On expected lines, there was once again a hue and cry when unidentified persons allegedly vandalised a church and damaged the statues of baby Jesus and Mother Mary in the Agra Cantonment area earlier this week. The uproar comes close on the heels of the hullabaloo raised by sections of the intelligentsia and media over a letter written by Justice Kurien Joseph, a Supreme Court judge, protesting against the holding of a conference of High Court judges on Good Friday, citing it as yet another instance of “persecution” of the Christian community in the country.
The Chief Justice of India responded to Justice Joseph’s protest saying the question is whether it is institutional interest or individual interest that one should give preference to. “In my view, it is the institutional interest”, he added. But what the aforementioned intelligentsia and media completely and conveniently overlooked was responses of equally eminent Christian intellectuals including former Supreme Court judges who totally disagreed with Justice Kurien’s uncalled for reaction.
For instances, the widely respected Justice K T Thomas, who had presided over the Rajiv Gandhi assassination trial in the apex court, in a recent newspaper interview recalled that a similar conference of Chief Justices was held in 2007 as well on Good Friday but “nobody even bothered”.
“This is because today there are people who want to show that there is Christian persecution in India, to which I don’t agree. There is no persecution of Christians in India. I am a church-going Christian. For the last 12 years, I am delivering sermon on Good Friday. That is my personal thing and belief”, he said, adding, “…what the chief justices are doing is also a holy act. They are implementing justice for the people on a Good Friday. Jesus Christ will bless them. The criticism only shows that some people have become intolerant.”
Justice Thomas further stated that Australia, which has a high Christian population, had conducted the recent World Cup cricket final on a Sunday, which is also considered holy for Christians. “I have not heard any Christian protesting about it. Second, this is a country, where only 3% of the population are Christians. In America the Christians constitute 97%, but Good Friday is not even a holiday there.”“Millions of Christians live in Gulf countries (where the weekly holiday falls on Friday) but I have not heard any Christian raising any grievance (that Sunday is not a holiday). On the other hand, they agreed to adjust on a Friday for church worship,” he said.
This trait of turning away from inconvenient truth is not new. Rather, it seems to have become fashionable now. To cite another instance, days after the uproar over the “attacks” on the Christian community, suddenly there is a deafening silence on the part of the intelligentsia and sections of the media, which were viciously slamming the ruling dispensation as also the Sangh Parivar for targeting the minority community.
The silence is apparently an outcome of latest revelations that most of the culprits involved in the unfortunate March 14 West Bengal nun rape case were of Bangladeshi origin and had nothing whatsoever to do with either the BJP or the saffron fraternity. Any acts of violence against any section of the society, irrespective of caste, creed, colour, language, region or religion needs to be squarely condemned and no civilised Government, which has sworn to uphold the constitution, can tolerate it.
But the problem begins when the response to such attacks becomes not only vicious but also politically motivated. If the critics of the Government see a “pattern” in the attacks, the pattern in the response too is not lost on the discerning viewer/listener/reader.
For instance, without getting into the legality of the structure that was allegedly desecrated in Haryana, there are some points worth pondering. Can a building be called a Church/mosque/temple/Gurudwara if no prayers are being offered by the devout at the place? As far as my understanding of Sanatan Dharma goes, a temple becomes a temple after the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ or consecration of the idol(s), not by mere installation of a few statues at the site. By that yardstick, every tin containing oil kept on the street side across northern India on Saturdays with the apparent objective of making a fast buck in the name of “Shani Dev” would be a temple.
The brick and mortar site in Haryana’s Hissar district was at best a structure which was perhaps meant to be a religious place-nothing more, nothing less. The replacement of the Cross is certainly unacceptable but to project the entire incident as an attack on a church is untenable. Such false projections only serve to create bitterness in the society.
Unfortunately, this has been the trend over the years. About 17 years back, in 1998, the country witnessed a heated debate over the rape of Christian nuns in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. Acting at break neck speed, Kangaroo courts comprising Left-leaning intellectuals including sections of the media held Hindu organisations responsible for the crime. Of course, a BJP-led coalition was in power at the Centre. Subsequently, the country’s then Home Minister released a list of the criminals forwarded to him by the Congress Government of Madhya Pradesh at that time. All the criminals named were Christians.
In his article Änti-Christian Acts: The Myth and Reality’, Vivek Gumaste recalls,“Christian groups initially questioned this finding, but when confronted with irrefutable proof chose to ignore it. And the newspapers? Yes, they reported it in some hidden corner of their papers following what has become an accepted strategy for some: Create hype, discredit your adversaries and finally when the truth comes out, report it in small print.”
Citing the series of bomb blasts that occurred in churches across Karnataka, Andhra and Goa in 2000, Gumaste says that yet again without evidence the Hindu groups were promptly indicted for these attacks.
“Eventually, it turned out to be the handiwork of a Muslim organisation, Deendar Anjuman with Pakistani links”. Commenting on the alleged church attacks in Delhi recently, Rupa Subramanya, a Mumbai-based economist says, “There’s no evidence whatever that these six incidents in Dilshad Garden, Jasola, Rohini, Vikaspuri, Vasant Kunj and Vasant Vihar are related or part of a pattern of attacks on minority institutions”.
“And all of us should be asking why exactly are church leaders and their friends in the media so eager to establish there’s a communal angle to these recent incidents when the facts say the opposite? What are they hoping to gain? Church leaders and their media acolytes have every right to dislike the BJP or Hindu groups if they so wish. But it’s irresponsible and downright dangerous if they promote their agenda in the face of the facts,” she says.
Having been in media for almost three decades now, one is constrained to ask as to where is the impartiality and objectivity of sections of our intelligentsia and the media which teaches us not to view incidents in isolation? I repeat that any attack on religious places has to be condemned but a healthy debate also has to take into account the local situation and the background of the people involved. Nothing can be viewed in isolation, lest they become a one sided version.
Coming to the Ranaghat nun rape case, it was just abominable. To begin with, the sexual assault on a 71 year old is so repulsive and outrageous. But coming to the debate following the incident which has been roundly condemned by one and all, isn’t law and order a state subject? If the Khattar Government in Haryana is expected to protect even buildings under construction in the state, isn’t the Mamata Banerjee Government to be blamed for failing to protect the mother figure? Isn’t it also a fact that the law and order situation in West Bengal is deteriorating by the day and women in the state are finding themselves at the receiving end?
The “pattern” in the criticism emerges when one sees the BJP and the Sangh Parivarbeing targeted irrespective of whether it is in power or opposition. In power, it is allegedly trying to pursue its agenda and while in opposition, it is allegedly polarising the situation to acquire power. Chit bhi meri, Pat bhi meri! (Heads I win,Tails you lose) From Nellie to Hashimpura to Bhagalpur and Delhi in 1984, some of the worst massacres in the country took place when BJP did not exist or even its earlier avatar Jan Sangh was not in reckoning for power in any state. Who engineered those riots? Why? The nation seeks answers.
Why is it that AAP activists were at the forefront at a Christian protest ahead of the Delhi Assembly elections? Hasn’t the recent Kejri tapes proved that AAP also tried to cash in on the same demonization of the BJP to woo minority votes? Isn’t it possible that such incidents are being orchestrated and then blown out of proportion to give a bad name to the Government? Otherwise, why any sane Government in its senses would allow such nonsense?
Knowing the Hindu psyche, it doesn’t need rocket science to realise that instead of consolidating Hindus, such incidents only alienate a large section of the liberal Hindus away from organisations allegedly perpetuating them. It is time we as a nation shed our double standards and view events objectively rather than through tinted glasses.
Image Contributed by R. L. Francis