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The selective amnesia of Tarlochan Singh
The National Commission of Minorities, keen on pushing the Christian community into the arms of RSS general Kupahalli Sudershan, is blind to the coercion and violence of the Ghar Vapsi programme launched by the Sangh Parivar in the forest areas of the central Indian Tribal belt. This programme, and the large scale distribution of arms and hate literature, has scared the Tribal, polarized their society and led to the sort of violence seen against Muslims in the Tribal areas of Gujarat.
By John Dayal
Not many in India have perhaps heard of Nagendra Rao, but he is a familiar bylie on many Hindutva websites on he Internet, a frequenter and apparently very welcome writer specializing in manufacturing hate campaigns against Muslims and Christians with equal felicity. Commending recently on the writings of the fellow Hindutva expert, the India based and Indian- married French journalist Francois Gautier-- the Asia Pacific correspondent of Le Monde and other French newspapers - whose own writings would put the most committed Sangh parivar wordsmith to shame, Nagendra penned some of his own "Thoughts on Principled Militancy by Hindus" in the context of evangelization by some Christian groups.
Wrote Nagendra "If Muslims and Christians use perfidy and force in conversion, as they frequently do, we have to act with merciless ferocity and militant determination. The blunt fact is that communal violence by Muslims in India are being kept more in check by the threat of the Shiv Sena and the RSS than the vapid and despicable Gujral Doctrine of concession of I.K. Gujral our ex-Prime Minister. Why do Muslims squeal and their secularist supporter's rant if there was a Christian backlash after their burning alive of Christian women and children at Godhra? If the Indian government is not responsive or is sympathetic to running down Hindus and Hindutva, there comes a time when Hindus will look out for themselves and act on their own. Collateral damage in such cases is regrettable and should not be condoned. However, let Hindus stop beating their breasts until the end of Kali Yuga about it. If necessary let us face Armageddon keeping in mind the more militant verses of the Bhagavad Gita of Sri Krishna. It is the duty of the Kshatriya to be merciless in avenging injustice, even to the point of slaughtering ones uncles, grandfathers, and cousins' et.al. A time comes when Hindu Rashtra needs to stand up and be ready for the final answer. Vijaya prapti na tu virgati - Victory or Martyrdom. We Hindus have been turned into eunuchs or lambs for the slaughter because of the totally misguided ahimsa bleating of Gandhi, and the secularism prantings of Nehru. The entire Gandhi and Nehru's heritage has to be washed away and its foundation has to be sown with salt, before real Hindu Dharma rises again like the Phoenix from the flames. Honor, duty, tolerance, ecumenism which characterize Sanatana Dharma are all in danger of being swept away if we do not take an unequivocal militant Christiantva stand. The way the Malabar Mounted Police put down the Moplah Muslim rebellion in Kerala in 1921 is a good example of the ferocity and determination that is needed on the part of our gutless Indian government. We have to deliver the only message that militant Islam and jingoistic Christianity understand - ruthless, unwavering force without quarter, delivered calmly without passion or attachment. Vande Mataram!"
Although the police have been catching a few Muslim journalists and Kashmiri leaders by examining the hard disks of their computers to prove that they are all agents of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence agency ISI, neither the police nor the Indian legal system is yet capable of taking cognizance of cyber crime as it relates to hate crimes and religious confrontation, particularly of the violent nature of the text quoted above. The police and other authorities therefore can possibly be excused for either not knowing about such web sites or not being able to do anything about it; not that they have been able to do anything about Internet child pornography or pedophilia.
Another outburst was not on the Internet but in a public place, a very sensitive public place presumably full of government people on their guard against anti national activity. This is what the Indian Express, current watchdog of communal crises, reported from Amritsar in its edition of the 4th of September 2002: Vishwa Hindu Parishad international working president Ashok Singhal today (3rd September) termed Gujarat as a ''successful experiment''- and warned that it would be repeated all over India. Singhal, in Amritsar to inaugurate a physiotherapy centre at the Shivala Bhaian temple, said, ''Godhra happened on February 27 and the next day, 50 lakh Hindus were on the streets. We were successful in our experiment of raising Hindu consciousness, which will be repeated all over the country now. Singhal also spoke glowingly of how whole villages had been ''emptied of Islam'', and how whole communities of Muslims had been dispatched to refugee camps. This was a victory for Hindu society, he added, a first for the religion. ''People say I praise Gujarat. Yes I do,'' he told an appreciative, but modest, audience."
Karnataka minister T John had an FIR registered against him for saying something a million times less offensive on the Gujarat Earthquake which followed soon after the wave of Christian persecution in the state. Surely the report on Shinghal's gloating must have been seen by the Supreme Court of India's learned judges, as indeed by the members of the National Human Rights Commission and other organisations of the government charged with keeping the peace and ensuring that the rule of law ad the writ of the state did continue to run in free India. One is not aware if the Supreme Court has taken suo motu notice of the matter - though NGOs are sure to file Public interest litigations, and the NHRC is yet to issue notices to the government and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to explain their mutual actions, silence on the part of the government and venom from the VHP.
Perhaps such action will be forthcoming once these busy organisations get the time to see the import of Shinghal's words. But there is at l east one organisation in the country whose solitary task is to take pre emptive action to see that no harm is done to the country's religious and linguistic minorities. This is the National Commission for Minorities. I have had occasion in the past to lampoon one of its members, John Joseph whose `Christian' name ensures that he got into the panel as the community's member on the panel even if no one in the Christian community was asked before he was elevated to the post. He has served his political masters well in the past two years, bamboozling and gang pressing a section of the Christian leadership - some of them innocent bishops, others near-heretics whose claim to fame is that they have defamed bishops in the past, and a few outright crooks with Christian names - into consorting with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and specially its leader Kupahalli Sudershan. These dialogues have become major platforms for Sudershan to abuse Christians and the Church some more, without helping the Church get its point across at all.
But there was a member on the Commission who had apparently served his community better. Tarlochan Singh forced the RSS to apologise when Sudershan set up a frontal organisation to work among the Sikh community. This time the so called dialogue was where the Sikhs spoke, and Sudershan hurriedly listed for fear he would be barred from Punjab.
Tarlochan Singh too is a government appointee, travelling like Joseph the entire route from the Congress to the pro-BJP spectrum with ease. A former official in Delhi in a subordinate cadre, Tarlochan became the information office and press secretary to Giani Zail Singh, accompanying him to the Rashtrapati Bhawan when the Giani became the first Sikh president of India. Giani's term ended, but Tarlochan kept climbing up the official ladder, becoming head of a Delhi government corporation, and finally a member of the Minorities commission. He maintained a warm relationship with the media, using it deftly to assuage the feelings of the Khalsa leadership, which had been hurt because they had not been consulted when he was elevated to the Commission.
Tarlochan Singh used the media to good affect recently when he released to the press a letter to wrote to Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao, mistaking him to be the President of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India. The letter was in the media long before it was in the hands of the Archbishop. It was a polite but peremptory letter, which inter alia said the Church should stop all evangelisation activity among the Sikhs and in areas where they lived. Archbishop Vincent, ever polite, wrote back, teaching Tarlochan a thing or two about the theology of faith, the freedom of the Individual's conscience, and the mystery of the power of the Holy Spirit. One is not too sure if Tarlochan is any the more enlightened, but he must be wondering over how to respond to the archbishop's sharp sentence "We certainly want inter-religious harmony and peace. We strongly believe in it and work for it by ourselves and with all people of goodwill. But this harmony cannot be achieved at the cost of the individual citizen's freedom of conscience, which every other citizen has to respect."
The Archbishop also went on to add theological and Constitutional issues which neither Tarlochan nor John Joseph ought to be expected to fully grasp. Said the Archbishop: Conversion is fundamentally the decision of an adult to opt for a way of life of his choice. Nobody can convert another person. One can only present a way of life to another person. The decision to respond is totally the free choice of the person who is addressed. If the message of Christianity or the experience of Christianity inspires a person, and he or she decides to accept it, we believe that this cannot happen without the intervention of the grace of God. Therefore, what happens as a consequence of the free interaction between God and man in the sanctuary of an individual's conscience is known only to them. Outsiders can only know from what a person communicates. That faith-healing takes place when people pray to Jesus Christ is an undeniable fact. Such miracles are found in the Gospel / Bible and are also taking place today here in India and all over the world.
This does not imply that one should not have recourse to treatment. We must take ordinary measures to recover health and also pray for recovery with faith, which is ultimately, God's gift to those who surrender to Him. It must also be noted that our prayer may not be answered as we want. Implied in every prayer there is the acceptance of God's will which may not always be what one prays for. Nevertheless prayer is bound to help the person cope with the difficulty one has to face. As Christians we are not a threat to anyone. We are a hand extended in friendship and service. We are happy to cooperate with all our Indian brothers and sisters, eager to work out our common destiny in peace and harmony."
The Archbishop's gentle rebuke notwithstanding, the NCM has not spoken about the poison spewed by Singhal, and his cohorts. As the All India Christian Council, in its letter to the Commission (See accompanying box item) there is much that smacks of double standards in the attitude of the Commission. It worst lapse is on the issue of the so called Ghar Wapsi programme which is inflicting such physical and psychological violence on the dignity, culture and person of Tribals as individuals and as groups living in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, even Bihar and =West Bengal - the entire Tribal belt that straddles the heart of India.
Ghar Wapsi has not been studied in great detail, mostly because it is unsafe for social scientists and journalists to get in the way of tall men like BJP member of Parliament Judeo who towers two feet over the diminutive Tribals he claims to rule over and is now coercing to leave Christianity. The documentary film maker Ranjan Kamath some years ago accompanied him with a camera - Judev thought Kamath was a good and loyal Christian and was making a film in his praise. The film, called Fishers of Men, is a damning indictment of the process Judev and others of the sangh fontal organisations adopt in their tactics.
In interviews with the media, Judev says, "Ranchi is the 'Vatican of the East.' This is the area where, due to our influence and work, we have brought a halt to conversions. Our workers tell the Christians in these areas that these missionaries are very cunning. We advise them to 'accept the services the missionaries offer, but do not give up your religion and culture due to the favors you receive.' We have also spread 'terror' due to our style of functioning, organization and the hard work of our volunteers. The conversions have stopped and the wheel is now moving in the reverse direction. Under operation 'homecoming,' people are coming back to the fold of Hinduism. We have remade 50,000 Hindus.
"What is the "terror" that Judev boasts of spreading? "We do not want spectators and directors," he advises. "We want active workers." But what really give his rivals cause to pause are his audacious declarations. In a 1992 issue of India Today, Judev put forth his manifesto to the missionaries. It reads, "1) The Christians used to sacrifice a calf on Christmas. We declare that anyone who eats the cow will be in turn eaten up by us; 2) We told the missionaries that for every choti (tuft of hair on a shaven head) clipped, we shall clip two throats and 3) I believe in tit for tat. We have prepared a hit list of missionaries." Recently he affirmed his outlandish utterances by stating, "I have to say certain things to terrorize these people. If you cut one choti off a Hindu, we will cut off your heads and offer them to Hanuman." Dilip Singh Judev is the former 'Raja' (King) of Jashpur, a Tribal belt in the north-eastern part of Raigarh district in Madhya Pradesh. Over six feet tall, Judev is a well built person who dresses like a military general. In addition, he is the hereditary "royal guardian" of the Korwa Tribals of Surguja district. He calls Korwa warriors to attend his homecomings as protectors and as a convincing show of force, a nesmagazine wrote recently when 360 Christian Tribals were reconverted to Hinduism under the banner of the Vanwasi Kalyan Ashram, a frontal organisation of Sangh Parivar, in neighbouring Sarguja district. There was full official complicity. Ashram chief Swami Amaranand and former Union Minister Laran Sai were present besides local Congress leaders besides Judev.
This is one of hundreds of such programmes that have taken place since 1998. They have not all been peaceful. Judev is determined to bring as many as he can back to the fold. In village meetings he has declared his intention of forcibly taking back the land on which the missionaries have built schools, hospitals and other institutes to begin with, there is the issue of which religion the Tribals are being drafted into once they are forced to renounce their faith as Christians. "The Tribals were never considered Christians in the first place," Tribal lawyer Silvanus Lakda, told the Week magazine. He asked how Tribals could be called Christians when acts like the Christian Succession Act, Christian Marriage Act, Christian Adoption & Maintenance Act were not applicable to them. "I have put pictures of Christian gods in my house because we were threatened," the magazine quoted Prakash Gautia, headman of Maheshpur village. "But we pray to Jesus Christ." "Only Christian Tribals have progressed. There are Oraons who are doctors, policemen, professionals," he says. "The non-Christians are still living like cattle."
The violence can be bloody, sometimes. The Kamath film which I saw sometime ago narrates the events that led to the death of John Kerketta and the brutal assault on his brother Prakash. Their sister Sucheta reconstructs the event that happened three years ago, going to different rooms in the house and out in the field. The film's co producer and Kamath's wife, with tears in her eyes described her meeting with the mother of John Kerketta. "As an Indian it finished me. Just because you choose another god, do you cease to be Indian? Do I, as a Christian, deserve to be clubbed with this kind of violence? I just cannot come to terms with it."
In its letter to Tarlochan Singh, the Christian Council said: `We are really intrigued, and deeply saddened, that the National Commission for Minorities, and you as its more vigilant Member, have maintained silence on the real act of punitive religious coercion being carried out by blatant political elements across the Tribal belt of Central India from Rajasthan to Gujarat and even West Bengal. This is the so called Ghar Vapsi programme openly espoused as a conversion policy by members of the Sangh Parivar, and led by its top leaders, including several legislators and even a member of Parliament, or two. Each function in Tribal villages is a show of brute strength, often of a military nature with weapons being openly seen. Each of these conversions frightens Tribal Christians into embracing Hinduism, which is not their basic religion.
Official patronage, police cowardice and inaction in the face of political bigwigs and structural laisse-faire as shown by the Census authorities aids and abets this heinous crime which goes against the Human Rights of the people. Violence has accompanied several such Ghar Wapsi, and persons who have refused to be coerced by these goons have paid dearly. These mass conversions are NOT incidents of an individual's act of conscience or choice of faith. The VHP and its spawn are carrying out this exercise as a political drive to destablise the Tribal communities and as an act of coercion against the Christian community," the Christian Council said.
Tarlochan Singh is yet to reply
ALL INDIA CHRISTIAN COUNCIL
79/B I&II Floors, Street 8, West Marredpally, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh
President: Dr Joseph D' Souza Secretary General: Dr. John Dayal
6 September 2002
Sardar Tarlochan Singh
The National Commission for Minorities
Lok Nayak Bhawan, New Delhi
Re: Demand for urgent action against coercive Ghar Wapsi campaigns in Tribal areas by Sangh Parivar
Dear Sardar Tarlochan Singh
Greetings from the All India Christian Council.
The Council congratulated you in the past when you forced the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leadership to apologise for creating RSS frontal organisations to mislead the Sikhs. In that action you had shown far more loyalty to your community and concern for its interests than the Christian member of the National Commission of Minorities had shown towards his community.