September 26, 2008 It is a hallowed principle of jurisprudence that justice should be even-handed, and both sides to a dispute must be given a full hearing before conclusions are drawn. The media coverage of the disturbances in both Orissa and Karnataka and the action taken by the Centre are so one-sided as to make any fair-minded person feel extremely worried.
I am not a practising Hindu, perform no rituals or ceremonies and have no religious hangups. Further, having worked directly under Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi [Images] for nine years (1961-9) as the secretary of the National Integration Council from its very inception (besides my other duties in the political division of the Union home ministry), I have savoured from close quarters the spirit that animated the heroes of pre-Independence era. Hence, in sharing my uneasiness with readers, I have tried my best to rise above any prejudices or preconceptions, and appraise events on the touchstone of fair-play and freedom from bias.
To anyone for whom the print and electronic media were the only sources of information, it would seem that the Hindu fanatics, behaving like dreaded terrorists, had been making killing fields of both Orissa and Karnataka, by indulging in murderous attacks on Christian minorities, and the destruction of sacred religious places.
The emerging picture of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal -- all subsumed under the pejorative rubric Sangh Parivar or the Saffron Brigade (why not, by the same token, call the Congress the Quattrochi Brigade or the Left the Hammer-and-Sickle Brigade?) -- is that, encouraged from behind the scenes by the communal monster, the Bharatiya Janata Party, they are ruthlessly going on a violent spree, just to vent their hatred of minorities. In short, the impression given is that swarms of totally insane thugs are on a rampage without any provocation whatsoever, holding both states to ransom, and the state governments, in open sympathy with them, have done little to prevent their excesses.
Not the best way
God knows there have been condemnable incidents making innocent Christians fear for their lives. There can be no wishing away of the despicable and wilful desecration and destruction of places of worship in Khandamal in Orissa and in some places, including Bengaluru [Images], in Karnataka. Certainly, any wanton resort to violence should be put down with an iron hand and peace and harmony among all sections of the people restored at all costs.
Only a dispassionate and disinterested inquiry can credibly establish whether in the particular cases of attacks on churches, the respective state governments acted with due sense of urgency and concern for the well-being of the affected communities. Sending on a hurried visit some functionaries from the home ministry toeing the official line, unfamiliar with local conditions and listening to only the slanted version, is not the best way of getting at the truth.
Also, it must be remembered that it is, and will always be, a matter of judgement whether more or less could or should have been done by the state or central authorities to enforce the law, round up the ruffians and quell the disturbances in any particular set of circumstances. Such cases cannot be weighed on a fine scale. I say this having dealt with a number of instances of violent outbreaks and insurgency during my nine years in the home ministry and two years as chief secretary of a north-eastern state. Journalists and columnists, enjoying the good fortune of never having to manage crisis situations, should, therefore, think many times before showering their verdicts on the happenings, and especially guard against saying or writing anything approaching character assassination.
If ideal benchmarks of adequacy and promptness of action were to be applied, no central or state government will shape up. The notorious indifference and connivance exhibited by the government of the day in 1984, when more than 4000 innocent Sikh men, women and children were hounded from place to place and burnt alive and butchered in cold blood, and the palpable failure to visit the perpetrators with condign punishment, will continue to haunt the memory of all right-thinking persons.
Even today, the popular perception is that terrorism is getting its impetus from the hamstringing of the police and security agencies by the ruling coalition at the Centre which wants to nurture its Muslim vote banks and that it handles the Tamil Nadu government with kid gloves when it deliberately sets about outraging the sentiments of the Hindus. Hence, in a sense, every government in India, both at the Centre and the states, is living in a glass house and is hardly in a position to throw stones at others.
All the reports and commentaries that I have seen on the disturbances in Orissa and Karnataka, neatly sidestep the original sin and the consequential long-simmering discontent among the Hindus. They make it look as if the attackers, who were readily assumed to be members of the 'Saffron Brigade', were madly running amok without any justification. Reams have been written and billions of sound bytes have gone on air describing in lurid detail all that has happened to the churches and the Christian community, with no equal space given for the real cause of all the trouble.
Swami Lakshmananda was a revered figure in Orissa who was engaged in service to the weaker and vulnerable sections of the population. Allegedly, the local Christian votaries of conversion saw him as a thorn in their flesh. Whatever that be, the fact was that some time ago, he was the victim of attack by a gang bent on doing away with him. Luckily, he escaped at that time, but his enemies had their way the second time.
The Centre could have set all speculation at rest if, with all the mighty and extensive intelligence and investigative machinery at its disposal, it had ascertained the truth behind the murders of the Swami and his associates and unhesitatingly named the desperadoes. Its own inability, or unwillingness, to expose the forces that were behind the killing should be taken to have contributed to the flare-up that followed in Khandamal.
Similarly, as regards Mangalore and Bengaluru, those who are quick to castigate the state government gloss over the extreme provocation contained in an obnoxious pamphlet, Satya [Images] Darshini, in Kannada language, circulated in the name of an outfit called the New Life Church, scathingly scandalising Hindu gods and goddesses in the foulest of language.
I want to ask of the holier-than-thou commentators to place their hand on their hearts and tell me whether similar scurrilous observations about what is regarded as holy and sacred would be tolerated by any community anywhere in the world. Suppose someone were to write and distribute similar things about other gods and their messengers, will not the whole of India be convulsed by the mother of conflagrations? Will not the intellectuals and professed secularists then be trumpeting only the atrocious nature of the provocation, without saying a word on the massacring of innocents in every city at the hands of hooligans?
One need not even go as far as gods and goddesses: Suppose one's wife or parents are the targets of such scatological stuff distributed far and wide? Would one smile it away? Or, suppose one exhibits in a public forum paintings of particular individuals and their kith and kin in the nude, will those individuals celebrate it as an expression of artistic freedom? Why then show this perverse support to sacrilege perpetrated against Hinduism alone and work overtime lambasting the spontaneous reaction of largely simple and pious people who are sustained in their quotidian hardships by their faith in their gods and goddesses?
To me, somehow, it does not stand to reason or common sense.
There is yet another aspect of this perversity. It gives a handle to foreign governments and busybodies to bad mouth India as a den of fanatical Hindus who love nothing better than being at the throats of persons of other faiths. A country which rained death and destruction on Iraq by flaunting a tissue of lies, indulged in unspeakable atrocities in Abu Ghraib and for the last eight years, is keeping Muslim detenus in Guantanamo Bay without trial and treating them as worse than vermin, denies visa to Narendra Modi [Images] to the resounding applause of self-styled secularists who do not realise the egregious nature of the insult to the entire nation.
In sum, the secularism as practised in the country is letting it down, besides polarising the population. It is time a body of persons reputed for their objectivity and erudition went into the meaning and implications of secularism and communalism. Nehru set up a Committee in 1961 for this purpose under the chairmanship of Asoka Mehta of which Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Prof Mujeeb were among the members. Unfortunately, its labours were interrupted by the Chinese invasion of 1962, and it was wound up. Getting going from where it left off is eminently worthwhile.
B S Raghavan is a retired IAS officer who was a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Director of Political and Security Policy Planning in the home ministry, and chief secretary of a state
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