Friday, March 3, 2006

India:Hindutva advances while Communal Violence Bill flounders

Date: Friday 3 March 2006
Subj: India:Hindutva advances while Communal Violence Bill flounders
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


The Shabri Kumbh Mela, held 11-13 February in Dangs, Gujarat, was established specifically to "consolidate Hindus", usher tribals into the "Hindu mainstream", and deal a "death blow" to Christian missions in Dangs. The Kumbh was the climax of a massive Hinduisation campaign that combined the Hinduisation of animism, the Hinduisation of tribal culture, with an intense anti-Christian propaganda campaign that included incitement to kill Christians. (see previous WEA RLC India posting and prayer bulletin, plus article: link 1)

That the Kumbh ended peacefully, without any bloodshed, is a testament to the power and mercy of God who intervened for his people in answer to the prayers of many.

Shabri Kumbh Mela 2006 may be over, but the Sangh Parivar's (body of Hindu nationalist organisations) re-energised Hindutva campaign is only beginning. While protesting the negative press which forced Gujarat's State government to provide armed police protection to Dangi Christians, the Sangh is boasting "great gains" in Dangs. And the "success" of the Dangs experiment is motivating the Sangh to replay this strategy in other tribal dominated districts across the nation.

One Hindutva mouthpiece, Organiser, boasts: "Let all the secular Taliban and left creepers wail and beat their chests but the ongoing march of the Vanvasi rights and assertion of their cultural identity shall not be stopped." (Link 2) A translation of the double-speak in this sentence could read like this: All those who support secular politics, real religious liberty, environmentalism, and the rights of India's indigenous peoples can complain and protest all they like, but the Sangh Parivar's Hindutva campaign to convince the Adivasis that they are Vanvasi Hindus whose security and identity is threatened only by Christians shall not be stopped.

As the Sangh's Hindutva forces advance through the tribal districts persecution of Christians is increasing in both frequency and intensity. According to the Sangh, hundreds of tribal Christians are (with the help of RSS paramilitary forces) seeing the error of their ways, realising they have been deceived and exploited by the Christians, and are now "returning home" to Hinduism. Violence against individual believers, pastors and evangelists, whole churches, and church and mission property is being reported constantly, especially in tribal dominated districts and especially in BJP-ruled states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisigarh and Jharkhand.

The central government is working to address the issue of communal conflict. However, the draft Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, is terribly, dangerously flawed. The Bill increases the power of state governments, but a Bill that increases the power of governments cannot protect minorities from government-sponsored terrorism.

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SHABRI KUMBH ONLY THE BEGINING

The Sangh Parivar is not out to save souls. Its goals are purely political, rooted in power lust. The primary goal of the Sangh Parivar is simply to consolidate the Adivasis (indigenous peoples, called Vanvasi, forest peoples, by the Sangh) as part of the Hindutva fold before the 2009 federal elections. Religion is simply a tool with which to achieve social engineering for political gain.

The Sangh wants the BJP returned to power in the centre in 2009, with a majority so that it can rule outright, without being compromised by coalition partners. Even if Christians pray for God to protect every Christian in India from Hindutva violence, the Sangh can still achieve its political goal if it converts enough tribals to Hinduism to ensure BJP majority rule from 2009. If that happens, it could safely be predicted that India's secular constitution will be changed, national anti-conversion laws enacted, and a Hindutva dictatorship established.

SEEKING FOUR MORE "SOCIAL" KUMBHS

Abhishek Kapoor reports for Ahmedabad Newsline: "End of the three-day Shabari Kumbh here marked the beginning of a new experiment on mobilising Hindu forces. Led by the RSS, organisations have planned to use this new tool — more such kumbhs across the country in a semi-religious setting — to gather Hindus to counter Christian missionaries and conversions.

"According to plans, these congregations would be different from the regular Kumbh Melas held at Prayag, Hardwar, Ujjain and Nashik and focus on reform and social engineering within Hinduism to consolidate its followers as a single block. The concluding public meeting, led by Shankaracharya Saraswati of Joshimath, announced that all tribals including Nagas, Mizos, Santhals, Orans, Bodos, Mundas and Gonds, belong to Hindu fold.

"The Shankaracharya mooted the idea of more social kumbhs that would bring Hindus together on one platform. He suggested four new kumbhs sites in tribal dominated states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and the North-East." (Link 3)

Abhishek Kapoor notes that the aims of the Shabri Kumbh are first and foremost political: "The religious significance of kumbh could be termed low as many of the visitors were cadres mobilised by saffron organisations during the past three months.

"Interestingly, Dangs, like all tribal areas in the State, has been a traditional Congress bastion with a difference that it stayed with the party even after the 2002 violence handed all assembly seats to the BJP.

"However, the BJP remains optimistic about the kumbh's returns. Talking to Newsline, a minister in the Modi government said the party would reap dividends out of the kumbh for next 10 years without much hard work. 'Our margins in the Assembly seats of Ahwa Dangs were as low as 50 and seven votes. With the kind of mobilisation that has taken place, we do not see much difficulty. If the kumbh gets institutionalised, it would be an added advantage,' he said." (Link 3)

GOING HOME

According to the most recent edition of the Organiser, Christians are "returning" to Hinduism by the hundreds. This is of course, pure propaganda, presenting the "homecoming" as an act of awakening when in reality it is a forced conversion made under duress. One cannot underestimate the confusion, fear and intimidation felt by tribal Christians when pressured by Hindutva forces to convert or suffer. The fact is, these believers suffer no matter what they do. If they are born again believers, their fearful acquiescence will break their hearts (as Peter's did: Luke 22:62) and they will need to rediscover their Lord's merciful forgiveness and loving acceptance. If they stand firm, they will be persecuted and their loved ones and children will suffer with them.

The Organiser reports, "About 335 Christians belonging to 55 families returned to their original roots at a function held at Soharpat village of Gumla district in Bihar." The speaker at the conversion ceremony, Shri Sudarshan Bhagat demanded (ironically) that the state government put a complete ban on conversion. According to the Organiser: "He said the Christian missionaries had been trapping local gullible Vanvasis and converting them to Christianity... He appealed to all people of the community who have somehow adopted Christianity to come back to their original roots, [that is, not animism, but Hinduism]."

The Organiser also reports, "In another function held at Bhojpur village of Etah district in Uttar Pradesh, over 300 Christians returned to Hindu fold. They also converted the local church into a temple. The father of the church himself installed the pictures of goddess Durga, Vaishno Devi and Hanuman in the new temple. After returning to Hindu fold, he also said the missionaries took unfair advantage of his poverty and used him for conversion in the area." (Link 4)

Speaking at the Shabri Kumbh Mela on 11 February, Hindu teacher Morari Bapu railed against conversions (to Christianity), and made a special public appeal to Christian missionaries to follow Christ and obey the Bible by not converting people to Christianity!

Ahmedabad Newsline reports: "Quoting from a chapter on Luke in the Bible, Bapu said even Christ's word forbade conversions... 'When the Bible says do not convert, please don't. It is great that you are good medicos, and have the money to help poor and ailing. But once they have been healed, let them go back home (their parent religion) as good doctors do. Ghar jana koi gunah nahin hai,' he said, quoting from a Gujarat Sahitya Prakashan translation of the book." (Link 5)

Morari Bapu also invited Dangi Christians to convert, or "return" to Hinduism, saying, "Anybody can make a comeback to his home. Just have a dip in the holy Pampa Sarovar and worship Shabari Mata, you will be back home." (Link 6)

Bapu deliberately manipulates the term "home", deceitfully interpreting it as "former religion" rather than home where you live. According to Bapu's interpretation, when Jesus healed the paralysed man and then said, "...take your mat and go home" (Luke 5:24); or when Jesus told the healed demoniac to "Return home..." (Luke 8:39); he was really telling them to return to their former religion. Bapu did not address all the other healings where people were not exhorted to "return home"; he did not address "follow me". What he did do though, was sow seeds of doubt, confusion and anger in the hearts and minds of many down-trodden, illiterate tribals (including Christians), who may now be tempted to see Christians as essentially hypocritical and unfaithful to their own religion.

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DRAFT COMMUNAL VIOLENCE BILL FLAWED
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Due to the Sangh's mobilisation of Hindutva forces and programs, violence against Christians, particularly in tribal dominated areas, is escalating in both frequency and intensity. While the Indian government is making an effort to address this issue, the draft Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, is terribly flawed. The Bill is presently making its way through public discussion and parliamentary debate.

The fundamental flaw in the bill is that it actually increases the powers of state governments. Clearly this is totally useless when sectarian state governments are in collusion with sectarian, communal organistations. In Gujarat, both the massacre of Muslims in 2002, and the Shabri Kumbh Mela of February 2006, were actively supported by Gujarat's BJP state government.

Two critiques of this Bill can be found at Link 7.

They include "A People's Critique" of the Bill, by ANHAD (Act Now For Harmony and Democracy), HRLN (Human Rights Law Network) and Jan Vikas, and published in the Milli Gazette; as well as a report written by the Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Network and published in Tehelka.

According to these critiques the core sections of the Bill from Chapter II to Chapter VI, relating to the prevention of communal violence, the investigation of communal crimes and the establishment of special courts will only come into effect if the state government issues a notification. What's more, it is not mandatory that the state government act at all, even if notified by the central government. Meanwhile, civil society remains powerless to initiate or control prosecutions when communal crimes occur.

The Bill contains a clause for punishment of public officials who fail to perform their duties. Yet even here there is both a failing and a loophole. The Bill fails to hold accountable those in positions of command and authority such as the Chief Minister. What's worse, police who fail to perform their duties, being either passive or partisan in the face of communal violence, cannot be charged with an offence unless the state government sanctions the proceedings. As "A People's Critique" notes, "In the context of state governments with communally driven malafide intent, the chances of even police officials being punished under this clause are very remote."

Another flaw in the Bill is the definition of "communal violence", which is limited to a list of already criminalised offences, and does not cover many communal crimes such as mobilisation with incitement through hate speech, literature, media and teaching. The Bill also has a very narrow definition of sexual violence which fails to address issues beyond rape, such as stripping, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence.

As the critics of the Bill note, what is needed is a law which makes it mandatory for the government to act in clearly codified ways before, during and after communal violence. And the law needs also to remove impunity, so that state governments, authority figures, and police that fail to act to prevent violence may be charged, tried and punished.

Regarding the power of the central government to intervene (which obviously is only beneficial if the central government is non-sectarian), "A People's Critique" comments: "Section 55 requires the Central Government, in cases where it is of the opinion that 'there is an imminent threat to the secular fabric, unity, integrity or internal security of India which requires that immediate steps' to 'draw the attention of the State Government to the prevailing situation'; and to direct it 'to take all immediate measures to suppress' the violence. If the state government fails to act, the Bill provides first for the central government to declare any area within a State as 'communally disturbed area' under this Bill; but this is not significant because, as we observed, such declaration does not require mandatory actions by the state government to control the violence. The Bill also provides for central 'deployment of armed forces, to prevent and control communal violence', which would have been very significant, but the provision is neutralised by the requirement that this central deployment is legally permissible only in the event of 'a request having been received from the State Government to do so'. In other words, only the state government still retains the power to decide about the deployment of armed forces to control communal violence."

As noted in the report in Tehelka, this proviso, that the central government must wait for a request from the state government before it can intervene is "a ridiculously retrogressive provision given the fact that even today the Centre is under no obligation to wait for consent when the situation goes out of control".

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) India: The dictators of Hindutva aim for 'death blow' in Dangs
WEA RLC News & Analysis. by Elizabeth Kendal, 26 Jan 2006

India: Shabri Kumbh Mela Threatens 8000 Christians in Dangs
WEA Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 364 - Wed 08 Feb 2006
Eliazabeth Kendal

Apex court acts on anti-Christian video
3 February 2006
http://www.newkerala.com/news2.php?action=fullnews&id=1835

2) The grand mingling in the Shabri Kumbh
By Tarun Vijay 26 February 2006
http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=119&page=14

3) RSS wants more such kumbhs
Abhishek Kapoor. 13 February 2006
http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=169683

4) 600 Christians return to Hindu fold
http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=120&page=30#2

5) From kumbh, Modi sends out a warning to missionaries
Abhishek Kapoor, Sunday , February 12, 2006
http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=169474

6) At RSS meet, Modi, saints oppose Christian missionaries
Ahwa (Gujarat) | February 12, 2006
http://news.webindia123.com/news/showdetails.asp?id=247133&cat=India

7) Betrayals and Missed Opportunities: The Communal Violence Bill, 2005. A People's Critique of the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005. By ANHAD, HRLN & Jan Vikas The Milli Gazette Online. 8 February 2006
http://www.milligazette.com/dailyupdate/2006/20060208-communal-bill.htm

All that hot air
http://www.tehelka.com/story_main16.asp?filename=Cr021806all_that.asp