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, October 13, 2008

Peace, conversion can't co-exist

G UDAYAGIRI/BHUBANESWAR: You know you have reached Kandhmal when you see rows of saffron flags fluttering atop houses meant to fulfill one purpose: separate Hindu families from Christian.

In G Udayagiri, a region that hides insidious violence in serene beauty, the process of identification, of Hindus and their institutions, and appropriation of Christians and their churches, is almost complete. Houses that don't have saffron flags are either burnt or damaged.

''We didn't have these flags earlier but now we do,'' said Manohar Panda, a small-time businessman. ''Circumstances are such. If there's ugly reaction from one group, there's bound to be an uglier response from the other. Then, as an afterthought, he added, ''But the flags are not just a matter of proclaiming our religion; these also secure us against blind attacks.''

Fear is the key and Hindu ''revivalists'' like Ashok Sahu, head of the Hindu Jagran Samukhya, are playing it to the hilt. ''People are bound to react when their leaders like Swami Laxmananda Saraswati are killed and fellow neighbours and friends brazenly converted.''

A former IPS, this 1975-batch officer quit the force as Assam ADGP in 1997 because he was ''unhappy with the system''. But he was chillingly forthright when he said he will continue seeing the killers of Laxmananda as ''Christians'', not Maoists. Incidentally, three men, now arrested and calling themselves Maoists, have claimed responsibility for the murder of the Hindu leader on August 23 this year. ''Conversions have to stop, only then will violence (against Christians) cease,'' he warned darkly.

This came even as PM Manmohan Singh on Tuesday told a Christian delegation in Delhi that he was worried about the situation in Kandhmal and would be coming to the troubled tribal region of Orissa soon. Abraham Mathai, president, Indian Christian Voice, who went to meet the PM along with HT Sangliana, MP, and few others, said the Orissa violence had worried minorities deeply. ''The PM told us that he was aware of the unhappy development and that he would speed up relief and rehabilitation from his own special fund,'' Mathai said.

Sahu, though, feels the wheel is beginning to come full circle. ''You know, East Timor declared independence from Muslim Indonesia after its Christian population went up suddenly, by more than 70%. We don't want the same thing here. The Christian population in Kandhmal between 1991 and 2001 has shot up by 27%. Do we want it to secede from India? Someone will have to do something if our emasculated politicians don't.''

He went on, ''Tribals are being threatened, coerced, and cheated into becoming Christians. Even otherwise, the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (1967) prohibits it.'' Asked if he and those who held similar beliefs were not being presumptuous by calling tribals, basically nature worshippers and animists, Hindus and if, by the same logic, tribals in Honolulu and Timbuktu would also qualify as Hindus, Sahu shot back, ''Of course.'' In the beginning, he said smiling, there was only Hinduism.

Sahu was, however, quick to say that he neither fomented trouble nor incited people in Kandhmal - something which Subhash Chauhan, national co-convenor of the Bajrang Dal, too, emphasized. ''People rise in rebellion when there is unfairness and injustice. No one has to encourage them. The Christian leaders are to blame,'' Chauhan said.

Back in G Udayagiri, in a worn-out house, an old man crouches on the floor and bends over a local newspaper that speaks of horror tales that stalk the land. A saffron flag stuck in a crack between the roof and a pillar casts a large, triangular shadow around him. Preempting a question, he flashes a toothless grin and says, ''It's better that way.'

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