Kandhamal Voilence: the Real Challenges

September 24, 2010 (Calcutta Tube): The vice chairman of National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Dr HT Sangliana giving a clean chit to Orissa government on Kandhamal violence by praising the steps taken by the state government for bringing normalcy in Phulbani district has given a blow to the Christian organisations allegations against the state government. These organisations had alleged that several thousands of the victims are yet to be rehabilitated in the effected areas of Kandhamal.

After making a visit to the violence hit areas, Sangliana said that the victims have returned home and those who have not returned to Kandhamal are actually working in the neighbouring states. This statement of NCM vice chairman discounts all the allegations of the Church against the Naveen Patnaik government of not taking care of Kandhamal victims.

NCM vice-chairman’s visit to Kandhamal came in the wake of more than 50 NGOs related to Church organized a public hearing titled “National Tribunal on Kandhmal” from 22 to 24 th August 2010 at New Delhi.The sponsors of this event included Catholic Archbishop of Cuttack Bhuvneshwar Rev. Cheenath, John Dayal of All Indian Christian Council & All India Cathoic union and Sahmat, a Comminist Party of India front organization headed by Mala Hashmi.  In this public hearing, film producer Mahesh Bhatt, member of National Advisory Council Harsh Mandar, Syed Hamid, Ruth Manorama,Milan Kothari,Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and few other leading personalities have participated. Retired Chief Justice of High Court A.P Shah chaired the Tribunal hearing. On the other hand, away from the glare of media some non-christian and tribals were present at Jantar Mantar to express their grief. However, it will be a distant hope that their voices will reach to the masses as that of ‘National Tribunal on Kandhmal’.

Church has always alleged to indulge in conversion of the poor scheduled castes and tribals. Some Hindu fanatics had burnt alive foreign missionary Graham Stains and his two sons in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa for indulging in the conversion. After a decade, there were riots in Kandhmal.

After the killing of Swami Laxmananand on 23 August, 2008, the rift between local Christians and non-christians was getting wider. In these riots more than 40 people had been killed and thousands of homes had been torched and hundreds of places of worships had been burnt. Thousands of people had to take shelter in relief camps and many of these people are still living in those camps due to fear. As always happens politics started after Kandhmal riots and this is still continued. After killing of Swami Laxmananda and flare up of communal riots, attempts should have been made to restore peace and normalcy in the violence hit area. That was never started. On the contrary, attempts have been made to internationalize the issue by the Church organizations.

Western world became serious Kandhmal when Pope Benedict-XIV accused Indian government for its failure to protect the Christians. Before this statement, Pope had called Indian ambassador in Vatican about attempt of implementing the possible anti-conversion laws in some of the states in India. Italian government also expressed displeasure about Kandhmal riots. US based USCIRF demanded to probe the matter independently. However, Indian government had not grant permission till date.

It is ill fate of Indian Christians that missionaries try to take mileage on incidents of attacks on Muslims. They do not participate in talks and continue their activities due to the support of European countries. Even Mahatma Gandhi had criticized conversion and many nationalists had supported him as main aim of conversion was to produce British supported people. Even today, Churches are thriving on foreign donations. They are accountable to US and European organization.

The impact and penetration of Church in these European countries can be gauged from the fact that last year an European Union delegation had visited Kandhmal to know the situation. The union when came to India received unprecedented welcome. On the other hand, central government had constituted a delegation led by Sharad Pawar but it did not receive a welcome.

Even after independence, missionaries have not become self-dependent. Church officials are accountable to catholic pope. Bishop is the main link between pope and Vatican. Bishops are appointed by ther Pope. In fact, Protestants are dependent on European Union for grants. This is why for every problem they look towards Europe. They are skeptical about Indian laws and legal system. This attitude has alienated them from the national mainstream. However, there are many facilities in India which they avail here is not even available in European countries, for example special rights to run school and getting government grants etc.

In the current scenario, the larger question is what should be the approach of Church and Christians? They rely more on the unethical and illegal pressure imposed by European countries on India to get their problems heard. An Indian ambassador who happens to be my friend told me an experience about a conference organized by Indian Christians settled in America and almost all of the speakers presented scary picture about India to convey that the country is not a worth-living place for Christians at all. Then, the ambassador told them there that they should not play such a dirty game thousands of kilometres away from their home. He told that Indian Christians were completely safe in India and nobody suspects them on their patriotism. Governments handing over the sensitive official portfolios to Christian officials. This incident told by my friend kept haunting my mind for a long time.

What hurts that Church leadership did not try to go to the roots of Kandhmal riots. A commission constituted by government had pointed that conversion, fake caste-certificates and land controversies were the chief reasons behind the riots. Commission was of the view that after conversion of dalits and tribals, the rift has widened so much so that situation is difficult to understand sitting from Delhi. Commission suggested that government should work fast to free lands of Adivasis and should address on the problem of fake caste-certificates. There is a need to alert on the conversion. Conversion is not an issue in Kandhmal only rather it is a national issue. Though, report took holistic view of the problem but Church rejected this point of view of commission.

Church needs a target to continue the work and it has got this in RSS which has been very much vocal on the issue of conversion. On many places it has directly confronted conversion. This clash is sharper in Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. Church has used its influence to send the message at international level. The fresh issue is from Karnataka where a former Christian judge Mr. Saldhana has alleged that in 500 days there has been 1000 attacks on Christians and has demanded to sack democratically elected government of Karnataka. However, his report does not match to a Christian organization report which says that there are only 72 incidents of attack. Attacks on anybody are condemnable and should be stopped immediately. However, meesage of love being given by church on Sunday is fast replaced by tirade of hate. Church is trying to alienate their followers from the mainstream.

We should move ahead after learning from the incidents of Kandhmal. However, unfortunately this is not happening. Church is giving so much arguments justifying its actions but people are not convinced. There are pockets in Uttar Pradesh which have become silent volcanoes. As per reports from Tarai region, foreign missionaries with the help of local church officials have stepped up their activities. What surprises there are many regions, where there is no Christian population, lands are being bought. In western UP, ABC church is converting poorer Hindus in large number. But in government records they are still Hindus. In Gurgaon at Dhankot a saminary is running in hundreds acres. This is being run by Protestants and name of seminary is Dayadham. Here poor people from north India are brought and they attend 3-year-course of priesthood. This year I had an opportunity to attend at convocation ceremony. Students were told to work for the propagation of Christianity. They have been instructed to spread “Message of God”. Poor people for their livelihood accept this job of converting people. These groups of boys and girls are called ‘Salvation Army’. They get monthly grant of 100 dollars. They are not aware of the fact that they have become puppets in the hands of foreign missionaries. This has resulted in increased tensions in certain areas. Last year Punjab had boiled on a controversial poster of Jesus Christ.

In Kandhmal, NCM vice chairman has already made a statement that the displaced people are rehabilitated. As per reports from Kandhmal, the rift between Christians and Non-Christians are widening in the areas situated near Gunsar forest. In stead of returning to their vilalges people living in relief camps have started settling there. Orissa government and church are helping them in this process. In a way communal division is getting wider. This is a new kind of polarisation.This can be stopped only through peace process to be carried by both the communities.

Christians should come out of their ostrich like mentality and should gear to face the real life challenges. Christians should connect to the democratic process of the country and seek long term solutions in Indian context. They should be able to distinguish between religion and social responsibilities. Today, church has messed up religion and social service. It is alleged that year the Church carries out social services and relief work only where there exists probability of conversion. It is clear from the floods in Punjab Haryana and Western UP where the church did not carry out any flood relief a operations despite wide spread calamity. The ordinary Christians are also baffled due to political mix up by the Church. Church should ponder that why people are skeptical even after so much of social service in the hinterland?

By RL Francis

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