Badlands - Beware the Blood of the Innocent

Exposed at last, the onion-skins of the ominous conspiracy against Indian Christians in the Jubilee year

Violence against missionaries in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, Bombing of churches in Andhra, Karnataka, Goa, forced conversions of tribals in Orissa, hate campaigns by Parivar's `saintly leaders'

By John Dayal

`Beware of the Blood of the innocents,' Archbishop Vincent Concessao said in his homily as he led the Bishops of Uttar Pradesh, a mourning phalanx of priests and sisters, and the brothers of the CFMS in the Mass at the funeral of martyred Brother George Kuzhimandlam at the Cathedral in Agra. Brother George was buried in the cemetery behind the church first made in the reign of Emperor, and razed and remade more than once in the years since.

The rain that preceded the Mass could not fully wash away the congealed blood that had oozed out of the battered head of Brother George, soaking through a cotton pillow and the weave of the iron camp cot in front of the Paulus memorial school in Navada, a bare fifty meters from the Delhi-Agra Highway at Mathura Cantonment.

The brother was murdered within sight of the highway, his screams drowned perhaps in the roar of the thousands of trucks that speed along, their lights ablaze.

Long after he was dead, long after the body, bleeding and broken, had been removed and taken first to the government mortuary for autopsy and then to Agra, a worried looking young police officer, DSP Omvir Singh came to see if two armed policemen who had been ordered by his boss to `provide security to the school' had come. They had not. They came another hour later.

Typical. Posting guards after the victim had been murdered, the killers had fled. The guards had been promised a month earlier, when Fr KK Thomas had been battered close to death in Kosi Kalan, and when the Sacred heart convent sisters had been traumatised in their home, a bare three kilometers away from Brother George's death spot.

Ordered.

Ten hours after the crime was discovered, the Inspector general of police of Kanpur range drove in, his red light flashing, escorted by busybodies from the district police. He gave a self righteous interview to a television crew. This, he said as his underlings nodded wisely, was a crime by criminals. Nothing communal about it, said the cops.

Nothing communal, they said, as they had said two dozen times in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere since March this year.

As the Catholics of Agra were preparing to bury Brother George, four bombs went off in far churches in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa. Providentially, no one was killed, though a 450 year old Catholic church wads grievously damaged. Nothing communal, said Bharatiya Janata party's fatuous spokesperson Venkiah Naidu. This, quoth he, was the work of the notorious ISI of Pakistan. Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, made to look a bit foolish last time he blamed church rivalry or Naxalite groups for bomb blasts in Machhlipatnam was more sober. His officers refused to pin the blame on the ISI till they had something more concrete to go by.

Why were the Uttar Pradesh Police and Mr Venkiah Naidu in such hurry to exonerate the Sangh parivar? No one, not I, not Archbishop Alan de Lastic, not the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, the catholic union, the NCCI or the All India Christian Council, had rushed into print pointing a finger at Venkiah's friends.

It was, perhaps, a guilty conscience.

Venkiah Naidu knows it as well as the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata party and the many children of the Sangh parivar that the full dimensions of the ominous conspiracy against Christians in India is at last being unfolded before the eyes of the world.

It is a conspiracy layered like the skin in a wild onion, each seemingly thin and transparent, but seen together, poisonous weed that has brought tears to the eyes of the nation.

The outer skin has been visible for a long time, made up of the hundreds of incidents of violence that have pricked this country since 1997 when the Bharatiya Janata party made its final and eventually successful dash for power. In the over three hundred cases of violence in these three years, the Sangh parivar first gave indication that it had switched targets from the Muslims to the Christians. The pogrom that began with Lal Krishna Advani's rath yatra, and ended in the demolition of the Babri mosque and the massacre of Muslims in Mumbai and other cities in 1993, had peaked, and would no longer pay the dividends that the Parivar needed to keep its blood-thirst quenched, and its political mobilisation at fever pitch. With Sikhs and Buddhists on the list for absorption and Vedic evangelisation, the Christians were the natural target, followers of a Semitic religion not too different from the Muslims, spread out in vulnerable thinness in the north, and in poverty and innocence in the tribal areas. If the Muslims could be demonised as violent relics of a violent invading past, the Christian were tail enders of a western colonialism, buying souls through money, medicine and force. The inevitable violence flared in the demolition of nearly three dozen churches in Dangs, rape of nuns in Jhabua, the burning alive of graham Stuart Staines, his sons Timothy and Phillip, and Catholic priest Fr Christuraj in Orissa in 1999. The Sangh parivar could prove that it could strike wherever it wanted to, and that forest, village, field or town were no barriers. It propaganda machine could also prove that with official backing, it could isolate each incident's media fallout, counter each incident with local counter-propaganda. The world, after an initial sense of outrage, relapsed into silence. Looking with greedy eyes at the Indian market, and needing its computer engineers for their economic boom, western governments eventually closed their eyes to the incidents.

This violence however continues to grow, as must layers of this poison weed. Underneath it has grown a more sinister layer. If the first was to terrorise and incapacitate individuals, institutions and congregations, the second one targets larger masses of people. May 2000 has seen the entry of high explosives, timer devices and detonators, but no less dangerous is the pattern seen in the Delhi-Karnal and Delhi-Mathura belt. Following the criminal pattern of medieval highwaymen and dacoits, some gangs have carried out a horde of identical raids on Churches and Convents in Sonepat, Panipat, Mathura and Kosi Kalan, more than once in some places. Briefly, the strategy is for a group of about seven to twenty persons to come at night, armed with iron rods, sometimes wearing the barest minimum of clothes, mimicking local nomadic tribes. They use huge stones to batter down church and convent doors, and then assault the men in the house, in this case priest, with the rods and staves. When they believe the victim is dead, or close to death, they ransack the rooms, sometimes desecrating the chapel or church. Once in a while they pick up whatever valuables they can, sometimes they don't. The police would have the community believe that each case is isolated, each unconnected with the other. The police would have the human rights movement believe that the cases are not part of a pattern. It is in this zealousness to trivialise the crimes that the police had confirmed the worst suspicions of the Christian community. As the United Christian Forum for Human Rights has pointed out, how is that these gangs do not target Hindu temples? How is that all victims in this time period have been Christians. Is it that the so called criminal tribes ( a term given by the British and correctly removed by the late Sri Prakasa in the early 'fifties as being an anathema in democratic India which does not recognise that any people are `martial' or `criminal' by birth or ethnicity) have been communalised? Is it that these groups have been hired by others to do the dirty work. Or more likely, is it that communal gangs, mimicking these groups, are attacking the Christian communities and making the crimes look as if they are ordinary dacoities?

There is no doubt that these attacks have added to the suspicion of the community and has spread terror. But perhaps not enough, for there are not too many Christians in the northern belt. Congregations may have got the message that they and their institutions were not wanted, but the larger community was still not in a state of panic. This explains the upgrading of the violence in the use of bombs at churches in the southern states. Andhra, Karnataka and Goa have sizable Christian populations, each with a great tradition that stretches back to past centuries. This is the region most suited for terror attacks by bombs. These are, in the language of urban terror tactics, the Christian equivalents of Aligarh or Allahabad, Lucknow or Thane A large enough Christian community to ensure packed congregations in Churches. Very, very vulnerable.

This was the case in Machhilipatnam in May when a bomb was planted near the dais of a prayer meeting in an open area. Thirty persons, many of them women, were injured, in the blast. Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, facing the wrath of naxalites in his scatter-developed state, possibly could not see further than leftist ultra hand in this after first making a pathetic attempt to pass the blast off as the work of one of two local competing pastors. An independent team of investigators sent by the All India Christian Council established beyond doubt that it was not the work of rival Christian groups. Babu and his police chief retraced, and ordered fresh enquires. It is significant that when two more blasts took place in June, Babu did not rush into print blaming Christians.

The Bombs exploded in four churches in the Indian states of Goa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh on 8 June, injuring one person, according to the police said. The sole casualty was caught by the blast from a bomb, which went off in the morning service in Jewitt Memorial Baptist Church in the coastal town of Ongole, 550 km (345 miles) southeast of Hyderabad, capital of the southern Andhra. Another bomb exploded in an empty church at Tadepalligudem, about 200 km (125 miles) from Ongole. A church at Vasco in the western coastal state of Goa was damaged in a blast triggered by a low intensity crude bomb. There were no casualties, but windows of St Andrew's church were smashed and grills badly twisted. In an earlier incident in the southern state of Karnataka, two bombs exploded outside a Roman Catholic church in Wadi town in Gulbarga district, about 600 km (375 miles) north of the provincial capital, Bangalore, "The first of the two low intensity explosions occurred outside St Anne's church around 6:15 am and the other a few hours later.

Could this be the world of the Interservices Intelligence Agency of Pakistan. God knows Christians in Pakistan have suffered even more than have Indian Christians. The military regimes, and the civil ones for that matter, have bludgeoned Pakistani Christian with the nefarious Blasphemy laws, burning down villages, gang raping girls. But what would the ISI hope to achieve. Would it want A `Christian backlash'? The very concept of a Christian backlash is a joke. It is not just that they are peaceful and committed to follow the Master's command. In the areas where the violence has taken place, relations between communities are the best, and have been so for centuries. There cannot be a backlash./ There is nothing that the ISI can fish in Christian waters in India.

Whether it is Orissa or Goa, it is the outsider who foments trouble. If it is a Dara Singh in Orissa and a Asseemanand in Dangs, Gujarat, it is the agent and supporter of tycoons such as the Jindals in Goa who are pressuring the Christian community for one reason or the other. Each one of them has the backing of the high ups of the Parivar, one way or the other.

That brings us to the most dangerous layer of this Sangh onion.

Readers will notice that while the violence takes place, a parallel track activity is also taking place. Involved in it are not just the old trouble makers of the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Singhals and the Sampoornanands and Giriraj Kishores. A new escalation has taken place with the involvement of some who call themselves Sankaracharyas or Dharm gurus, among them the one of Puri. The so called reconversions camps are going apace. Puri does not promise salvation. Even as he heaps abuse on Christians, he tells the Tribals they are third grade, deserving of no better than small separate temples, not good enough for their impure blood to mix in marriage with any of the traditional Hindus. And he wants us to believe that the tribals are willingly coming to him to live in this hell he promises them. Puri is backed up by one of the most sophisticated campaign machines seen since Goebbles committed himself to Hitler. RSS chief Sudershan talks of epochal wars between Hindus and non Hindus, Puri calls to throw out Missionaries, Dara Singh is unrepentant for having burned two innocent children and their father. Others are raising Dara Senas. India's towns and villages are inundated with hate material that violates every law on the books. Literature is being pushed into homes, paraded in marketplaces and beamed from loudspeakers. An entire people are being poisoned, with impunity, while policemen watch and officers smile. The prime minister himself has been given a cache of these documents by church leaders. He And his home minister cannot say they do not know it.

This hate is the heart of the onion.

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