Labeling any act of violence in the name of religion is a trend which picked up in the wake of 9/11 twin tower tragedy. There’s a need to look at the construction of perceptions more than before now

Photo courtesy: PTI

Politics in contemporary times is wearing the clothes of religion; much too often. It may be global politics of imperialist countries, to control the oil wealth, or the politics to re-impose values of birth based inequality in South Asian countries, religion is the cover.

In Pakistan and many West Asian countries, it in the name of Islam that feudalism-authoritarianism persists and is being strengthened, in Myanmar-Sri Lanka Buddhism is the cover, while in India, it is the label of Hinduism, which is being abused to stifle the values of equality and liberalism. Too often such acts of sectarian politics affect creative people, their gazal concerts are disrupted, their films are banned-attacked by the storm troopers. Many a times warnings are given to them and apologies sought for the hurt feelings of religion or nationalism.

Priyanka Chopra, the star from Bollywood who has been doing a serial on US television, Quantico, has been in the news for similar reasons (June 2018). In one episode of this series; the character played by her thwarts the nuclear attack by some Hindu-Indian terrorist, in the nick of time when an Indo-Pakistan summit is set to take place. The hurt sentiment brigade announced “Hindu Sena appeals to public in general to boycott any work, ads or movies of Priyanka Chopra and appeals to the Indian government to strip her of her Indian citizenship and deny her entry into India.” In an over-bending attitude the actor tweeted “I’m extremely saddened and sorry that some sentiments have been hurt by a recent episode of Quantico. That was not and would never be my intention. I sincerely apologize. I’m a proud Indian and that will never change,” One actor from film industry Pooja Bhat did firmly stand with Chopra, defending her right of freedom as an actor.

What is in continuation with this pattern is that while in current times the films, serials, acts of fiction abound with Muslim characters as terrorists-extremists, this episode of Quantico, showing a Hindu character in the evil role brought forth the usual threats and demanded the cancellation of citizenship of the actor! One must say that labeling any act of violence in the name of religion is a trend which has picked up in the wake of 9/11 twin tower tragedy.

While the terrorist groups were groomed, indoctrinated by the superpower US, to join the military fight against Soviet Russia’s occupation of Afghanistan, the whole exercise of indoctrination was done by using a version of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia. The master of the planning was sitting in Washington. The whole act of insane terrorism was done in the name of Islam. The US media came to coin the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’ and religion and terrorism got associated for the first time, despite the fact the people from many religions have been involved in the acts of terror most of the time.

It was in continuation with this trend that when India witnessed the involvement of number of Hindu nationalists in the acts of terror, the word, Hindu terror, saffron terror or Hindutva terror started floating in the air. Apologies were demanded for use of this term in the wake of granting bail to the likes of Pragya Thakur or Aseemanand.

In the aftermath of Malegaon blast of 2008, the meticulous investigation of Hemant Karkare, the Maharashtra ATS chief, brought forth the fact that the motor cycle used for the blast was owned by Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, an associate of different Hinutdva organisations. With his investigation, hoards of Hindu names cropped up. This led the trail to Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit, Major Upadhaya, Swami Dayanand and Swami Aseemanand among many others who were part of Hindu nationalist organisations, some owing allegiance to RSS directly. The investigation did lead to arrest of many of them; two of them, RSS ex Pracharaks have been convicted for life term in case of Ajmer blast.

While in current times the films, serials, acts of fiction abound with Muslim characters as terrorists-extremists, this episode of Quantico, showing a Hindu character in the evil role brought forth the usual threats and demanded the cancellation of citizenship of the actor!

The likes of Sadhvi Pragya, Purohit and Assemanand have been let off on bail. Swami had confessed and given the details of planning of terror acts in presence of a Magistrate and lot of material was recovered from the lap top of Swami Dayanand Pande. One Sunil Joshi, who was also alleged to be part of the team, was murdered and it was presumed that he was murdered for making sexual advances to Sadhvi Pragya. Despite these investigations, due to change of the Government at Centre (2014), the likes of Sadhvi and Swami have got bail! Whether the truth will ever be upheld and honored is the question. What also remains unanswered is that Rohini Salian, who was the public prosecutor in the cases involving Sadhvi etc. was asked to go soft on the cases with the change of Government at the centre. It does raise many questions related to crime and punishment. In Mumbai blast (1993) cases, one Rubina Memon was given life imprisonment as the car used for blast cases was registered in her name. In Malegaon blast, Sadhvi owned the motorcycle used for blasts but was given the bail!

In present times, things are much worse as during last few years the number of Hindus involved in lynching in the name of cow has gone up immensely, funds are collected for the family of Shambhulal Regar, the brutal killer of Afrazul, in the name of love Jihad! The linkages of killers of Prof Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh to Hindutva organisations are coming forth.

While the actors of the stature of Chopra can wriggle out to save their careers and films with an apology, there is a need to look at the construction of perceptions more than before now, as religion has been dragged in the murky world of politics all round.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

A VHP spokesperson, Surendra Jain (June 7th) stated that the Church in India is trying to destabilize Modi Sarkar. This was in the backdrop of the statements by two Archbishops, the one of Delhi and other from Goa. Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto, on 8th May 2018 addressed a letter to all parish priests and religious institutions in the Archdiocese of Delhi asking them to pray for ‘our nation’. The letter begins with the observation “[w]e are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation”. The letter then requests the 138 parish priests and 5 religious institutions within Delhi to observe ‘a Day of Fast every Friday .. offering our penance and all our sacrifices for our spiritual renewal and that of our nation.’ While The Archbishop of Goa and Daman Filipe Neri Ferrao said that human rights are under attack and the Constitution is in danger, and it is the reason as to why most people live in insecurity. Ferrao, in his annual pastoral letter addressed to “priests, religious, lay faithful, and people of goodwill”, asked Catholics to “play an active role in the political field” and to “shun sycophantic politics” “As the general election is fast approaching, we must strive to know our Constitution better and work harder to protect it,” and added “democracy appears to be in peril”.

Both the letters in a way are an expression of the cry of anguish of the plight of religious minorities. The anti minority violence has seen a quantitative and qualitative worsening during last few years. While anti-Christian violence is not spectacular and many a national commentators even question its occurrence, the fact of the matter is that low level scattered anti Christian violence is around, most of it not reported in the national media. Incidentally the World Watch List 2017 ranks India ranks India 15th worst among nations where Christians are persecuted. Four years ago, India ranked 31st on the list.

Vijayesh Lal of ‘Evangelical Fellowship of India’ states that ‘it has documented some 350 cases of violence and other forms of persecution against Christians last year. That is more than double the rate compared with the 140 annually before the BJP assumed power.  This is highest since an anti-Christian pogrom in the state of Odisha in 2008.

Interestingly around Christmas in 2017; Carol singers were attacked and cases against them were filed on the charges of conversion in MP. The community leaders point out that in their observation such incidents have gone up, more so as the ground level leaders are not reprimanded from the top leading to increase in the culture of impunity.

The violence against the other big minorities; Muslims also has shown a rise in 2017. In 2014 we witnessed (no of deaths in brackets) 561 incidents (90), 2015-650 (84), 2016-703 (83), 2017- 822 (111). The frightening nature of lynchings in the name of Holy Cow or beef eating has also shown a dangerous rise. According to the data collected by IndiaSpend, based on the content analysis of media reporting, “Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centered on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 86% of 28 Indians killed in 63 incidents. As many of 97 per cent of these attacks were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014, and about half the cow-related violence — 32 of 63 cases –were from states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when the attacks were reported, revealed our analysis of violence recorded until June 25, 2017.”

So while VHP spokesperson is just one example, most of those from Hindu nationalist politics have been challenging as to how Church leaders can make statements which have political implications, how can they give their opinion on issues which can affect the political outcome? One knows that Church leaders have mostly not been making political comments till one witnessed the brutal murder of Pastor Graham Stains in Keonjhar, in Orissa in 1999. Since then some from the clergy did express the feelings, hurt and injury of the community in the wake of this violence directed against the Christian minority. Generally the Church leaders had been focusing on their prayers and the community work in a quiet manner. It is only after the rise of the violence that some of them started speaking on this topic.

The overall atmosphere has been becoming more intolerant, more frightening and Muslims and Christians both have been on the receiving end. Can these men of god speak on Earthly matters? It is true that Yogi should not be a commissar; yogi should not be in the business of business! The secular and profane worlds are different. In societies like ours, which are not fully secularized; clergy does have a hold over society in worldly matters also. We know how series of Hindu Godmen and women are dominating figures in Hindu nationalist politics. VHP, whose spokesperson is reacting to Archbishops statement; itself is a religious adjunct to RSS combine with political agenda of Hindu Rashtra. We have number of holy people who either directly or indirectly aid to the electoral and other politics. Starting from the likes of Karpatri Maharaj, who aggressively campaigned against Hindu Code Bill, we also saw Sadhus who took the issue of ban on cow slaughter to higher prominence by march to parliament in year 1966.

In current times we have politicians, wearing saffron, contesting elections and being part of politics all around. Likes of Sadhvi Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Nirnajan Jyoti, Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj are ruling the political roost while wearing divinity! There are number of Maulanas, who have held the political arena, beginning with Maulana Azad himself. To reprimand the Archbishops to express just their opinions is very unfortunate. As they also are citizens they should be concerned about the social issues too.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED