Thursday, January 24, 2008

GROWING AND WIDESPREAD ATTACKS ON CHRISTIANS IN INDIA : A PERSPECTIVE FROM GUJARAT .... by Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

 

Dear Friends,

 

I certainly think that this is a very opportune moment for us to have this Consultation here in Delhi, in the context of  the increasing violence and isolation of the Christians in several parts of Orissa.  I want to thank Fr. Nithiya the Secretary of the CBCI Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, and all others concerned, for inviting me to this Consultation and for giving me an opportunity to present my views on the subject.

 

At the outset, I would obviously like to give you a bird's eye view of the Gujarat reality.   In a hard hitting article in the Frontline (January 18 2008), entitled " Why Gujarat ? "    noted columnist, Praful Bidwai states very categorically that the Gujarat reality "speaks of a deep social pathology in a State that has graduated  from a Hindutva laboratory into  a large scale Hindutva factory".  Bidwai provides the reader, of the way Hindutva has taken roots in Gujarat State and why, unless the reality is tackled at these roots, things may not necessarily change.

 

In order to be more focused, I would like to concentrate on the reality of the Christians in Gujarat.  Christians in Gujarat constitute a mere 0.53%  of the State's population which is today pegged as 55 million approx.  A good percentage of this population is migrant, with many of these doing white-collared jobs in the service sector like Banks, private enterprise, etc.  On the other hand, there are the local Christians  who are mainly drawn from the OBC, Dalit and the Adivasis.  Many of these, because of the quality education they received, are today in Government jobs and in career oriented employment like nursing, teaching, engineering, etc.

 

The Church in Gujarat has contributed greatly to education. Some of the best schools of the State are run by Christian Missionaries but they have taken education to the far flung and remote areas too.  Besides, the church is deeply engaged in health-care, development work and also in human rights.  Christians have also contributed significantly to Gujarati literature and even to the formulation of a grammar to learn Gujarati.  Since the early nineties, Christians have been the target of a well planned and concerted campaign by the Hindutvawadis.  This culminated in an all out and large scale attacks on Church institutions and personnel in December 1998 and December 1999. 

 

The then Prime Minister Vajpayee did visit the Dangs and he made the "right noises" when he was among the Christians; but he very cleverly defocused the whole issue when he called for a National Debate on conversion as he addressed the media just before he left the Dangs that day. 

 

So the bogey is  "Conversion".  And  this, over the years, has  been  a constant refrain  from the right-wing elements.  In 2002,  as part  of  its manifesto, the BJP promised  to bring in  an Anti-Conversion Law when he came to power.  It did so, and true to its promised,  it  brought out, in 26th March 2003,  the  Gujarat  Freedom of   Religion  Act,  which  must  be one   of  the  most draconian   laws  in  post – independent  India.     On  September 18th,   they   attempted   some Amendments to this Law, which  were even more farcical.  This current   Governor of Gujarat, rightly returned these Amendments.  However, from March 2003, till date,  the Government of Gujarat has not yet framed the byelaws which  are mandatory to govern  the implementation of any act.

 

The Act itself was directed towards demonizing the Christians and ofcourse, intimidating those who  might  want  to  embrace  Christianity.  So,  whenever  they get a chance, they rake up the issue of "Conversion" ad nauseam. 

 

Every year, just before Christmas, they organize a "ghar vapasi" programme to reconvert those tribals who have become Christians.  The truth of the matter, however, is that, those who are reconverted in this programme have nothing to do with Christianity but have been paid a pittance and ofcourse some liquor to participate in the event !

 

Christians  continue  to  be demonized in  the Textbooks which  have   been  brought out by the Gujarat  State  School Textbook Board.  The language used  is  extremely subtle but  enough to create the necessary prejudice in young  minds.  

 

It is a  well known  fact of  how Christians are subject  to regular  intimidation and  harassment from officials.  There was  a time in December 2003, when several well to do Christians from the Western upmarket side of Ahmedabad, were afraid to hang out their "Star" during the Christmas season. 

 

In a  letter  to  the faithful of  his Dioceses  in November 2007, the Bishop of Ahmedabad, Rev. Thomas Macwan, very strongly highlighted issues  of how Christians were at the receiving end in the State.  A case in point was the very sudden  take over by the Government of the Leprosy Hospital run by the SMMI Sisters  for  almost  sixty years.  The Sisters were  unceremoniously dismissed inspite of faithfully and lovingly serving the leprosy patients all these decades.  It is not easy for a  Christian to get  a Government job today  because of  the widespread prejudice.  This holds good every for educational institutions of repute, where one is denied admission on grounds of religion but definitely not directly.

 

One can go on citing example after example, of what is happening in Gujarat to the Christian and other minorities.  The fact is that fascism has come to stay, and unless there is a strong united response from various sections of society, India will head to becoming a Germany during the regime of Hitler.

 

The reality of Orissa has tremendous similarities to Gujarat.  Many of us could see it happening.  In an article which appeared in the Asian Age (January 7th 2008), well know anthropologist, Angana Chatterji from the California Institute of Integral Studies states that "independent investigators charge that the violence was planned, that the police had prior knowledge of Hindutva groups intent to riot".   This strikes a similar bell to the role of the police and the administration during the Gujarat Carnage of 2002.  The fact that the National Commission of Minorities has said that the riots were premeditated, speaks volumes for what is happening in Orissa today.

 

For the past several years, we have been circulating a simple handout to help our institutions and our people to "Be Prepared.".  I would like to distribute this leaflet at this moment.

 

As conclusion to this presentation, I would like to state the following :

 

1. This Consultation must immediately put together an Independent Citizens Tribunal (like the one we had in Gujarat in the wake of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002).  The members of this Tribunal should, for obvious reasons, be only non-Christians.  I have some names to propose. 

2. The Christian Church MUST join hands with wider civil society, with human rights activists, academics, intellectuals and others.  We MUST work in tandem with others.

3. We need to use the media as effectively as possible.  Everyone thinks that all is well in Orissa, like the reply I received from the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister of Orissa.  Both, the print and electronic media have to be contacted to reveal the truth of Orissa.  The situation in Gujarat would have been much worse, were it not for the role played by good sections of the media. 

4. Internationalize the issue.  Human rights violations in any part of the world cannot be the concern only of those people or of that country.  In this age of globalization, one needs to tell the story of Orissa to audiences far and wide.  Only when we internationalize the Gujarat situation, only when Modi was treated as a persona non grata by the US, Canada and other Schengen countries, only then did the violence abate. 

 

I am hoping that this Consultation will take seriously, the words of the Holy Father, in his message for the World Day of Peace 2008, "Sixty years ago the United Nations Organization solemnly issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948-2008). With that document the human family reacted against the horrors of the Second World War by acknowledging its own unity, based on the equal dignity of all men and women, and by putting respect for the fundamental rights of individuals and peoples at the centre of human coexistence. This was a decisive step forward along the difficult and demanding path towards harmony and peace". 

 

Hopefully, this Consultation at the start of the Christian Unity Octave will give us the ability to interpret the signs of the times and the courage to stand up for truth and for justice, very specially on behalf of our less fortunate brothers and sisters in Orissa and in Gujarat.

 

 

(This presentation was made at a Consultation organized by the CBCI Commission for Justice, Peace and Development in New Delhi on 18th January 2008)

 

 

(* Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of "Prashant", the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 comments:

drmustafa said...

"Every Human Has A Right"
Is it true for India also?
Is Indian human right commission is able to do something to prevent
Widespread violence, killing, rape and destruction of properties of minorities and weak?
I think answer will be in negative.
Kindly do something practical so that minorities and weak can live peacefully in the land of
"MAHATMA GANDHI”

Anonymous said...

IF YOU DONT LIKE TO LIVE IN HINDU COUNTRY PLEASE F-OFF... WE ARE SICK AND TIRED OF CARRYING YOU S.C.U.M. ON OUR BACKS, AND WE HAVE ENOUGH POOR HINDU PEOPLE TO TAKE CARE OF. IF YOU S.C.U.M. DONT LEAVE, YOU WILL GO PERMANENTLY, MIND YOU AND IT DOES NOT MATTER WHETHER YOU CALL US HITLERS OR NAZIS, ETC. WE DONT GIVE A DAMN - JUST GET THE 'F' OUT OF OUR LAND. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. GO,GO, GO, NOW!

Drmustafa said...

Dear Mr. Anonymous,
It appears from your abusive letter that you are a mental case, who told you that this country is your personal or ancestral property and Hindu country? For your information it is secular nation for all communities and minorities are also part of this land who are you to order them to leave. Let me first clarify that India is not only for Hindus it is country of all those who are born here, although Hindus are in majority but among them your type are in negligible number who are trying to create hate violence and confusion among peace loving citizens of all communities. If you and your views are right write boldly not as an anonymous. Lastly let me tell you result of every Hitler will be same. So it is my advice to learn and teach love and tolerance live peacefully and happily and let others too.

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