Archive for August 2008
The last week had regrettably witnessed the brutal acts of violence committed by rabid Hindu mobs in the state of Orissa1 2 3. It started when the BJP accused that Christians militants had committed the deplorable act of murdering a VHP leader, Laxmanananda Saraswati.
First of all, I’m amazed by the tragic inanity displayed by the VHP & the BJP. Why didn’t they actually wait for some sort of investigation to come up with actual evidence about the murderers before they make a claim? Especially when the region has a history of religious violence.
Unfortunately, the claim that the murder was committed by Christian militants has led to large scale retaliatory violence. There is absolutely no justification for the type of violence displayed by the Hindu mobs in ransacking churches and murdering civilians.
As it turns out, a group of Maoists have come forward and claimed they had committed the murder (have they been arrested and questioned?). However, the BJP don’t believe them and want a thorough probe to determine the “real culprits”. This begs the question, why not demand such a probe from the start, *before* you make such claims? And if the BJP do have evidence to the identity of the murderers, why not state the evidence along with the accusation? Indeed, this was the line of questioning asked during a panel discussion with a former MP of the BJP, B.P. Singhal. He replied:
“I will not give licence to violence but on the ground if immediate redressal operations don’t take place, people react on their own,” Singhal replied.
What a weasel worded statement. Notice that, like most politicians, he didn’t answer the question. Besides, what redressal operation? Mob violence is NOT an acceptable reaction to an allegation of a crime! This, (and indeed, most of his statements) reeks of apologist talk. There have been some reports that VHP activists were among those who committed violence 4 5. What is needed from the party which made the allegation is a statement decrying violence, informing its members (and activists) that violence will not be tolerated and encourage them to cooperate with the police and paramilitary to maintain order and identify mob assailants.
That religion generally leads to violence is not new6, but in this case it is reported that there are some underlying factors which had been simmering away for quite some time, such as religious conversion of people from “lower” castes to Christianity, poverty and an opposition to cow-slaughters.
Let’s look at the conversion of the “lower” castes. First of all, I’ve never understood the caste system. Why do we persist in having a racist and discriminatory system of segregation? The caste system has absolutely no relevance in the modern world. Segregation and discrimination based on the caste system is a form of apartheid. Although caste barriers may have diminished in cities, there is still plenty of inequality and discrimination in rural areas7 8. As long as the label of caste exists, narrow minded bigots will continue to use it as a form of discrimination.
I don’t think there’s an easy way to address this problem, but I think a policy of education and affirmative action is absolutely essential. Perhaps not using the current model of fixed quotas for each “caste”, but a model which includes economic factors and deemphasizes the label of caste. For instance, one extreme example would be to abolish the caste system completely, and base affirmative action policies in education and employment on a combination of economic and social factors which are determined by using a set of measurable parameters in an objective manner for each individual.
So, people switching from the “lower” castes to Christianity is understandable. Maybe it’s for economic reasons, a chance to escape poverty or attaining a better social status, or for more opportunities, maybe they were bribed, or maybe it was even for actual religious reasons. It doesn’t matter. If many people are leaving the lower hierarchy of your religion, then maybe you need to realize that it’s a problem with your religion, rather than try to ban conversions or some other stupid measure. Besides, freedom of religion is a fundamental right expected in a democracy. People are free to convert to whatever religion they choose.
Going back to the same CNN-IBN discussion, Mr Tathagata Satpathy, an MP of BJD, said
Question: Isn’t it worrying that on the ground, the tribals and the Dalits are being used as a lab for a larger political experiment?
Satpathy replied, “The point is that if I am sitting in a chair and I want to grow so much that I move other people who are sitting besides me, they are going to object.”
He added it has become fashionable to speak against Hindus in order to be marked as a secularist. “Secularism doesn’t only apply to Hindus,” he said and added, “It applies to Christians, Muslims and everybody. The tribals and the backward classes had been living in the area without any problems for centuries. In fact, there was no problem till two years ago. Suddenly with the missionaries coming in from different parts of the state and the country, this problem has started coming up. I’m not talking against the missionaries. What I’m saying is that it is time they themselves take stock of the situation — whether they want to destroy the fabric of a peaceful society or be content with what they have.”
Be content with poverty, and a lower social status? Perhaps that’s the problem which Mr Satpathy missed, while casually mentioning the “backward classes” to have been living without any problems. Besides, he claims he’s not talking against missionaries, but wait … he is. Ah, the classic affirmation by denial technique.
The other issue is the objection to killing and eating cows. It’s extremely stupid to ban the killing of cows just because you think they are sacred. If I think think that noodles and spaghetti are religious, will you ban people from eating them? If you’re offended that someone eats cows, then too bad. Religious beliefs cannot be used as a factor in a rational-legal judicial system.
The kind of religious violence we see in places like Orissa is a great tragedy. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much hope for preventing such types of conflicts. Historically, conflicting religious beliefs tend to result in irrational acts of violence, and unless we can encourage rationality, freedom of expression and wean people away from imposing their beliefs on others, the view that the various religions are going to be “the language of peace, sacrifice and compassion” maybe an excessively optimistic one.
External references and notes
 – Riots grip India’s Orissa region (BBC News)
 – Kandhmal: Panic-stricken villagers hide in forests(NDTV)
 – Christians hide in forests as Hindu mobs ransack villages (Guardian)
 – VHP bandh: Orphanage torched(The Economic Times)
 – Christian woman burnt to death by rampaging VHP mobs in Orissa(The Indian Express, via yahoo news)
 – Atleast, in my opinion. You’re free to disagree.
 – India’s “hidden apartheid” (Gopal Guru, UNESCO journalist)
 – India’s apartheid (The Hindu)