The burning alive of the Australian missionary Dr.Graham Staines and his two
children in the village of Mohapur in Orissa is the cruellest and most barbaric
act. The President of India rightly described it as 'monumental aberration'.
No decent human being would ever think of our country going into the hands of
such utter fanatics. The VHP and the Bajrang Dal which have provoked this fanaticism
are now trying to dissociate themselves from such horrifying killing of innocent
people. They are coming out with incredible explanations.
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the BJP Minister of State in the Union Government, described it as a 'conspiracy to defame India. He said that it is part of 'international conspiracy to defame India." He further said "This conspiracy also has a national angle and is aimed at disgracing India's image and culture." Mr.Naqvi does not understand that not even a cretin would believe in such fantastic explanations. Acharya Giriraj Kishore, the General Secretary, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, on the other hand, described the incident as a result of 'political rivalry between the Orissa chief minister J.B.Patnaik and his deputy Basant Biswal'. Such explanations can satisfy only the Sangh Parivar faithfuls, no one else.
What is more surprising and what gives the game away is that all these members of the Sangh Parivar simultaneously attack the Christian missionaries for conversion and strongly condemn them. This clearly establishes their sympathy for the doers of such cruel deeds. No one from the VHP or the Bajrang Dal or the RSS has categorically condemned such barbaric acts. They show their discrete, if not open, approval of these dastardly acts. Even if the Australian missionary was indulging in conversions, could he be burnt alive along with his two children while sleeping in his jeep? And of course there is no shred of proof that he was converting people even through persuasion, let alone through fraud or inducement. He was silently serving the most hated people in our society i.e. the lepers for more than twenty five years. His wife also showed grace expected of a Christian believer and pardoned the killers of her husband and children. The barbaric act has angered the allies of the BJP like the Trinamul Congress and Telugu Desham Party. They are demanding ban on the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Mamta Banerjee said that "the rabid and communal elements in the BJP Government are slowly spinning out of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's control." She also demanded a national government led by Vajpayee rather than the BJP led government. She also said that the BJP government has completely failed to give protection to India's minority community.
What is more surprising is that even the Home Minister L.K.Advani gave a clean chit to the VHP and the Bajrang Dal saying that these organisations have no such record. The Home Minister has no right to issue such statements when the inquiry is going on. His statement can obviously influence the police officers inquiring into the matter. This clearly shows that the hawks in the BJP approve of violence against the minorities.
What is more shocking is that such a gruesome violence has taken place on the eve of 50 years of Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom. The Mahatma was a great apostle of non-violence. Non-violence is the highest human value. Violence is degrading for humanity. Any noble cause, if sought to be achieved through violence, would mar it. However, it is a great tragedy that while we adorn the Mahatma and his philosophy of non-violence we resort to violence even for most petty objectives.
We will be solemnly observing the 30th January as the martyrdom day of the Mahatma. But it is mere ritual for us now. What is needed is deep reflection on the relevance of non-violence for the process of nation-building. Of course for democracy and democratic functioning non-violence and tolerance are sine qua non. Yet our democracy has seen so much political violence since independence. Communal pogroms became, as if a way of life for us. Hundreds of communal riots took place in which thousands of innocent people were brutally massacred. Can we call ourselves a tolerant and civilised society?
Along with communal violence ethnic violence broke out particularly in Kashmir and the North East of India. In the North East each tribe is flying at the throat of another tribe. Bodos are engaged in ethnic cleansing. If once violence is legitimized by a section of society, it becomes the way of life to other sections of society. Mahatma Gandhi had great insight in this matter and he, both as a matter of belief and as a matter of strategy, rejected violence totally. He withdrew the non-cooperation movement after the Chori Chora incident in which some constables were burnt alive by the agitating mob. The non-cooperation movement was at its height and the Mahatma suddenly withdrew it. Everyone was stunned but the Mahatma insisted on withdrawing the movement as people could not remain non-violent. Mahatma was right. Once violence is legitimised it multiplies and spreads like wild fire. If the Mahatma had not insisted on withdrawing the movement, violence would have spread and given a chance to the British to suppress it ruthlessly on one hand, and violence would have found national acceptance, on the other. Its long term repercussions on the process of nation building would have been extremely negative. But there is no Mahatma today in our midst to check the spreading violence.
We have still not inculcated the true spirit of democracy even fifty years of our democratic efforts at nation building. And when violence is resorted to by a section of the majority community to retain its hegemony it is even more dangerous. It vitiates the whole process of peaceful process of nation building. And once you resort to violence it is very difficult to end it. Those who resort to violence feel a great sense of power which they do not want to give up. And it has been repeatedly observed that those who resort to violence soon get divided into number of factions and start killing each other. This is what has happened in Kashmir and the North East. These factions kill members of each other more than their common enemy.
There cannot be a greater danger for a democracy than resorting to violence by any section of the society. Today very lethal weapons are freely available in the market. If we resort to violence for petty reasons, the result will be only a disaster for the nation. Let not that section of the majority community resorting to violence think that it can impose its hegemony through violence and teach the minority a lesson. It never works that way. When during the eighties many communal riots took place, a large number of Muslims were killed; some anti-social elements also resorted to violence and planted a bomb in March 1993 in Bombay in which again more than 300 innocent people were killed. Same thing happened at Coimbatore. Some fanatics of Hindu Munnani used violence against Muslims in November 1997 and then some Muslim fanatics planted a bomb in February 1998, when L.K.Advani was to address an election meeting in Coimbatore, killing many innocent people.
Violence today has vitiated our society. We are committed to democratic way of nation building and for this secularism, tolerance and non-violence are our tools. It not only wins us international acclaim but also strengthens and stabilises our society. Mahatma Gandhi was an embodiment of all these qualities. Today in the vitiated atmosphere of all round violence - communal, criminal and ethnic, we need the Mahatma more than ever. The Hindutva forces believe in violence to maintain their hegemony and hence consider Gandhiji as their enemy and it was for this reason that the apostle of non-violence was eliminated violently. He was assassinated brutally.
The communal and fundamentalist forces find it very difficult to find democratic acceptability. The BJP also could come to power (and that too with the help of other allies) only by moderating its Hindutva agenda. Without diluting its Hindutva agenda it would never have secured the position of power. This is a tribute to the peaceable masses. When the fanatics and fundamentalists find it difficult to get elected they use violence to achieve their objective. There is no doubt if the conversion issue is placed before the nation through referendum before the nation, the VHP will lose. It is hardly an issue for the Indian people. A small fraction gets converted, that too on account of its miserable socio-economic situation. If the tribals and the Scheduled caste people find some opportunities in life through the endeavours of the Christian missionaries why should one object? At the most one could make similar endeavour to give a sense of dignity to these most harried people in life. Thus excelling each other in providing dignified life to the most exploited in the society is the only democratic answer to the problem. But those who have no patience for such efforts and want to retain their hold on them resort to violence.
In Pakistan too the fanatics and fundamentalists utterly failed to capture the imagination of the people. The Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan could never win more than a couple of seats in Parliament. It then began to disassociate itself from the elections. Similarly many extremist groups among the religious organisations were completely frustrated and gave up electoral politics and set up their own armed units. Today in Pakistan there are more than twenty armed groups fighting for supremacy. It is for this reason that the Pakistani society is witnessing so much violence. Religious fanaticism can never produce true religiosity and spirituality. Fanaticism, let us remember, is born out of frustration and anxiety and can never produce positive result. Fanatics are frustrated because people at large refuse to accept what they believe to be true. Fanaticism is bound to result in violence as fanatics think they can succeed only if they forcibly impose their ideas and ideologies. A truly religious person, on the other hand, will opt for persuasion with all possible humility. Thus violence becomes most abhorrent to him. A religious person is dedicated to the cause with all sincerity whereas a fanatic displays only anxiety and coercion.
Thus it will be seen that compassion, tolerance and non-violence which are our primeval values can only lead us to our chosen goal of democratic nation-building. We have set example in many ways for the whole world, let us not squander it with such violent acts. It will be in the interest of our country to restraint the extremists and fanatics in the Sangh Parivar and follow strictly the constitutional path for the solution of all our maladies.