Now it’s the Christians Under Attack

Newsletter July 2000

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has, from the very beginning, taken great pains to distance itself from the hardline, fundamentalist image of the Sangh Parivar. They have repeatedly reiterated their commitment to a secular and tolerant India. Their manifesto states that they are committed to “uphold and practice the concept of genuine secularism consistent with the Indian tradition of Sarva Panth Samadara [equal respect for all faiths]”. But practice belies their words.

Independent India has seen many faces of communal tension in various parts of the country over the past five decades. Muslims, as the largest minority have faced consistently the brunt from the Hindu majority. After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the Sikh community was also severely targeted. However, after NDA came to power there has been an unprecedented spate of attacks on Christian communities. Increasing intolerance against minorities and weaker sections in the society is on the rise - be they Christians, Muslims, dalits, tribals or women. Under their regime, communalisation of the bureaucracy has been also carried out as an organised effort. And cultural censorship has also reached new heights.

For over a year now, we have regularly been waking up to stories of systematic aggression on minority communities by members of the Sangh Parivar. Tribal communities in parts of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have been harassed for following the Christian faith. Priests and nuns have been attacked, raped and killed, and churches and Christian schools have been ransacked, desecrated and bombed. A false spectre has been raised about tribals being ‘forced into Christianity’ and members of the Sangh Parivar have brazenly proceeded with forced ‘re-conversions’ and ‘purification’ ceremonies of both, Christian and non-Christian tribal communities. And statements like that of the Bajrang Dal saying “Christians are worse enemies than Muslims,” float freely. Compounding this scenario further is the fact that the NDA as a whole has failed to condemn such attacks, and state governments with the BJP and its allies in power have chosen to turn a blind eye to these events, if not actively abet them. Yet, the Home Minister of the country, L.K.Advani has attempted to maintain a distance from such violence by claiming that many of these are ‘acts of anti-India elements’. Naturally, all this has vitiated the atmosphere in rural areas, towns and cities.

We thought it an appropriate time to take a fresh look at the promises made in the manifestos of the NDA and the BJP, and the publicity material of the RSS and the Shiv Sena, and compare them with the facts on the ground. We found that they make a frightening study of ‘politically correct’ claims versus an appalling reality.

The BJP manifesto states, “We are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all citizens in all parts of the country”, but even the most cursory look at newspaper headlines is sufficient to reveal that the attacks on the Christian community have seen a phenomenal increase in the recent past. Clearly, they have been picked as a vulnerable group and are being systemically targeted. During the first half of this year itself, there have been around 40 attacks, a figure that is, unfortunately, still on the rise as we go to the press. And yet, the BJP claims a commitment towards minorities by saying, “we can maintain communal peace and harmony; we can ensure security of life and property; and, we can protect the honour and dignity of the minority communities”.

The BJP manifesto makes loud proclamations against untouchability, calling it a ‘crime against humanity’, and the manifesto of the NDA states that “We will remove the last vestiges of untouchability from our society”. Yet, dalits and the tribals converting to Hindu faith, are being discriminated against and treated as untouchables by no less than the Shankaracharya of Puri who suggests that low cost ‘swastik temples’ be build for Hindu re-converts. If this trend continues unabated, caste prejudices are certain to surge afresh all over the country.

On another front, pluralism in the Indian culture is being systematically replaced by cultural nationalism. While the BJP manifesto states “The BJP will ensure that the rights of free speech of Indian citizens are guaranteed”, anything that sounds even remotely critical of the NDA government and/or Hindu traditions as defined by the BJP and Sangh Parivar becomes a target of attack. The moment they came to power, the Central government targeted NGOs that had released advertisements in the newspapers, urging people not to vote for the BJP. They were accused of indulging in political activities and issued show cause notices regarding the funding they receive. The government has also put the brakes on the publication of a set of books on the independence struggle by the Indian Council of Historical Research, because of their criticism of the role of rightist parties of that time. This, despite the books having been cleared by due process.

The BJP which claims to “not only respect but celebrate India’s regional, caste, credal and linguistic diversity”, interestingly also expresses its commitment to “the cultural nationalism of India which is the core of Hindutva”. What this means of course, is that Ghulam Ali is prevented from performing in Mumbai; Bajrang Dal activists ransack an auditorium and assault artistes in Rajkot, because they feel that Bharatiya sanskriti was being sullied by a 30 year old, classic film song.

To add to it, such aggression is blatantly encouraged. The state government in Uttar Pradesh permits the Bajrang Dal to impart training in the use of firearms in Karsevakpuram, in order to protect Hinduism! And by mid June, four such camps had been organised.

On the subject of women too, the BJP has perfected its use of contemporary rhetoric. It states, “The BJP believes that true human development cannot take place without the empowerment of women. We need to create mechanisms for the social, political and economic advancement of women as also to generate social awareness on gender issues”. BJP Parivar’s way of doing it involves indoctrination of women workers in RSS camps!

At the same time, they continue to see women from within the traditional framework. Hence, when an instance of Sati occurred in Mahoba, UP, ministers and government officials at both, the state and the Centre, failed to condemn it. Such affirmation, however tacit, of anti-women practices has far reaching implications. We also find that increasingly, tolerance for any deviation from these stereotypes is receding. When an attempt is made to make a film on the plight of Hindu widows in Varanasi, the Bajrang Dal, under the pretext of protecting ‘bharatiya sanskriti’, demolished the sets and prevented the shooting. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (the students wing of the BJP), acting as ‘cultural policemen’, imposed a dress code for women, and attacked girl students in colleges in Kanpur for wearing jeans.

It is obvious that the concerted efforts of the BJP and its allies is damaging the fabric of plurality in the Indian culture. While some efforts are made by the secular forces in the society to protest against theses forces, -e.g. a large demonstration in Delhi to protest against the clamping of writings of secular historians, it is essential that voices of the secular people get heard and cultural nationalism in the form of Hindu nationalism does not get forced down everyone’s throat. If we all do not act now, it may be impossible to stem this tide before the storm breaks.


2.7.2000: bajrang dal activists barge into missionary school and force students to join rath yatra (Gujarat)

26.6.2000: graves desecrated (A.P.) and Church ransacked (Maharashtra)

17.6.2000: Prime witness of Br. George murder dies in police custody (U.P.)

14.6.2000: Priest beaten, paraded (M.P.)

11.6.2000: Christian missionary found stabbed to death (Punjab)

8.6.2000: Series of blasts rock churches in A.P., Karnataka and Goa

7.6.2000: Br. George Kuzhikandan murdered at St. Francis School (U.P.)

9.5.2000: VHP and Bajrang Dal men barge into girls hostel and assault those watching film on Christ (Maharashtra)

6.5.2000: 13 christians ‘arrested’ for holding prayer meetings and staging street plays (Orissa)

11.4.2000: Murderous attack on principal of St. Teresa School (U.P.)

6.4.2000: St. Dominic’s School attacked, principal abused for refusing some admissions (U.P.)

20.9.99: Sr. Ruby of Congregation of Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary stripped and forced to drink urine (Chapra dist.)

23.1.99: Graham Staines and his sons set afire amid slogans of ‘Jai Bajrang Dal’ (Orissa)

26.9.98: Statue of St. Bernard destroyed in Jesus & Mary College, New Delhi

22.9.98: 4 nuns gang raped in Jhabua (M.P.)

... and these are just some ...