FEATURES

(This Report is an extract of a preliminary report. The Report will be finalized after another visit to interact with more stakeholders)

The media reported that around 150 Holy Crosses and more than 40 graves were desecrated in South Goa in the last 15 years (Verma, 2017). However increasing number of desecrations has been reported since last week of June and throughout July. Desecrations took place in villages including Loutolim, St. Jose de Areal, Gudi Paroda, Cuncolim and Curchorem. Goa evokes an image of a quaint yet vibrant state famous for its natural beauty, churches, forts and a unique cultural mélange characterized by peaceful coexistence. Quite contrary to this picture, when in June and July 2017 the media reported an alarming number of desecrations of Holy Crosses and graves in a cemetery in South Goa, it disturbed the social conscience of the secular liberal scholars throughout India and in Goa particularly. Ironically, this assault on religious symbols of the Christian community comes in a State where the Christian population is sizeable.

Until 14th July, no arrests were made and the police reported to the media that they had no leads. However on 14th July, the police arrested one Francis Pereira from Curtorim village. With the arrest, the police and the Chief Minister of Goa, Mr. Manohar Parrikar conveyed that the real culprit was arrested and the case solved. Thus there would be an end to the spree of desecrations. But more Crosses were desecrated at Madkai and Chimbel on 25th July and 27th July respectively even while Francis Pereira was in custody (The Times of India, 2017).

The fact finding team consisted of Fr. Savio Fernandez, Executive Secretary of Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP), Ranjan Solomon, social activist and associated with CSJP, Roselle Solomon, social activist and associated with CSJP, Irfan Engineer, Director of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) and Neha Dabhade, Deputy Director of CSSS. The Team had a brief sharing with prominent activists in Goa on 13th July in Margao about the context of Goa and overall condition of religious minorities marked by marginalization and discrimination.

The fact finding team visited desecrated religious symbols and interacted with the members of the Christian communities and the priests at the affected sites. The team also interviewed politicians and people’s representatives. The representatives included Mr. Reginaldo Lorenco, MLA from the constituency of Curtorim and Mr. Ravi Naik, former Chief Minister of Goa and currently MLA from the constituency of Ponda. The team interacted with a priest of a Hindu temple and the DGP Police, team also met the members of family of the accused Francis Pereira.

Goa, once Portuguese colony, is rich in diversity. According to the 2011 census, has 66.08% Hindus, 8.33% Muslims and 25.10% Christians along with small number of other religious minorities. In South Goa where the desecrations have taken place, the proportion of population is as follows- Hindus 53.34%, Muslims 9.93% and Christians 36.21%. Thus the population of Christians and Muslims is comparatively higher in South Goa than in North Goa where the Christians are only 16.40%. Currently the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) rules the state though it didn’t emerge as the party with largest majority of votes in the State assembly elections conducted in May 2017. BJP, a right wing Hindu party swearing by the political ideology of Hindutva, has to compromise its ideological positions for political expediency in view of this diversity. This creates tensions and contradictions which play out in policies of the State. Despite the political instability, Goans have largely lived in peaceful coexistence.

There have been exceptions to this harmony. In recent times, there were riots in Curchorem- Sanvordem in 2006. The accused in this violence include senior BJP members – Satish Dhond and Sharmad Raiturcar (The Hindu, 2012). Fact finding reports of the riot indicated a significant role of the RSS and VHP in fomenting communal hatred and violence (Fact Finding team blames Sangh for Sanvordem Violence). Similarly in a bid to demonize and stigmatize the Muslim community, the Sanatan Sanstha carried out bomb blasts in Margao in 2009. The accused were carrying fake beards to give an impression that the Muslims were behind the bomb blasts (Messias, 2009). The Sanatan Sanstha under the pretext of ‘scientific spiritualism’- its stated objective, has been instigating hatred against minorities like Muslims and Christians through its publications like Sanatan Prabhat. It calls upon the Hindu community to take up arms to ensure the ‘destruction of the evildoer’ which it considers as an integral part of dharma (Gatade, 2010).

In its campaign to spread hatred and sharpen faultlines based on identity politics, the Hindutva nationalists have recently exploited the issues of demand to ban beef in Goa, demand to stop subsidies to schools teaching in mediums other than Marathi and Konkani and hate speeches against minorities. It would be worthwhile to point out that in June 2017, before the spate of desecration, the Hindu Jan Jagruti Samiti, a sister organization of the Sanatan Sanstha organized an All India Hindu Conclave in Goa to discuss the establishment of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in India. In this Conclave, many hate speeches were given by Hindutva activists. Sadhvi Saraswati in particular called for open violence against beef eaters, particularly targeting the Muslims and Christians and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Sadhvi Saraswati said, while inaugurating the All India Hindu Convention at Ramnathi village, "I would recommend the Government of India that those who consider it as a status symbol to eat the meat of one's own mother should be hanged in public. Then only people will realize that it is our duty to protect 'gau mata', (The Times of India , 2017)"

She also exhorted the Hindus to keep arms at their homes to protect themselves, heightening anxieties of Hindus without any basis She said, "If we do not stock arms, we will be destroyed in future". No action was taken by the State against her and others who spewed venom and hatred against Muslims and Christians and incited violence against them. Her statements constitute offence under sections 153, 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code. The police and the State is duty bound to take action against the Sadhvi.

Against the above context, some of the crucial findings of the fact finding committee are as follows:

1.      Definite Pattern to the desecration:

The team found that most of the Crosses desecrated were at isolated places and some not easily visible from the road. All the crosses desecrated had their bases attacked at the edges with heavy equipment like steel sledge hammers only at night. The locations were carefully researched and at the Guardian Angel cemetery, the CCTVs were also damaged. This suggests there was lot of preparation, planning and reconnaissance invested in desecration of crosses. The pattern of desecrating the crosses was the same. This suggests that the incidents of desecration were not isolated but part of one conspiracy hatched by the same individuals or organization. There is a pattern to it which involves more than one culprit.

2.      The role of Sanatan Sanstha and its activities:

The Sanatan Sanstha through its publications and the Hindu Jagruti Conclave incited violence against beef eaters, read Christians and Muslims. In fact, according to the Sanatan Sanstha it is the duty of the Hindus to eliminate them.

The Sanstha which supports the BJP electorally is polarizing communities by sharpening identities as explained earlier. By advocating stocking of arms and hatching conspiracies like bomb blasts to falsely implicate Muslims; it is militarizing the Hindu society and encouraging violence. Sadhavi Saraswati’s open call of violence along with the other instigations by the Sanstha is abetting violence and emboldening attacks on religious minorities. The Sanstha cannot escape responsibility for creating this vitiated atmosphere where violence is normalized and resorted as a reaction to minorities.

The perception of the Christian community, the elected representatives and the member of the Hindu community team spoke to; indicate that the desecrations may have been triggered off by the Hindu Conclave in Goa in early June 2017. Open hate speeches were made against minorities. No action was taken against the speakers. No complaints were lodged either though the speeches were reported widely. This has emboldened the Hindutva fringe elements. It cannot be a mere coincidence that a spate of desecrations took place after such speeches.

3.      Role of the police/ state:

The team found the action of the State and the police wanting on multiple fronts. The police so far have not taken adequate measures to bring the culprits to justice. The police for a long time didn’t make any arrests. After mounting pressure from the citizens and civil society they finally arrested one Francis Pereira. Interestingly until a couple of days before the arrest of Francis Pereira, the police in its response to the media had claimed it had ‘no clue’ as to who can be behind the desecrations and thus no arrests were made. Now the police believe that there is no need of further investigation and all the aspects of the desecration have been adequately investigated into after the arrest of Pereira. The Chief Minister himself proclaimed that Francis Pereira indeed is the real culprit and the desecrations will now come to an end. It is odd for a Chief Minister to suggest that an accused is guilty pending a trial in a court of justice.

The fact finding team does not think that the real culprits have been apprehended. Francis Pereira is merely a scapegoat to hide the larger conspiracy. The police seem to be heavily relying on confessional statement of Pereira which is not admissible as evidence in court. The equipment with which demolitions were carried out has not been recovered. Often the confessions are forced out of the accused by exerting lot of pressure, stress and threats. Thus confessions don’t have much credibility. After interacting with the family members of Francis Pereira it seems unlikely that he could carry out the desecrations.

The hate speeches delivered at the Hindu Conclave has fuelled an atmosphere of violence and hatred towards minorities and the spate of desecrations has followed it as a natural consequence. The speeches may have abetted the desecrations. In any case, the police and the State as part of their duty has to take actions against these hate speeches especially in the context of the desecrations. But no case is registered against the hate speeches. The police claim that Francis Pereira single handedly desecrated the religious symbols.  But the team does not find it plausible that a single man who is 50 years old can plan so many desecrations single handedly without any motive in such a short span. Moreover the desecrations have not stopped after the arrest of Francis Pereira. The police are either under tremendous political pressure to close the case and toe the political line or are unwilling to get to the real culprits.

In any case, the people of Goa have lost their faith in the police. Most of the crosses have been desecrated couple of times before this too. The police have exhibited little sincerity to solve the cases and arrest the culprits. Thus not all incidents were reported to the police. The people prefer not to go to the police since they know the police will do very little. This points out to the helplessness and frustration amongst the people.

4 Post the alleged desecrations of Frances Pereira – Madkai and Chimbel

The police and government have declared with certainty that the lone desecrator was Francis Pereira. This theory falls when one sees continuing desecrations in Goa even after arrest of Pereira. Once again, the Chief Minister has jumped the gun and proceeded to announce that the police have leads. These have happened again in two Christian locations.

In Madkai 12 crosses were desecrated. They were ruthless and pillars were thrown on the ground, the main gate was uprooted. Francis has claimed his innocence. The police cannot obviously do this on the basis of conspiracy theories and police methods of investigation which are often threatening and based on pre-meditated outcomes.

To establish this allegation, the community found in Chimbel, a lone cross was desecrated. The police have put forward a theory which people have dismissed, that cattle may be responsible for the fall of the structure. Rather than collecting forensic evidence, the police officers and other police personnel, destroyed evidence by replacing the fallen pieces and reconstructing the cross. When Catholic priests arrived on the spot, they saw the cross being tampered and the attempt to change the facts.  Clearly, there is an angle that even the police may be hiding. Chimbel leave room for doubt in citizen minds of political manipulation and possible police complicity. The police were seen trying to construct a theory and building evidence around that.

Recommendations

1.      The fact finding team recommends constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the supervision of the Bombay High Court or the Supreme Court to impartially investigate the desecration and bring to justice all involved in the crime. Such an investigation should explore the political angles and the state of communal tensions now prevalent in Goa.

2.      The fact finding team also recommends that legal action must be taken against hate speeches made at the Hindu conclave under relevant sections like 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code.

3.      Civil Society will have to undertake sustained campaign against communal forces and compel the State Government to perform its Constitutional obligation of arresting hate crimes and upholding democratic rights of all citizens. Sustained campaign will also have to be undertaken to promote feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood among members of all religious communities.

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Irfan Engineer, Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Lynching to power

Irfan Engineer
20-07-2017

Mashal Khan, a 23 year old journalism student was seized from his dorm room by a mob that stripped and beat him, then shot him dead on 13 April 2017 in Mardan in North West Pakistan. Khan was accused of offending Islam (Rasmussen and Baloch 2017). In the month of May 2017, a mob attacked a police station demanding that Prakash Kumar, a 34 year old Hindu, arrested under blasphemy laws of Pakistan, be handed over to the mob (AFP 2017). Just over a week later, a mob attacked a mentally ill man who claimed to be a prophet at his local mosque in north-western Chitral (Pakistan). He was rescued by police. The spate of incidents followed government of Pakistan’s drive against blasphemy. Unproven allegations of “insult to Islam” led to dozens of mob attacks or murders since 1990 in Pakistan.

India is trying to catch up with Pakistan with spate of mob lynching after the BJP Govt. was elected to power in May 2014, different only with regards to minor details. Replace the allegation of “insult to Islam” with “cow slaughter” and you get same lawlessness and lynch mentality on this side of the border. The similarities between Pakistani – jihadi if you prefer the term – and Hindu supremacist lynch mobs are many – on both sides of the border the blood thirsty lynch mobs were encouraged by specific legislations – blasphemy laws in case of Pakistan and anti-cow slaughter laws in case of India.

The lynch mobs on both sides of the border target their respective minorities with the state law and order machinery laid back and taking little action against the members of lynch mob. They target the economically poor, politically weak and socially marginalized within the minorities. Not the elite within the minorities. The lynch mobs do not target owners of the beef packaging and exporting industry and large slaughter houses. Slaughter of large number of cows and progeny would come to a near halt if fear of God was put in the owners of beef exporting industry.

Instead of taking strict punitive action under law against the members of lynch mob, the machinery mandated to uphold law and order investigate the allegations made by the mob against their victims. Booking the victims of the lynch mob is meant as a measure to appease the blood thirsty mob. The Pakistani police registered offence against Prakash Kumar. In case of Mashal Khan, Abdul Wali Khan University launched an inquiry whether Khan insulted Islam. In the case of Dadri lynching, the police sent sample of meat to laboratory for testing whether it was beef.

In both countries, the lynch mob enjoy patronage of politicians from the ruling party and dominant religio-political organisation – Hindu supremacist in India and Islamic fundamentalist organisations in Pakistan. In both the Countries, law abiding citizens were horrified by the violence invoking religious issues. Protestors in India protested in various cities and towns under #NotInMyName campaign after lynching of a teenage boy Junaid in Haryana. Protesters gathered across Pakistan, calling for justice after lynching of Mashal Khan. Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Nawaz Sharif condemned the murder – although it took him two days. Prime Minister Modi too condemned the so called gau rakshaks for records more than nudging the police to act against them effectively.

Indian Constitution is democratic, whereas Pakistan is believed to be dominated by “jihadi” ideology. While there have been only about a dozen lynching in Pakistan since 1990, in India, media reported 33 incidents of mob lynching since the year 2015 beginning with Dadri. Some say there were 67 incidents since 2015. 18 persons, including one Hindu, were killed and 71 persons were injured. 7 of the 71 injured in the lynching have been Hindus and 14 dalits. Two incidents of lynching took place in Karnataka and one each in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Assam, West Bengal and Bihar. Whereas 26 lynching incidents have taken place in BJP ruled states, including Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, UP, MP, Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir.

We are made to believe by the lynch mobs in Pakistan that they are protecting Islam and the lynch mobs in India that they are protecting cows. Wrong. Neither Islam needs protection of lynch mobs nor are the cows protected by them. In fact their actions endanger both – cow and Islam. Pakistani lynch mobs are in fact defaming Islam by their violent actions. Experts have pointed out that the peasant would not be able to bear the burden to maintain a cow beyond its lactation period and they may opt for other milch animals and the number of cows in the country may drastically go down. The animators and leaders of lynch mobs have other objectives which we would like inquire into a little later.

Silence of the majority

Lynching is possible in a context wherein a social group is demonized and stigmatized for years, particularly the minorities in Pakistan and India. Minorities are demonized so frequently and so widely using media and social media platforms that they are perceived as anti-nationals and loyal to the “enemy” state. Just because a few Muslim women wear veils and a few Muslim men wear skull cap and grow beard, they are stigmatized as fanatics whereas Hindus applying tilaks on their foreheads women wearing mangalsutra or Sikhs wearing their headgear and carrying kirpan are not perceived as religious fanatics.

Such perceptions do not emerge from nowhere. Differences of way of life are politicised. PM Modi when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat had demonized Muslims to be breading like rabbits in relief camps and denied any material support to hapless displaced of riots in 2002. The then PM Vajpayee had to remind the CM of Gujarat of his raj dharma. Maneka Gandhi, Minister for women and child welfare without any evidence said that the profits from cow slaughter are funding terrorism in the country. The Jains and Hindus are owners of largest slaughter houses and have substantial stake in beef export market earning huge profits. Why would they fund terrorism? Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP MP said madrasas are training grounds of terrorists. Amit Shah, BJP President during campaign in Bihar state elections said that Pakistan would celebrate the defeat of BJP! He had earlier during the General election campaign called upon his Hindu audience to take revenge of Muzaffarnagar communal violence. These are just a few examples of demonization of Muslim and Christian minorities by Hindu supremacists for many years and now they have become conventional wisdom.

State functionaries ignore these hate crimes and remain silent. They shirk their Constitutional mandate and duty to bring those committing hate crimes to justice. This strengthens the assumption within the people that the averments may be true. People then come to believe that the law of the land and criminal justice system is not effective to tackle these criminal, unpatriotic and anti-national traitors that the minorities are.

Lynching receives silent approval of the majority in this backdrop. Mere allegation is enough to believe that a Muslim driver transporting cattle or meat in spite of all necessary permits is a “cow smuggler” or a co-conspirator in cow slaughter. Similarly, in Pakistan, mere allegation that a Hindu or a Christian has insulted Islam or Prophet is sufficient to be convinced of their guilt. This assumption of guilt gives rise to silence of the majority. Large majority of populace of the country is converted into believing the allegations of animator of the lynch mobs without any question. Mashal was lynched in Pakistan, the other students were silent spectators as no one even asked what did Mashal Khan do or say! 16 year old Junaid Khan could be stabbed to death and thrown out of the train as all the passengers were silent spectators. Media reports suggest that even on the railway platform on which Junaid bled to death, no one came forward to speak to the police. The credentials of the animators and members of the lynch mobs do not matter. They may be bullies or extortionists or even criminals often having political ambition.

The lynch squads pretending to be gau rakshaks have been functioning Gujarat since at least over a decade. There are over three scores of them in Ahmedabad alone and many more in other towns of Gujarat. The lynch squads are well networked under patronage of a politician and they cultivate informers all over the place. The squad receives information of vehicles transporting animals from one place to another and whose driver or owner is a Muslim. On receiving such information, their animator/leader assembles the members, sets up unauthorised blockades on road. After the vehicle is stopped, the first thing they do is snatch all the permits that the driver of the vehicle may show  (Engineer 2014) At times they extort money and allow the vehicle to carry on and at times they start lynching, they may video graph the whole lynching, summon the police and hand them over. The video is uploaded on social media to exhibit the prowess of the lynch squad. The police would then charge the victims of the lynch squad under anti-cow slaughter legislations and other laws. If a lynch squad is able to mount several such operations, their leader establishes himself as a local bully and has an accelerated political career in the party wherein Hindu supremacist seek opportunities. Hate crimes create silent spectators which enables lynching and which in turn is used as an instrument to deepen demonization of the minorities.

Objectives of lynch mobs

The lynch mobs have a political objective rather than religious one they pretend to have. If the Pakistani lynch mobs wanted to serve or “save” Islam, they should be saying their prayers, observing fast, serving the orphans and the needy through charity and treading the straight path in accordance with Qur’anic guidance, as many pious Muslims do. The lynch mob masquerading as gau rakshaks would not ignore the stray cows and hungry suffering cows in the gaushalas across the country receiving grants from tax payer’s funds. The lynch mobs and their patronisers desire an accelerated political career. Having legally and politically survived lynching operations, their participants have a sense of empowerment and above law. The lynch mobs establish their hegemony not only over the state machinery, but also over politically and socio-economically marginalized sections of the society, including minorities, dalits and other backward classes.

They enforce through coercion the will and way of life of socially hegemonic and privileged upper castes. The Pakistani lynch mobs establish their hegemony not only over the Hindu and Christian minorities but also over Ahmediya, Shias and rationalists. Lynching is leading to Wahabisation of Islam in Pakistan and reinforcing caste based hierarchies, and traditional upper caste and Khap panchayat morality in India. The lynchers trigger off political processes that strengthen patriarchy and control over women’s body, mind and movements. They politically push for more authoritarian state enforcing cultural norms and will of the upper caste. They undermine the concept of citizenship and push the society towards mental ghettoization and acceptance of hegemony of community over the individual.

Resisting lynch mobs and speaking against them is not only in the interest of minorities directly threatened but also in the interest of society in general and democracy in particular. The majority will have to break their silence and be vocal against all forms of violence.

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Irfan Engineer, Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features