Practising religion under the watchful eye of the police

It was strange to park in St. Patrick’s Church on Sunday and then realize that a policeman was standing a few feet away. And then to learn, hour and a half later, that there were more churches vandalised, this time in Bangalore.

I figured that this would be a good time to comment the churches in Karnataka being vandalised by anti-conversion re-activists. But Monday’s Deccan Herald editorial hit the nail on the CM’s head, so why create when you can copy. Here’s a paragraph (emphasis mine):

Ensuring law and order and maintaining communal harmony is the duty of any state government, but unfortunately, the chief minister and the other ministers in the BJP government, seemed to give an impression initially that they were ready to wink at the attacks as they were not without provocation. Mr Yeddyurappa even hinted that his government would probe the flow of foreign funds to Christian organisations which were reportedly indulging in forcible conversions. If clandestine conversions are indeed taking place at the instance of some extremist evangelical groups, the government should investigate and initiate action against them, instead of painting everyone with the same brush.

The point that I highlighted is the key to the whole affair. The response from the government’s side was that since there were forcible conversions going on, a point not proved yet, it was a “reaction”, ostensibly a natural one. The inference you had to make was that because “X” happened, a reaction “Y” was inevitable.

This is a similar kind of argument that other groups like the Indian Mujahideen make–you targeted our people (X), so we’ll bomb your cities (Y). Of course, I am not equating both the incidents or both groups, but the arguments are remarkably similar. The government of the state should not be using these kinds of arguments, but protecting its citizens and not giving tacit approval.

It’s a good thing that nobody was killed, but a particular community was targeted and it was done systematically. The damage that was done to people’s confidence in the government and the state’s machinery will take a while to heal.

The other thing is that if there are forcible conversions going on, please complain to the police and get people arrested; nobody should be forcing anyone to do anything against their will. Indulging in vandalism, destroying property, and scare-mongering is not the way to go in civilized society.

If anything, this is a step backward to those cave-person days when one caveman beat up another so he could you-know-what with the latter’s possibly hot wife. We have moved ahead from those days to “civilization” and to argue that doing these sorts of things is okay is to admit that your brain has not evolved from the cave-person days.

Do this “reactionary” thing elsewhere and you get slammed. Consider that in football, the footballer who reacts to a strong tackle, or an illegal tackle, is dealt with equally harshly as the initial perpetrator. It’s the same in hockey, raise a stick at an opponent to cause harm and you’ll find yourself out of the game faster than you can blink. You can go on with the examples.

The point is this: When you were three, maybe it was okay for you to say, “He started it,” and truly believe that your argument was fair.

Thing is, we’re not three-year-olds anymore.

Update: 29-Sep-2008

Interesting piece by Ammu Joseph on the Hoot regarding the way the media handled the reporting.


4 thoughts on “Practising religion under the watchful eye of the police

  1. I am an aetheist, born a hindu. So I am looking at this from a neutral point of view. Poor hindus in villages that belong to lower castes are discriminated against, a fact that you will agree. In hindu relegion, you are born in that caste. You cannot convert. The lives of these people are miserable. SO they hop that on converting to christinaty, they will get respectability in society. This point is being used by missionaries to convert them. The missionaries pay for their education and give them money. So you can’t say Christians are bad or Hindus are bad. Fanatics on both relegions are guilty.

    Maybe the fanatics have a point about literature being published that bad mouths hindu relegion. But what they fail to understand is Hindu relegion is unlike any other relegions. All the mythological stories and gods are a way to convey the meaning of life. Somwhere along the line, it has lost
    meaning and people started resorting to violence.

    All said and done, we should, as people learn to be more tolerant in India. Of late we have become extremley intolerant. This is not a good sign of a developing society. Scientific progress and thinking is trying to take us forward while relegion and blind faith is trying to pull us back. People should learn to live and let live.

  2. Glad no one was hurt.

    It’s shameful, really. It’s one thing when militant organisations spread unrest. It’s quite another when governments avert their eyes and sponsor the breakdown of the very laws they are supposed to uphold.

    I only worry that this blame-shifting can go on for ever. He did this, so I did this, then she did this, so we all did this…. Where will it stop?

    The way our governments have handled forced conversions is a separate issue. There should be a two-pronged approach. One approach can be to regulate the organisations that do this. The other surely has to be to address the inequalities of the caste system.

  3. Nikhil: Regarding the literature, there is no conclusive evidence about who printed it. So, for the Bajrang Dal (or Ram Sena) activists to go on a rampage based on that is pure crap. It was just a convenient excuse.

    When you think about the attacks on the churches, the vandals didn’t just break glasses or whatever in the churches, they desecrated the Eucharist, something that is sacred to Christians. They knew what they were doing. This wasn’t an attempt to just intimidate, it is an attempt to incite and that’s also quite troubling.

  4. Suchi: They’re taking this to another level now. One columnist wrote that the Archbishop of Karnataka, who only deals with the Catholic churches, should not “wash his hands” off the “missionary organizations” and that he should keep track of them.

    It’s ridiculous to suggest this because the organizations that go on such missions may have absolutely zilch to do with the Catholic church or any other church. There are different “preachers” who come around organizing meetings but they do so without any sanction from the church. If anything, it is the government’s job to ask organizations to register and to ensure that they don’t do anything that breaks the law. Maybe ask them to register as NGOs?

    It’s amazing that the Chief Minister states that these organizations are receiving foreign funds to do missionary activities. If they know (knew) about this, what were they doing? They should’ve investigated the organizations and shut them down. Either the CM didn’t do his job or was distorting facts–not good in any case.

    The scary part, like you said, was that the government gave tacit approval. That does not bode well for our country’s future.

    I’m starting to think that if the moderates speak out, the extremist voices will be challenged. We have too many extreme voices speaking out and not many moderate voices and that’s why the former seem so loud.

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