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Letters to Editor
The PM refuses to face daily asaults on India's tradition of tolerance by members of his own parivar. What about us?
For Indians who truly value tolerance, every passing day sounds a death knell. The ground is slipping swiftly; we are sinking fast into the quicksand of brazen manipulation. Such outlets for articulating grievances that still exist are severely proscribed by the rapidity of events and happenings. Institutions for the affirmation of inalienable basic rights are limited by an apathy that is compounded by a piece–meal response to events.
Courts, the police, the legislature and the executive are all crippled. Either because of a self–inflicted tunnel vision that refuses to recognise the calculated plan or pattern behind the systematic build up of the climate of hate in which violence appears ‘legitimate’, or because of calculated indifference, driven by bias.
We are all witness to the wilful flouting of the rule of law, daily. As it has been happening since the mid–eighties before their formal grip on political power, and more so since 1998, after the BJP’s rise to power, the fundamental freedom of faith and the identity of Indians who are not Hindu has been a constant target.
Constant intimidation through verbal barrage and frequent acts of violence against a section of Indians — Muslims and Christians — have come to be accepted as facts of life. Vicious utterances, that go unrestrained and unchallenged by the guardians of law, have accorded them a sinister legitimacy. The statements by the leaders of the BJP/RSS/VHP/Bajrang Dal/SS, inciting hatred and violence and acts of violence themselves, are being highlighted by the mainline media every other day.
As the cumulative outcome of the carefully cultivated climate of coercion, other basic freedoms — right to life and liberty, of personal security of and the right of association — of thousands of Indians stand severely curtailed. Churches are attacked; copies of the Bible desecrated and burnt. A Christian priest is forced to worship inside a temple; adivasis are ‘re–converted’ amidst much fanfare but told to worship in separate shrines thereafter.
Physical attacks and intimidation of minorities have re–surfaced with a vengeance. Incidents in the past three months alone — between April and June 2000 — have crossed the three dozen mark. Christian religious persons running educational institutions or health centres have been singled out for murder or other forms of mistreatment. In every instance, mob rule and intimidation has overpowered the rule of law, with the local police reduced to wilful impotency.
Every attack has been preceded by systematic distribution of hate spewing pamphlets (see box 2). Since 1996, media reports have drawn repeated attention to such hate campaigns. But all the vitriol has suspiciously escaped police action under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Gujarat, and now Uttar Pradesh, are living examples of life for Indians under ‘Hindu rashtra’.
Senior officials in the police, like the DGP of Gujarat, CP Singh, have stated on record that “organisations like the VHP and Bajrang Dal are clearly behind the violence” (see CC, October 1998). Concrete evidence in specific cases points clearly to the moral and ideological backing that the sangh parivar renders to the assailants. But our watchdogs and institutions fail to make the connection or see the pattern.
Four months ago, the newly appointed RSS Sarsanghchalak, KS Sudarshan, declared that an ‘epic war’ was in progress in India between Hindus and ‘anti–Hindu forces’; in Mumbai, Bal Thackeray’s Saamna is once again spitting venom with a vengeance against ‘anti–national’ Muslims (See page 25). And yet, we resist drawing the links.
What is responsible for this selective amnesia? How is it possible for us to react to rights’ violations in individual cases but turn a blind eye to the bloody and devious design that underlies them?
One fine day, a Bajrang Dal leader, Dharmendra Sharma, sah-sahayojak for the Braj region, makes front page news declaring that Christians are now “bigger enemies” than Muslims. (The Times of India, June 23, 2000). Clarification, if any were needed, that Muslims remain the Bajrang Dal’s and the VHP’s enemies! “Maar peet to kya, hum sab kuch karne ke liye taiyar hain” (“We are prepared to use violence. There is no limit”), said Sharma, leaving no room for any confusion.
The remark prompted an expression of outrage from India’s attorney general, Soli Sorabjee. He opined that such elements should be put behind bars. The National Human Rights Commission demanded details of attacks on Christians from the central and state governments. But only weeks earlier, the remark of the all–India Bajrang Dal convenor, Dr. Surendra Jain, calling for “a second Quit India movement” to drive away Christian missionaries had passed unnoticed and unchallenged. (The Afternoon Despatch and Courier, May 27, 2000).
Life in Gujarat for a Muslim or a Christian today is a suffocating reminder that he or she no longer enjoys the precious privilege of being regarded as an equal Indian. Muslims residing in ‘cosmopolitan’ localities in Gujarat are forcibly evicted; Muslim children have to compulsory attend school and even give examinations on Id day. Discrimination and bias has insidiously crept into the marketplace of ideas, avenues of livelihood, educational institutions, the administration, the police, the judiciary. All in all, the quality that we used to proudly describe as Indian values is fast eroding.
What more will it take to force us to recognise the extent of corrosion? Mumbai’s classrooms, at the university level, reflect this public sanction to brazen bias in their own style. A professor advising students on how to write an essay for the All India Open School examination elaborates: “Write about how the British exploited this country. And how before that the Muslim rulers, thanks to their love of the good life, robbed this great wealthy land of all its wealth. Muslims have always loved the good life and it is this greed that has looted our country that used to be a sone ki chidiya (a golden bird).
There is a clever and calculated plan behind every campaign launched, sustained and developed by the RSS and its faithful followers. In the eighties, the campaign for a glorious temple in the name of Lord Ram at Ayodhya fired 18,000 villages to participate in the shilanyas in 1990, and over 5,00,000 kar sevaks to be witness and participants in the demolition of a mosque in Ayodhya two years later. Clever double entendre accompanied the campaign for a temple at Lord Ram’s legendary birthplace. The justification in the nation–wide effort was through the demonising of Mughal emperor Babar. Muslims in India today, ‘Babar ki aulad’, were crudely told again and again, that they had trampled on all that is decent Indian, read Hindu.
With the campaign for the construction of a Ram mandir at Ayodhya now in the process of being actively revived, the anti–Muslim underpinnings of the campaign are also re–surfacing in subtle and not–so–subtle forms. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), nudged by an encouraging human resources development ministry under none less than Murli Manohar Joshi, is busy excavating 46 Indian historical sites, including UNESCO–protected World Heritage sites like Fatehpur Sikri. Objective? To establish that Hindu or Jain temples exist below Mughal (read Muslim), monuments.
There is a brazenness that underlines the physical assaults and intimidation whereby the assailants present themselves as victims acting in self–defence. Of late, the Bajrang Dal has publicly started arms training for its cadre in order to prepare them for ‘defending’ Hindus and Hinduism from the demons being resurrected — Muslims and Christians. The daily violators of law and those who condone verbal assaults, physical intimidation and murder are the first to point to Pakistan’s ISI as the real culprit! Union home minister, Advani also concurs, seeing a foreign hand behind the attacks on Christians. The result: the nitty–gritty facts behind those responsible for the assaults and violence in each of the cases, where culprits inspired by or belonging to the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP have been identified, are glossed over and the police just do not act. The guilty not only escape the arm of the law but enjoy government protection every time.
Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee and his strongman, Union home minister LK Advani, have once more declared that there is “no communal twist to the recent incidents”. The liberal mukhota of the sangh parivar is useful for the saffron bandwagon at ticklish moments like this.
Vajpayee’s admirers, who simply refuse to believe him capable of legitimising hatred and selective murder, saw his recent bowing before the Pope at the Vatican as a “master stroke”. That the pontiff raised the issue of increasing attacks on Christians at his meeting with the PM and yet again, three days later, is seen as simply a passing hitch in international relations.
Graham Staines’ murderer, Dara Singh is today a man lionised by the literature emanating from the saffron camp. He proposes to fight the next election. For the moment, the Hindu Jagran Sammukhya, backed by the RSS, is busy distributing thousands of copies of a 16–page booklet Mu Dara Singh Kahuchi (I am Dara Singh speaking) in Manoharpur, Orissa. The booklet focuses on the activities of the Staines’ family and proclaiming that since “Staines was the killer of our culture, so his killing was necessary”.
The officially–appointed Wadhwa
Commission implicated Dara Singh in the triple murder case but despite
the evidence of police officers and counsel before the Commission, it exonerated
the like BJP, RSS, VHP and BD. An example, yet again, of a resistance to
examine the ideological backup that allows a Dara Singh to flourish and
grow in popularity.
Union home minister, LK Advani, used to be the BJP’s most eloquent leader on every issue pertaining to minority–majority relations in the country in the eighties and nineties — before he took an oath swearing allegiance to the secular and democratic tenets of the Indian Constitution. Today, he has mastered the art of keeping a conspicuous silence. He does surface on appropriate occasions only to issue clean character certificates to the Bajrang Dal and the VHP every time their name gets associated with criminal incidents.
Following the triple murder by burning of Graham Staines and his young sons, Advani was quick to absolve the VHP and Bajrang Dal of any involvement in the crime. He knew these organisations well, he said, adding that they were incapable of criminal acts! It is a well–programmed symphony in operation, being played out by the different organs of the sangh parivar every day. That the Vajpayee–Advani duo is right on top of the political pyramid, ever ready with alibis, helps a great deal.
That the BJP and its supporters within and outside the sangh parivar rely heavily on Vajpayee’s liberal mask is more than understandable. What is not, however, is the wilful blindness of the secular components of the NDA, leaders such as the TDP’s technocrat, Chandrababu Naidu, the Trinamool Congress’ firebrand, Mamata Banerjee, and the ever–reasonable socialists, George Fernandes and Jaya Jaitly.
Equally difficult to appreciate is the failure of individuals within other secular political formations to categorically affirm that the basic rights and freedoms of every Indian, regardless of religion, caste, creed or gender is inalienable. (Remember a state minister from the ‘secular’ Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra, personally welcoming criminals allegedly associated with the Bajrang Dal on their release from the Nasik jail. They were charged with the vandalising a girl’s hostel in April. The deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, Chhagan Bhujbal, later justified the minister’s behaviour).
Most opinion polls conducted to gauge public opinion indicate that only about a quarter of the Indian population backs the BJP and not all the support is for communal reasons. The rest of India, which naturally includes minorities, Dalits and other Hindus within it, remains opposed to Hindutva’s antics.
The hitch lies, however, in the lack of translation of this opposition into organised protest and outrage. The ignominies of rights abuses and oppression of minorities, women and Dalits notwithstanding, there is an innate reluctance to accept, acknowledge and rise in unison against these horrors. One of the reasons is our refusal to abandon the prevalent myth of Indian civilisation as the most ancient, the most non-violent, and the mSost tolerant in the world.
Only the creative explosion of that myth will help rid us of our false cocoon of comfort and galvanise us into articulation of outrage that is long overdue.
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