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Asghar Ali Engineer

(Secular Perspective March 16-31, 1999)

The burning alive of the Australian missionary Dr.Graham Staines and
his two children in the village of Mohapur in Orissa is the cruellest
and most barbaric act. The President of India rightly described it as
'monumental aberration'. No decent human being would ever think of
our country going into the hands of such utter fanatics. The VHP and
the Bajrang Dal which have provoked this fanaticism are now trying to
dissociate themselves from such horrifying killing of innocent
people. They are coming out with incredible explanations. Mukhtar
Abbas Naqvi, the BJP Minister of State in the Union Government,
described it as a 'conspiracy to defame India. He said that it is
part of 'international conspiracy to defame India." He further said
"This conspiracy also has a national angle and is aimed at disgracing
India's image and culture." Mr.Naqvi does not understand that not
even a cretin would believe in such fantastic explanations. Acharya
Giriraj Kishore, the General Secretary, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, on
the other hand, described the incident as a result of 'political
rivalry between the Orissa chief minister J.B.Patnaik and his deputy
Basant Biswal'. Such explanations can satisfy only the Sangh Parivar
faithfuls, no one else. What is more surprising and what gives the
game away is that all these members of the Sangh Parivar
simultaneously attack the Christian missionaries for conversion and
strongly condemn them. This clearly establishes their sympathy for
the doers of such cruel deeds. No one from the VHP or the Bajrang Dal
or the RSS has categorically condemned such barbaric acts. They show
their discrete, if not open, approval of these dastardly acts. Even
if the Australian missionary was indulging in conversions, could he
be burnt alive along with his two children while sleeping in his
jeep? And of course there is no shred of proof that he was converting
people even through persuasion, let alone through fraud or
inducement. He was silently serving the most hated people in our
society i.e. the lepers for more than twenty five years. His wife
also showed grace expected of a Christian believer and pardoned the
killers of her husband and children. The barbaric act has angered the
allies of the BJP like the Trinamul Congress and Telugu Desham Party.
They are demanding ban on the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Mamta Banerjee
said that "the rabid and communal elements in the BJP Government are
slowly spinning out of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's
control." She also demanded a national government led by Vajpayee
rather than the BJP led government. She also said that the BJP
government has completely failed to give protection to India's
minority community. What is more surprising is that even the Home
Minister L.K.Advani gave a clean chit to the VHP and the Bajrang Dal
saying that these organisations have no such record. The Home
Minister has no right to issue such statements when the inquiry is
going on. His statement can obviously influence the police officers
inquiring into the matter. This clearly shows that the hawks in the
BJP approve of violence against the minorities. What is more shocking
is that such a gruesome violence has taken place on the eve of 50
years of Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom. The Mahatma was a great apostle
of non-violence. Non-violence is the highest human value. Violence is
degrading for humanity. Any noble cause, if sought to be achieved
through violence, would mar it. However, it is a great tragedy that
while we adorn the Mahatma and his philosophy of non-violence we
resort to violence even for most petty objectives. We will be
solemnly observing the 30th January as the martyrdom day of the
Mahatma. But it is mere ritual for us now. What is needed is deep
reflection on the relevance of non-violence for the process of
nation-building. Of course for democracy and democratic functioning
non-violence and tolerance are sine qua non. Yet our democracy has
seen so much political violence since independence. Communal pogroms
became, as if a way of life for us. Hundreds of communal riots took
place in which thousands of innocent people were brutally massacred.
Can we call ourselves a tolerant and civilised society? Along with
communal violence ethnic violence broke out particularly in Kashmir
and the North East of India. In the North East each tribe is flying
at the throat of another tribe. Bodos are engaged in ethnic
cleansing. If once violence is legitimized by a section of society,
it becomes the way of life to other sections of society. Mahatma
Gandhi had great insight in this matter and he, both as a matter of
belief and as a matter of strategy, rejected violence totally. He
withdrew the non-cooperation movement after the Chori Chora incident
in which some constables were burnt alive by the agitating mob. The
non-cooperation movement was at its height and the Mahatma suddenly
withdrew it. Everyone was stunned but the Mahatma insisted on
withdrawing the movement as people could not remain non-violent.
Mahatma was right. Once violence is legitimised it multiplies and
spreads like wild fire. If the Mahatma had not insisted on
withdrawing the movement, violence would have spread and given a
chance to the British to suppress it ruthlessly on one hand, and
violence would have found national acceptance, on the other. Its long
term repercussions on the process of nation building would have been
extremely negative. But there is no Mahatma today in our midst to
check the spreading violence. We have still not inculcated the true
spirit of democracy even fifty years of our democratic efforts at
nation building. And when violence is resorted to by a section of the
majority community to retain its hegemony it is even more dangerous.
It vitiates the whole process of peaceful process of nation building.
And once you resort to violence it is very difficult to end it. Those
who resort to violence feel a great sense of power which they do not
want to give up. And it has been repeatedly observed that those who
resort to violence soon get divided into number of factions and start
killing each other. This is what has happened in Kashmir and the
North East. These factions kill members of each other more than their
common enemy. There cannot be a greater danger for a democracy than
resorting to violence by any section of the society. Today very
lethal weapons are freely available in the market. If we resort to
violence for petty reasons, the result will be only a disaster for
the nation. Let not that section of the majority community resorting
to violence think that it can impose its hegemony through violence
and teach the minority a lesson. It never works that way. When during
the eighties many communal riots took place, a large number of
Muslims were killed; some anti-social elements also resorted to
violence and planted a bomb in March 1993 in Bombay in which again
more than 300 innocent people were killed. Same thing happened at
Coimbatore. Some fanatics of Hindu Munnani used violence against
Muslims in November 1997 and then some Muslim fanatics planted a
bomb in February 1998, when L.K.Advani was to address an election
meeting in Coimbatore, killing many innocent people. Violence today
has vitiated our society. We are committed to democratic way of
nation building and for this secularism, tolerance and non-violence
are our tools. It not only wins us international acclaim but also
strengthens and stabilises our society. Mahatma Gandhi was an
embodiment of all these qualities. Today in the vitiated atmosphere
of all round violence - communal, criminal and ethnic, we need the
Mahatma more than ever. The Hindutva forces believe in violence to
maintain their hegemony and hence consider Gandhiji as their enemy
and it was for this reason that the apostle of non-violence was
eliminated violently. He was assassinated brutally. The communal and
fundamentalist forces find it very difficult to find democratic
acceptability. The BJP also could come to power (and that too with
the help of other allies) only by moderating its Hindutva agenda.
Without diluting its Hindutva agenda it would never have secured the
position of power. This is a tribute to the peaceable masses. When
the fanatics and fundamentalists find it difficult to get elected
they use violence to achieve their objective. There is no doubt if
the conversion issue is placed before the nation through referendum
before the nation, the VHP will lose. It is hardly an issue for the
Indian people. A small fraction gets converted, that too on account
of its miserable socio-economic situation. If the tribals and the
Scheduled caste people find some opportunities in life through the
endeavours of the Christian missionaries why should one object? At
the most one could make similar endeavour to give a sense of dignity
to these most harried people in life. Thus excelling each other in
providing dignified life to the most exploited in the society is the
only democratic answer to the problem. But those who have no patience
for such efforts and want to retain their hold on them resort to
violence. In Pakistan too the fanatics and fundamentalists utterly
failed to capture the imagination of the people. The Jamat-e-Islami
of Pakistan could never win more than a couple of seats in
Parliament. It then began to disassociate itself from the elections.
Similarly many extremist groups among the religious organisations
were completely frustrated and gave up electoral politics and set up
their own armed units. Today in Pakistan there are more than twenty
armed groups fighting for supremacy. It is for this reason that the
Pakistani society is witnessing so much violence. Religious
fanaticism can never produce true religiosity and spirituality.
Fanaticism, let us remember, is born out of frustration and anxiety
and can never produce positive result. Fanatics are frustrated
because people at large refuse to accept what they believe to be
true. Fanaticism is bound to result in violence as fanatics think
they can succeed only if they forcibly impose their ideas and
ideologies. A truly religious person, on the other hand, will opt for
persuasion with all possible humility. Thus violence becomes most
abhorrent to him. A religious person is dedicated to the cause with
all sincerity whereas a fanatic displays only anxiety and coercion.
Thus it will be seen that compassion, tolerance and non-violence
which are our primeval values can only lead us to our chosen goal of
democratic nation-building. We have set example in many ways for the
whole world, let us not squander it with such violent acts. It will
be in the interest of our country to restraint the extremists and
fanatics in the Sangh Parivar and follow strictly the constitutional
path for the solution of all our maladies.

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism,
Irene Cottage, Second Floor,
4th Road, Santacruz (E), Mumbai:- 400 055.


When hate smoulders
The Hindu Feature
Date: 31 Jan. 1999

SUNDAY, January 24, 1999, will be remembered as Black Sunday by many. The
front pages of most newspapers carried two ghastly stories - the brutal killing of the
58-year-old Australian missionary, Mr. Graham Stewart Steins, and his two young
sons, Philip (9) and Timothy (7) in Manoharpur village of Orissa's Keonjhar district,
and the murder of a 31-year-old journalist, Ms Shivani Bhatnagar, in the presence of
her two-month old son in her home in New Delhi. The incidents are different and
unconnected. But they reflect the depths of barbarity and brutality into which this
country is sinking. What is frightening is how quickly this is happening.

There will condemnations and justifications, analysis and investigations, but several
points stand out even before the details of what exactly happened, particularly in
Orissa, are known. The Orissa incident is a direct fallout of the politics of hate being
perpetrated by people associated or part of the ruling coalition at the Centre. This is
an inescapable fact. Why kill a man who has been doing exemplary charitable work
for 32 years, people will ask? But hate has no logic. If you demonise a community, or
a religion, then anything is possible. And the unthinkable does happen.

While the violence perpetrated against Christians, particularly those working in tribal
areas, is one fallout of the politics of hate, the other is the breakdown of law and
security in our cities, exemplified by the rising crime rate in the nation's capital. This
is the direct outcome of our rulers celebrating and encouraging defiance of the law,
calling vandals ``brave patriots'' and justifying mindless violence in the name of
protecting the motherland. As a result, every petty thief, murderer, criminal knows
that he can get away - with murder.


On Dialogue
Wadhwa Commission
The evil in our midst
Truth Behind Forcible Conversions
Alternate accent
Bjp View
Without Conversion
Right to preach
Cast, not cash
NCM report
Towards Hindu Nation
Orissa Killing
Dhara Singh
RSS media on Christians
Index of Attacks

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Last updated: October 29, 2000 .