In the recently released report, Freedom House downgraded India from free to partly free due to the atmosphere of intolerance, treatment of journalists, protestors and religious minorities. The events of 19th March at Jhansi station more than reflect this fact. On 19th March two nuns belonging to Sacred Heart congregation, who were travelling from Delhi to Odisha with two postulants, were forced to de-board the train. Some Bajrang Dal/ABVP types alleged that the nuns, who were in their usual habit, were taking the girls for conversion. These vigilantes asked for Identity cards and religion of the teenager postulants and the circulating video shows they were aggressive in their tone all through.

The postulants said that they are Christians and intend to become nuns. The police was brought in and four of these women were taken away by police, were forced to leave the train. They were permitted to travel again the next day after the intervention from Bishops House. The frightening incident where the women had to face the male vigilantes and the male police personnel has sent the shock wave around. A statement was issued by Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KBC) stated that nuns were taken to the custody without any reason and humiliated. The KBC also demanded suitable action against those who harassed the women. As the nuns are from Kerala, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to the Home minster Amit Shah demanding intervention from him.  Shah, who is incidentally facing elections in Kerala, has promised to look into the matter.

The ABVP/Bajrang Dal activists were quoting the UP anti conversion law and intimidating the women. The activists indulging in such action has been increasing during last few years. The sense of impunity is seeping in deep into these groups as they have seen that those indulging in such crimes are not only treated with kid gloves but often catch the eye of top leaders and are duly rewarded. While this incident has come to light; many priests have been facing similar problems from quite sometime. ‘Persecution Relief’ report (2019) points out “The frequency of attacks on Christian’s gatherings is escalating to heights especially during when Sunday morning Worship service and house prayer meetings. Pastors and congregation members are beaten, sometimes so badly that they break their legs, vandalize the churches and the Hindu fundamentalists make reports to the police that these Christians are converting the people to Christ. Hundreds of Christians are being imprisoned on false charges of converting Hindus to Christianity.”

The ‘Freedom House’ report mentions the attacks on Muslims prominently as the attacks on Muslims are very glaring while those on Christians are generally sub-radar and reported less often. The very nature of anti-Christian violence in India beginning in the decades of 1990s has been a bit different. The first major act of anti Christian violence was the brutal burning of Pastor Graham Stewart Stains in 1999. Bajrang Dal’s Dara Singh (Rajendra Pal) who is currently in jail was the one who mobilized people on the pretext that Pastor Stains is a threat to Hinduism as he is converting the people on the pretext of treating Leprosy patients.

That time it was NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Lal Krishna Advani as Home minister. Initially Advani stated that it can’t be a work of Bajrang Dal worker as he knows them too well. The incident was so horrific that the President of India K.R. Narayanan lamented that the ‘Killings belong to World’s inventory of Black deeds” Shaken by this the NDA Government sent a top level ministerial team with Murli Manohar Joshi, George Fernandez and Navin Patnaik. The team opined that the killings were part of the International conspiracy to destabilize the NDA Government. At the same time Advani appointed Wadhava Commission to investigate the incident. Wadhava Commission concluded that Bajrang Dal Activist Dara Sing, who was also participating in other Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, Vishwa Hindu Parishad type activities, was the culprit and that there is no statistical increase in the number of Christians in the area where Pastor Stains was working.

Later we witnessed the regular occurrence of anti Christian violence in Adivasi areas of Dangs (Gujarat), Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh) and Orissa. Every year around Christmas time the anti Christian violence used to take place and the peak of this was the August 2008 Kandhamal Violence in which nearly hundred Christian lost their lives, hundreds of Churches were damaged or burnt and thousands of Christians were displaced. National People’s Tribunal headed by retired Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice A.P. Shah opined that “What happened in Kandhamal was a national shame, a complete defacement of humanity, ...Survivors continue to be intimidated, denied protection and access to justice”.

The anti Christian violence has been preceded by a ceaseless propaganda that Christian Missionaries are getting huge foreign funding, and is doing the conversion work through fraud and allurement. All Christian denominations don’t operate on the similar ground. There may be few who proclaim conversion to be their goal, but majority of the denominations are not out for canvassing for conversion or allurement. Indian Christianity is very old. One version telling us its beginning from AD 52, when St. Thomas arrived on Malabar Coast  and set up churches. Since then many a missions are working in remote areas and also cities. Their primary work being in the sectors of health and education. Incidentally many leading lights of Hindu nationalists like Advani and Jaitley have been products of Christian mission schools.

The major reason for this propaganda is to pose obstacle to the activities of missionaries in Adivasi areas in particular, where these activities are giving succor to the sick on one hand and empowering Adivasis through the work of education on the other. From the decades of 1980s the VHP/Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has been focusing on the Adivasi belt where Swamis belonging to these organizations have been active, Aseemanand in Dangs, Gujarat, Laxmananand in Orissa, followers of Asaram Bapu in Jhabua, MP.

In these areas Shabri and Hanuman are also being promoted as icons of Adivasis and religiosity is being promoted along with anti-Christian propaganda. It is this propaganda which forms the root of violence and it is the electoral power at Center from last few years which encourages the vigilantes to do such acts as witnessed in Jhansi.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

India got independence from British colonial rule on 15th August 1947 after a long struggle which was inclusive and had plural dimensions. Foundation of Indian Constitution is Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Justice. The values of secularism are deeply ingrained all through and particularly in Articles 14, 19, 22, and 25. It gives us freedom of religion, to practice, preach and propagate the same.

Not all Indians were for such plural values which respect diversity. The communal streams immediately attacked the constitution saying it does not reflect the glorious contribution of Indian past, the values given in holy tomes like Manu Smriti. Communal stream was critical of Constitution and did not accept the tricolor as our national flag. Nearly seven decades down the line those opposing Indian Constitution and its values are rearing their heads from last few decades. There are top leaders like the Prime minster Narendra Modi who on one side claim to be Hindu nationalists and on the other level for electoral purpose claim that “We are secular not because the word was added in our Constitution. Secularism is in our blood. We believe in Sarva Pantha Sambhava.”

There is yet another types of leaders like Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of UP who detest this ideology out and out. Recently he stated that secularism was the “biggest threat” to the traditions of India getting recognition on the global stage.” At an earlier occasion he had stated that “The word "secular" is "the biggest lie", and suggested that the people who propagated it should apologize to the nation, a reference to the Congress party.”

Adityanath who has taken the oath on Indian Constitution has no qualms in denigrating one of its core values. He himself is the Mahant (Chief Priest) of Gorakhnath Math. He is saffron clad like few others in his party.

Let us see how secularism is a threat to traditions of India. India is inherently plural with rich diversity in religious traditions, languages, ethnicities, food habits, dressing pattern, ways of worship etc. In a way the Hindu religion, in whose pretext he is taking secularism to the task itself is so diverse; from the Brahmanical traditions of hierarchy to the Bhakti tradition talking of equality; there is a wide range. Has this diversity hampered the path to recognition of India on the global stage?

The rich contributions of India are recognized all over the World. The contributions of philosophers like Buddha are appreciated in large parts of the World, more particularly South East Asia. During freedom movement Mahatma Gandhi rose like a colossus and based on Indian tradition he propagated non Violence and Satyagriha (invocation to truth). These were the contribution which inspired many a great leaders in the World including Martin Luther King (Jr) and Nelson Mandela who followed his path to take their goals towards fruition. Indian philosophy influenced the global thinking in multiple ways.

Even global culture is diverse and learns from each other, the astronomical and mathematical contributions from India made their place in the global knowledge systems. Further the First Prime minster of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, gave the unique concept of ‘non alignment’, which was picked up by large sections of the World and many nations joined this unique movement at the peak of its success.

Contrary to what Adityanath is stating; it is precisely due to the secular path which we followed that we could achieve miraculous progress in first 5-6 decades of our republic in the areas of industrialization, education, irrigation, atomic and space research among others. As such we seem to have stagnated during last cople of decades as the path of secularism has been denigrated and mocked at. Lately the communal party is gloating that in last elections no body dared to utter this word!

There is also criticism that the introduction of this word in 1976 during emergency was uncalled for and so should be done away with. As such the whole constitution is seeped with the values of secularism. While at one level secularism says that state has no religion, Indian model of secularism respects all religions without being guided by it. Secularism is unique in another way that it respects those communities which are in minority and provides for affirmative, protective clauses for them. These are currently is being labeled as ‘appeasement of minorities’ and is being made a rallying point for electoral mobilization of majority community.

While Adityanath is lamenting against secular plural diverse values and propagates for Hindu Nation, the ideology of the ruling party, he is not alone in that. At the moment multiple articulations are being put forward. One Anant Kumar Hegde the Union minster bluntly stated that BJP is in power as it wants to change the constitution. One earlier Sarsanghchalak K. Sudarshan also put is forward by saying that Indian Constitution is based on Western values and so not suitable for our country. We should bring a Constitution based on Indian Holy books!

Religious nationalists all over the world abhor the secular-plural values they limit their power to impose their own values on society, to create a value system of hierarchy, the overt expression of which comes in the books like Manusmriti. The pre modern structural hierarchies of class, caste and gender are their ideal, be it the Talibans, Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt based communal organization) or those indulging in politics in the name of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

The plight of Pakistan, where communal forces had been dominant, is there for all of us to see. Neither it could remain united as Islamic nation nor could it make headways in areas of science, education, health and industrialization.

The communal mindset needs to be overcome to focus on the progress of society in the areas of education, health, employment and nutrition rather than celebrating religious festivals at the expense of the state or taking up issues related to temple-mosque and put to margins the issues of marginalized sections of society.


Edited version of this article appeared in Madras Courier https://madrascourier.com/opinion/secularism-is-not-a-threat-it-is-the-principle-that-binds-india-together/

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED