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Fast on the heels of the BJP’s electoral victory in Madhya Pradesh, the Christian community living in Jhabua, the tribal heartland of MP, came under a vicious and violent attack by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal (BD). Meanwhile, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharati, an OBC who has ordered the construction of three temples within her bungalow compound in Bhopal, has initiated policy decisions that would have an adverse impact on the ‘Dalit Agenda’ launched by the previous Digvijay Singh government in the state. Both developments cast serious doubts on the claim that ‘governance and development’ are the primary concerns of Uma Bharati’s government.
An incident of the tragic rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl, within the precinct of the school campus (it was revealed after the first reports came in that the alleged rapist was a Hindu boy from neighbouring Dhar district) on January 11, 2004 was deliberately communalised by thousands of VHP and Hindu Jagaran Manch (HJM) activists. They surrounded a Catholic mission school and church in Jhabua town of Madhya Pradesh on January 14 and attacked the priests. It was in the same district that Catholic nuns were gang-raped in 1998.
Late in the evening of January 11, Panchilal, the father of the victim came to the mission school compound searching for his 9-year-old daughter. He went to the presbytery and informed the priest that the slippers of his daughter were found outside the toilet of the school. He wanted to check inside but could not do so due to the darkness. The priests gave him a candle. With that he found the girl in the toilet lying in a pool of blood. As soon as the parish priest got the news, he informed the SP of Jhabua. The SP instructed the police and they started the investigation process.
The next day was incident free but by Tuesday, January 13, deliberate efforts were made to communalise the condemnable rape and murder of the young girl. Processions were taken out in different towns of the district and hate-filled pamphlets against Christians were distributed. A huge police presence led by senior officials ensured that the bandh in Jhabua that day, called by sangh parivar outfits, did not lead to any major flare-up. At Antarvelia, about 12 kms from the Jhabua town, stones were hurled at VHP-HJM activists while they were on their way to the local police station to submit a memorandum. The clash between the two groups resulted in police firing.
By January 16 matters had worsened with the communal fire spreading to Alirajpur, 40 kms away in neighbouring Gujarat. In a clash in the southern part of the district between the followers of Asaram Bapu and the Christian tribals in Amkhut, two persons died and some others were injured. In a retaliatory action, the CNI church of Alirajpur (in Gujarat) was attacked and burnt.
Fr. Stany SDB, who unaware of the clashes was returning in a jeep from Jhabua to Alirajpur, was intercepted and attacked by a mob. In his panicky attempt to flee, he caused an accident killing a cyclist while he himself fell off the jeep and landed in a ditch by the roadside. Set upon by the mob, he was beaten mercilessly and received serious head injuries. Another mob was approaching the Alirajpur parish and school but seeing the strong police posted there they dispersed. The Salesians from the parish had to move out from the parish for safety. The school had to be closed down for many days.
Using the tragic rape and murder as the pretext, the Catholic parish school in Jhabua and the prestigious Don Bosco institution in Alirajpur have been made the target. The aim of the Hindu fanatics appears to be to pressurise the authorities to close down these institutions. So far, this attempt has been resisted with the Salesians getting strong support from teachers and parents of Alirajpur.
When the school which had to shut down for many days re-opened on January 27, nearly 90 per cent of the students and 50 per cent of the teachers attended the school. The mission school in Jhabua that had closed down also re-opened on January 24. The tribal heartland in MP is clearly going to be a volatile area under the present saffron dispensation.
Meanwhile, in a welcome show of solidarity, secular groups under the joint auspices of the Rashtriya Secular Manch, Insani Biradari and Nagrik Morcha organised a series of protests against the attack on minorities and minority institutions in Jhabua. The day-long protest and dharna on January 25 was accompanied by a seminar on the subject in which the leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly and a tribal leader, Jamuna Devi, the Bhopal mayor, Vibha Patel, CPM leader Pradhan and CPI leader Habeed Khan participated along with many Christian priests and nuns. The presidium consisted of Ramchandra Bhargava (Gandhi Trust), Prof VP Singh and LS Hardenia.
It is learnt that a team of the National Human Rights Commission, the National Minorities Commission and the National Women’s Commission have also visited the violence-hit districts.
Meanwhile, in a parallel development, chief minister Uma Bharati has taken the decision of rescinding on crucial aspects of the Dalit Agenda launched by the former Digvijay Singh government. The retrograde measures include: (1) Suspension of land distribution amongst SC/ST landless families; (2) Scrapping the Digvijay Singh government’s decision to grant Rs. 70,000 to those SC/ST families who could not get land as there was no surplus land available; and (3) Withdrawal of the collective fine imposed earlier on 521 persons in the state who had attacked Dalits and destroyed their standing crops. The fine amounted to Rs. 25.78 lakh. Most of the accused were OBCs who were resisting distribution of land amongst Dalits.
This is a real set back to the Dalits as no other state government is prepared to ‘disturb’ property relations in the countryside. Dalit intellectuals see Uma Bharti’s decisions as nothing short of an attempt to block even minor steps towards land distribution favouring the SCs/STs.
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