The evil in our midst


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The evil in our midst
The Hindu, Wednesday, February 10, 1999
Opinion, :

Achin Vanaik

HOW many more atrocities will it take before we recognise clearly, and
confront unequivocally, the evil in our midst? First the dramatic
escalation in the last couple of years of attacks on a minority
religious community, Christians, mostly in States ruled by the Sangh Parivar
combine or in parts of other States where the Sangh is active andgrowing in
strength. Now the horrific murder of an Australian missionary and
social worker with his two young sons in Orissa. While the particular form
that such acts of evil can take will sometimes appall us by their
outrageous and grotesque character, the more such violence becomes routinised and the
greater the number of voices which try and excuse or justify them in
some way, the more inured a society will become to them. It is precisely on
such occasions that those who belong to the influential sections of Indian
society - and this means the literate elite which shapes the political
direction of the country - are morally tested.

Already, our society has become used to not only communal riots between
Hindus and Muslims but also attacks by police and para-military forces
on the Muslims and to assaults by communal organisations on their
purported enemy, whether Hindu or Muslim. Though there are both Hindu and Muslim
communal organisations, statistics show that the scale, intensity and
frequency of attacks carried out by the Hindu communal organisations in
thelast three decades is much greater. Over 80 per cent of victims and
casualties in such riots (broadly defined to include not just
inter-community clashes but also the more one-sided assaults of
government agencies and other organisations in society) are Muslims. But none of
this shocks any more. This is already a great victory for the Hindutva

By contrast, attacks on the Christians by Hindu communal forces has so
far been at a much lower level. The sudden escalation in spread and
frequency, and the fact that there are hardly any communally organised Christian
groups attacking or counter- attacking Hindus, has helped highlight in
a newer way the threat that Hindutva and its proponents represent. Here,
too, the current horror and anger of all right thinking citizens can simply
fade away over time leaving no serious political resources with which to
fight this powerful and long-term enemy of society - a majoritarian-based
communalism. Let us understand matters clearly. A minority-based
communalism which becomes stronger and stronger develops a dynamic
that, at most, can lead to a demand for separation, be it Khalistan, or a new
Islamic or Christian state. But a cumulative Hindu communalism can
transform Indian society as a whole into a much more ugly,
authoritarian system and hope to disguise its perniciousness in the name of Indian

The Sangh combine in its entirety - not just its ``extremist
elements'' - represents the greatest danger to society since Independence. It is a
ruthless, ideologically-driven force, fully determined to carry out a
fundamental transformation of society by destroying its``enemies''.
These enemies are above all the unbearable
cultural-religious-social-intellectual-political influence (for the
Sangh, this is all one inescapable package) of Islam and Christianity wherein
communism can be seen as an illegitimate offspring of
Christianity-Westernisation. Of course, the principal Sangh Parivar
leaders cannot all say this in public. There will be differences among them on
how to proceed on this course. But whether they are ``moderates'' or
``extremists'', what unites them all is much more important than
whatever differences they might have. What willnever be questioned by the
so-called moderates is the fundamentally hate- filled character of their ideology
itself and that because of this, the impossibility of avoiding
extremist expressions and behaviour by some of their ideologically convinced
cadre and supporters.

When such evil violence erupts from time to time, as it must, the basic
response of the major political leaders of Hindutva is to resort
mainly to three techniques of rationalisation. These are denial, diversion and
blaming others which can sometimes degenerate to the level of blaming
the victims themselves! Different Sangh leaders take different approaches,
not necessarily because of some prior collective calculation, but often
because of the differences in their personalities. Thus, the Prime Minister,
Mr.Vajpayee, will often react and speak differently from the Home
Minister, Mr. Advani. But the techniques themselves are part of a collective
stock in whose use all the principal leaders are fully versed. Often, the same
leader will resort to a different technique at different times or to
different audiences.

In the face of the extraordinary record of escalating violence in
Gujarat in the last year under a Sangh Government, what did Mr. Vajpayee say?
He denied that the Gujarat Government was in any way behind it. But his
most important response was to fulfil the task of diversion. This was the
purpose and meaning of his call for a national debate on the issue of
conversion. When such a call is issued precisely at a time when there
is a systematic campaign of physical assaults on the Christians, then it
clearly constitutes a calculated attempt not just at the diversion of
legitimate concern but at insinuating that the victims are themselves in some way
to blame for what has happened. What an incredible state of affairs!

The Prime Minister, no less, has resorted to all the three techniques
to whitewash the culpability of both the ideology he adheres to and
represents, and the organisations of which he is so prominent a part.
Could there be a clearer expression of the fact that the governmental or
Prime Ministerial function of Mr. Vajpayee to assure the impartiality of
physical protection to all its citizens, regardless of religion, was considered
less important and subordinated to his role as an ideological defender of
the Sangh combine?

In the Orissa tragedy, Mr. Advani's first response was to deny, even
in the face of powerful prima facie evidence, that the Bajrang Dal had
anything to do with the act. Mr. Advani does not say that prima facie evidence
indicts the Bajrang Dal but that he would like to wait for the results of a
full enquiry before the final condemnation and judgment. No, he uses thefact
that a fuller enquiry has been ordered to assure audiences that he
will do the needful while simultaneously denying that the Bajrang Dal has
anything to do with it - acategorical claim he is in no position to justify but
nonetheless makes. He and Mr. Vajpayee leave it to the others in the
Sangh such as Mr. Ashok Singhal of the VHP and more minor underlings in the
Orissa unit of the BJP to pursue the tropes of diversion and blaming
the others. So the real criminals are the Orissa State Congress(I) which
has sheltered the culprits who are not connected to the Bajrang Dal. And
what about the fact that the Australian, Graham Staines, was a missionary
and that Hindu Santhals were angry with what was happening and therefore
this whole affair must be understood in terms of a righteous anger against
proselytisation which unfortunately got out of hand?

Indian society is in deep crisis. The desperate nature of the crisis
is not signified by the fact that such forces of deceit and evil have gained
tremendous political ground or because their ideology has captured so
much of the minds of the opinion making and shaping elite. What is most
frightening is that when in the face of the palpable and obvious evil
such an ideology generates, the explicit and implicit excuses and
justifications for the unacceptable are widely accepted.

Look at the resonance, for example, that Mr. Vajpayee's call for a
debate on conversion has had in wide sections of the elite and the media
exactly when such acts of violence are being perpetrated! When something like
this happens it means the emotional-intellectual-moral resources among
those who enjoy a disproportionate influence in society have now withered so much
that the fightback against Hindutva has become much more difficult.The
minor issue is whether this utterly discredited Government led by the
Sangh will be replaced soon or not. The more fundamental and decisive issue
is whether the ideology ithas let loose will be defeated in the next
decade or more.

Festivals used as cover to attack Christians in Orissa

From S T Beuria
PHULBANI (Orissa) Feb 9 (DHNS)

There is at least one significant similarity between the Staines` killing at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district last month and
the gruesome double murder of the 19-year-old Christian girl and another minor boy from her community at Mandasur village,
about 75 kms from this headquarters town of tribal-dominated Kandhamal district, last Sunday.

Both the incidents occurred when the local Christians were in festive moods, celebrating community festivals. While the Austra
lian missionary, Mr Graham Stewart Staines, and his two minor sons were burnt to death by suspected fanatic miscreants at
Manoharpur just a day after the ''jungle camp``, an annual event in the locality, the 19-year-old Catholic tribal girl was
apparently raped and subsequently murdered along with 10- year-old Santosh by an armed assailant at Mandasur just two days
before ''Lourdes festival``, scheduled to be celebrated in the village from February 10. In fact, the 33 Catholic families in the
Christian -dominated village were busy preparing for the festival when the incident occurred.

''This could be an attempt to disrupt our festival and shatter our peace of mind,`` said Fr Barnard Diggal, the pastor of more
than a 100-year-old Mandasur Catholic Chruch. He said that the local villagers were planning to celebrate the festival in a grand
way this year. Nearly 4,000 to 5,000 people belonging to Christian community from the nearby villages were scheduled to
congregate at Mandasur to celebrate the festival.

An archbishop, Rafial Chinot from Bhubaneswar was already on his way to attend the celebration. Now the festival will be
observed but not in a grand manner. ''Because of the incident, the festival will be a simple and low-profile one,`` Fr Diggal

NO EVIDENCE: So far, there has been no concrete evidence of any communal hand in the double murder. But people not
only in Kandhamal district but in other parts of the state apprehend the involvement of communal elements in the incident
keeping in mind the recent series of attacks on Christians both inside and outside the state and senistivity of the area as far as
communal conflicts and presence of communal forces are concerned.

The Raikia block (Mandasur village comes under this block) has been known as a hunting ground for both the RSS and VHP
and is already having dubious records of communal violence. Not only an attempt was made in early `80s to demolish the
Catholic Chruch at Mandasur but last year the pastor of a local Church in nearby Tikabali area was attacked and his belongings
including cash and a copy the Bible were looted allegedly by the VHP and the RSS activists.

Fr Diggal, in fact, did not hesitate to name the RSS and the VHP for creating communal tension if not in Mandasur village but in
adjoining villages. According to him tension had gripped the nearby Bandha village recently following an attempt for
reconversion of a few villagers from Christianity to Hinduism. An ''ashram`` has been set up in the area which has allegedly
become ''a centre of operation`` for the communal forces.

According to Fr Diggal, a decorated cow was brought to the villages in the locality recently and villagers had been forced to
worship the cow which had generated tension in the area. Kandhamal is having a sizeable chunk of Christian population, nearly
85,000 to be precise and out of them nearly 25,000 reside in villages under Raikia block.

The distict administration, however, ruled out the possibility of a communal intention behind the ghastly crime. ''Though the area
is sensitive in nature, this particularl incident has no communal link. It is just a case of rape and murder,`` said the Kandhamal
SP, Mr S K Nath, adding that everything will be cleared once the police nabs the culprit.

Meanwhile, a spell of gloom and sadness continues to grip Mandasur village following the death of Sunita whose marriage had
almost been finalised in a nearby village. Ten-year-old Santosh who had also been killed by the tall and fair lungi clad assailant
while fighting to save Sunita from his clutches and Aswini Nayak who has also been critically injured in the attack were students
of local St Vincent school. The killer executed the douple murder after apparently raping the Christian tribal girl with the help of
an axe-like sharp weapon.


By Walter Fernandes

Times of India, Bangalore, January 15, 1999


FINALLY it is official. The main problem Mr Ashok Singhal of the
VHP faces is education and literacy. Prof Amartya Sen's Nobel
prize is a Christian conspiracy to open more missionary-run
educational institutions to convert the poor. That is dangerous.
The poor have to be kept illiterate, lest they become aware of
their oppression and demand liberation from bondage. But the Prime
Minister wants a national debate on conversions, not on the
causes of poverty and illiteracy.


That is what we knew all along. That conversions are a bogey is
evident also from the census data. The proportion of Christians
has been falling with every census. It has come down from 2.6 per
cent in 1981 to 2.5 per cent in 1991.

High literacy of Christian women and urbanisation explain their
smaller families. Conversions are not uncommon in the north-east.
But many of them are "sheep stealing", from one Christian
denomination to another.

Elsewhere there are Born Again Christian fundamentalist groups
trying to convert people. They claim to have founded lakhs of
churches in India. A closer scrutiny reveals that by this they
mean that they have held prayer meetings in so many families.
Most such families have not changed their religion. They claim to
have six million followers in India. Serious estimates put their
number at about two million, mostly from other Christian

So conversion is a bogey. The real problem is education and
health care of the poor.

Those with a vested interest in the poverty of the Dalits and
tribals use the Hindutva facade to continue to keep them in
bondage. Poverty being their vested interest, any improvement in
the lives of the victims of the injustice they perpetrate is a
threat to them.

So those imparting them education or health care are
"missionaries" and they should quit India. The fact that most
such "missionaries" have not seen the face of any country other
than India is of little relevance to them. To safeguard their
power, those with a vested interest in the poverty of Dalits and
tribals demonise Christians in the name of conversions.

And the Prime Minister legitimises such demonisation by asking
for a national debate on conversions.

We did not need a debate on the recent ordinance that have a
bearing on the lives of millions or on the proposal to grant dual
citizenship to "patriotic" NRIs. But when the tribals are
attacked, instead of prosecuting the culprits, we are to begin a
national debate around the pretext the criminals use to justify
their crime.

Educating the tribals and the Dalits is force. Attacking them and
destroying their livelihood, houses and churches is not. It needs
only a national debate.

This approach also takes for granted that the poor do not know
what is good for them. If they change their religion, it has to
be through incentives or force. They forget that Dalits lose
their Scheduled Caste privileges after change of religion.

Those who became Muslims in Meenakshipuram (Tamil Nadu) were well
educated Hindus with government jobs. But they continued to be
treated as untouchables. Despair led them to embrace Islam in
search of equality.

Most Dalits in Punjab on the Pakistan side of the border became
Muslims and others on the Indian side became Sikhs not in the
Mughal age but at the turn of the 20th century. They perceived
Islam and Sikhism as egalitarian, just as Dalits in other parts
of India perceived Christianity and later Buddhism as freedom
from caste oppression.


Today many Christians, like their counterparts belonging to other
religions, view an unjust society as a social sin. To them,
evangelisation means struggling for the liberation of the victims
of injustice. They are, therefore, a threat to those with a
vested interest in poverty.

The reaction of the oppressors is to demonise them and rouse
religious emotions by accusing them of converting the poor. In
other cases they are physically eliminated. For example, Sr
Sunita Mary was murdered near Indore in 1995 because she was
struggling for the liberation of bonded labourers. Her murderers
remain free till today. So are the murderers of Fr A.T.Thomas who
was working for the land rights of Dalits.

We need a national debate not on conversions but on growing
poverty and the neglect of the tribal regions and atrocities on
Dalits. We need to ask ourselves why the laws banning bonded
labour, child labour, rural indebtedness and abolishing
untouchability are not implemented.

The tribals and Dalits have a right to know why universal primary
education remains a Directive Principle and is not implemented.
In other words, we need a national debate on poverty as a vested

THE AUTHOR is with the Indian Society Institute, New Delhi.

WHY so many Hindus converted and HOW
Partha Banerjee

It is important to know WHY so many Hindus converted to other religions
over the centuries. Is it only because of coercion as some (read the Sangh
Parivar and other fundamentalists) want us to believe or is it that
conversion took place because a large section of the so-called low-caste
people and "untouchables" willingly converted (and also were lured by other
religions and religious leaders promising them false promises)?
With the absence of any reliable statistics as to the number of people
converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, Vaishnavism, Brahmoism, Sikhism,
Islam, and Christianity and reasons for them to convert, this discussion is
somewhat subjective. But that does not mean we overlook this extremely
important issue.
If orthodox (i.e., Brahminic) Hindus raise the question of conversion,
isn't it only fair that they self-introspect why caste-based Brahminic
Hinduism (which came later) co-opted and appropriated all the indigenous,
tribal, and such forms of religious practices and brought them all (mostly
by force and lies) under the so-called all-inclusive (read exploitative and
oppressive) umbrella of hierarchichal Hinduism?
Upon this background, question is, if people decide to convert to other
religions, what moral ground does anyone have to re-convert them? Can one
form of coercion (if any) be justified by another one?
I would like to quote D. D. Kosambi here:
"...Brahmans gradually penetrated whatever tribes and guild castes remained
in ancient India, ... just as the White European settlers in America
systematically destroyed the aboriginal natives ... This is a slow but
systematic process that goes back to ancient times. Ramayan, Mahabharat,
and especially the Puranas are full of such examples."
[D. D. Kosambi. The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India in Historical
Outline. Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi. 1992 reprint.]
As D. D. Kosambi observes, during this process, new gods were introduced
and gods unsuitable to the Brahminic needs were made inferior. "New places
of pilgrimage were introduced with suitable myths to make them respectable
though they could only have been savage, pre-Brahman cult spots. Buddha,
and some totemic deities including the primeval Fish, Tortoise, and Boar
were made into incarnations of Vishnu-Narayan. The monkey-faced Hanuman,
so popular with the cultivators as to be a peculiar god of the peasantry
with an independent cult of his own, becomes the faithful companion-servant
of Ram, another incarnation of Vishnu."

Partha Banerjee is the author of the recently published 'In the Belly of
the Beast: The Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India -- An Insider's
Story'. It is a valuable addition to the subject by a former Hindutva
activist (Partha spent 15 years in RSS and various RSS governed
organisations like ABVP and Jan Sangh--which is now called BJP). 'In the
Belly of the Beast' has been published by Ajanta Books International,
1-U.B., Jawahar Nagar, Delhi 110007, India (165 pages, Price Rs200, ISBN

A case for conversion
Rediff on the Net
18 January 1999
Author: Vir Sanghvi

Why have those of us who pride ourselves on our
secular instincts been
so slow to react to the violence against the Christian
Christians have been complaining of attacks for four
months now. And yet,
it is only recently that we have paid any attention to
their complaints.

There are two answers to this question. The first is
the pat response. The
attacks struck us as being isolated instances and it
wasn't till sections of the
extended Sangh Parivar stepped up the pace of assaults
in the aftermath of
the assembly election that we realised that there was
a pattern or a
conspiracy behind the attacks.

But there is also a second, deeper answer to the
question. To see the
attacks as part of a campaign against Christians would
be to miss the
point. Of course, Indian Christians are the ultimate
target but as of now,
the campaign has been packaged not so much as an
movement but as a campaign against foreign
missionaries who engaged in

This is why it has failed to generate the kind of
secular outrage that it
should have. Because the truth is that most Hindus, no
matter how secular,
are ambivalent about missionaries and hostile to the
concept of

Our relationship with Christian missionaries is the
most complex. Many of
us have been educated at convent and Jesuit schools
and continue to send
our children to such schools. But, at some subliminal
level, we resent the
fact that such schools require children to sing
Christian hymns, say
Christian prayers and -- at least in the case of the
Jesus school I attended
as a child -- make the sign of the cross every

We resent also that many such schools (again judging
by my own
experience) refuse to seriously entertain the
possibility that Jesus Christ's
way is not the only one or to confer Indian faiths
with any respect. Some
even require children to spend their lunch breaks
raising money for
missionary activities.

For many years, the Indian middle class -- both Hindu
and Muslim -- has
coped uneasily with the more Christian aspects of
education such schools
provide. A friend of mine, the daughter of a prominent
(and entirely
secular) Bharatiya Janata Party leader recalls going
to a temple when she
was a child. "Beti, prarthana karo (daughter, say your
prayers)," said the
pujari . At this, the poor girl launched into the only
prayer she knew: "Our
father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..."
Needless to say, there
were embarrassed faces all around.

But even those Hindus who have minded the overtly
Christian nature of
education have not dared withdraw their children
because they know that,
whatever their drawbacks, such schools provide an
education that is
generally superior to that offered elsewhere. And once
you choose to let
your children remain in a Jesuit or a convent school,
then you lose the right
to complain. (In my own case, my father withdrew me
after two years
when he wearied of my making the sign of the cross
each time I was upset
and objected to my saying "Amen" at the end of every

Nevertheless, though Hindus accept that those who
voluntarily choose to
send their kids to such schools must accept the whole
package (hymns and
all), they remain resentful. This is why Kalyan Singh
touched a chord in the
heart of a many parents when he asked whether Muslims
who objected to
Vande Mataram would now withdraw their children from
Catholic schools
as well.

When it comes to conversions, Hindus are even more
resentful. Try
arguing with any secular Hindu about conversions and
after five minutes of
political correctness, you end up against a stone
wall. Try explaining that
our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and
that this must include
the right to preach your faith as well as the right to
change your religion,
and you will get nowhere. Point out that most liberal
democracies --
including Christian countries -- allow conversions,
and you will be met with
disbelief. Explain that nobody in England penalised
the mullahs who
converted Cat Stevens to Islam or that the US allows
the Hare Krishna
movement to convert Christians at will, and these
examples will be
dismissed as being of no consequence.

Worse still, such is the arrogance of most Hindus that
we seem to actually
believe that no Hindu ever converts of his own
volition. The conversions,
we decide, are either forcible or achieved through
inducements. The reality
is that there are many people at the margins of Hindu
society -- dalits,
tribals, lower castes and so on -- who have no reason
to cling to a faith
that oppresses them. But even when such persons
convert, this is seen as a
conspiracy by fiendish foreign missionaries.

(One measure of the resentment was available when
dalit Christians asked
for reservations. Almost to a man Hindu society jumped
up and blew a
raspberry in their direction. "Now that you've
converted, why should you
get the benefits we give our dalits?" was the refrain.
When the hapless
Christian pointed out that there was caste prejudice
within the Christian
community, the Hindu delight was palpable: "Serves you
right! Serves you
right! And you thought you'd be better off! Ha!")

The brilliance of the Sangh Parivar's campaign is that
it taps into these
Hindu resentments. If the Parivar said that it wanted
to beat up poor Mr
Gomes down the road because he was a Christian, most
Hindus would be
outraged. Instead it says: we are targeting Father Fat
Cat and the foreign
funds he uses for conversion. And while Hindus do not
exactly cheer the
Parivar along, they are less outraged.

The modus operandi is familiar. The Parivar pulled
exactly the same
routine during the Ayodhya agitation. The attack was
directed at the
Muslim leaderships which refused to abandon a
discussed mosque even
though it marked the birthplace of Lord Rama. Why,
asked the likes of L
K Advani, should Muslims bother to compromise when
they have been so
pampered by the secular establishment? The Shahi Imam
wants the Shah
Bano judgment reversed; he gets his way. Syed
Shahbuddin wants The
Satanic Verses banned; he gets his way.

If the attack had been framed in terms of ordinary
Muslim, it would have
been less attractive. Had the Parivar said it was
targeting Ali, the peon in
your office, Hindus would have had nothing to get
agitated about. But once
the attack tapped into existing resentments and
targeted Shahbuddin and
the Shahi Imam, it found many supporters.

Of course, as the Ayodhya agitation demonstrated, once
the movement
gets under way, it is never the ostensible targets who
get hurt. The Shahi
Imam is as well off today as he was 10 years ago. It
is poor Ali the peon
whose house has been burnt. And with relations between
the communities
set back 20 years, Hindus have suffered nearly as much
as Muslims.

The anti-Christian agitation will probably go the same
way. Father Fat Cat
will take a plane out. Poor Mr Gomes will get stabbed.
If we are to avoid
a repetition of the trauma of the Ram movement, then
three things are

One: Hindus must recognise that their resentments
against missionaries and
conversions are basically irrational. Two: Indian
Christians should not be
carried away into making common cause with foreign
missionaries. And
three: the State must act to nip the violence in the

Otherwise, we can expect more Toyota raths, more
madness, more
mayhem and more 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: February 23, 2000 .