Kandhamal- the Real Challenges

  • By R L Francis
  • 6 Oct 2010

Sourced from here

The vice chairman of the  National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Dr H.T. Sangliana giving a clean chit  to the Orissa government on the Kandhamal violence by praising the steps taken  to bring normalcy to Phulbani district has given a blow to the Christian  organisations’ allegations against the regime. These organisations had alleged  that several thousands of victims were yet to be rehabilitated in the affected  areas of Kandhamal.

After visiting the  violence hit areas, Sangliana said the victims have returned home and those who  have not returned to Kandhamal are actually working in neighboring states. The  NCM vice chairman thus discounted all allegations by the Church against the  Naveen Patnaik government of not taking care of Kandhamal victims.

Sangliana visited  Kandhamal after more than 50 NGOs related to the Church organised a public  hearing titled National Tribunal on Kandhamal, from 22 to 24 Aug. 2010, at New  Delhi. The sponsors of this event included the Catholic Archbishop of Cuttack  Rev. Cheenath; John Dayal of the All Indian Christian Council & All India  Catholic Union; and Sahmat, a Communist Party of India front organization  headed by Mala Hashmi. 

Those participating in  the so-called public hearing included film producer Mahesh Bhatt, National  Advisory Council member Harsh Mandar, Syed Hamid, Ruth Manorama, Milan Kothari,  Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, and some other leading personalities. Retired Chief  Justice of the High Court A.P Shah chaired the Tribunal hearing.

On the other hand, away  from the media glare, some non-Christian tribals stood at Jantar Mantar to express  their grief. It will be a distant hope that their voices will be allowed the  reach accorded to the National Tribunal  on Kandhamal.

The Church has always  indulged in the conversion of poor scheduled castes and tribals. Some fanatics  burnt foreign missionary Graham Stains and his two sons in Mayurbhanj district  of Orissa for indulging in conversions. After a decade, there were riots in  Kandhamal.

After the killing of  Swami Laxmanananda on 23 Aug. 2008, the rift between local Christians and  non-Christians widened. In the subsequent riots, more than 40 people were  killed and thousands of homes torched; hundreds of places of worship were  burnt. Thousands had to take shelter in relief camps and many are still living  in camps due to fear. As always happens, politics started after the Kandhamal  riots still continues. After the murder of Swami Laxmanananda and the communal  riots, attempts should have been made to restore peace and normalcy in the  violence-hit area. That never happened. On the contrary, attempts have been  made to internationalize the issue by Church organisations.

The Western world became  serious about Kandhamal when Pope Benedict XVI accused the Indian government of  failure to protect Christians. Before this, the Pope had called the Indian  ambassador to the Vatican and berated him about the implementation of  anti-conversion laws in some Indian states. The Italian government also  expressed displeasure about the Kandhamal riots. The USCIRF demanded a probe in  the matter, but New Delhi has refused the same.

It is the sad fate of  Indian Christians that missionaries try to take mileage out of incidents of  attacks on Muslims. They do not participate in talks and continue their  activities due to the support of European countries. Even Mahatma Gandhi had  criticised conversion and many nationalists had supported him as the main aim  of conversion was to produce British Raj-acolytes. Even today, Churches are  thriving on foreign donations; they are accountable to US and European  organisations.

The impact and  penetration of the Church in these European countries can be gauged from the  fact that last year a European Union delegation visited Kandhamal. It received  an unprecedented welcome. But the Central Government-constituted delegation led  by Sharad Pawar did not receive a welcome.

Even after independence,  missionaries have not become self-sufficient. Church officials are accountable  to the Catholic Pope, with the Bishop as main link with the Pope and Vatican.  Bishops are appointed by the Pope. Protestants are dependent on the European  Union for grants, and that is why for every problem they look towards Europe.  They are skeptical of Indian laws and legal system, an attitude which has  alienated them from the national mainstream. Yet there are many facilities in  India which they avail of, which are not even available in European countries,  such as special rights to run schools and get government grants, etc.

In the current scenario,  the larger question is: what should be the approach of the Church and the  Christians? They rely more on the unethical and illegal pressure imposed by  European countries on India to get their voices heard. An Indian ambassador  told me about a conference organised by Indian Christians settled in America;  almost all speakers presented a scary picture about India to convey that it is  not worth living in. The ambassador told them they should not play such a dirty  game thousands of kilometres away from home; he said Indian Christians were  completely safe in India and nobody suspects their patriotism. The government  gives sensitive official portfolios to Christian officials. This incident kept  haunting me for a long time.

It hurts that the Church  leadership did not try to get to the roots of the Kandhamal riots. A commission  constituted by government pointed out that conversion, fake caste-certificates  and land controversies were the chief reasons behind the riots. The Commission  was of the view that after conversion, the rift between Dalits and tribals  widened. It suggested that the government work fast to free Adivasi lands and  address the problem of fake caste-certificates. There is a need to be alert  regarding conversions. Conversion is not an issue in Kandhamal only; it is a  national issue. Though the report took a holistic view of the problem, the  Church rejected this view of the Commission.

The Church needs a  target to continue the work and found it in the RSS which has been very vocal  on the issue of conversion. In many places RSS has directly confronted  conversion, such as in Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.  The Church has used its influence to send a message at the international level.  A fresh salvo has been fired from Karnataka, where a former Christian judge,  Saldhana, has alleged that in 500 days there have been 1000 attacks on  Christians and has demanded the sack of the democratically elected government.  But a Christian organisation report says there are only 72 incidents of attack!  While attacks on anybody are condemnable, the message of love given by church  on Sunday is being fast replaced by a tirade of hate. The Church is trying to  alienate its followers from the mainstream.

We should move ahead  after learning from Kandhamal, but this is not happening. The Church is giving  so many arguments to justify its actions, but people are not convinced. Pockets  in Uttar Pradesh have become silent volcanoes. As per reports from the Terai  region, foreign missionaries and local church officials have stepped up their  activities. In many regions where there is no Christian population, lands are  being bought. In western UP, ABC church is converting poorer Hindus in large  numbers, though in government records they are still listed as Hindus.

In Gurgaon, at Dhankot,  Protestants are running a seminary in hundreds of acres, called Dayadham. Here  poor people from north India are brought and given a 3-year-course on  priesthood. This year I had an opportunity to attend a convocation ceremony.  Students were told to work for the propagation of Christianity. They were  instructed to spread the ‘Message of God.’ Thus, for the sake of livelihood,  poor people accept the job of converting people. These groups of boys and girls  are called ‘Salvation Army.’ They get a monthly grant of US $ 100. They are  not aware that they have become puppets in the hands of foreign missionaries.  This has resulted in increased tensions in certain areas. Last year Punjab  boiled over a controversial poster of Jesus Christ.

In Kandhamal, NCM vice  chairman has already said that the displaced people have been rehabilitated. As  per reports from Kandhamal, the rift between Christians and non-Christians  is widening in the areas situated near Gunsar forest. Instead of returning to  their villages, people living in relief camps have started settling there. The  Orissa government and church are helping them in this process. In a way, the  communal division is getting wider, making way for a new kind of polarisation.  This can be stopped only through a peace process by both communities.

Christians should come  out of their ostrich-like mentality and face real life challenges. They should  connect to the democratic process and seek long term solutions in the Indian  context. They should be able to distinguish between religion and social  responsibilities. Today, the Church has messed up religion and social service.  It is alleged that the Church carries out social services and relief work only  where there is a possibility of conversion.

It is clear from the  floods in Punjab, Haryana and western UP that the Church did not carry out any  flood relief operations despite the widespread calamity. Ordinary Christians  are baffled by the political mix up by the Church. The Church should ponder why  people are skeptical even after so much of social service in the hinterland?
The author is president, Poor Christian Liberation Movement

Editor: The Arya Samaj runs a  Gurukul in Omsena one of the backward areas of Orissa. If you wish to support  their work your cheque should be in favor of ‘Gurukul Ashram Omsena’. Address  is Gurukul Ashram Amsena, Khariar Road, Nuapada, Orissa 766109. They are doing  very good work.

Also read:
1. Kandhamal- Challenging A.P. Shah's Ex-Parte Verdict 
2. Do Foreign Contributions To India Impact National Security FCRA Report 2007-2008
3. Exodus- Is The Christian Church Losing Critical Mass

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