved the Kandhamal Parliamentary constituency and all the three state Assembly constituencies of the district for the STs in December 2006. The Panas resumed their demand for tribal status so that their leaders might contest the seats. 
The attacks on the Christians in December 2007 in Kandhamal were perpetrated with a view to dividing the communities and strengthening the political support base of the political group concerned. In the latest bout of communal violence, the murder of the VHP leader Laxmananda Saraswati on 23 August, 2008 was carried out with similar motive. 
For its part, the VHP blamed the Christians for the incident and called a dawn-to-dusk bandh on 25 August. Union minister of state for home affairs Prakash Jaiswal was denied access to the affected areas pleading lack of security. Following the murder of the VHP leader, violence against the Christians spread fast to other places across the state. 

Organised violence

Beginning on Christmas day last year, there was systematic and organised violence on the Christians in Kandhamal district. Four people were killed and hundreds of Churches were burnt down. 
These gruesome events, documented by the National Commission for Minorities, should have been an eye-opener for the state government and prompted it to beef up security in the district, but no effective measure was taken by the incumbent Biju Janata Dal-BJP coalition government to prevent recurrence of inter-religious violence. 
Following the anti-Christian riots of December, 2007 the state government appointed a Commission of Inquiry headed by retired High Court judge Basudev Pasigrahi, but the Commission started its work only a few weeks back. It embroiled itself in a controversy by touring the riot-affected areas even before the notification appointing it was formally issued and making uncalled-for comments on the alleged conversion of people to Christianity. 
In the backdrop of all that happened in December 2007, the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal last month was a tragedy foretold ~ a painful narrative of police and administrative indifference, of repeated official complicity and consistent incompetence. And, finally, it is the testimony of total collapse of the law and order machinery in the sate. It was a tragedy that was waiting to happen and a tragedy that can repeat itself yet again under the present dispensation in the state.

(The Statesman Editorial)

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India’s Christians: politics of violence in Orissa

Posted by jytmkh on September 3, 2008

A wave of Hindu nationalist attacks on Christians in eastern India is rooted in local issues of caste and conversion but also part of a larger political strategy, says Jacob Ignatius.

A catastrophic flood across the northeast Indian state of Bihar has displaced tens of thousands of people and caused untold damage to the meagre property and livelihoods of some of India’s poorest citizens. The challenges of delivering aid and protecting the health of those affected by this emergency – which is spreadingto the state of Assam and across the border to Bangladesh – are immense. But alongside this natural and humanitarian disaster, another less visible crisis has been unfolding: attacks on India’s Christians in parts of the impoverished eastern state of Orissa. 

On 29 August 2008, 45,000 Christian schools were closed across India to protest against the anti-Christian violence that had affected (mainly) the Kandhamal district of Orissa in the previous week. This was unprecedented in the history of independent India, for never before have Christians felt so compelled to stand publicly and unitedly against the forces of communalism in India. Moreover, the impact of this response is heightened by the fact that Christian schools – which provide education to both Christian and non-Christian children – form a significant part of India’s education system.

The unrest in the state of Orissa started on 23 August 2008 after the murder of a 90-year-old rightwing Hindu nationalist leader called Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati; four of his associates were also killed in the attack. Although the police suspected Maoist guerrillas for the murder, members of the radical Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) blamed Christians and went on the rampage – killing several people, and destroying a Christian missionary-school, house-churches and other buildings. The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) estimates that fifty people (most of them Christians) have been killed. Thousands of Christians have fled their homes to seek shelter in the forests or government camps. The murder of the Hindu leader is clearly reprehensible, but this is a matter for the judicial authorities and – even were the culprit found to be a Christian – would not justify what effectively became an assault against an entire local Christian community.

An area of tension

The latest trauma is part of a history of Hindu-Christian clashes in Orissa over the last decade. In January 1999, the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burned alive while sleeping in their jeep. Around Christmas 2007 there were Hindu-Christian clashes that have some parallels with the latest events. The main conflict then was between two communities: Kandh tribals (who are mainly, though not exclusively, Hindus) and Dalit Panas (many of whom have converted to Christianity over the years). Christian missionaries have been active in the area for many years; with the entrance of radical Hindu groups, vehemently opposed to the conversion of Hindus to Christianity and cow slaughter, the potential for communal tension has deepened.

Muslims have traditionally borne the brunt of attacks by Hindu extremist groups but since the late 1990s there has been a marked increase in the number of attacks on Christians. Between 1950 and 1998, only fifty anti-Christian attacks were recorded. In 2000, the figure shot up to 100, and then rose further to at least 200 incidents annually in 2001-05; perhaps it was no coincidence that this came after after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the federal level (until their defeat by the Congress-led coalition in May 2004). In 2007, the number of attacks on Christians exceeded 1,000 for the first time.

Hindu radicals often make the allegation – in part-excuse for the actions of extremists – that Christians are forcibly or fraudulently converting Hindus to Christianity. There probably are some erring missionaries who are attracting converts by false inducements, but to imply that all do so is inaccurate and unfair (see Subhasis Mohanty, “Fire in Kalinga“, The Pioneer, 2 September 2008). Many missionaries do great charitable work, often providing a helping hand in areas deeply affected by poverty.

In several Indian states governed by the BJP, anti-conversion laws are now in place. These laws are largely intended to prevent the flow of people from Hinduism to other faiths. Many low-caste Hindus have converted to Christianity willingly to escape the rigid and repressive caste system; the Dalit Panas of Orissa are an example. In this context the anti-conversion laws – which sanction interference in a person’s right freely to choose a faith – have become a weapon used by radical Hindus to beat Christians. In areas like Orissa, the tensions that result are intermingled with disputes over land, legal status and local power (see Ravik Bhattacharya, “Down the Dark Road“, Indian Express, 31 August 2008).

Christians officially constitute only 2.3% of the Indian population. Christianity is believed to have been brought to India by St Thomas, Christ’s own apostle, to the shores of Kerala in 52 CE (common era). Much later, colonial powers such as the British, Portuguese, Dutch and French made strenuous efforts to convert the population. These were usually without success; Christianity has never grown to be a dominant religion in India and it is unlikely it ever will. Yet Hindu extremist groups like the VHP are fixated on the issue of conversions to Christianity – in part from dogmatic opposition to people leaving their religious fold, in part from insecurity about members of the lower castes trying to break free from the caste system. Hence, the majority of attacks on Christians are directed against the formerly low-caste converts such as the Dalit Panas of Orissa (see Biswamoy Pati, “In a crucified state“, Hindustan Times, 2 September 2008).

A strategy of fear

India is a deeply religious place where the boundaries of religion and politics are somewhat porous. The country is not today blessed with philanthropic politicians of the stature of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who always strove for communal harmony. There is a disturbing tendency among some of their successors to exaggerate the religious divide between communities in order to polarise voters along religious lines and win the votes of the majority community. This can both encourage and justify attacks on members of minority faiths, many of which are orchestrated in advance and carried out with the connivance of the authorities. In their aftermath, very few people are prosecuted (see Rajeev Bhargava, “The political psychology of Hindu nationalism“, 5 November 2003).

The next Indian general election is looming – it must be held by May 2009, and could even be sooner. The BJP seems to have returned to its policy of hard-lineHindutva (Hindu nationalism) to capture votes. The ruling Congress Party professes commitment to India’s famed secularism, but it often fails to match action with rhetoric (see Rajeev Bhargava, “Words save lives: India, the BJP and the constitution“, 2 October 2002). This is disappointing because to break the cycle of communal violence more needs to be done than just issuing statements and pointing the finger of blame at the BJP. A good start would be consistently to bring the perpetrators of communal violence to justice.

Hindus are in their vast majority tolerant and peaceful – as are members of other faiths in India. It is political manipulation and fear-mongering that turns peaceful coexistence into terrible violence, as in Orissa. The political instigation of of anti-Christian sentiment by the Hindu rightwing for electoral gain is another danger to Indian democracy. In the interests of a peaceful, progressive and just India, it must be opposed.

This article is published by Jacob Ignatius, , and under a Creative Commons licence.


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