Christians: the Sangh Parivar’s new target (Comment)September 20th, 2008 - 10:08 am ICT by IANS
Although Christians were described as internal enemies in Guru Golwalkar’s catechism of hate, “Bunch of Thoughts”, they were not targeted by the Sangh Parivar - the right-wing Hindu nationalist political grouping - as systematically as at present.The Parivar’s primary enemies were always the Muslims. They were accused of having invaded the country from the eighth century onwards, destroyed temples during the medieval period and finally partitioned the country in 1947. Islamic terrorism is the latest addition to this list of sins.
Now, however, the wrath of the saffron brotherhood, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), has turned on the Christians with attacks against them by the Hindutva warriors in states ranging from Orissa to Karnataka to Kerala.
About a decade ago, Gujarat also saw such depredations by the saffron activists, mainly in the Dangs area. The state is mercifully quiet now, presumably because Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister Narendra Modi has realised that murder and mayhem directed against the minorities, as in the 2002 riots, can hinder the state’s economic development - apart from depriving him of a visa to visit the US.
At the time of the outbreak in the Dangs, Orissa too saw the beginnings of violence against Christians. The most heinous incident was the burning alive of the Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two young sons in 1999.
For the RSS the work of the missionaries has always been like a red rag to a bull. It regards religious conversions as an assault on Hindu belief and culture and has, therefore, started its own drive to reconvert the Christians back into their original faith.
The violence in the Kandhamal area of Orissa has followed the assassination of a head of one such RSS mission, allegedly by Maoists, although an RSS pamphlet has ascribed it to Christian “terrorists”. The burning of churches and attacks on isolated villagers have since spread to Mangalore in Karnataka and also to Kasaragod in Kerala.
It is worth noting that the BJP is in power in two of these states - Orissa and Karnataka. Clearly, the rampaging Hindutva cadres expect the police to be less enthusiastic in checking them in Orissa and Karnataka than in any other state.
The murder of Staines and his sons, for instance, was conveniently ascribed by George Fernandes, convener of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to an “international conspiracy” although subsequently a local saffron sympathiser was convicted for the crime.
The issue of conversions in Kandhamal has been complicated by the fact that the converts from the Scheduled Caste or Dalit communities have been demanding the Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Adivasi (original inhabitant) status to avail themselves of the reservations in jobs and educational institutions to which STs are entitled.
While such violence relating to reservations is not uncommon in India, as the confrontation between the Rajasthan government and the Gujjars not long ago showed, the objective of the Hindutva brigade is different as it is motivated by the idea of converting India into a Hindu rashtra.
Although Christians are a far smaller minority group than the Muslims - a mere 2.3 percent of the total population against the 13.4 percent of the Muslims - there are a number of reasons why the RSS is more worried about them. One is that the Muslims suffer at present from the worldwide taint of terrorism, which evokes little sympathy for their plight. Moreover, their depressed condition is ascribed to a ghettoized existence, the veiling of women and the generally poor educational standards because of the community’s dependence on madrassas or religion-oriented schools.
In contrast, Christians are seen as forward-looking while their educational institutions at all levels are highly regarded. So are their medical services. Historically, too, there is no record of conflicts between Hindus and Christians as there is between Hindus and Muslims.
It will be a mistake, of course, to refer to the saffron activists belonging to the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal as the true representatives of Hindus since they are mainly lumpen elements who have been instigated by local politicians for partisan purposes. But their capacity for mischief is obvious, especially in the states run by their soulmates in the BJP.
The saffron hardliners also like to present inflated percentages of the Christian and Muslim populations, evidently to create a fear psychosis among the gullible about Hindus being swamped by such “aliens”.
The unconvincing explanation for the discrepancy between their figures and those of the official census is the presence of “crypto-Christians” who do not disclose their real religious identity.
However, it is doubtful if the BJP can make any major political gains from the targeting of Christians, for most Indians will tend to agree with U.R. Anantha Murthy, the noted man of letters of Karnataka, that the parivar is “destroying Hindu civilisation”.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)