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VAPPALA BALACHANDRAN | 5 APRIL, 2015

Attacks on Christian: Don’t They Have a Right to Protest?

A priest in a church gutted in Delhi


Eminent economist Dr.Jagdish Bhagwati was not very convincing as a PR man of BJP and Narendra Modi government when he criticized legendary police chief Julio Ribeiro for his recent article that he felt “suddenly, a stranger in my own country” after a series of verbal and physical attacks on Christians by some Hindu leaders and storm troopers. Bhagwati begins his rambling and directionless article (“The False alarm over Christians in India”- March 29) by admitting his partisan bias. He says that the allegations by Christians “are so ridiculous and libelous to the prime minister, and even the BJP generally, that they must be exposed forcefully as such”. Then he tries to correct his arguments by quoting tiresome details of his personal and family connections with Christian and Islamic faith. In between he makes distasteful and patronizing remarks about St. Xavier’s School, his alma mater in Mumbai: “On a lighter side, with discipline a high point, we used to joke how strict the school was because they even had a guy nailed to the wall”. Would his friends in the extremist Hindu fringe have approved such remarks by Christians or Muslims about Hindu gods?

Bhagwati’s attack on Ribeiro is mainly on his defence of Mother Teresa. He says that Ribeiro “is clearly ignorant of the fact that Mother Teresa may have won the Nobel Prize but many doubt her bona fides including the late Christopher Hitchens”. Then he wants to impress his readers that he knew Hitchens personally. He quotes his banter with him in an American television studio where he had gone to “do a debate”. Hitchens had just recorded his attack on Hillary Clinton. Bhagwati tells him: “Christopher, you did not say that Hillary Clinton was no Mother Teresa”. But Bhagwati should know that denouncers or attention seekers like Christopher Hitchens or retired Justice Markandey Katju who recently said that Gandhiji was a British agent, usually get blown over by history as such denigration does not in any way bring down these idols in public esteem. He quotes Washington Post article (25 February 2015) of one Adam Taylor repeating the attack on Mother Teresa but ignores a very damaging article in the same newspaper of December 18, 2014 “ Christian Enclave in India fears violence as Hindus press for conversions”.

But Bhagwati’s biggest mistake is to presume that Ribeiro is supportive of conversions. Obviously he does not know Ribeiro personally nor has he read any of his published pieces. Had Bhagwati bothered to read Ribeiro’s article in a leading daily “ How religious conversions can be countered without violence”( 23 March 2015), there would have been no need for him to give confusing TV interviews by quoting repeatedly “monkey say, monkey repeat” phenomenon to describe minority fears. Acclaimed Indian police leaders like F.V.Arul, Khusro Rustamji or Julio Ribeiro kept their personal religious faith to themselves and participated in all Hindu and Muslim festivals. For the Indian police or for Armed forces all religions are equal. Ribeiro participated in all the Hindu or Muslim festivals wherever he served-not only in the rural districts or cities of Maharashtra, but also in Gujarat and Punjab where he was called to take over police leadership. Needless to say that he was immensely popular in all these states.

I am surprised that Dr. Bhagwati knows nothing about the calculated process of endangering internal security by some elements by deliberately generating fears. I wonder whether he has read the “14 defining characteristics of fascism” which historians have analyzed. One of them is deliberate generation of fear psychosis among unsuspecting minorities through random attacks on them in isolated and unrelated parts of the country when they least expect it.

I want to quote only two seemingly isolated instances but both attacks were done deliberately. On December 13, 2014 Pastor Bhim Nayak of Banjara Baptist church in Hyderabad and fifteen church members who had been traditionally singing Christmas carols for years and visiting poor Christian families were suddenly attacked by thirty Hindu radicals. Some of the victims had to be hospitalized. A similar attack took place during Christmas season this year on Christmas carol singers who were moving about in the Adivasi area in Attapadi, Palghat district in Kerala State. Yet Dr. Bhagwati says that such complaints are “a product of fevered imagination”.

Swapan Dasgupta, who was recently awarded “Padma Bhushan” by the Modi government has discovered a ridiculous reason why Julio Ribeiro and Admiral Sushil Kumar, former Navy Chief should not voice their community’s fears. He feels that neither Ribeiro nor Sushil Kumar had faced any discrimination while in service. Hence they have no right to criticize the government. He fears that Christians are being used as “a human shield” to convey internationally that India’s multi religious character is in danger. I can understand Dasgupta’s compulsions in coming to the defence of Modi government. However our international image as a tolerant nation has taken a beating much earlier, not by the Christian community leadership, but by Modi government’s own “jewels” in the Cabinet like Giriraj Singh or Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti or by party stalwarts like Sakshi Maharaj. Their uncivil utterances against minorities were noticed much earlier by foreign governments and by the international media.

Minister Giriraj Singh has excelled again recently by his racist, misogynist and uncultured comments on Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and Nigerian women. This was deeply resented in Nigeria, where India does not have a good reputation. In November 2013 nearly 1 lakh Indians in Nigeria feared a backlash from angry Nigerians for the murder of a Nigerian national in Goa. On January 17, 2015 “Vanguard”, a Nigerian newspaper highlighted “Indians handing death and slavery to Nigerians” on how Indian managers were exploiting Nigerians in their factories. Even Home Minister Rajnath Singh was highly indiscreet in telling our BSF on April 2 that Bangladesh, the only friendly country in our neighbourhood, should be “starved of beef” by totally stopping cattle smuggling so that “prices escalates 70 to 80% more”. It would almost appear that all efforts of our Prime Minister in improving relations with foreign countries are being frustrated by these stalwarts in his own party.

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