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Intimidating a Minority: Spurt in the Anti Christian Violence
By Ram Puniyani

There has been a continuous rise in the number of incidents of anti Christian violence since last one decade. Currently this violence has become a regular feature in Madhya Pradesh and other BJP ruling states in particular and in other parts of the country in general. The first simmering of these incidents began from 1996, went on to have a sustained presence all through. This violence has mainly been in the remote places. Burning of small churches, Bibles, attack on congregations and assembly of people around the Church have been some of these. The most horrific of these was the burning alive of Pastor Graham Stewart Stains along with his two sons, Timothy and Philip. The main pretext of this violence is that the Christian missionaries are converting the gullible Adivasis, who are called Vanvasis by them, and are projected as the Hindus who had to flee to forests to avoid conversion by the invading Muslims Kings. The 'fear' of conversion by now has become a pathological obsession.

Lets begin with the facts first. The booklets brought out by RSS combine, operating in the name of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajrang Dal, pick up small pockets with small percentage of Christians, and show as to how the Christian population is rising by leaps and bounds. Dangs is a case in point. Here out of the total population of nearly 1, 80, 000, close to 8000 are Christians. In Gujarat as such the total population of Christians is less than 0.5%. The overall national percentage of Christians is on the decline, (1971-2.60, 1981-2.44, 1991-2.34, and 2001-2.30). And this is what is supposed to be the demographic danger for the RSS combine!

Is it the conversion that Hindutva politics is scared of or is there some deeper political and social agenda at the back of the Anti Christian campaign which has been strengthened from 1996? Some observations are very pertinent. It is from 1987 that RSS affiliates intensified their activities in the Adivasi areas. It is 1996 that the BJP led coalition first came to power at the center. The other point is that the attacks are mainly in the remote places. In the cities where major Christian institutions are located, such incidents are few and far between. There seems to be no such fear that one's children will be converted by the time they pass out after few years in urban schools. Yet another point is that by now this violence has consolidated Hindutva in these regions and the states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, the states where Adivasis have a significant presence; BJP has been able to come to power. Another major state where Adivasis are in good number, BJP ally Biju Janata Dal is the leading party.

The anti Christian violence is slightly of a different variety than the anti Muslim violence. Initially anti Muslim violence was mainly in cities; mainly in places where Muslim artisans are traders were having a good deal of presence. Bhiwandi, Malegaon, Meerut are some of the major ones' in this category. Later this did spread to places where communal forces gained strength due to ideological indoctrination like Mumbai and Ahmadabad. The main pretext of anti Muslim riot has been Muslims aggressiveness and their loyalty to Pakistan, their being terrorists, their appeasement by the Government for vote bank politics. While most of this is totally false, popular psyche was flooded with this propaganda. Its percolation was smooth due to the lack of effective counter awareness and spread of the truth about this disadvantaged section of society. A distorted version of History was also selectively projected to demonize the Muslims and the picture is complete with Osama bin Laden's alleged role in 9/11.

In case of Christians, no such demonization is possible. As such Christianity is older than Islam, Christian missionaries are in India from AD 52, and in most of the major cities their institutions are older than a century or so. British were the patrons of communal politics; British are identified with Christianity so it becomes difficult for Hindutva propaganda machine to demonize Christians on the basis of History. More so the historical method followed by Hindutva communalists is based on the version propounded by British Historians in pursuance of British policy of divide and rule so demonization of Christians on this ground is difficult if not impossible. RSS propaganda making machine resorts more to demonizing Christian missionary activities in today's times. The global links of Christian missions are restricted to the funds coming from abroad, and mercifully the whole Christian community world over is not linked up with the local missionary activity. One of the reasons of this is that RSS ideology and politics is hands in glove with the imperialist, colonialists, who happen to be Christians, so Christianity cannot be demonized the way Muslims and Islam are.

To overcome this 'handicap' the total focus is placed on the conversion into Christianity and Gobbesian propaganda has been supplemented by the proactive cultural manipulation. The symbolism is used to woo Adivasis. The fascination of being accepted by the upper caste, the RSS followers gives a sense of false pride in a section of Adivasis who surrender to the Hindutva symbols and takes up arms on its behalf to finish off the 'enemies of Hindu nation' as witnessed in the role Adivasis played in Gujarat carnage. Since this work is to be in the remote places many a Sadhus, Aseemanand in Dangs, Lakkhanand in Orissa, have been unleashed in these areas. The groundwork for communalization has been prepared by the so called Achrayas, Babas and Bhagwans belonging to the streams of Asaram, Morari, Pandurang Shastri and their tribe.

The violence against Muslim community has come in huge bouts after the pretext of burning a train (Sabrmati) or a family (Bane family) in Gujarat and Mumbai respectively. These 'incidents' are than used to browbeat the whole community. In case of Christians, at present, the violence is chronic, low intensity and sustained. While this anti Christian violence is more in BJP ruled states or the ones' where its allies rule, other states are also not exempt. While the major anti Muslim onslaught was built around Ram Temple, by the program to demolish Babri, the antichristian campaign is being centered on building temples of the forgotten Gods and Goddesses. The Shabri temple in Dangs is a case in point. The overall result is by and large the similar one, to browbeat the minorities into ghettoisation, intimidation and isolation. The anti-minority violence results in polarization of communities resulting in the electoral gains for BJP.

Muslims and Christians, both these minorities are on the chopping block of Hindutva politics. Christians do have better advantage of modern education and better awareness of their rights. But of course, that is no insurance against the violence against them as being witnessed from last few years. The hatred for Christian priests amongst the Adivasis is intense. Our team had visited Dangs to investigate the Shabri Kumbh. While some of us were talking to the Adivasis in one corner, the word spread that a team of Fathers has come from Ahmadabad. One of the Adivasi volunteer blocked the road and said he will not let us go till Aseemanand gives us permission, since we are Christian fathers. Either he or we will survive the confrontation. Once Aseemanand's volunteers came and checked our antecedents, we were 'permitted' to go.

Identity is the central point of this whole attempt of RSS. One thing uniform in the areas visited, in Gujarat and Orissa is the stark poverty and the problem of land rights of Adivasis. But what better way to ensure that they are fed the opium of religion so that the supporters of RSS combine in these areas, the traders, contractors, and land grabbers can have their cake and eat it too. By now the polarization in the Adivasi areas is very intense and RSS has every reason celebrate as a large chunk of Adivasis have started yielding to the threat of Gharvapasi, a bath in hot spring or their feet being washed by VHP leaders, is picking up. Also threats are subtly being dished out that if they don't put the saffron flags, or don't take the holy dip or don't eat the Prasad the consequences will not be good.

The writer of these lines saw the success of RSS agenda on the bodies of starving, naked, semiclad Adivis children who have been taught to shout Jai Shri Ram! We need to think as to how the worldly issues of Adivasis, land rights, bread, clothing, shelter and education are brought in the center of social and political planning?