Sunday, December 20, 2015

Short circuit fires and communal violence in India

1 May 2015

Short circuits and communal violence

John Dayal                                                        

The Christian leadership in India should perhaps hire better electrical engineers, instead of going screaming to the national media and international forums about increasing persecution of the community in the country. The Delhi police says fires in two Delhi churches were caused by short circuits. The desecration of statues in two churches were petty vandalism, while two others were mere thefts. Nothing communal or targetted about the six cases in the national capital.
In one of the cases where a Grotto in a  Catholic church was vandalised, the police arrested three inebriated Sikh young men whose images had been apparently recorded in the closed circuit TV camera. 

Elsewhere in the country, a love-lorn Muslim rickshaw puller was arrested for decapitating a statue of Jesus and tying the statue of Mary with a dog chain in Agra. And for the rape of a 72 year old Nun in Bengal, police arrested Muslim men said to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh who were apprehended as far away as Ludhiana in Punjab and Bangladesh. This must be one of those coincidences.

The Delhi Police Commissioner, Mr. B S Bassi, has apparently sent a long confidential report to the Ministry of Home Affairs which somewhere got leaked as “exclusives” to every news channel. It is a coincidence that the Bassi Report comes within hours of the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom publishing its annual report for 2014, in which it puts India in the list of Tier Two countries under watch for religious freedom transgressions. Neighbour Pakistan, if it is any consolidation, is a Tier 1 country together with some theocracies and dictatorships .

The police commissioner had said much the same two months ago when he was summoned by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. And indeed, the Union Home Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, had done so even earlier, talking to a group that had been beaten up and detained by the police on the eve of the state elections in Delhi. And two months before that, Mr. Modi had told a delegation led by an Archbishop which had come to greet him on the eve of Christmas that Christians were exaggerating this, “making mountains out of molehills,” as he colourfully put it, and their actions would impact  the government’s development agenda.

To substantiate  there twas nothing religious about such crimes, Mr Bassi had earlier
produced statistics to show that 206 temples, 30 gurdwaras, 14 mosques and three churches were burgled in 2014. This would be some contribution to interfaith dialogue on security issues. Far be it from me to call it an attempted white-wash.

There is no clarification by the commissioner, or by the government, on communal and targetted violence against Muslims, though also figures in the US report. But that could possibly be because of a presumption in government and political circles that the US, with all too many resident Islamophobes,  is bothered just about the Christian community which, to quote Chief Justice Dattu, gets so much money from the West.

But persecution is not about the desecration of a church, or the smashing of a Marian statue. It takes many forms. Churches are not burnt in China, but there is fear in the community. Though not as it may be in some Islamic countries where violent death is always a breath away.  Bhutan, with its quotient of happiness, is also as intolerant as the Maldives when it comes to “alien” faiths though no one has been killed.  India records from 150 to 250 cases of some form of violence against Christians every year.

It has always been, everywhere, about defining the other.  But in popular, even academic and parliamentary discourse, Indians are talking of “Indic religions” and “Semitic” religions, holding Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism with  about 500,000 of his followers has nothing out of the ordinary, but every Tribal’s voluntary change of faith a crime that can put him in Jail, together with anyone else caught with a Bible.  A dozen or so Christians, including one pastor, and  a baby of less than a year, spent Christmas 2014 in a  Madhya Pradesh police lockup on the demand of the local political leaders. Madhya Pradesh has a so called Freedom of Religion” Act. But this routinely also happens in states which do not have such a statute. In Chhatisgarh, several villages have passed resolutions banning the entry of religious persons from any community other than Hindus.

Mr. Modi’s government says  there was violence against Christians even during the government of the United Progressive Alliance, chaired by a person of Italian catholic descent, with a Sikh as  prime minister.

How does that minimise the undercurrents if communalism and hatred that are, unfortunately such a deep part of the landscape, and escalating with each passing year? Governments have come and gone, and even the Congress as a strong section that says the party should not be seen as “appeasing” or being sympathetic to Christians and Muslims.

But the common factor is the pungent hatred spewed by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak sangh and the organisations that are collected in its Sangh parivar. Mr. Modi has said everyone should feel safe in the country; but not once has he named the Sangh. Perhaps he cannot. Many of the hate mongers are in his party in Parliament. At least two are in his Council of ministers. It is difficult to believe that they do not have his permission, or at least his indulgence.

Nepal Earthquake and hate speech

27 april 2015

No place for hate-quakes


Back  in 2001, a minister of a south Indian state said that the  earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat, on Republic Day which killed 12,300 men, women and children, was divine punishment for the sins of those ruling the state.  He was sacked. It is not known if he blamed god for losing a lucrative position. One refrains from naming the honourable former minister for perhaps he may have repented.

But thoughtlessness and lunacy of that scale follow natural disasters as inevitable aftershocks, specially when high faith and instant politics find a common home. We should be used to it by now, perhaps.

The venerable Shakshi Maharaj feels, and says so before large and doting crowds and news cameras, that the Himalayan tragedy is because Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice president, visited  the Kedarnath Dham temple in the mountains. Mr Gandhi, the son of the Italy-born Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, eats beef and participated in the opening of the doors of the holy temple after its winter closure, without undergoing ritual purification for his sin.
Far away across the globe in Los Angeles, California ,where beef is not illegal, former policemen turned preacher Tony Miano says God is angry. The precautions against future quakes, he suggests, is for the people not to rebuild all the pagan structures that have fallen, but convert to  Mr Miano’s faith.  The gentleman was so far known for what his critics call his”homophobia”.
And by way of an inter-faith consonance, an Iranian cleric,  Moulvi Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi goes on record to say that "Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes," to which Iran is particularly prone.

Faith is strong in the Asia south of the young Himalayan ranges, but it remains personal, and even theocracies routinely wage war, or at least try to crack down,  on religious fundamentalism when it morphs into unacceptable extremism.  Faith also retains a cosy relationship with science, and no one mocks senior scientists when they visit a temple and crack a coconut before firing a rocket to launch a mission to Mars.

The mountains quaked in Nepal because of a slip in the Indian plate’s grinding under the Eurasian Plate in its inexorable tectonic northward movement,  which birthed the Himalayas, and thereby the nighty rivers of the subcontinent and their civilisation. Scientists apprehend a far more severe quake in the future than the one that has wrought such tragedy for so many.

This tragedy does not need political meddling, or one-up-manship. There are no brownie points for governments and heads of governments, and no photo opportunities for politico-cultural organisations in uniform. What Nepal needs today are more personnel, including dogs, trained in rescue, medical and para-medical staff and hospital equipment, temporary safe shelters, ambulances, food, specially baby food, warm clothing, torches and batteries, ambulances and fuel, and as someone reminded, sanitary towels.

And, of course, prayers to a loving God for his compassion for the victims of a disaster.


Sangh Parivar lies

1 may2015


How the Sangh Parivar manufacturers a lie


Since the change in the national government in May 2014,  there has been a staple in the armoury of the various spokesmen of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, and its mother force, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, when they have to face  criticism that their cadres are attacking churches, or molesting pastors and Nuns. “This is the work of Christians, as was found in the gang rapes of the Nuns in Jhabua when Mr. Digvijay Singh was the chief minister,” RSS spokesman Dr. Rakesh Sinha has said on many Television new Channels in the past ten months or so.
uns and looting of a remote convent near Jhabua in central Madhya Pradesh state.
This writer has some personal knowledge about the Jhabua gang-rape case, and how this lie was born, and then manipulated and used by the BJP leadership and the Sangh over the years in a process that would have done Herr Joseph Goebbels proud.
As journalists at that time reported, at about 2:00 a.m. on September 23, 1998, four nuns who operated a medical clinic in Preetisharan Ashram in Nawapura village in the Tribal-dominated  Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh, were gang raped by more than a dozen men. According to Father Lucas, who was then secretary of Indore Diocese, a group of about 20 or so armed men tried to enter the convent by pretending to be the relatives of a sick boy who needed medical attention. When the nuns refused to open the gate, the men forced their way in and looted cash and valuables. They then proceeded to gang rape the four nuns who had taken refuge in the chapel.
The gang rape shocked the nation, and the world. The Congress government in the state first tried to shrug it off as just another incident.  A woman functionary of a national commission in fact remarked “Why do you send Nuns to forests; don’t you know Tribals are rapists.” The BJP first condemned the crime, but Vishwa Hindu Parishad secretary Baikunth Lal Sharma Prem, who later became a BJP Member of the Lok Sabha and now goes around dressed as a Sikh, claimed that the incident reflected the "anger of patriotic Hindu youth against the anti-national forces. Kanchan Gupta, the editor of BJP Today and a BJP spokesperson said, "It's only a rape."
We were able to get an FIR registered. Eventually, 24 men were identified, but not all could be arrested, and escaped punishment. The criminal trial itself was traumatic for the nuns, and the public prosecutor was accused of doing a shoddy job. Eventually, only 10 of the 24 were sentenced to various terms in prison. While six were acquitted, the rest were never brought to book.
But meanwhile rumours had began that 12 of the accused were Christians. Home Minister L. K. Advani immediately made a statement in Parliament that 12 of the 24 accused rapists belonged to the Christian community. Sadhvi Uma Bharati [and her honorific is the equivalent of a Nun], a former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh who is now a minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, repeated the insinuation.
We followed up the allegation that Christians were involved in the rape. In fact, when the first 17 men were arrested, and identified by the victims, the Superintendent of police had categorically said there were no Christians among them. Bishop George Anathil of Indore diocese, in which Jhabua is located, wrote to the newspapers which had printed the erroneous reports, saying  a detailed investigation had been done in every church in the area and not one of the accused had been found to be a Christian. We asked the newspapers to print the rejoinder. The editors failed to do so.
The lie has been repeated by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar ever since. The Congress lost power in the state to the BJP soon thereafter. The BJP is still ruling the state.

The younger generation of media persons, and the common people, knows only the lie; they have neither the patience nor the inclination to establish the truth, even though some of them are not faithful to the ideology of the Sangh and the BJP.


No peace for Greenpeace

No peace for Greenpeace, or even the mighty Ford Foundation

With FCRA registrations required to be renewed in 2016, thousands of voluntary groups, including those of the church,  are being coerced


Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru loved people, and groups, who worked for their fellow man, or assisted him to develop the new India he envisioned after Independence. Gandhians, as they came to be called, were among the first of these groups carrying on pursuits  and organisations  that Mahatma Gandhi or his associates had started. Perhaps they did not think of themselves as NGOs, the famous acronym that still expands as Non Governmental Organisations, and therefore does not include arms of the government which sometimes masquerade as voice of the people in international conferences, specially those relating to human rights, nuclear energy, and peace. They are better known as GONGOS, government-organised NGOs. Some of them spy on NGOs, others present  the government’s point of view, supplementing the official delegation, so to say.

Mr. Nehru’s daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, did not dislike NGOs and had continued to patronise  most of her father’s favourites, Including the Ford Foundation despite her distance from the United States in the run up to the 1971 crisis with Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. But by 1974, she was looking askance at the Gandhians, who she suspected were part of the conspiracy that was seeing mounting unrest against her government. When she lost the Allahabad High Court  challenge by  the maverick Ran Narain to her election, she imposed a State of Internal Emergency, which Mr. Siddharth Shankar Ray claimed was at his advice. While suspending most civil rights, she also imposed a new law, called the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act to starve the Gandhi peace Foundation and other NGOs of funds, and thereby their ability to reach out to the people.

The ruler’s paranoia against anyone remotely suspected of working against her, or him, had well and truly taken root in the Indian soil as perhaps in feudal times, or the height of the British Raj.

Mr. Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister, may ridicule the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, but like his Bharatiya Janata party predecessor in office, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, is a secret admirer of some of them. Mr Vajpayee fancied himself a latter day avatara of Mr Nehru.  Mr Modi thinks of himself as an iron fisted ruler like Mrs Gandhi who saw her as a one-man Cabinet, and a ruler who made neighbouring heads of government quake in their shoes. And perhaps he wants to borrow from Mr. Rajiv Gandhi the love for technology. But it is Mrs. Gandhi he borrows his vindictiveness, and a tendency never to forgive.

There would not seem to be very many other reasons to explain the overkill and single-minded pursuit of NGOs and activists he suspects to have been targetting him in Gujarat since 2002, and in New Delhi since he took over as Prime Minister in ay 2014. He has not forgotten or forgiven that Teesta Setalvad and her NGOs put several of his party men, and at least one minister, in jail for the massacre of Muslims in the pogrom of 2002, and got his visa to the US withdrawn till he got a diplomatic immunity after assuming the prime minister’s office. He has not forgiven others for persisting with follow ups of extrajudicial killings. Above all, he has not forgotten that Greenpeace has been fighting all his friends, from Vedanta and the Ambani brothers to Mr Adani, also of Gujarat, who want  easy terms and fast track acquisition of land that sits over mineral deposits or is planned for future infrastructure but now is home and food-producer to Tribals and farmers.

He is now chasing them ruthlessly, using the Home ministry to stop their activists, such as Ms. Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, from going to international meetings, suspending or cancelling their FCRA permits, and in the case of activists, trying to scare or starve them into inaction, if not penury. And when possible,  the Intelligence Bureau and the Police are pressed into service. Outside official circles, cadres of the Sangh Parivar use social media to threaten and coerce activists, and blacken the image of the NGOs. The Sangh funds are sourced in ways that have never been explained, or investigated by the government.

But it remains to be seen if the government has taken on too much in challenging Ford Foundation and Greenpeace, both highly respected in the west, with strong support on Capitol Hill in Washington and  government houses in the capitals of western Europe

It used to be said once that  if you have heard of the United States, you have heard of the Ford Foundation, set up by the family that launched the automobile revolution which clogs Delhi’s roads, and pollutes out air. But Ford is a favourite of India’s movers and  shakers, beginning from the great Jawaharlal Nehru. As many have pointed out, barring perhaps the communists, all too many think tanks, including the redoubtable Centre for Police Research and the Centre for Study of developing Societies have benefitted from its generosity. Inevitably, it has had a tremendous impact on police making, arguably for the good.

To use its own words from its official website, “The Ford Foundation supports visionary leaders and organisations on the front-lines of social change worldwide.” Its goals for more than half a century have been “to strengthen democratic values, Reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.”

One does not recall it funding anything that went against the national and corporate interests of the US, but there still remains a large area, including human rights initiatives, where it lends a helping hand. Even by 2002 when it celebrated 50 years in India, the Foundation said that it had spent $500 million in the country. In the last five years, it distributed $50 million to groups in India. By now it has several projects in collaboration with state governments too. Even think tanks of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have had a project or two active with the foundation over the years.

But Mr. Modi, it seems, is willing to forget all that just to punish the Foundation for financing Teesta Setalvad’s activities which he thinks are directed singularly against him. The Foundation is now on his watch list. An NGO cannot access Ford funds without seeking prior permission from  the government, even if it has  FCRA registration.

Greenpeace does not have the clout of the US foundation, but can be quite an irritant for governments and corporations, howsoever mighty they may be. Greenpeace, as we know, was born about the time Indira Gandhi was liberating Bangladesh in 1971. In faraway, cold, Canada, dreaming a green and peaceful world, a small team of activists set sail from Vancouver,  in an old fishing boat.  As Greenpeace historians describe its birth, “These activists, the founders of Greenpeace, believed a few individuals could make a difference. Their mission was to "bear witness" to US underground nuclear testing at Amchitka, a tiny island off the West Coast of Alaska, which is one of the world's most earthquake-prone regions. Amchitka was the last refuge for 3000 endangered sea otters, and home to bald eagles, peregrine falcons and other wildlife.

“Even though their old boat, the Phyllis Cormack, was intercepted before it got to Amchitka, the journey sparked a flurry of public interest. The US still detonated the bomb, but the voice of reason had been heard. Nuclear testing on Amchitka ended that same year, and the island was later declared a bird sanctuary.”
Greenpeace is now an international organisation, headquartered in Amsterdam, and with a vibrant branch in India which began in 2001, and in 41 other countries. From ints offices in Bangalore and New Delhi, it coordinates work on four broad campaigns -- stopping climate change, encouraging sustainable agriculture, preserving the oceans and preventing another nuclear catastrophe. Over the years Greenpeace India has built a strong base of supporters spread across the country and says two-thirds of its funding is generated within India. Greenpeace received foreign funding averaging Rs. 7.5 crore annually between 2009 and 2012.
Greenpeace India Executive Director, Mr. Samit Aich, says Delhi High Court in January this year had ordered that the NGO be allowed to access funds sent by its international office. The judge had also observed in court that the Home ministry’s action to stop funds access to funds from Greenpeace International was ‘arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional’. The court said the government did not present any evidence against Greenpeace International to substantiate why it has put them on a prior approval list. Aich feels  the government wanted to prevent Greenpeace India from accessing funds from them in a timely and predictable manner. “This is having a real impact on the scale of our campaigns for clean air, standing forests, safe food and cheaper, cleaner electricity.” [See Indian Currents interview with Mr. Samit Aich, the Executive director of Greenpeace India.]
Some 45,000 organisations are registered with the Ministry of Home Affair’s FCRA division. The ministry has in media leaks said these NGOs  are classified into three broad categories. The current focus is on  those suspected of activities prejudicial to national interest and security. The other two groups are those suspected of violating registration norms, and those possibly laundering money.
Ant national activities have not been defined by the ministry, but can range from  organising tribals and fishermen to  supporting movements that target the corporate sector. The government says NGOs, particularly those involved in protests against the Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu, received foreign funds. It also alleges NGOs use FCRA channels to launder funds, but despite probing about 20 of the, has not been able to make any convictions.
 Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr. Kiren Rijiju in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha to Mrs. Wansuk Syiem said adverse reports were received from intelligence agencies against NGOs such as Tuticorin Diocesan Association, Tuticorin, East Coast Research and Development Trust, Thoothukudi, Centre for Promotion and Social Concerns, Madurai and Greenpeace India Society, Chennai. Based on inspections/ investigations, the FCRA registration of Tuticorin Diocesan Association and Centre for Promotion and Social Concerns were suspended and their bank accounts frozen. FCRA registration of East Coast Research and Development Trust was cancelled. 
According to published data, in 2011-12, notices were sent to 21,493 associations who were found to have not submitted annual return for the years 2006-2007, 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. In October last year, 10,343 were given a month’s notice to give their annual returns. The government says the addresses of 8,975 were wrong and another 632 did not respond. All lost their registration.
Donors are difficult to classify so easily, but various governments have consistently targeted many large charity group, including Cordaid, the Catholic agency. The Modi government has expanded the list. Ministry records show in 2011-12, NGOs had received Rs. 11,546 crore from abroad. Of these, 20,297 grants were below Rs. 1 crore and 148 above Rs. 10 crore. The highest amount came from the US as usual. Small funds came from Rwanda, Latvia, Angola, Tonga, Malawi and Suriname.
Of about 3,000 foreign donors, and action has been taken against only 16 [by putting them on the Home Ministry's pre-approval list] for funding campaigns prejudicial to national security,” the official said.

Ironically a few friends of Mr. Modi have also been targetted, including the NGOs of Ms. Madhu Kishwar, who was a strong defender of the then Gujarat chief minister.  Ms. Kishwar, and several RSS acolytes which have targetted church connected NGOs, have been demanding a total ban on all foreign assistance to the voluntary sector. They say the government should set up a central fund to finance the activities of the voluntary sector. This, critics fear, will make the NGOs totally subservient to the government and political dispensation in power, and will make the voluntary sector just an arm of the ruling party.

In 2016, the registration of some 16,000 NGOs will be checked and there is apprehension that the Home Ministry will use this process to try to target organisations which have embarrassed the prime minister, or challenged  his development programmes, including the land acquisition bill, as anti-people laws that are designed to help the national and international corporate sector.
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