​Short circuits and communal violence

By John Dayal,

The Christian leadership in India should perhaps hire better electrical engineers, instead of going screaming to the national media and international forums about increasing persecution of the community in the country. The Delhi police says fires in two Delhi churches were caused by short circuits. The desecration of statues in two churches were petty vandalism, while two others were mere thefts. Nothing communal or targeted about the six cases in the national capital.

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In one of the cases where a Grotto in a Catholic church was vandalised, the police arrested three inebriated Sikh young men whose images had been apparently recorded in the closed circuit TV camera.

Elsewhere in the country, a love-lorn Muslim rickshaw puller was arrested for decapitating a statue of Jesus and tying the statue of Mary with a dog chain in Agra. And, for the rape of a 72-year-old nun in West Bengal, police arrested Muslim men said to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh, who were apprehended as far away as Ludhiana in Punjab and Bangladesh. This must be one of those coincidences.

B S Bassi, Delhi Police Commissioner, has apparently sent a long confidential report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, which somewhere got leaked as “exclusives” to every news channel. It is a coincidence that the Bassi Report comes within hours of the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom publishing its annual report for 2014, in which it puts India in the list of Tier Two countries under watch for religious freedom transgressions. Neighbour is Pakistan, if it is any consolidation, a Tier 1 country together with some theocracies and dictatorships.

The police commissioner had said much the same two months ago when he was summoned by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And indeed, the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had done so even earlier, talking to a group that had been beaten up and detained by the police on the eve of the state elections in Delhi. And two months before that Modi had told a delegation led by an Archbishop, which had come to greet him on the eve of Christmas that Christians were exaggerating this “making mountains out of molehill”, as he colourfully put it, and their actions would impact the government’s development agenda.

To substantiate there was nothing religious about such crimes, Bassi had earlier produced statistics to show that 206 temples, 30 gurdwaras, 14 mosques and three churches were burgled in 2014. This would be some contribution to interfaith dialogue on security issues. Far be it from me to call it an attempted white-wash.

There is no clarification by the commissioner, or by the government, on communal and targeted violence against Muslims, though it also figures in the US report. But that could possibly be because of a presumption in government and political circles that the US, with all too many resident Islamophobes, is bothered just about the Christian community which, to quote Chief Justice Dattu, gets so much money from the West.

But persecution is not about the desecration of a church, or the smashing of a Marian statue. It takes many forms. Churches are not burnt in China, but there is fear in the community. Though not as it may be in some Islamic countries where violent death is always a breath away. Bhutan, with its quotient of happiness, is also as intolerant as the Maldives when it comes to “alien” faiths though no one has been killed. India records from 150 to 250 cases of some form of violence against Christians every year.
It has always been, everywhere, about defining the other. But in popular, even academic and parliamentary discourse, Indians are talking of “Indic religions” and “Semitic” religions, holding Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism with about 5,00,000 of his followers has nothing out of the ordinary, but every tribal’s voluntary change of faith a crime that can put him in jail, together with anyone else caught with a Bible.

A dozen or so Christians, including one pastor, and a baby of less than a year, spent Christmas 2014 in a Madhya Pradesh police lockup on the demand of the local political leaders. Madhya Pradesh has a so called “Freedom of Religion” Act. But this routinely also happens in states, which do not have such a statute. In Chhatisgarh, several villages have passed resolutions banning the entry of religious persons from any community other than Hindus.

Modi’s government says there was violence against Christians even during the government of the United Progressive Alliance, chaired by a person of Italian catholic descent, with a Sikh as Prime Minister.
How does that minimise the undercurrents if communalism and hatred that are, unfortunately such a deep part of the landscape, and escalating with each passing year? Governments have come and gone, and even the Congress has a strong section that says the party should not be seen as “appeasing” or being sympathetic to Christians and Muslims.

But the common factor is the pungent hatred spewed by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the organisations that are collected in its Sangh Parivar. Modi has said everyone should feel safe in the country; but not once has he named the Sangh. Perhaps he cannot. Many of the hate mongers are in his party in the Parliament. At least two are in his council of ministers. It is difficult to believe that they do not have his permission, or at least, his indulgence.


(John Dayal is spokesman, United Christian Forum and past national president, All India Catholic Union. www.johndayal.com )