27 Dec 2007

Mobs and burnt chruches: Looking back at the changing times

This Christmas would really have been awful for the Christian families in Orissa. This woeful incident of burning down churches and houses reminded me of the infamous burning of Graham Staines and his three sons in 1999 in the same state, Orissa and the person who did it, Rabindra Kumar Pal @ Dara Singh, came out of it as a national hero, a protector of Hinduism. The incident, together with the recent burnings,haunts us back with the horrors of the dark ages where religion was a reason for arson and genocide. It also raises a number of issues on the state of affairs of the 'secular' aspect of this country.

We call ourselves secular or atleast our constitution does. And then we are told that secular means a state which does sponsor or promote a religion and had equal respect for all religions. But then the state practices does not inspire confidence in this constitutionally envisaged state of affairs. Why does it happen that the culprits those who pulled down the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya are still at bay with the justice-system finding its ways and means to delay the prosecution and sentencing. Why does the state remain content with calling an curfew when a few churches are burnt down and the violators huddled to secured corners. But when it comes to moving a temple built upon an encroachment in the middle of the road, that would be violation of secular structure and fiddling with the faiths of the nation. Thinks like numbers do matter and when you are in a county dominated in numerical terms by a particular religion, then you do have a reason to find that religion being particularly promoted overtly.

We Indians seem to have come to terms with the times. Looks like a practice history made us adept to. When the aggressors came from all corners, they dominated, destroyed the original inhabitants' beliefs and practices, superimposed their own and made out a new cultural and religious entity. Then new aggressors came and did the same. Then again and again. So what came up was not anything which was remained the exclusive property of any one particular religion or cult but was indeed a mixture of various different superimposed colors on top of each other and as Nehru has put it in 'Discovery of India', 'an ancient palimpsest'.

The there was a marked moment in India's history with the arrival of Christianity on its soil. Along came Christian Missionaries, persuading the inhabitants to become followers of the path shown by their God and their religion. I had once an occasion to work on a project titled 'Christian Missionaries in India' whereupon I had the chance to examine their role and the backlash. Huge amount of scholarly writing showed empirical evidence that indeed a large number of people were converted to Christians and this was true for most of the tribal areas, it was evident in the other well to do places as well. Major reasons were assigned by scholars for this trend. Alleviation of living standards, access to outside world with English and cultural practices, etc. were the factors cited as the prompting reasons for the tribals etc. to convert themselves.

However, Mr. Arun Shourie had a different reason to put. In his book on this subject, he cited various correspondences between the religious authorities in England and the prompt dispatch of missionaries in India as a part of a strategic plan to deface the Indian religious and cultural ties and thus weaken the unity on the soil. He also seeks to expose the hideous plans where the inhabitants of this land were looked down upon as barbaric aboriginals suffering from innumerable vices. But then these are the two different versions which I came across and do not wish to offer any comment upon.

But the aspect of the matter which I really want to bring to the notice with this reference to Christianity in India is that when the Constitution treats each citizen equals, and when as all have equal rights for self-determination including the right to practice and profess the religion of our choice, why do others have to poke in their nose to show that following the minority religion is not permissible and that other religions are not permitted on land which they claim to be only for their own.

I really deject the look-down approach. After all by burning down their churches, what is this rowdy mob trying to show? Their superiority? I do not think so. In fact when they burn down other's religious symbols, they actually are confessing that they are in fact weak and unable to concentrate on their own religion and therefore they have to remove other's religious indicators in order to be able to come to their own. I am not sure when this barbarism will come to an end but sure earnestly hope that it does, before more are killed and more property vandalized.

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