Cry, my beloved Mangalore (Comment)

October 14th, 2008 - 11:55 am ICT by IANS  

The first holocaust for Mangalore Catholics happened in 1784 at the behest of Tipu Sultan. Following his defeat by the British in the first battle of Mangalore, Tipu’s wrath had turned on the local Christian community, in the belief that it was their aid and support to the British that cost him his battle.In a ruthless swoop by his marauding armies 85,000 Christians were rudely uprooted from village homes, herded and marched off through arduous jungle terrains of the Western Ghats for incarceration in the dungeons of Seringapatam (Srirangapatnam). Rigours of the journey coupled with malaria and dysentery had decimated the numbers and not all captives reached the destination.

Release came in 1799 to about 15,000 of the motley bunch that had survived - only after the fall of Seringapatam and Tipu’s death following the second battle of Mangalore. With release had come a sense of purpose, a common identity, for a people who had hitherto considered themselves migrant Goans. For the first time a distinct “Mangalorean” identity was born.

Over the years the close-knit and homogeneous small community of 1799 grew, diverging into fields and destinations anew. Leaving their native shores they spread far and wide pursuing new and rewarding careers elsewhere in India and all over the world. In India, other than that of a president or a prime minister, there is no seat of honour, profession, trade or virtue that has not been claimed, graced or enriched by a Mangalorean. This was possible because of the environment of amity and understanding that prevailed in the region.

This communal harmony, which was the hallmark of the region, was suddenly shattered on Sep 14 when the Bajrang Dal went on a rampage vandalising churches, assaulting Christians, and desecrating holy artefacts. Mangalore since then has gone through a period beset by challenges not faced in over 209 years of communal harmony.

The current lull in violence has resulted only due to unprecedented solidarity (perhaps totally unexpected by the perpetrators) and protests by the Christian communities of Mangalore, and the support they received from the right-minded in other local communities, leading to nationwide and worldwide condemnation of the heinous acts of the Sangh Parivar and particularly by the Bajrang Dal in Mangalore and elsewhere.

While social scientists and analysts will try to unravel the deep-rooted prejudices or political agenda that led to the shattering of the harmonious relationship between communities in the area, there needs to be some thought spared to checks and balances to be supplanted which will preclude such gratuitous violence between communities in future.

Mangalorean communities including Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jains are a peaceful, law-abiding and religiously tolerant people, often of similar ancestry and traditional heritage. Against this background, there is a consensus that a small group of misguided elements cannot be allowed to orchestrate well organised and premeditated attacks on minorities.

The government justice system needs to look at the causes for the violence that occurred, identify those who instigated and the criminals who carried out the attacks. There is need also to examine the role of the police during the violence and in their provocative actions during peaceful protests.

What was sorely found missing was the presence and intervention by community peace committees - the need of which every efficient police organisation is acutely aware of and strives to ensure. So a standing nodal agency with representation from major religious communities, major political parties and the police - to ensure preventive measures through regular meetings to monitor simmering tensions and all that is a must.

From the outpourings of the anguished, voiced in the media, it is evident that the majority of Indians (particularly Hindus) do not believe in the Sangh Parivar’s ideology, and yet are forced to go along with it as a necessary evil, partly for lack of an alternative party with strength to lead the country with a viable government. There has perhaps never been a time of greater need to join hands with people of goodwill among all faiths and even with people of no faith to make common cause on important issues.

The public today are subjected to propaganda spread by aggressors - about conversions and foreign funds. Despite categorical assurances that there cannot be forcible conversions to the Christian faith - and there exists not a single chargesheet or conviction under the highly hyped anti-conversion laws enacted in many states - the canards on this score continue. While no one in the government or the Sangh leadership explains why this lie cannot be nailed once and for all with a national debate, the ploy continues to be used as a plank for propaganda and more attacks.

There is need for the entire nation and its people to know what the Sangh Parivar is, what it stands for, its tactics, its strategy, its political policy. As there is need for the hitherto complacent Christian community to be involved more in the political arena - not just to understand and expose the political policy of the Sangh Parivar but to know and understand policies of other parties too - to identify those that hurt the interests of all in the sphere of human rights and constitutional rights that guarantee freedom to practice and preach one’s religion. If people do not act on time, there is danger of the Sangh Parivar succeeding in abrogating these very rights, or writing rules to circumvent these.

It is evident that the Bajrang Dal has realised Mangalore Christians stand for their rights, and that support for them has come forth from every imaginable quarter. Going forward, there is need to focus less on reprisals and recrimination but more on ensuring sustainable peace in times to come and especially for future generations.

(Maxwell Pereira, a Mangalorean, is a former joint commissioner of Delhi Police. He can be reached at mfjpkamath@gmail.com)

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