Guardians of faith

Print edition : February 24, 2012

Dilip Singh Judeo, BJP MP, washes the feet of a Christian tribal woman before converting her to Hinduism at Sitapur, Chhattisgarh. A file picture.-AP

In Chhattisgarh, Hindutva manifests itself in the form of attacks on Christians; in Uttarakhand it does so in the form of promoting Sanskrit.

IN Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand, States ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindutva agenda may not be strident, but the Sangh Parivar orientation is unmistakable in various government policies and programmes. While in Uttarakhand the party places much emphasis on gau mata (bovine goddess) and the teaching of Sanskrit, especially that of ancient Hindu religious texts such as the Vedas, the Puranas and the Upanishads, in Chhattisgarh the party's Hindutva ideology manifests itself with disturbing frequency in the form of attacks on Christians in the name of preventing religious conversion. Affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), such as the Dharam Sena, have a free run in Chhattisgarh.

Our fundamental rights are being trampled on every day. We are scared to go out of our homes alone. We are scared to go to church. You never know when somebody will attack you just because you happen to be a Christian. The authorities simply don't listen to us. Whenever we complain, they assure us of action against the guilty, but nothing happens, Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, said in anguish. He said Dharam Sena activists forcibly entered the campus of the Catholic Convent School in Korba and performed Saraswati puja on January 30. They were protesting against the school principal, Sister Mary, who had not allowed a class XI student to perform Saraswati puja inside the classroom on January 28. When the student did not heed her and went ahead with the puja, the principal suspended him for one week. This triggered protests by the Dharam Sena.

Sister Mary told this correspondent that she suspended the student primarily to give him time to study for his retest as he had failed in all subjects in the unit test. But this was projected by him as a punishment meted out for performing the puja, and the local television channels highlighted the incident, provoking Dharam Sena activists. She said Sena supporters entered the school premises, forced her to come out of her chamber and ordered her to do the puja. Sister Mary said she refused to do the puja because as Christians we do not do murti puja [idol worship]. I am willing to sacrifice my life for my belief. The activists then proceeded to do the puja and distribute prasad (offerings). They raised abusive slogans against the sister and Christians in general.

The slogans were so abusive that I cannot repeat them. In the 42-year history of the school, nothing like this has happened before, she said, visibly upset by the events. And all this happened in the presence of the Sub-divisional Magistrate, the Superintendent of Police, and a posse of police personnel. There was no effort by the authorities to prevent the hooliganism.

Attacks on Christians and churches are a common feature in Chhattisgarh. Priests get beaten up and Christian homes are attacked. In Dongargarh, for example, Rajendra Messi, a follower of the Believers Church, was beaten up by some Dharam Sena activists on January 31 because he had screened a film on Christ at his home. In Kawardha, Chief Minister Raman Singh's hometown, there are only two Christian families. A girl belonging to one of the families wanted to join a training course to do church work. For this, she approached the court two months ago to file an affidavit saying she was doing it of her own free will. She was accompanied by Pastor Diwakar. On the court premises, Sena activists roughed up the girl and did not allow her to file the affidavit. They beat up the pastor. The pastor spent three days in jail for disturbing peace as a first information report was registered against him.

The minorities, especially Christians, who are substantial in number, bear the brunt of Hindutva attacks in the State. What is disturbing is that no amount of complaining to the higher authorities helps. We have approached the Chief Minister many times. Every time he says action will be taken, but things continue as before, says Arun Pannalal, who is planning to petition the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) about the incident at the Catholic Convent School.

Reconversion of Christians to Hinduism is another programme, which allegedly has the backing of the BJP government. This is being done primarily by Dilip Singh Judeo, who was a Minister in the National Democratic Alliance government, in Jashpur and Sarguja areas. This involves a shhudhikaran yagna (cleansing ritual) to bring the converts back to the Hindu fold. Though no reports of force or coercion have come to light, the programme clearly enjoys state patronage. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams run by the RSS in tribal areas are part of another programme that aims at bringing the tribal people into the Hindu fold.

TRIBAL CHILDREN AT a Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram school in Chhattisgarh. A file picture.-V. SUDERSHAN

Through education imparted in the schools run by the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and through discourses, the tribal people are encouraged to adopt the Hindu religion, says M.K. Nandy, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

According to him, the Raman Singh government may not be strident in its approach, but the Hindutva tilt is unmistakably present in his governance. The government is also actively working to get a Bill passed to ban cow slaughter, similar to the ones introduced in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka in 2010. The State Cabinet has approved the Bill, and it is expected to be introduced in the Assembly soon. The State government has been actively considering for sometime now the introduction of a law banning religious conversion.

COW PROTECTION

In Uttarakhand, the Hindutva ideology gets manifested in the form of gau sewa. Uttarakhand is perhaps the only State in India with a full-fledged commission for the protection of cows. The government enacted a law banning cow slaughter in 2007. It imposes a blanket ban on cow slaughter and the smuggling of cows. Besides, it provides for the establishment of gau sadans to provide shelter to stray cows and to give away awards to institutions involved in cow protection.

The State actively encourages various research activities relating to the cow. Cow urine, for instance, is a coveted material in Uttarakhand as it is extensively used for research in and the manufacture of Ayurvedic medicines. The government has taken it upon itself to sell cow urine to research laboratories. The State proudly counts this as one of its major achievements, something which it claims has the potential to revolutionise the State's economy. Cow urine, which is processed at a centre at Kalsi in Dehradun district, is now sold in bulk to yoga guru Baba Ramdev's Patanjali Yogpeeth, apparently for use in medicinal products. Baba Ramdev buys over 40 litres of cow urine every month at the rate of Rs.20 a litre. The urine is, of course, processed and sold in the form of its essence (ark).

According to a senior animal husbandry official, the urine of only indigenous Uttarakhand cows is collected for the purpose. In Uttarakhand, cow urine has been traditionally used as a medicine, so there is nothing new in this. We also sell this for use in other Ayurvedic products such as agarbathis and shampoo, the official said.

The State government has approved the establishment of a cow science and technology research institute, to be set up at Rishikesh. Over Rs.20 crore has been sanctioned for this project, of which Rs.3 crore was released during Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri's previous tenure. The foundation for the institute was laid by him, but work has been slow for various reasons.

Yet another unmistakable Hindutva programme, though in the garb of ancient language studies, is the promotion of Sanskrit teaching and Karmakand (Vedic rituals). During the BJP's two terms in office in the State, 100 Sanskrit schools and colleges have been opened. Not only have these institutions been granted recognition by the government but their teachers are paid salaries as per government rules. Some of these schools have also been granted government aid.

According to a senior government official, the effort is to make Sanskrit a language of daily use. Competitions will be conducted to test proficiency in the language. The government has announced cash prizes of Rs.1 lakh, Rs.50,000 and Rs.25,000 for the winners of the competitions to be organised by the Sanskrit Academy. There is a separate Sanskrit university and four other universities where Sanskrit is taught. The government has ensured that free midday meals, books, computers and scholarships are provided in the Sanskrit schools.

Uttarakhand is also the first State in the country to declare Sanskrit the second official language. It has launched websites in Sanskrit. The government has appointed 36 Sanskrit translators in all the districts and two Sanskrit programmers. Government documents are now available in Sanskrit. A separate nodal officer has been appointed to monitor the promotional activities for Sanskrit. Over one lakh students have been imparted two-month-long training in Sanskrit sambhashan (Sanskrit speaking). All the Sanskrit teachers have been trained to teach the language in the Sanskrit medium only.

Name plates in the State Secretariat have now started appearing in Sanskrit also. The government intends to convert two villages, Dhamtola in Bageshwar district and Kimotha in Chamoli district, into model Sanskrit villages where Sanskrit will be the language of daily use. Haridwar and Rishikesh have been declared Sanskrit cities. Here Sanskrit camps are held regularly by experts to create a liking for the language. Dance and drama contests are held regularly to promote the use of Sanskrit.

Although one may dismiss these activities as mere promotion of an ancient language, the Hindutva tilt becomes apparent when officials associated with the language detail the prospects. According to Sushil Upadhyaya, an associate professor of Sanskrit language technology at Sanskrit University in Haridwar, the need for trained Hindu priests is huge not only in India but also abroad. This requirement can be met by the Sanskrit students who are trained in the Vedas, the Puranas, the Upanishads and Vedic rituals by Sanskrit colleges and the Sanskrit Academy. Even in the defence forces religious officers are in demand and we can provide them trained pundits. Besides, in foreign countries there is a demand for pundits who are familiar with the English language and are computer savvy. We are meeting that demand as well, says Upadhyaya.

The Sanskrit Academy recently organised a month-long training programme in Karmakand and Vedic rituals for over 100 students. Budhadev Sharma, the secretary of the academy, said, We felt there is a need for such religious training and we are fulfilling that need.

The BJP government has up until now exhibited enthusiasm for and placed emphasis on Hindutva programmes without openly targeting minority communities. But the government's apathy towards the victims of the riots that rocked the industrial township of Rudrapur in October last year was surprising.

Uttarakhand had no history of communal animosity. The riots were a novelty for the State. Muslims were confronted not only by a belligerent Hindu mob, led by the saffron brigade, but also by an indifferent administration. As the mob indulged in looting, arson and mayhem, the State police stood watching silently. The riots had been in the making for at least two months, but the district authorities did not take any action to prevent the build-up. When the situation went out of control, Muslims were the ones who faced the police batons. Those who suffered in the riots are still to get any financial compensation, and many of the Muslims who were arrested for rioting continue to be in jail.

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