The following article appeared on page 12 in the E-Paper edition of Mail Today dated October 7, 2008. In the print edition, the article appeared on page 10, in the issue dated October 7, 2008.
Hapless Christians handy for minority bashing
by Dipankar Gupta
Why the Christians? Have we run out of Muslims and Sikhs, that a small and insignificant minority should be slaughtered, pillaged and raped at will by right wing Hindutva forces? This may sound strange, but in a real sense that the saffron mob has in deed — if not in words — run out of options. This is why they have now turned against Christians. They are the last soft target.
The Sikhs set the retaliation game in motion. They hit out, often randomly, at designated targets making it known to Hindu sectarians that taking on a Sikh will not be a picnic any longer. This stopped further attacks against them. The Muslims picked up this lead and set their own pace by orchestrating the Mumbai blasts of 1993, and several after that in quick succession. So the Muslims can no longer be hunted down either for casual Hindu amusement.
This only leaves the Christians. It must be borne in mind that Hindutva activists are at their predacious best when the kill is easy and their own safety assured in advance. This is why where Christians are in sizable numbers, such as in Nagaland, Kerala or even Goa, Hindutva sectarians dare not touch them. Instead they turn to areas like the Dangs in Gujarat or Kandmahal in Orissa where Christians are scattered and isolated. In these places it is easy to kill without the fear of being killed.
Ever since the Mumbai blasts the Muslims in that metropolis feel much safer. In many sensitive areas they have had no difficulty in increasing the plinth area of their mosques or the height of these structures. In fact, word has gone around among Muslims in the city that they can count on Shiv Sena support for these activities. If truth be told, the day after the Mumbai blast in 1993, the Shiv Sena newspaper Samna editorialized in a most conciliatory fashion asking for greater understanding between communities. Till then Bal Thackery, through this daily, was spewing hell fire and brimstone. What led him to alter his tone? What had changed?
The answer is ridiculously simple. One of the bombs in the Mumbai blasts went off outside the Shiv Sena office. This scared the Shiv Sena heroes into changing their tone and going immediately on the defensive. Something quite similar happened in Gujarat. After Godhra, bombs went off in different parts of India, including Ahmedabad, but this time there was no Hindutva “ retaliation”. If Modi could not control the Hindus after Godhra, how did he manage it in the face of a clear and direct challenge from Muslims in his own state? Clearly, fear of Muslim retaliation filled the bullying hearts of Hindutva partisans. They now realized that hate shrapnel could also be directed towards them. This took the shine off from anti- Muslim carnages. This gave them more than enough reason to pause.
And while they paused they pondered. If not the Sikhs and the Muslims, who then? Then the paisa dropped — of course, the Christians!
This is why it is important to distinguish between those who are willing to die for a cause, from those who are only willing to kill for one. Hindu extremist parties and organizations, all the way to the BJP, can encourage, condone and organize mobs to kill for Hindutva, but none of them is willing to die for it. This trait also separates fundamentalist from pure ethnic baiters. A fundamentalist like Khomeini, and even Bhindranwale, would encourage the faithful to go back to the foundational principles of their religion and draw strength from there. Khomeini said that America may be the house of the Shaitan , but Muslims must pay attention first and foremost to the five pillars of Islam.
No such catechism for the Hindutva mobs. Bal Thackeray said that to be a good Hindu one must be ready, willing and able to attack Muslims. He believed that this was the surest way of avenging centuries of hurt. It is, therefore, not necessary for Shiv Sainiks, or for most Hindu sectarians, to be well versed in Hinduism. This is why Shiv Sainiks believe that good Hindus can be in blue jeans, as long as there is hate in their hearts and saffron in their flags.
It should be clear by now that there is no social science behind the killings of Muslims, Sikhs, or Christians. Even so, academics, intellectuals, commentators and secular do- gooders are always searching for social and economic reasons behind these ethnic slaughters. What they do not realize is that the moment one gives into this kind of weak secular urges, Hindutva mobs find easy justification. Muslim terrorism today has nothing to do with Al Qaeda, Taliban, Palestine, or even Iraq. These terrorists are home bred and are direct outcomes of Babri Masjid and Godhra.
So when Christians are being killed let us not search for its causes in the rising graph of conversions. Such an exercise is not only fraught with difficulties, but it may also direct our attention to poverty- based explanations. Which in turn would be the reason for something else, and the regression exercises could go on. What such analysts should ask is: Why don’t these Hindutva activists go to Nagaland or somewhere else where Christians are in a majority and show us their nationalist derring- do there? Why is it that they are only active where their safety is guaranteed? In places where there is no administrative encouragement, sanction or connivance, Hindutva activists, of whatever description, dare not strike any minority community.
This is why such attacks take place largely in BJP run areas like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka or Orissa. Wherever Hindutva presence is built into the state administrative system, saffron forces are assured that every ethnic attack will be like a picnic. Even as L. K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and BJP national leaders assembled on September 14 in Bangalore, 16 churches were attacked in Dakshina Kannada, Chikmaglur and Udupi.
When it comes to linguistic and caste wars there is social science involved as jobs are to be won or lost on these grounds. But when Muslims or Christians are killed, nobody wants their income or livelihood. They are attacked only to make Hindutva organizations look good, and nothing else. This is why, in such contexts, social science of any kind is irrelevant. Social forensics, however, can be of some use in these circumstances. It would be interesting to know who killed whom, for how much and for what?
But it will not be a smooth run for too long. When people have their backs to the wall, they have to hit back. True, battle is not built into the Bible as it is in Sikh and Muslim texts, but that can be easily overcome. Remember the early history of Christianity is all about martyrs. In the medieval years it was about the Crusades. These are background memories that can always be enlivened.
The most effective way however is not to set up vigilante groups, or terror outfits, but to make the state responsible for protecting minorities, and ensuring that the Constitution and the law of the land are upheld. Citizenship knows no colour or creed, and if the Christians are the new Muslims of today, our state should bear the responsibility for this outcome.
The writer teaches sociology in JNU