Letters to Editor
Saffron shrouds YKJ 2000 in Gujarat
For the second successive year in BJP-ruled Gujarat, Christmas time was curfew time for Christians from The Dangs district in the state
“Open the Doors!” is an epigram
used by Christians in this 2000th
This symbolises the Christian resolve to be fully open in the new millennium — to sincerely dialogue with all religions, with the sciences and with all peoples in a global endeavour to foster justice, fellowship and peace. However, for Christians in Gujarat, especially those in the southern tribal districts, Christmas and the New Year 2000 have been closed-door affairs as saffron squads held the Christian community hostage while arm–twisting the state BJP–government into acceding to their demands.
A close analysis of the events preceding
Christmas week, with the insidious moves and double–speak of the BJP state
government, gives cause for alarm.
Feigning determination to protect the minority community and to curb violence, the home minister, Haren Pandya, issued a circular banning rallies of any community on the feast days of another community.
Janubhai Pawar was subsequently arrested on December 9 after the Christian community expressed its apprehensions. Surprisingly, with Janubhai’s arrest, about 200 BJP members including all party officers of south Gujarat resigned in protest against the circular and the arrest. Within hours, Pawar was released on bail.
Janubhai Pawar is the main trouble–maker in the Dangs. The Citizens’ Committee Report on the Dangs published in New Delhi in March 1999 recommended that the HJM be banned from the Dangs since: “The HJM’s sole objective is to instigate people to create trouble on communal lines. It is this organisation that has been responsible for all the incidents in the Dangs. The leader of HJM, Janubhai Pawar, has found his organisation a convenient instrument to exploit, blackmail and terrorise people.
“Obviously he has the backing of the government as is evident from the way he took us to a government office to give his views — when the officials at his very sight stood up to receive him and thereafter waited outside literally in attendance. There are four cases registered against him and having regard to the activities he has been indulging in, he should have been externed from Dangs for the mere asking.”
Interestingly, in the aftermath of the 1998 mayhem, to diffuse the focus of blame, Janubhai Pawar stoutly denied that the HJM was part of the Sangh Parivar (see Citizen’s Commission Report, p.21). This time, however, the ‘shilanyas’ and the rally were jointly organised by the HJM and the VHP who declared that the government would not ban their programmes as it was they themselves who launched it to power. Pushed against the wall, in a volte–face of its previous stand, the government lifted its ban on rallies with the VHP–HJM’s ‘verbal assurance’ to the home minister that they would call off the Christmas Day rally in exchange for allowing the ‘shilanyas’ at Halmodi on December 22.
The withdrawal of the ban on rallies went against the Union home ministry’s letter sent to the state chief secretary, L.N.S. Mukundan, to impose a restriction on all rallies around Christmas week in the state, particularly in the Dangs, “to pre-empt unfortunate implications on any count.” The home ministry’s letter, signed by special secretary, M. B. Kaushal, also instructed the state government to take legal action against those implicated in last year’s attacks. Ignoring these instructions, the government yielded to the fanatic elements among its ranks, laying bare its malicious intent. Was it necessary to withdraw the circular banning rallies if the Sangh Parivar was serious about not going ahead with theirs?
When questioned whether the VHP–HJM combine would actually cancel the proposed Christmas rally, VHP joint–secretary, Jaideep Patel, said, “We will disclose our position with regard to the rally only after the successful completion of the shilanyas programme.” This reply betrays the Sangh Parivar’s intentions.
While bargaining with the saffron forces, the home minister rushed to the Dangs in a vain attempt to assuage the fears of the Christian community. There were neither explanations about the government’s plans to curtail anti-Christian atrocities nor any indications of bringing the culprits to book. Pandya merely told the Christian delegation to be patient, promised them security and requested them not to make press statements for it would aggravate the situation. The government also sought to coerce the Christian community into agreeing to the ‘shilanyas’.
Christian leaders refused to sign any statement of agreement for they claimed that it was part of the VHP-HJM’s terror campaign. Furthermore, familiar with the back–bending of the government on various issues, the Christian community doubted the sincerity of the home minister. Many Christian leaders were sure that the government would finally allow the VHP–HJM to have its way.
Apparently, the BJP government in Gujarat is unconcerned about the plight of the minorities. It only desires that the truth be concealed.
Contrary to the claims of the VHP-HJM that over 10,000 tribals (‘vanvasis’ in Sangh Parivar terminology) would assemble at Halmodi for the ‘shilanyas’ ceremony on December 22, barely 500 people including government officials and school children were present. Swami Aseemananda of the Waghai–based ‘Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad’ — who devised the forcible ‘shuddikaran’ (ritual purificatory process) at the Unai hot–springs and launched a scathing attack on Christian missionaries before the ‘bhoomi pujan’ at Halmodi — explained that the aim of setting up temples all over the district was to enable ‘vanvasis’ to worship in peace.
Although the Parivar members were upset by the low turnout at the ceremony, it served as intimidation to the minority community and symbolically demonstrated the power of the Hindutva forces. Admitting that the turnout was low, Rajnikant Rajwadi, BJP MLA from Bardoli, made a significant comment: “The message has been conveyed to the world that we have achieved our objective.”
Haren Pandya was pleased that the ‘shilanyas’ passed off “peacefully” and S.K. Nanda, secretary in–charge of Dangs, mentioned that the Halmodi ceremony left tribal Christians “quite relaxed.” The fact is that tribal Christians were terrorised and remained indoors.
After the shilanyas, egged on by
the weak resolve of the state government, the VHP–HJM publicised plans
for the proposed ‘dharma sabha’ on December 25 to be addressed by Jagadguru
Shankaracharya of Karvir Pith while the home minister, interviewed by Star
TV repeated, “We will leave no stone unturned to maintain law and order.”
Parrying questions, he could not explain the government’s compromises and
failure to counter the VHP–HJM offensive.
Simultaneously, as the result of a criminal miscellaneous application filed by Samson C. Christian, secretary, United Christian Association, the Gujarat High Court directed the state government to appoint two observers in the Dangs from December 26 to 28 who would produce a report by December 29.
With tension mounting, on Christmas
eve, nearly 750 villages, chapels and institutions of South Gujarat which
were identified as sensitive spots, were cordoned off by a huge police
force with 55 senior police officers, 15 companies of the SRP and 300 RAF
jawans, making it impossible to celebrate Christmas.
No traditional midnight prayer-services and no cultural programmes were possible. A veritable Christmas curfew. “The Hindutva forces have succeeded in instilling fear among us, tribals, who have lived peacefully for decades,” said Motilal Gaikwad, former co–ordinator of the ‘Adivasi Pragati Samiti’.
He regretted that the Christian community had to call off its Christmas prayers and programmes. “The government wants us to be grateful for preventing violence. That we have lost all our freedom and basic rights is of no consequence to them,” lamented a Christian leader who was strictly warned not to meet the press.
On Christmas day itself, saffron flags adorned the roads at Ahwa. At the Dandkeshwar Mahadev Temple, the Shankaracharya convened a ‘sabha’ of about 500 people and attacked the Christian missionaries. Swami Aseemananda and other VHP–HJM leaders gave vituperative speeches with threats of a backlash if the missionaries continued their activities. The meeting concluded with a decision to hold similar ‘dharma sabhas’ every Christmas.
Two observers of the All India Christian Council, John Dayal, national convenor of the United Christians Forum for Human Rights and national secretary of the All India Catholic Union and Kamal Mitra Chenoy, professor at JNU (Delhi) and leading civil rights’activist, lambasted the government for its ineptitude and connivance. Asserting that the Parivar had violated prohibitory orders and taking exception to the fiery speeches, Chenoy and Dayal added that, “a systematic attempt was being made by the Sangh Parivar to enforce its will and political and social agenda, violating all norms of civil society.”
The Dangs disappeared from media focus as soon as the Kandahar hijacking hit the headlines. Thus, voices against the Gujarat government’s handling of the situation were few and weak.
Gujarat’s leader of the Opposition, Amarsingh Chaudhary, pointed out that “Christians are being terrorised by militant Hindu organisations” and alleged that “organisations like the VHP, RSS, HJM and Bajrang Dal, supported by the ruling BJP in Gujarat, have been carrying on disruptive activities in a bid to create a rift between tribals and tribal Christians in the state.”
The saffron brigade has reaped rich
dividends through its terror tactics and brow–beating of minorities. The
pernicious and persistent peddling of Parivar ideology is backed by a political
power–base that surreptitiously supports and sustains it and vice versa.
Hence, the phenomenal success of the BJP in Gujarat: three new, tribal–belt
victories in last year’s Parliamentary elections (Chhota-udepur, Dahod
and Mandvi) and 30 out of 48 municipalities this year.
New Year 2000 has brought little cheer for Gujarat’s minorities. On January 3, the Keshubhai government lifted the ban on membership of state government employees in the RSS, one of the 30–odd communal organisations on the banned list, which includes the Indian Union Muslim League, the VHP, the Ananda Marg and others.
The move will have deleterious repercussions, as not only will government officials be permitted to join the RSS, but also all will view RSS membership as sure qualification for getting promotions and prize postings.
Adding fuel to the fire, in the recently–concluded ‘sankalp shibir’ held in Ahmedabad, Keshubhai Patel donned the RSS khaki shorts and white shirt and played generous host to the 30,000 RSS ‘swayamsevaks’ who marched triumphantly through Ahmedabad’s streets, while the RSS leaders boasted of establishing RSS ‘shakhas’ in every village of Gujarat by the year 2005.
While the Union government has been drawing flak for its handling of the hijacking crisis, the RSS chief, Rajendra Singh, termed the compromise as an example of ‘Hindu cowardice’. Immediately, an ominous “Regulation of Public Religious Buildings and Places Bill” was passed in the UP Assembly on the grounds that ISI activities were escalating in masjids and madrassas along the Nepal border. Indeed, the Parivar has capitalised on anything and everything from Kargil to Kandahar. Political analysts predict that the same bill will be passed in Pakistan-bordered Gujarat, too, providing a battering–ram for demolishing Christian places of worship.
Gujarat has always been a treasured launching pad and testing-ground for the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ programmes. The success is amazing and alarming. L.K. Advani’s ‘rath yatra’, launched from Dwarka, got the Hindutva juggernaut rolling in Gujarat, resulting in the Muslim massacre of 1992 in Surat, the Christian baiting of 1998 in South Gujarat, a debate on conversions, a ‘Christian census’ and a conversion bill in 1999 and the legitimisation of RSS activities at the very dawn of 2000.
Rural Gujarat needs vidyalayas and
bal mandirs rather ‘shilanyas’ and ‘Hanuman mandirs’. Much can be done
if everyone seriously opens doors and sets about building bridges for a
peaceful and prosperous third millennium.
(The writer, a priest, is a researcher at Vidya Jyoti, Delhi)
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