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RSS – A Danger To Hinduism

9 Feb

by Rajindar Sachar, Retired Chief Justice of the New Delhi High Court

To say the RSS is a danger to Hinduism may sound paradoxical, but I am not saying it in levity but in all seriousness.

All progressive sections of the Hindu community blame the RSS for being anti-minorities. But have they paused even for a while to visualise the danger to Hinduism itself from the RSS? It is the same streak of Talibanisation, especially of the Afghanistan type, which is bringing a bad name to the spirituality of both Hinduism and Islam.

I have been pushed to this conclusion by the statement of Mr. Hari Gautam, Chairman of the University Grants Commission, that the UGC has finally approved the proposal for introducing astrology as a course at under-graduate and post-graduate levels in universities from the coming academic session.

Justifying this step, the UGC Chairman said all people were interested in knowing what the future held for them so they wanted to produce certified professional qualifications to secure the confidence and faith of the people.

That the UGC Chairman has not got consent from the council is a cause for concern. I have serious doubts about the legality of such a decision, considering that the universities are all publicly funded and the mandate of Article 51A of the Constitution dealing with fundamental duties directs that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and to preserve the rich heritage of our culture”.

I need not dwell on the unscientific nature of astrological predictions. I might share with Mr. Hari Gautam an immediate image which floated across my memory. It is about a movie “Admi“, produced by V. Shantaram in the late Thirties. It was the story of a son born in a poor Hindu family. His parents had his future predicted by a family astrologer. The prediction was that the son would grow up to be so powerful that at wave of his hands people at the highest level would stop and seek his permission to move on. The predictions naturally made the parents happy. Unfortunately the son, being a straight and honest person, could not join politics, but had to be content with becoming a police constable, and naturally all traffic movement of cars of even the richest awaited the movement of his arms to move. I suppose many would insist that the astrological prediction had come true – the hand indication did control the movement of the richest. If such is the interpretation, could anything be more silly?

I concede that most of us do at some time indulge in this game of astrology, either out of curiosity or at a time of tragedy or at a family function or even out of bravado. To study astrology as a sideline in a private capacity is a different matter. It is well-known that many men and women consult professional clairvoyants, astrologers and tarot-card readers. The Cheiros Book on Palmistry is a common reading amongst the youth as an excuse to hand holding.

As for knowing the future, the UGC Chairman need not worry because he may wish to go by the predictions of Nostradamus, the renowned French astrologer who says that a King of Terror or anti-Christ was to descend on Earth in July, 1999, and whom he identifies as not belonging to Christianity, Islam or Judaism and who will be as ruthless as Genghis Khan, Of course, commentators are divided on the identity of this `King of Terror’. That leaves the field open to be filled up by hordes of RSS men who have destroyed a house of God – the Babri Masjid. But then, unfortunately, even their victory can be of no consolation, because again according to one commentator our planet will be invaded by beings from outer space who will destroy much of humanity. The saviour, after some time, will be Russia and America who may after some time be also dwarfed by the size of China. India is not mentioned and that might have persuaded the UGC to embark on this venture so as to obtain astrological predictions favouring the dominance of RSS ideology.

But, then, all these events were to start happening from 1997- 98, but fortunately for mankind nothing of the sort has happened. Mr. Gautam need not, however, feel dejected, but rather realise the watery base of all these predictions, including that of Vedic astrology.

I am surprised that Mr. Gautam has not given any justification for his step by taking the stand that as astrologers will be able to predict the results of elections, the political party which is to form a government and who is to be the Prime Minister, we could do away with elections to legislatures and instead adopt a pattern of paternalist Guru Sabha, as the RSS has openly advocated before the Constitutional Commission.

We could then even ban political parties because as the results are pre-ordained as predicted by astrologers, why permit such a huge waste of public money. Better still, why have a Cabinet of Ministers – rather, a body of UGC-trained professional astrologers could take decisions on whether it is beneficial to join the W.T.O. or talk to Pakistan, etc. Really, the sublime is becoming ludicrous.

I think the whole idea is not only ridiculous, but dangerous. In a country like India, where almost half the population is female, and 40 per cent of the rural population is illiterate and where all governments, including the present, have not honoured the direction given by the Supreme Court as far back as in 1993 holding that education is a fundamental right, we would be well- advised to divert funds to this need than to this doubtful venture by the UGC.

Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life. According to Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the recognition of spirit in man is the essential feature of Hindu religion and in this respect all men are equal. But Hinduism has suffered over the centuries by illogical rituals, and worst of all by the disgrace of casteism. Reformers like Ram Mohan Roy and Dayanand (against idol worship) have worked towards restoring to the religion its pristine quality. Fundamentalist Hindus represented by bodies like the RSS, however, go on making attempts to put the clock back by burying it in ritualism. The attempt to introduce astrology in universities is the latest.

This is in line with the equally atrocious suggestions by the RSS Chief, Mr. K. Sudarshan, that Christians and Muslims prove their Indianness by refusing to respect the Vatican and Mecca, as these holy places are outside India.

A deliberately provocative statement, considering that the Vatican is the highest spiritual seat for millions of Christians. And Mecca is the holy place where Prophet Mohammad was born and considered sacred the way the RSS regards Ayodhya, because it is the birth place of Lord Rama. In fact, all these places are worthy of reverence by all communities.

But if being reverential to a holy place outside India is against Indianisation, will Mr. Sudarshan advise Hindus not to revere Kailash Mansarover (the abode of Lord Shiva) which is situated in Tibet, outside India. By the same logic, I take it that he would be advising Sikhs and Hindus not to go on a pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib (birth place of Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Ji) which is now in foreign territory – i.e. Pakistan.

I feel that this attempt by the UGC needs to be resisted at all costs if our education is to fulfill the modern need of development in the country. A throwback to centuries-old superstitions, which we still have unfortunately not been able to shake off, is a poor service that the UGC Chairman is doing to the young generation.

(The writer is a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court).

With the Parivar unrepentant, will peace or the Orissa refugees ever return…

9 Feb
With the parivar unrepentant, will peace or the refugees ever return to Kandhamal?

by Smita Gupta, Outlook India

“Conversion is a complex and emotionally charged issue. Fundamentalists exploit it, liberals complicate it, many do not comprehend what the fuss is about, and others shy away from getting involved.”
—Jesuit sociologist Rudolf C. Heredia in Changing Gods: Rethinking Conversion in India

Sandipan Chatterjee
Persecuted Christians take refuge at the Raikia relief camp

Kandhamal, with its forested hills, sparkling rivulets and riot of wild flowers, is heart-achingly beautiful. The road that winds its way from Kalingaghat to the district headquarters at Phulbani must rate as one of the most scenic routes I have taken.

But who controls all this untamed beauty?

Not the state, certainly not Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s BJD-BJP government. “Like many other tribal areas in the country, it has been left largely unadministered, with even mainstream political parties conceding space to a set of non-political actors,” says a civil servant based in Bhubaneshwar.

In this largely tribal district, it is a volatile mix of Christian missionaries, Sangh parivar activists (who include not just VHP, Bajrang Dal and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram members, but also the increasing number of petty traders and businessmen who have come from outside the district) and Maoists which is battling for the hearts and minds of the people.

The Christian missionaries arrived first, in the 1920s, providing the district with some of the facilities the state did not: health and education.

Then came the Sangh parivar, more than 30 years ago, to win back from the ‘clutches’ of Christianity all those on the margins of the great Hindu parivar. And last came the Maoists looking for recruits among the still largely deprived and neglected people of a  district, whose pristine beauty has not yet been marred by industry, no, not even by a railway line.

The State makes a token appearance in Kandhamal: for instance, policing this district of 7.4 lakh are 500 policemen stationed at 13-odd police stations. After the Maoists raided a police training school in neighbouring Nayagarh district in February this year, the guns were locked up in the armouries. Now policemen rely only on the baton. This, despite the gradual build-up of Sangh muscle power in the district, demonstrated in the violence during the Christmas week of December 2007.

It was against this backdrop that Sangh fury erupted in all its virulence following the murder of Laxmanananda Saraswati, the controversial swami whom the VHP regarded as one of its marg darshaks, on August 23. VHP and Bajrang Dal activists spurred on the tribals (among whom the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has been working) to cut a bloody swathe across the district. As the swami’s funeral procession, led by VHP leader Praveen Togadia, covered the 150 km between Jalaspeta, where he died, and Chakapada, where he was interred, homes of Christians were torched and churches vandalised. Over 22,000 of the 1.17 lakh Christians in the district fled to relief camps. “Had we tried to stop it, it would’ve been even more violent,” says a district official when asked why the procession was permitted. “There would have been more deaths.”

The unabated violence that continued for close to 50 days has not only cemented the faultlines between Kandhamal’s two major communities—the Kandhas and the Panos—but also turned the spotlight on the deeply contested question of conversions and reconversions. The largely Hindu Kandhas are tribals, accounting for 52 per cent of the population, while the largely Christian Panos are scheduled castes, making up 17 per cent.

Sangh spokesmen have accused the church of sponsoring the swami’s killing. Christian missionaries, they say, saw his aggressive campaign to reconvert Christians and ban cow slaughter (both Kandhas and Panos were traditional beef-eaters) as an obstacle. Emboldened by the BJP’s presence in the state government, the saffron brotherhood has gone on the offensive in response.

The impact of this is visible even at the government-sponsored relief camps, never mind the almost abandoned villages. In the Raikia camp—certainly the worst-run of the camps I visited—agitated inmates allege that the block development officer is an RSS man. “The pastors aren’t allowed into the camps,” says Sajib Naik, an inmate, “but on the pretext of setting up a peace committee, the BDO allowed RSS, Bajrang Dal and Vanika Sangha (an RSS-sponsored businessmen’s association) members to come into the camp.

We surrounded them as these are the people who burnt our homes. The CRPF eventually had to throw them out.”

Of course, it suits the Sangh—with the government’s backing—to suggest that the current rift between the two communities has nothing to do with its activities. Instead, it demonises all Panos as forcible occupiers of tribal land and users of false caste certificates for jobs (SCs who convert to Christianity are not entitled to reservation unlike their ST counterparts). While there is certainly some merit in these accusations, the fact is that instead of working to heal the rupture, the Sangh has actively worked to widen the rift.

Fear keeps people at camps awake at night

At the relief camp in G. Udaygiri, Runima Digal clutches the folds of her purple nylon sari convulsively. On August 25, two days after the swami’s murder, she, her husband Ishwar Digal and four children had fled from their village Gutingiamallipora. They came to the camp carrying nothing except the clothes on their backs.

Less than a month later, on September 20, Ishwar received a message from his village that his father was seriously ill. Anxious, he rushed home, accompanied by his wife and one child. There, Runima recalls, four local RSS activists told him that if he had plans to return to the village permanently, he had better “reconvert” to Hinduism or face death. Scared to spend the night in the village, the Digals decided it would be safer to return to the camp under cover of darkness. As they took a shortcut through the jungle, some men emerged from the shadows—one of whom Runima recognised—and hacked her husband to death before her eyes. Grabbing her child, she ran to get help, but by the time she returned with the CRPF, it was too late. There were only bloodstains to mark the spot where her husband had been killed. His body had been removed.

Runima’s story, with some variations, is repeated at all the relief camps I visit—in Tikabali, G. Udaygiri and Raikia. The Christian refugees—a majority of whom are Panos while a few are Kandhas—are all scared to return to their villages. (Even the sarpanch of the Kurtamagada gram panchayat in Tumribandha, Shrish Malik, could not escape the wrath of the saffron hordes even though he is a Kandha and is in the BJD. His sin? He’s a Christian.) They have all been told they can return “in peace”—but only if they return to the Hindu fold. If God couldn’t save someone named Ishwar, what can others hope for? Especially as the parivar can’t understand what the fuss is about. “There are 8.5 lakh Christians in Orissa: only 20,000-odd are in camps,” says Dr Lakshmidhar Das of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. “Why are we being given a bad name for such a small number?”

Most have already lost everything, their homes—at least 4,455 homes have been razed to the ground—reduced to charred shells, their churches ransacked, their hard-earned worldly goods looted or destroyed, their grains burnt and their goats scattered.

The manner in which the houses have been targeted show prior knowledge: as in Gujarat, only the homes of the minorities have been torched.

For instance, in Beheragam, eight or nine km from the Chakapada Ashram where the swami was interred, the home of Padmacharan Digal, a retired JCO, along with 40-odd others, were singled out on September 24. “Nearly 1,500 people came, shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Bajrang’,” recalls Padmacharan. “Our neighbours pointed out our homes. With my army savings and pension, I had bought a fridge and TV. It’s all gone now.” An acrid smell greets us as we visit the charred remains of what was the ex-JCO’s home. Only a heap of half-eaten corn cobs strewn across the floor have survived. Padmacharan and his family now all live in the Tikabali camp. Every morning he and others make the pilgrimage back to the village, walking past a ransacked church, a large broken red cross placed artistically on the rubble, looking for some signs of hope.

Branded! Some put ‘Oms’ outside houses

At the Chakapada Ashram, Saroj Kumar Das, who performed the last rites for the swami, and doubles as a Sanskrit teacher at the BD High School, looks like an unlikely spewer of venom. Dressed neatly in trousers and shirt, he sits cross-legged in the ashram’s pillared prayer hall dominated by a portrait of the swami. “Only Hindus love Bharat mata; Christians and Muslims together create riots,” he tells me matter-of-factly. “They are traitors. They killed Swamiji, not the Maoists—that’s just a cover by the government. Do you know in Daringbadi (a block in the district), they raise the Italian flag on Independence Day? If any Hindu says anything to them, they tell them we will tell Madam (Sonia Gandhi).” What about the rape of the nun? “Can a nun be raped?” he asks, his tone now aggressive. “She is supposed to have said that she was raped in front of 10 policemen. That’s not part of Hindu sanskriti. It can only happen in ekant here, not like in the West.”

As this man of god expands on this theme, one wonders how CM Patnaik hopes to return the district to peace. This is no longer just a law-and-order problem. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention to voices such as that of Jesuit sociologist Rudolf Heredia, who calls for “religious disarmament” and suggests that it is time to acknowledge that while religious commitment is essentially a matter of personal conscience and choice, it also impacts other levels of individual and social life.

I, The Convert

9 Feb
by Anand Mahadevan (Business Editor, Outlook India)

My conversion was not a change of religion; it was a change of heart

I was born a Brahmin and am the grandson of a priest whom I dearly loved. I am educated and my current professional standing indicates that I am reasonably intelligent. I am also affluent and my income would put me distinctly in the upper middle class bracket. I guess that would make me high-caste, rich and smart. In other words, I am not a tribal, or poor or dim-witted. And yet, I chose to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

The world would call me a convert to Christianity. I have no problems with that, though I see my faith more as a relationship with God through Jesus Christ than as a religion. And for the record, I can truthfully claim that no one financially induced or threatened or deceived me into converting to Christianity.

I am fiercely proud of my national identity as an Indian and I am completely at peace with my cultural identity as a Hindu. I retain the name my parents gave me. My wife, who also shares my faith, continues to go by her Hindu name. We have two children and we have given both distinctly Hindu names. In fact, many of my colleagues and acquaintances who may happen to read this column are likely to be surprised. They have no inkling about my faith, for I generally don’t go about announcing it. But if someone does ask me the reason behind the joy and hope that is everpresent in my life, I am always delighted to share it with them.

I write this piece to make one point—that my conversion was not a change of religion but a change of heart. To explain this, I need to go back to my childhood in Chennai, similar to that of so many other Tamil Brahmin boys like me. My grandfather, every bit the virtuous priest, had enormous influence over me. I absolutely adored him and as a toddler, always clung to him. He too loved me to a fault. There was no wish of mine that he would not rush to fulfil. But even in my early, formative years I was unable to relate to the religion he fervently practiced. Later, in my school days, I once spent my summer holidays with him in Trichy. Memories of dawn walks with him, for the ritualistic dip in the Cauvery river, cow in tow, are still fresh in my memory. I learnt many shlokas, some of which I still remember. But I never understood any of it and none of it helped me connect with God.

When I was 19, a Christian friend with whom I used to play cricket invited me to his house for prayer. If he had invited me to a pub, or party, I would have gone too. At his home, he and his sister prayed for me. It was a simple yet delightful conversation with God that lasted all of five minutes. I don’t remember it verbatim, but they articulated a prayer of blessing on my life, future, career and family. It was a simple affair—no miracles, no angels visiting. All they did was utter a deep human cry out to the creator God and His only son Jesus Christ. When they said Amen, I felt in my heart a desire to follow Jesus.

It was a faith encounter with God that I shall not even attempt to understand, rationalise or explain. I simply accept it. It is my faith. It is what I choose to believe. That evening I did not change my religion, for in reality I had none. Hinduism was my identity, not my religion. It still is.

The Christianity I acquired that evening is not a religion. On the contrary, it is an intensely intimate relationship with Jesus. Over the past fifteen years, I have come to know this Jesus even closer. I know Him as the pure and sinless Son of a Holy God. And I know Him as a dear friend to whom I pray and talk to every day—about my career, my dreams, successes, failures, finances and even my sexuality.

If I read a good book, watch a good movie (Rock On is terrific, mate), or eat a good meal at a new restaurant, I would naturally tell my friends about it.In Jesus, I have discovered a truly amazing friend, guide, leader, saviour and God. How can I not tell all my friends about Him? And if anyone does listen and he too comes to believe in Jesus, I am delighted. The world would call it a conversion; I call it a change of heart, like mine.

But I would never force anyone to listen to me, leave alone financially induce, coerce or con him into believing. That to me is pointless and against the very grain of my faith. But I do have a constitutional right to practice my faith and to preach it without deception, force or bribery. It pains to see such basic rights of mankind being cruelly violated every day in this great Hindu nation.

God bless India.

Orissa: What’s the point of Commissions of Inquiries headed by pliant persons

9 Feb
by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath S.V.D.

Press Release from the Archbishop of Cuttack

1. With respect to the communal violence that began in Kandhamal district of the state of Orissa in December, 2007 the state government has appointed the Justice Basudev Panigrahi Commission of Inquiry. Similarly, with respect to the communal violence that flared up in August 2008 in different parts of Orissa, which continues unabated, the state government has appointed the Justice S.C. Mohapatra Commission of Inquiry.

2. I am profoundly distressed by the fact that the Chief Minister did not consult the victim community before deciding on the persons to head these Commissions. The very least that is expected from the state government is that it take the victim community into confidence so that the Commissions of Inquiries are headed by persons who are, in the perception of the victim community, both independent and strong willed enough to hold the officers of the state responsible. The present appointments have been made in haste disregarding the point of view of the victim communities.

3. Our experiences before the Justice Basudev Panigrahi Commission have been demoralizing to say the least. Advocates for the victim communities appeared before Justice Panigrahi and filed statements on behalf of approximately 275 victims and others. They began full-hearted participation in the inquiry despite their reservations as to the independence of the Commission. Their confidence was shaken when the second round of attacks began and they informed Justice Panigrahi that not only the Christian community but also some of the advocates representing the victims had come under the threat of assault and they therefore requested Justice Panigrahi to adjourn the hearing for two months. Justice Panigrahi refused. It became impossible for the victim community and their advocates to participate freely in the Commission. Victims were without food, houses were being burnt, people were being killed; all this was pointed out to Justice Panigrahi and a most reasonable request was made to keep the Commission in abeyance until matters settled down.

4. Not only was the request refused but the Commission is proceeding in undue haste. Some members of the victim community undoubtedly manage to attend but the leading team of lawyers and the main victims cannot attend. It is also very difficult to travel within Kandhamal to meet the victims and prepare them for the proceedings. They have been traumatized and are scared and need to be given confidence to speak out. This is especially so because the assailants are still roaming free in the villages and may, in all likelihood, attack the witnesses for deposing before the Commission. It was expected of the Commission that it would have some sensitivity in respect of witness protection to maintain the sanctity of the Commission proceedings; but this is not so. A formal order has been made but no protection on the ground is available.

5. This leads me to the conclusion that the Justice Panigrahi Commission is more interested in covering up the misdeeds of the state government and its police force whose actions have been truly shameful, rather than to identify the organisations and prominent individuals behind the fascistic attacks. The Commission wishes to produce its report in undue haste with a view to giving the Chief Minister and his officers a clean chit. In the circumstances I have no hesitation in stating that I have no faith whatsoever in the Justice Panigrahi Commission.

6. This view also holds good for the Justice S.C. Mohapatra Commission. I have nothing against Justice Panigrahi or Justice Mohapatra personally. But I do protest the appointment being made unilaterally without consultation with the victim community. He to has issued notice to the victim community in the middle of all this violence to file affidavits by the 15th of November, 2008. Such a formal approach displays an insensitivity to the suffering of the victims. Victims who do not know where their next meal is coming from or those who are hiding in the forests are hardly likely to be able to identify an advocate and meet the prescribed deadline. What these Commissions need is a person of dynamism like Justice Krishna Iyer with a compassionate heart and a deep social understanding of the nature of communal riots. Perhaps the state government ought to have approached Mr. Justice B.N. Srikrishna who headed the Commission of Inquiry in respect of the Bombay massacres. Such judges would indeed have inspired confidence. Sadly this is not the case. I do not have confidence that the Justice Mohapatra Commission will indeed do justice to the victims in Orissa.

7. I am constrained to release this statement because there is, particularly of late, a distressing tendency to avoid naming and catching the culprits immediately and to waste time by appointing Commissions with pliant persons heading them in order to protract the conflict and to get political benefits by stigmatizing minority communities. This strategy will not work. The people of Orissa as indeed the people of the world know who the assailants are. This is no secret. What it needs is not an Inquiry for the truth is well known. It needs the political will to do what is right in accordance with the Constitution of India and the laws of this land.

8. In this, I do believe that I have the support of all religious communities in India. I do believe I have the support of those professing the Hindu religion in India as well. Hinduism is a religion of peace, nonviolence and tolerance. I am a profound admirer of the philosophical and religious tenets of Hinduism. I can therefore say with absolute certainty that those who attacked Christians in the name of religion are profoundly anti-hindu and also anti-national. They seek to divide and thus weaken our wonderful nation of kind hearted and generous people.

9. This is why I am so utterly distressed that our national leadership does not appear to be capable of acting bravely and decisively with compassion and clarity to challenge these fascist forces that have divided the nation and committed so many horrendous crimes again and again. What is at stake in the communal attacks in Orissa is not just the future of the Christian community and its security and safety, but the future of our democratic nation itself.

10. May God help us all.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath S.V.D.
Archbishop of Cuttack – Bhubaneswar