Anjana Chatterji on Hindutva's violent history (Tehelka)
- ORISSA : Hindutva's Violent History..... by Angana Chatterji
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 35, Dated September 13, 2008http://www.tehelka.com; click on MAG
Hindutva's production of culture and nation is often marked bysavagery. On 23 August 2008, Lakshmanananda Saraswati, Orissa'sHindu nationalist icon, was murdered with four disciples inJalespeta in Kandhamal district. State authorities alleged theattackers to be Maoists (and a group has subsequently claimed themurder). But the Sangh Parviar held the Christian communityresponsible, even though there is no evidence or history to suggestthe armed mobilisation of Christian groups in Orissa.
After the murder, the All India Christian Council stated: "TheChristian community in India abhors violence, condemns all acts ofterrorism, and opposes groups of people taking the law into theirown hands". Gouri Prasad Rath, General Secretary, VHP-Orissa,stated: "Christians have killed Swamiji. We will give a befittingreply. We would be forced to opt for violent protests if action isnot taken against the killers".
Following which, violence engulfed the district. Churches andChristian houses razed to the ground, frightened Christians hidingin the jungles or in relief camps. Officials record the death tollat 13, local leaders at 20, while the Asian Centre for Human Rightsnoted 50. On 27 August, Christian organisations filed a WritPetition in the Orissa High Court asking for a CBI inquiry.
The Sangh's history in postcolonial Orissa is long and violent.Virulent Hindutva campaigns against minority groups reverberated inRourkela in 1964, Cuttack in 1968 and 1992, Bhadrak in 1986 and1991, Soro in 1991. The Kandhamal riots were not unforeseen.
Since 2000, the Sangh has been strengthened by the Bharatiya JanataParty's coalition government with the Biju Janata Dal. In October2002, a Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district declared the formationof the first Hindu 'suicide squad'. In March 2006, Rath stated thatthe 'VHP believes that the security measures initiated by theGovernment [for protection of Hindus] are not adequate and henceHindu society has taken the responsibility for it'. (Pointing to theextra-legal nature of such "security measures", in June 2008, BalThackeray said, "Hindu suicide squads should be readied to ensureexistence of Hindu society and to protect the nation".)
The VHP has 1,25,000 primary workers in Orissa. The RSS operates6,000 shakhas with a 1,50,000 plus cadre. The Bajrang Dal has 50,000activists working in 200 akharas. BJP workers number above 4,50,000.BJP Mohila Morcha, Durga Vahini(7,000 outfits in 117 sites), and Rashtriya Sevika Samiti (80centres) are three major Sangh women's organisations. BJP YuvaMorcha, Youth Wing, Adivasi Morcha and Mohila Morcha have aprominent base. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh manages 171 trade unionswith a cadre of 1,82,000. The 30,000-strong Bharatiya Kisan Sanghfunctions in 100 blocks. The Sangh also operates various trusts andbranches of national and international institutions to aidfundraising, including Friends of Tribal Society, SamarpanCharitable Trust, Sookruti, Yasodha Sadan, and Odisha InternationalCentre. Sectarian development and education are carried out by EkalVidyalayas, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashrams/Parishads (VKAs), VivekanandaKendras, Shiksha Vikas Samitis and Sewa Bharatis -- cementing thebrickwork for hate and civil polarisation.
This massive mobilisation has erupted in ugly incidents against bothChristians and Muslims. In 1998, 5,000 Sangh activists allegedlyattacked the Christian dominated Ramgiri - Udaygiri villages inGajapati district, setting fire to 92 homes, a church, policestation, and several government vehicles. Earlier, Sangh activistsallegedly entered the local jail forcibly and burned two Christianprisoners to death. In 1999, Graham Staines, 58, an Australianmissionary and his 10 and 6 year-old sons were torched in Manoharpurvillage in Keonjhar. A Catholic nun, Jacqueline Mary was gang rapedby men in Mayurbhanj and Arul Das, a Catholic priest, was murderedin Jamabani, Mayurbhanj, followed by the destruction of churches inKandhamal. In 2002, the VHP converted 5,000 people to Hinduism. In2003, the VKA organised a 15,000-member rally in Bhubaneswar,propagating that Adivasi (and Dalit) converts to Christianity bedenied affirmative action. In 2004, seven women and a male pastorwere forcibly tonsured in Kilipal, Jagatsinghpur district, and asocial and economic boycott was imposed against them. A Catholicchurch was vandalised, figures of Mary and Jesus shattered, and thecommunity targeted in Raikia. In 2005, Gilbert Raj, a Baptistpastor, was murdered and Dilip Dalai, a Pentecostal pastor, wasstabbed to death at his residence in Begunia, Khordha district.
Change the cast, the story is still the same. 1998: A trucktransporting cattle owned by a Muslim man was looted and burned, thedriver's aide beaten to death in Keonjhar district. 1999: ShiekhRehman, a male Muslim clothes merchant, was mutilated and burned todeath in a public execution at the weekly market in Mayurbhanj, andsocial and economic boycotts placed against the Muslim community.2001: In Pitaipura village, Jagatsinghpur, Hindu communalistsattempted to orchestrate a land-grab connected to a Muslimgraveyard. On November 20, 2001, around 3,000 Hindu activists fromnearby villages rioted. Muslim houses were torched, Muslim womenwere ill-treated, their property, including goats and other animals,stolen. 2005: In Kendrapara, a male contractor was shot on GovariEmbankment Road, supposedly by members of a Muslim gang. Sanghgroups claimed the shooting was part of a gang war associated withIslamic extremism and called for a 12-hour bandh. Hindu right-wingorganisations are alleged to have looted and set Muslim shops onfire.
It is Saraswati who pioneered the Hinduisation of Kandhamal since1969. Hindu activists targeted Adivasis, Dalits, Christians andMuslims through socio-economic boycotts and forced conversions toHinduism (named 're'conversion, presupposing Adivasis and Dalitsas 'originally' Hindus).
Kandhamal first witnessed Hindutva violence in 1986. The VKAs,instated in 1987, worked to Hinduise Kondh and Kui Adivasis andpolarise relations between them and Pana Dalit Christians. Kandhamalremains socio-economically vulnerable, a large percentage of itspopulation living in poverty. Approximately 90 percent of Dalits arelandless. A majority of Christians are landless or marginallandholders. Hindutva ideologues say Dalits have acquired economicbenefits, augmented by Christianisation. This is not borne out inreality.
In October 2005, converting 200 Bonda Adivasi Christians to Hinduismin Malkangiri, Saraswati reportedly said: "How will we. make India acompletely Hindu country? The feeling of Hindutva should come withinthe hearts and minds of all the people." In April 2006, celebratingRSS architect Golwalkar's centenary, Saraswati presided over sevenyagnas, culminating at Chakapad, attended by 30,000 Adivasis. InSeptember 2007, supporting the VHP's statewide road-rail blockadeagainst the supposed destruction of the mythic 'Ram Setu', Saraswatireportedly conducted a Ram Dhanu Rath Yatra to mobilise Adivasis.
In 2008, Hindutva discourse named Christians as 'conversionterrorists'. But the number of such conversions is highly inflated.The Hindu Right claims there are rampant and forced conversions inPhulbani-Kandhamal. But the Christian population in Kandhamal is1,17,950 while Hindus number 5,27,757. Orissa Christians numbered8,97,861 in the 2001 census -- only 2.4 percent of the state'spopulation. Yet, Christian conversions are storied as debilitatingto the majority status of Hindus while Muslims are seenas 'infiltrating' from Bangladesh, dislocating the 'Oriya (andIndian) nation'.
The right to religious conversion is constitutionally authorised.Historically, conversions from Hinduism to Christianity or Islamhave been a way to escape caste oppression and social stigma forAdivasis and Dalits. In February 2006, the VHP called for a lawbanning (non-Hindu) religious conversions. In June2008, it urged that religious conversion be decreed a 'heinouscrime' across India.
'Reconversion' strategies of the Sangh appear to be shifting inOrissa. The Sangh reportedly proposed to 'reconvert' 10,000Christians in 2007. But fewer public conversion ceremonies were heldin 2007 than in 2004-2006. Converting politicised Adivasi and DalitChristians to Hinduism is proving difficult. The Sangh has insteadincreased its emphasis on the Hinduisation of Adivasis through theirparticipation in Hindu rituals, which, in effect, 'convert' Adivasisby assuming that they are Hindu. Such 'conversion' tactics arediffused and need not negotiate certain legalities, which public andstated conversion ceremonies must.
The draconian Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA), 1967, must berepealed. There are enough provisions under the Indian Penal Code toprevent and prohibit conversions under duress. But consentingconverts to Christianity are repeatedly charged under OFRA, whileHindutva perpetrators of forcible conversions are not. The Sanghcontends that 'reconversion' to Hinduism through its 'Ghar Vapasi'(homecoming) campaign is not conversion but return to Hinduism,the 'original' faith. This allows Hindutva activists to dispensewith the procedures for conversion under OFRA.
The Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960 should also berepealed. It is utilised to target livelihood practices ofeconomically disenfranchised groups, Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, whoengage in cattle trade and cow slaughter. Provisions prohibitingcruelty to animals exist under the Prevention of Cruelty to AnimalsAct, 1960.
In fact, an urgent CBI investigation into the activities of the VHP,RSS and Bajrang Dal is crucial as per the provisions of the UnlawfulActivities(Prevention) Act, 1967. Groups such as the VHP and VKA areregistered as cultural and charitable organisations but their workappears to be political in nature. They should be audited andrecognised as political organisations, and their charitable statusand privileges reviewed.
The state and central government's refusal to restrain Hindumilitias evidences their linkage with Hindutva (BJP), soft Hindutva(Congress), and the capitulation of dominant civil society to Hindumajoritarianism. How would the nation have reacted if groups withany other affiliation than militant Hinduism executed riot afterriot: Calcutta 1946, Kota 1953, Rourkela 1964, Ranchi 1967,Ahmedabad 1969, Bhiwandi 1970, Aligarh 1978, Jamshedpur 1979,Moradabad 1980, Meerut 1982, Hyderabad 1983, Assam 1983, Delhi 1984,Bhagalpur 1989, Bhadrak 1991, Ayodhya 1992, Mumbai 1992, Gujarat2002, Marad 2003, Jammu 2008?
The BJD-BJP government has repeatedly failed to honour theconstitutional mandate separating religion from state. In 2005-2006,Advocate Mihir Desai and I convened the Indian People's Tribunal onCommunalism in Orissa, led by Retired Kerala Chief Justice, K. K.Usha. The Tribunal's findings detailed the formidable mobilisationby majoritarian communalist organisations, including in Kandhamal,and the Sangh's visible presence in twenty-five of thirty districts.The report did not invoke any response from the state or centralgovernment.
In January 2000, The Asian Age reported: "'One village, one shakha'is the new slogan of the RSS as it aims to saffronise the entireGujarat state by 2005." Then ensued the genocide of March 2002. In2003, Subash Chouhan, then Bajrang Dal state convener,stated: "Orissa is the second Hindu Rajya (to Gujarat)."
We all know what happened in Kandhamal in December 2007, and againnow.
The communal situation in Orissa is dire. State and civil societyresistance to Hindutva's ritual and catalytic abuse cannot wait.
Angana Chatterji is associate professor of anthropology atCalifornia Institute of Integral Studies and author of a forthcomingbook: Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India's Present, Narrativesfrom Orissa.