Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

In The Line Of God's Periscope :

If the Christian right and liberal advocacy groups have their way, not just Modi but other parivar members too might have to say goodbye to America


It shouldn't come as a surprise if more US visas are denied to more BJP leaders in the future. The unofficial "BJP watch" in America is in overdrive, emboldened and elated by the surprisingly successful campaign against Narendra Modi, targeted for his crimes of commission and omission in Gujarat. The denial of a visa to Modi was only the first step in a campaign being contemplated to put the spotlight on other Sangh parivar eminences and systematically defrock them. Working with legal precedent in US law, Indian Christian and Muslim groups as well as Left-leaning, secular academics are determined to increase the heat on the parivar elite, isolating and impugning them and ultimately discrediting the BJP and its cousins.

The campaign is in the planning stages but the fervour to 'punish' those seen as responsible for a series of crimes, from the Babri Masjid demolition to the murder of Graham Staines and sons to the Gujarat pogrom, is evident. The church and other groups are determined to have a loud voice in changing US policy towards the BJP by using the influence of both the right-wing and liberal advocacy
groups, influential Congressmen and their hot button issues, the bedrock of Christian conservatism in America and the heightened role of religion in a White House ruled by a president who owes his re-election to the evangelists. In the coming weeks, church groups and the Coalition Against Genocide comprising NGOs and academics will decide on a strategy to tell the "real" story of the saffronites. Ideas include getting top Hindutva leaders declared persona non grata, a goal many consider overstated but which could make for tough politics were the BJP to return to power.

The antennae of mainstream Christian groups such as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops with a following of 63 million, the Southern Baptist Convention with 16 million members and the National Council of Churches, an organisation of 36 churches, are up and listening. Statements from Indian politicians are closely analysed. Vastly funded and supported by a plethora of Christian websites and news organisations like the Christian Broadcasting Network and Christian Today, they know every time a missionary is attacked. American evangelists, who have given Christian activism a bad name, track cases of persecution.

Congressman Joseph Pitts, a conservative Republican who mounted pressure on the State Department in the Modi case, told Outlook bluntly, "A number of the BJP's policies are terrible and anti-democratic." He has visited Gujarat, witnessed the aftermath, heard horrifying testimonies from survivors and walked through Ehsaan Jaffri's burnt-down house. He said the US government was looking very seriously at human rights violations in India. "We'll continue to monitor the situation. I'd like to make it clear that the US Congress and the US Department of State did not bring the atrocities linked with Narendra Modi to light out of the blue. All this attention is due to the fact that we are listening to the people of India who are deeply disturbed by and directly affected by the actions of Modi and his cohorts."

To explain the American ire, which has taken some time to rise, analysts point to the country's deeply religious roots. Says Bruce Robertson, professor, international relations, Johns Hopkins University, "In America, we are particularly sensitive to how Christians are treated. We are a very conservative country but with all its faults, religious freedom is the touchstone of all our freedoms. The organised church and the broader community are keeping an eye on the situation. Attention levels were raised after the burning of the Australian priest and his sons," he said.

"Had it happened in the US, federal marshals would be all over and indictments would follow.

In India, rapes of nuns and the so-called reconversions of Christians should be cracked down upon, not winked at," said Robertson, who was raised in India where his father was a missionary. He says he speaks as someone who's seen both sides. He condemns some of the tactics evangelists use but says "under no circumstance do they justify rape and murder". Gujarat only confirmed the Christian right's worst fears. The BJP and its wider philosophy were seen as a reversal from India's pluralistic ideals. "The organised church sees the BJP as a renegade community within the Hindu tradition. Many Americans see it as the Ku Klux Klan—overtly racist and overtly supremacist," Robertson said.

The failure of the BJP leadership to punish Modi fuelled a wider campaign in the US to isolate those seen as perpetrators of crimes against minorities. John Prabhudoss, leader of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations of North America (FIOCONA), says while the first Bush administration was "wrongly advised" on the BJP, the climate has now changed. A Madurai-born Christian who worked on Capitol Hill to highlight Modi's record, Prabhudoss says, "We have put the issue in the forefront. Unless the BJP changes its philosophy, it will be in trouble. We'll force the US administration to recognise that this philosophy is detrimental to developing Indo-US relations."

The Congressional Working Group on Religious Freedom, a coalition of 70 ngos and religious leaders from different faiths launched under the leadership of prominent ultra-conservative Senator Rick Santorum and the House majority whip Congressman Roy Blunt, is a key watchdog group. Meeting bi-weekly with a "core group" of Capitol Hill staffers, it was important in influencing the Modi decision. Senator Santorum's office told Outlook that he was a strong supporter of religious freedom, both in this and other countries. "Every individual should have the right to believe whatever he or she chooses (including the freedom to convert) without the fear of persecution from the government."

Benjamin Marsh, a resident fellow at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and Washington director of the Dalit Freedom Network, tracks anti-conversion bills in India and keeps the US Congress informed. "The issue is not a political party but the ideals of Hindutva which profess that India is a Hindu country, not a vast, pluralistic land where other religions can co-exist," Marsh says. The anti-conversion laws are overly broad and cover activities protected by international law such as the ability to share one's religion and provide relief, he adds. Conversions are a "freedom of religion" issue. "In our mind, it's expression. Conversion is a respected activity. If you can't choose your religion, what freedom do you have?" he asks.

Marsh says Hindu leaders should fight conversions "not on political but cultural grounds" via religious campaigns and by inviting others into the conversation. "The Christians combated eastern religions not through laws but by re-evangelisation of society," he said, referring to the '60s when Hindu godmen were making inroads into American society. The BJP may find the advice gratuitous but if the campaign against it gathers strength, Modi wouldn't be the end of the chapter.

Labels: ,

Links to this post:

Create a Link


Post a Comment

<< Home

Home | Syndicate this site (XML) | Guestbook | Blogger
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors.
Everything else © 2005 Pseudo-Secularism