Pseudo-Secularism

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.

Monday, May 16, 2005

No God but (my) God

The Pioneer
Sandhya Jain

Though it is nearly two decades since the agitation for the Ram Janmabhoomi questioned the meaning of secularism, there has since been little serious discussion of the concept. Growing Hindu unease over heightened pro-missionary activism by Congress-led regimes in various States, however, demands that the community's views be articulated to facilitate mature public discourse on the subject.

Secularism originated in the Christian West as a truce offered by a denominational State to sister denominations, whereby they could coexist in peace for the larger good of the nation.

With time, the State ceased to be denominational (though Britain formally remains so), and the offer of coexistence was extended to other faiths that entered Christian lands as immigrants. The rise of immigrant groups in Western countries gave rise to the doctrine of multi-culturalism, whereby non-Christian, non-European peoples were permitted to live a separate existence within the host culture. The rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism, however, is tearing this tolerance apart and voices are being raised in favour of the coercive assimilation that was once the hallmark of the American way.

Hindus, therefore, are not the only people in the world to question the attitude of forbearance towards the abuse of native kindness. Hindus are aware that while Islam openly professes the unity of mosque and State, Christianity detests the separation of church and State and has, from the time the cleavage was forced upon it, continued to use the state to secure its ends. The Western reality, therefore, is that the State is Christian at some level and the church in turn serves as a political arm of the State. Hence the active interest in evangelical activities by Western regimes.

India's secular State extends undue patronage to the Church; as a result Hindu patience is beginning to wear thin. The situation has deteriorated with the rise of the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress in some states. So we have a situation in which BJP-ruled Rajasthan has to change the name of a colony named after the Goddess Sati, but Maharashtra sanctions a Christian township!

Press reports suggest that former Australia cricket captain, Steve Waugh, wishes to set up a 100-400 acre "Christian township" in Mumbai. A rabid evangelist, Waugh recently donated millions for the conversion of tsunami victims. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has already appointed State Industry Secretary as nodal agency for the proposal, no doubt scoring points with his party chief.

In Karnataka, Congress Chief Minister Dharam Singh shamelessly facilitated Benny Hinn's evangelical blitzkrieg, which mercifully fell flat, causing embarrassment even to the official church. Dharam Singh's predecessor, SM Krishna, patronized HT Sangliana, Director General of Police (Prisons), who openly supports missionaries. A 1969-batch IAS officer from Meghalaya, Sangliana became famous in November 2001 when he ordered the arrest of Hindu activists protesting against mass conversions in Doddabalapur (Bangalore Rural).

Sangliana and some senior police officers openly lecture on the Bible at Bible College of India, Bangalore, at weekends. While this is by no means a contraband activity, one does wonder if the State administration's tolerance of this display of religious freedom would extend to a Hindu officer indulging in weekly Ram kathas. Even if not openly victimised, such an officer would be sidelined and derided as a bit of a 'crank.' Sangliana however, suffers no such disability; he openly sided with missionaries when the Ma Bhagavati temple in Devanahalli (Bangalore Rural) and Sri Durgamba Temple in Banaswadi (Bangalore) were demolished and churches erected in their place in 2002. In both cases, the Chief Minister and important Congress leaders supported the evangelicals. It is hardly surprising to learn, therefore, that as many as 84 Churches have sprung up in this area in just the last two years.

But the Chief Minister who takes the cake is Y Samuel Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) of Andhra Pradesh. A practicing Seventh Day Adventist, Reddy reportedly had 350 farmhands converted by the Adventists on his own farm, and is now building a church for them. Reddy is openly pro-missionary. Recently, when it was found that a church is being constructed on lands belonging to the famous Bhadrachalam Rama Temple, given to a Christian organisation for setting up a school, the chief minister prevented restoration of the land to the temple. So now the church is coming up and conversion activity is in full swing at an exceedingly sacred Hindu site.

Mandir lands are also being freely distributed in Naxal-infested areas; a sub-inspector who opposed this was done to death, allegedly by Maoist Naxalites. YSR has handed over the distribution of mid-day meals to government school students to Christian bodies and NGOs, who make the children recite "yesu nama" before giving them the food. This is not only tantamount to forced conversion but also involves the psychological abuse of minors.

The worst offence, however, is the gifting of the contract for procurement of materials for prasadam at Tirupati Balaji to a Kochi Syrian Christian, GB Mathew and his firm, the JRG Wealth Management Limited, three weeks ago. Hindu activists suspect that Christians are being smuggled into crucial areas of decision-making at Tirupathi. For instance, some time ago YSR laid the foundation stones for the construction of Vasantha Mandapam in Tirumala, and construction of a new building for Sri Venkateshwara Oriental College in Tirupati. It is feared that the contracts for these Rs 109-crore projects may be awarded exclusively to Christian firms, thereby making mandir funds available for proselytisation activities.

One week ago, YSR engineered a deal between the Sri Venkateshwara Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital (SVIMS, which is owned and run by the TTD) and Dr Cherian's Frontier Lifeline and Dr KM Cherian Heart Foundation for a telemedicine facility. Dr Cherian is the founder of Madras Medical Mission, a true missionary hospital based in Chennai, and YSR inaugurated the telemedicine facility through video-conference.

Personally, I have little doubt that Dr Cherian is a thorough professional. But given the scale and audacity of missionary activity in the southern states, Hindus feel alarmed that a premier institution owned by one of the most sacred Mandirs of the Hindus (the funds for which come from ordinary Hindu bhaktas) should be made to tie-up with a missionary organization by the State Government. It is well known in Andhra Pradesh that there are more than a dozen Hindu institutions that can match and even surpass the facilities offered by Dr Cherian and his team. In the unlikely event that YSR is not aware of them, they include hospitals of the stature of Apollo Hospitals; Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Hospitals; Sri Sai Baba's hospital at Puttaparthi; Mata Amritanandamayi's Hospital at Kochi; Narayana Hridayalaya of Bangalore; Escorts Hospital, and many other super-speciality hospitals in Hyderabad.

YSR has been equally generous to the State's other monotheistic community. It is well-known that the Andhra Government owes nearly Rs 100 crores to Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam as compensation for Mandir lands acquired for the construction of bus stands and bus depots. Though it has failed to remit even one rupee of this amount, the Government recently demanded property tax dues from TTD and on receipt of rupees six crores, instantly diverted the sum to create an Idgah Maidan on railway lands next to the Sri Venkateshwara University lands owned by TTD. This, then, is secularism in one country.

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