Wednesday, February 02, 2011

" The Staines Verdict"-EDITORIAL from The Economic & Political Weekly(January 29, 2011 vol xlvI no 5)

The Economic  & Political Weekly
January 29, 2011 vol xlvI no 5 
                           The Staines Verdict

Why the deep prejudice against Christians availing of the freedom granted by
Article 25 of the Constitution?

On 21 January, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the life sentence
of Dara Singh, the main accused in the burning to
death of the Australian Christian missionary Graham
Staines and his two minor sons on the night of 22 January 1999 in
Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district of Orissa. The SC commented
on the intention of the crime thus: "…the intention was to teach a
lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely,
converting poor tribals to Christianity". However, days later, on
25 January, the Court expunged its own comments on conversions.
Staines had been working with leprosy patients in Keonjhar for
nearly 34 years. While the brutal killing evoked reactions of shock
and horror, the Hindutva forces had a pat explanation: the murders
were a result of the tribals' anger against the "forcible" conversions
made by Staines. What was not explained was why this anger against
Staines had not manifested itself for three decades until Hindutva
outfits began their virulent anti-Christian propaganda in the region
and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power at the centre.
Dara Singh's conviction notwithstanding, the impression assiduously
cultivated by the Sangh Parivar that his anti-Muslim
and anti-Christian activities were not backed by any of its affiliates,
stands. So does the view that "popular anger" against "forcible"
conversions by Christian missionaries like Staines are responsible
for attacks on the minority community. The Supreme Court's
statement quoted above has only added to this impression.

The violence against Christian tribals in the Dang district of
Gujarat in 1998, which continued unhindered for more than a
fortnight, was also blamed by Hindutva leaders on the people's
anger against "forcible" conversions. There too, following a pattern,
the area had become the target of a sustained hate campaign and
deliberate provocation against Christians with official help for
quite some time before the attacks began.
In Orissa too, the anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal district in
2008, which led to 38 deaths and destruction of nearly 50,000
homes, were not a flash in the pan. The "ghar vaapsi" programmes
(converting Christian tribals to Hinduism) conducted by the Sangh
Parivar outfits along with the continuing anti-Christian propaganda
had raised tension to straining point. Predictably, the district administration,
under the then BJP-Biju Janata Dal state government,
turned a blind eye to the danger signals. The Maoists claimed responsibility
for Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati's killing but the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad targeted Christians and its leader Pravin
Togadia took out a procession with the swami's body through the
sensitive areas unhindered by the district administration. Thousands
of Christians had fled their homes, living in government relief
camps for well over a year. Despite these now being closed, there
are reports that the Christian tribals still live in fear and insecurity.

Starting from the 1980s, Hindutva forces, emboldened by the BJP's
rise to power, began floating outfits like the Hindu Jagran Manch
(responsible for the Dang attacks) and the Bajrang Dal with which
Dara Singh was linked. In 1999, a Roman Catholic priest, Arul Doss
was killed by a mob at Jamabani in Mayurbhanj district, while a
Muslim trader, Sheikh Rehman, was killed in the same district on 26
August. The D P Wadhwa Commission's (set up by the BJP government)
report did not take into account the wider context of the steady
creation of an anti-minority atmosphere or even the official complicity.
It blamed the Staines' murders on Dara Singh alone and the
people he managed to incite, discounting the involvement of any
organisation in the murder despite the evidence presented to it.

The tribals have as much right as any other Indian citizen to
avail of the freedom granted by Article 25 of the Constitution.
That is, to propagate one's religion and to practise the religion of
one's choice. There is no evidence on record that Staines indulged
in "forcible" conversions, but the SC bench, with its comments on
conversions, later expunged, showed its deep prejudice against
Christians availing of the freedom granted by Article 25. The
crime was the fruit of sustained and ongoing hate and false propaganda
campaigns unleashed by affiliates of the Sangh Parivar
and which continue to this day.

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