Kandhamal: the Real Challenges
by R L Francis on 06 Oct 2010 4 Comments

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 effected 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 neighbouring 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 internationalise 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

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