Barely three months after coming to power in Rajasthan several official and unofficial steps by the BJP and sangh parivar cadres expose a virulently anti-minority agenda
BY Kavita Srivastava
In December 2003, the BJP won the Rajasthan state assembly elections with a thumping majority. It returned to power after a gap of five years with 120 MLAs out of a total of 200. The Congress was reduced from a majority of 155 members to a mere 58. The return to power of the BJP has already seen extra-constitutional control over levers of power in the state and hegemony in the social sphere by the RSS and its front organisations, particularly the VHP, Banvasi Kalyan Parishad, Bajrang Dal, etc. In sum, it has meant an active translation of the RSS agenda on the ground. Serious efforts are being made to infiltrate the state machinery with persons ideologically sworn to the RSS worldview.
In the last three months, several violations have been brought to the notice of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan. The longest list of complaints is from southern Rajasthan and includes threats by the Tribal minister of the Rajasthan government to denotify Christian Tribals. Active efforts are also being made by the Banvasi Kalyan Parishad to alienate Tribal Christians since Christmas 2003. The recent incident of rape in Jhabua has been falsely reported and pamphlets carrying inflammatory and false reports of the events at Jhabua have been circulated.
Intimidation of Tribal Christians
Testimonies of Tribals from Banswara and Udaipur districts reveal how the Banvasi Kalyan Parishad has been involved in spreading its hate campaign in this region over the past few years; a few churches were also attacked as part of this violence and terror. However, the confidence of this outfit has increased manifold since the BJP came back to power in December. From December 25, 2003, the BKP launched its campaign distributing lockets of Hanuman or Shiv, saffron flags with "Om" painted on and maps of "Mother India" with pictures of Mama Baleshwar, Govind Guru and Ambedkar.
The BKP survives on nurturing hate and division through competitive development. Hence, they set up their local headquarters (consisting of a school, hostel and a training centre) 15 years ago in Mokhampura (Kushalgarh), Banswara, directly opposite a Roman Catholic Church campus, which has been running a school and a hostel for over 75 years. According to the nuns of this church, ever since Ashok Singhal visited Banswara in the first week of December 2003, stone throwing incidents on them increased. The children studying in these schools were harassed and bullied by members of the VHP.
Ever since a VHP-BKP camp was organised from December 25 to January 1, 2004, the local atmosphere has undergone a change and the nuns do not feel safe moving around in the area. Presidents of Yuva Mandals from nearby villages threatened them, saying that they would stop them from entering their villages. They were further intimidated by the fact that the boys had organised judo and karate camps at which threats were made to beat up nuns and compounders. Nuns and other workers from Christian institutions have been frequently taunted in buses and they feel unsafe travelling around with the cross they wear displayed openly. They hide the cross under their clothes and no longer feel that they can worship freely. Local police have started making regular visits to the church, visits which, instead of offering protection, make the nuns and priests feel intimidated. The PUCL team was told that church programmes such as maternal and child health care, during which oil and some sooji are distributed, saw a sudden drop in attendance as more than a third of the beneficiaries simply did not attend. At a camp held on January 31, there were a large number of dropouts among village women as a rumour was spread that the declining Christian population meant that forcible conversions were going to be undertaken after tempting villagers with food.
According to Fr. James, in Ambapara, which has a church, a school and hospital functioning for the past 70 years, the BKP has been targeting nearby villages that have a Christian population. According to him, students from hostels run by the social welfare department run an RSS shakha every evening. Since January 1, 2004, the children from these government hostels have been going to nearby villages like Timera and Badwaas and distributing lockets and flags after collecting Rs. 5 from each family. In Tambesra, Kushalgarh, about 20 students distribute lockets and flags on cycles after school. When they enter Christian dominated villages, they bully younger children to put up saffron flags on their rooftops and force them to wear lockets.
The Banvasi Kalyan Parishad has a target to distribute more than one lakh lockets and flags in this area. It is clear that in the villages they can now identify which household is Christian and which is not. The locket, which is being used in opposition to the cross, will help them identify the Tribal who is non-Christian.
Attack on churches and church leaders
Twenty-five year old Chagan Lal Garasia, a sewak of Saredi Bhilan, belonging to the Indian Evangelical team, Delhi, reported an incident of February 1, 2004 in Deri village. As he was conducting a prayer meeting with a group of 15 people, about 40 RSS workers along with the schoolmaster of the Vidya Niketan School walked in and started to beat him up. They surrounded them and forced them to say ‘Jai Shree Ram’. For two hours they screamed and shouted and harassed them. Christian worshippers were also made to bow to the photo of Hanuman. They were made to take a vow that they would never pray to Jesus and would not let the sewak enter the village. The men and women were so frightened that after the RSS workers left they told him not to come back to their village.
On February 8, a rally organised by the RSS was used to issue verbal threats to the Christian community. Chagan Lal did not lodge an FIR as he was not confident about the police doing anything.
Sunil Damor of Jeeva Khunta, a supervisor with the Logo Holistic Ministry for the last 14 years, reported an incident of December 13, 2003. About 70 locals were singing bhajans in Rawata Saath. At about 11.45 p.m., an armed mob of about 30 people led by MLA Fathe Singh’s son-in-law came and surrounded their place of worship. First, they stoned them. Then they managed to get into their huts and started beating them up. Sunil was badly hurt. He, however, did lodge an FIR at the police station but that has not stopped his attackers, members of the Banvasi Kalyan Parishad. They have warned him not to conduct prayer meetings again. He feels his movements are being watched.
Yoal of Kothara village, Tehsil Banswara, shared an incident of January 20, 2004. Children and two masters of Vidya Niketan School from Banswara came to his house and told him that they would be giving him some idols and saffron flags. They threatened him, saying that he should worship the idols. When he refused, he was asked about his sons in an intimidating tone. He was also told that benefits to him as a Tribal had been stopped by the government since he was a Christian. They told him that if he wanted a peaceful future he should re-convert to being a Hindu.
Uday Singh reported a similar matter of January 19, 2004, where RSS leaders instigated his uncles, who have not accepted Christianity, to first beat up his father and then his brothers and file a false case against him, accusing him of burning a temple and moving around with naked swords. Uday Singh is the only Christian in the family and they are unhappy that his family has maintained a relationship with him. The BJP corporator from Kushalgarh demanded the arrest of Uday Singh. RSS leader, Bahadur of Timida, and Vaal Singh of the Banvasi Kalyan Parishad did not allow the police to take his parents for a medical examination. The police remained inactive.
Move to denotify Christian Tribals from the Scheduled Tribe list
On January 8, 2004, minister of Tribal area development, Kanak Mal Katara issued instructions to officials from the irrigation and other departments in Udaipur that all Tribals who had undergone conversion to Christianity would have their names struck off the ST list. This unconstitutional move by the minister was opposed locally and by human rights groups in Jaipur. When confronted that he did not have the right to do such a thing, as only Parliament could remove or include groups of people within the ST category, he said that he had merely expressed his sentiments in the matter. Reports from the ground in southern Rajasthan indicate that even though a formal change in the ST category cannot be brought by the local government, ‘sentiments’ of the functionaries in the BJP government have already resulted in instructions to government departments at the district level to exclude Christian Tribals from benefits of reservation under the ST category.
The largest number of cases of discrimination is in the field of education. A policy of the Rajasthan government grants all Tribal boys and girls a scholarship for education. Over the past three or four years, while Tribal children in government schools have been receiving scholarships, those in schools run by Christian institutions have not. The PUCL has seen a long list of students deprived of scholarships. When temporary water bills were distributed in village Bagidora in January 2004, for the first time, the village patwari, wrote ‘Esai’ (Christian) or ‘E’ after the name of a Tribal Christian. In the past, such entries were never made as among Tribals, identities do not emphasise religion as much as clan, kinship and village.
Poor Muslims’ livelihoods under attack
The livelihood base of poor Muslims in the Banswara district is under attack with the active connivance of the police and local administration. On January 28, 2004, without prior notice, the police and administration, Bajrang Dal coordinator Kamal Sharma, BJP corporator Sunil Doshi, BJP city secretary Suresh Pandya, went to meat shops in Madareshwar and Kewalpura, where mainly buffalos are slaughtered for meat. The SDM, DySP and tehsildar accompanied the group. The meat shops were forcibly closed by the police on the grounds that the owners did not possess a licence and that they were slaughtering meat in the middle of the city. As their shops were closed and the buffaloes taken away, persons from the police and district administration threatened the locals that if they wanted to stay in Rajasthan, they would have to stop slaughtering for meat. The administration has openly told the media that they would make Banswara city free of slaughter houses. The affected persons, who are poor Qureshi Muslims, insisted that they had licences. Showing their licences, they argued that they been faced with injustice just before the festival of Id (which was on February 2, 2004). Their shops have been closed for over a month now. Every day, the local police go there and intimidate them threatening that if they opened their shops they would be heavily fined.
In Banswara, the closure of meat shops that slaughter buffaloes has resulted in the livelihood base of more than 500 poor people being adversely affected. Adivasis traditionally eat buffalo meat which they buy in bulk from these shopkeepers and then sell in the village. It has also affected the families of 25 Deras, a community of people living on fields where buffaloes were kept and bred. The Deras had more than 300 people dependent on them. The closure of each shop has also resulted in unemployment for five or six mazdoors at each shop. It has also interfered with the Adivasis’ and minorities’ right to choose what kind of food they would like to consume.
Muslims were so terrified by the activities of the Bajrang Dal and the VHP that they refused to talk about it in Banswara. A PUCL meeting on the issue was organised two km out of the city to ensure their participation. It was very clear that resentment against Muslims was being deliberately whipped up and could result in Banswara erupting into violence overnight. The PUCL met the SP and the collector and have demanded that the Muslims’ right to slaughter meat at shops be protected.
Cultural policing by the Bajrang Dal and VHP
On February 10, 2004 a case u/s 295(A) of the IPC was filed against Bhanu Bharti, director of the Lok Kala Mandal and well known theatre artist and painter, Shail Choyal at the behest of a group of 50 Bajrang Dal activists who presented certain paintings, claiming that their religious sentiments had been outraged. The police lodged a case and conducted a raid on the Lok Kala Mandal without a warrant, entering the director’s room in his absence (he was in Delhi for a production) and seized the so-called "objectionable" paintings. While the police was conducting the raid, Bajrang Dal workers were allowed to enter the building. The paintings had been created for CARE, as part of a campaign to promote breast feeding, but had not yet been brought out as they had only recently been tested for feedback amongst the Tribal community.
The Rajasthan police made history when they filed the case under section 295 (A) of the IPC, of outraging religious sentiments, against these two artists. So far, nowhere in the state has such a case has been filed against a creative artist. It marks the first blatant assault on cultural freedom and privacy (police highhandedness in entering property without a warrant and in the absence of the person) as guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.
Although the two artists were granted bail by a lower court and artists all over Rajasthan have protested this shameful assault, the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Dal continue to protest against the two by burning their effigies in nearby small towns and distributing inflammatory pamphlets. Due to the pressure building on the government, the investigation of the cases has been shifted from the local police to the Criminal Investigation Department in Jaipur. The Bajrang Dal is now demanding a public apology from the artists.
Attitude towards the media
During the assembly election campaign itself, a Jain TV stringer from Kota who was covering Vasundhara Raje’s election in Jhalawar, was attacked by BJP workers at the behest of Vasundhara Raje herself. Her anger was directed against a Jain TV report telecast from Delhi with which the reporter had no connection. When he arrived to interview her, she instigated her workers to attack him saying that this reporter was from the same Jain TV that had tried to denigrate her. The reporter was badly injured and his equipment damaged. The reporter had the courage to lodge an FIR against her but the police first refused to lodge it and then refused to list Vasundhara Raje as an accused. Soon after the results of the polls were announced, members of the Bajrang Dal attacked newsmen of the Jhalawar bureau of Dainik Bhaskar, saying that now that they were in power the newspaper would have to report according to their dictates.
In late February, as the CM led her Dhanyavaad Yatra in Jhalawar and a news photographer blocked her from view of her supporters, they threatened him. The CM said, "Please move away, these are people from Jhalawar, we do not know what they will do." This was clearly a tacit threat, and endorsed the treatment meted out to the Jain TV cameraman. The chief minister’s attitude towards the media is one of unbridled arrogance.
(Kavita Srivastava is general secretary, PUCL, Rajasthan).
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