USCIRF – will it visit convents where nuns are raped? - By Hilda Raja
The UPA government's unprecedented step of inviting the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to visit Gujarat and Orissa is not only disturbing, but also portents greater harm to the harmony and unity of the country.
It exposes India to international policing which has ramifications on the integrity and sovereignty of the nation. Today it can be a Commission; why not later an army for the purpose of protecting minorities? The basic premise is the same.
Hypothetically, let's imagine that the Commission faults the government of both States for failure to protect minorities. Should Naveen Patnaik and Narendra Modi appear before this Commission and plead guilty - or plead innocent - and with all humility accept the penalty it will impose? Can there be a greater insult to democracy and to the sovereignty of this country?
It is invasion - be it territorial, social or religious. No matter which area, invasiveness of any kind cannot be accepted. What is the role of the Congress-led UPA government? Does it not stand indicted for impotency to curb violence? It cannot abdicate responsibility and obligation to protect minorities and rein in State governments. If this is logically followed, the accused is the Congress–Manmohan Singh - proof of his political weakness. Which country would tolerate such invasion and interference in its internal affairs? Are we bonded to the USA? No patriotic Indian, irrespective of religion, would accept the policing of this nation by outside agencies.
Can the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) and the INDIAN Churches which objected to such invasiveness nine years ago now make a U-turn? In the course of five years, what is the persecution witnessed in India. Brahmin Pundits killed in hundreds and chased away from J&K under ethnic cleansing has not raised international concerns. The furore caused by wrongful reporting of the rape of five nuns in Jhabua was set right when the nuns themselves gave interviews stating it had nothing to do with religion. Indeed, the culprits were converted tribals.
In Orissa, the massacre of Swami Laxmanananda and his disciples led to clashes in which Christians and Hindus were equally victims. The infamous Gujarat riots are being investigated by the Special Investigation Team, but earlier versions and gory stories of brutality, rape and massacres narrated by activist Teesta Setalvad were found faked, cooked up, witnesses and statements doctored; hence the Supreme Court rejected the bundle of lies.
Against this backdrop, Congress allowing UNCIRF to enquire into violence against minorities is political in intent and has everything to do with further dividing the people on religious grounds. Will UNCIRF be allowed to enter Pakistan or any Islamic country where there is discrimination against minorities?
Congress and Christian churches seem to conspire against Hindus. This is evident when one looks at the pre-election scenario. In April, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India issued a 'Ten Commandments' type of list of dos and don'ts for Catholics. Sure, it did not specify which party to vote for. But this was followed by a number of churches scripting prayers for the 'flock,' couched in appeals to God to bring in a party which will allow religious freedom and uphold the same guaranteed in the Constitution. Across India, the entire Christian community was galvanized by such covert campaigning. In Karnataka, a priest had the audacity to openly tell the 'flock' not to vote for the BJP. Joining hands with Muslim leaders, Catholic leaders also issued a fatwa, overtly and covertly compelling the 'flock' to vote for Congress.
The Election Commission is unmindful of this religio-political mix; this blatant communalism. When Advani appeals to Hindu religious leaders, the EC becomes alert and people like John Dayal condemn it. It is only when Hindu organizations and BJP politicians appeal to people that the ire of the EC is provoked. Then the media comes out with secular advocacy and condemns the communalism of BJP and its allies.
Church double-speak has exposed its ulterior motive - nine years ago (Sept 2000) CBCI described as "unwarranted" the proposed hearing on religious freedom in India by UNCIRF, and distanced itself from John Dayal, saying he was attending it in his individual capacity. It is relevant to recall what Christian MPs felt then. They acknowledged the need to curb the influence of fundamentalists over the community and the Church. By deposing before the US panel, Dayal has given Hindu extremist groups valid reason to doubt the integrity of the community and 'we could just be inviting Hindu extremist backlash' rued Patty Ripple Kyndiah, who added that the antics of John Dayal is against national interest. Former Speaker P.A. Sangma endorsed Kyndiah, 'This is our internal problem. We are capable of solving it'.
What has changed in nine years? The number of churches built has increased more than hundred fold. Christian institutions are given all financial assistance, Christians have occupied hundreds and hundreds of acres of promboke land on which they quickly erect a shack and a cross - for further constructing pucca buildings, both commercial and religious. Thus occupying the land, they acquire assets, evade tax, and even electricity charges.
It is in the national interest to survey the status of Churches property-wise and cash-wise. When in so-called Christian countries churches are closing down, here in India churches are annually increasing in number. Even in Italy, churches are empty but here churches are full every Sunday and the pulpit is used even against the government, but goes unchallenged.
From a poor country like ours, money flows to Rome, from congregations working for the poor and destitute in India, money flows to Vatican. Are these signs of a persecuted church? The flow of money to churches and church-allied 'development organizations' has trebled in the last five years, on Government of India records. Is this a sign of a church under duress?
Why should money from here go to Rome/Vatican? The Cross is not a sign to camouflage lies and cover truth. The church by its anti-national stand is crucifying Truth. Jesus was faithful to his Jewish traditions and to insult that he was crucified naked on the cross (no loin cloth), so the Bible states. Why should a people who proclaim that they stand for His values become anti-national and betray their own country and countrymen?
One is first an Indian - for one cannot change one's nationality but can change one's religion. The CBCI and laity leaders cannot do greater harm to the community than participate in the UNCIRF sittings. In fact, they should have protested against this unprecedented move of the Congress under Ms. Sonia Gandhi.
The Christian community cannot be mortgaged for her ulterior political motives. Religion is an emotive issue and once people are permanently divided, national unity will be a thing of the past; at the drop of a hat the country can erupt into civil war. Every communal riot if objectively analyzed was a backlash, and the poor, irrespective of religion, were the victims. The power games of the powerful have torn nations apart by war followed by famines leading to total destruction and subjugation of people.
Interference in our internal affairs must be seen in wider perspective. Invasiveness of any kind in the affairs of a sovereign country means two things - the supervisory role of the invasive country/organization and the subjective, subservient level of the interfered country.
We have a democracy and a Constitution which has stood us well. Except for some aberrations brought by vest interests, the people have always been able to overcome this and to set the tone and tenure for harmonious unity.
India is the only country in the world which has opened its arms to all religions and all people and thus become the cradle of world religions. Fringe Christian churches have been misusing Freedom of Religion for proselytizing, poaching on other churches as well, and creating social tensions. One is not judged by one's religion, but will be judged by the measure of love one has lived with and the Truth one has upheld.
PS: Would the Church permit UNCIRF to visit the convents which have reported rapes, sexual violations, murders and oppression of women (nuns).
The author is a retired Professor from Stella Maris College, Chennai, and lives in Vadodara