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इंडियन आवाज़     13 May 2021 09:31:42      انڈین آواز

Season of Shame

A.J. Philip

I SEND this column from Kandhamal in Orissa, one of the most beautiful areas of India. Thick green forests cover roughly 60 per cent of the district. The land is so fertile that fertilisers are not in demand. The vegetables are so tasty and the air so refreshing that for a city-dweller like me, it is a heaven on earth.

The last two days I have been travelling extensively in the district, criss-crossing rivers and rivulets and mountains and valleys. All this should have invigorated me but, on the contrary, I feel depressed. I am not depressed because my Airtel mobile connection does not work here. On the other hand, it was a blessing in disguise.

I did not have to constantly look at my BlackBerry device every time its red light flashed, only to find a spam mail from a dying lady in Burkina Paso who claims that I am the perfect person with whom she can leave a fortune of several million US dollars that her husband had bequeathed to her or an announcement from "Microsoft" that my e-mail id has been randomly selected for a prize, again, of millions of dollars.

Since I cannot handle so much money, I never respond to those e-mails, though in the process I have already lost "billions" — I repeat "billions" — of dollars in prize money. Nor does my phone buzz with SMSs offering an assortment of goods and services from brassieres to buildings and tuition to television maintenance. Nor do I get "wrong numbers" when I am busy talking to people.

I feel depressed because I have been seeing only broken crosses, burnt churches and demolished houses. And I have been meeting people who have been smoked out of their homes for no other reason than that they are adherents of a minority faith. Many of them have still not been able to return to their ancestral land where they had toiled and survived for generations.

I saw in one church a huge concrete cross broken into several parts. I wondered how much human energy would have gone into the breaking of it. Could they not have used it for some creative work, I wondered.

A priest, who ran away from his parsonage when a mob of over a hundred people descended on his church, and saw the whole operation from the comforts of a tree in the adjoining jungle, told me: "It took less than half an hour for the mob to break open the doors, take away all the valuables and dump all the furniture in one room, pour kerosene on the heap and burn the house down".
I realised how easy it was for the mob to destroy hundreds of churches and thousands of houses when it must have taken several decades for the minority Christian community to build them up. However, all the scenes in Kandhamal have not been depressing.

 I have seen little children who were born after the violence ended. They were born in relief camps where the living conditions were subhuman. They do not know that they were conceived in proper houses with neat and clean courtyards and vegetable gardens at the back.

No, they have no idea of comforts, except in the lap of their mothers. They were born in misery and continue to live in misery. When they grow up, they will be told that they had small but beautiful houses, nestling in the foothills of Kandhamal, where they had everything they wanted, till a mob attacked and drove them out of the area.

When even their parents do not know why they had to suffer for the crime someone else committed, how will they ever know what drove the mob to attack innocent people? Even I have not yet been able to understand the logic of attacking innocent people. When Indira Gandhi was killed by her security guards, thousands of Sikhs were killed and their houses destroyed. And when a controversial Swami was killed by the Maoists, it was the turn of the Christians to feel the heat.
Now the Christians of Kandhamal have a fair idea of the kind of persecution Christians faced in the first few centuries till Emperor Constantine allowed Christians to practice their faith openly.

Despite all the misery, children are children and they are in a playful mood. And when I tap one of them, she smiles at me. I can find hope on her face. After all, the human spirit cannot be killed all that easily. I saw one family – husband, wife and their two adolescent sons – fully engaged in rebuilding their house.

The house was burnt and the tin roof looted. The family has employed a mason and together they are rebuilding their house. Thanks to cement, sand and steel supplied by an NGO, they hope they would soon be able to complete the work and shift to their own home. Now the whole family is staying in one small room, courtesy one of their relatives.

 When I saw them working, I realised how difficult it is to build and how easy it is to destroy. My thoughts now go back to one Sunday 18 years ago. I woke up that day in the full confidence that nothing would happen to Babri Masjid, because I believed in the Constitution of India and those who were entrusted with the job of upholding it at all times. One of them, then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh had given a solemn assurance to the Supreme Court that no harm would be caused to the masjid.

So, as usual, I went to the church. We had a little celebration in the church and I, as Secretary of the church, had invited Fr John Vallamattom, the founder editor of the "Indian Currents", as the chief guest. He spoke about the need for tolerance and greater understanding among the people. Listening to him in those mobile-free days, I had no clue that at Ayodhya, a mob was tearing apart the masjid where countless Muslims had for generations worshipped the Almighty.
When we came out of the church after the function was over, someone whispered into my ears that the masjid was under attack and it had nearly been razed to the ground. I wondered how such a grand old structure could be destroyed in a few hours and what the police was doing when the so-called karsevaks were at work.

I write this column sitting in a house which was destroyed by a mob. The mod did not come at night. It came in broad daylight. The district police chief and a large contingent of Orissa police were right in front of the house but they swung into action only when one of the stones, thrown at the church, accidentally hit a policewoman. Until then they allowed the mob to destroy every valuable thing in the house.

A similar thing happened in New Delhi on that day 18 years ago. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao conveniently went for his afternoon siesta in the forenoon itself while the mobs led by steel man L.K. Advani went about demolishing the centuries-old Ayodhya shrine. By the evening when the police action began and Rao woke up, there was not even a trace of the masjid. In its place was a small makeshift temple.

In comparison, the Government of India with all the resources at its command has been building a few stadia, bridges and roads for the Commonwealth Games for the last several years. While the Babri Masjid withstood the vicissitudes of time for over four centuries, a foot over-bridge near the Games village collapsed even before it could be inaugurated.

I do not know whether the thought ever occurred to the Sangh Parivar which gloated about demolishing the "symbol of servitude" that it is difficult to construct and easy to destroy. Neither Advani nor Balasaheb Thackeray would be able to assemble a few thousands of frenzied karsevaks to build a "magnificent" Ram temple, which was their professed purpose in demolishing the masjid.

The point needs to be reemphasized, it is easy to destroy but difficult to build. Yesterday (September 24) should have been a day of great significance. It was on that day that three wise men of the Allahabad High Court – Justice Dharam Veer Sharma, Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice Sibghat Ullah Khan – were to pronounce their verdict on the Babri Masjid case. The verdict has been postponed to September 28 because of a petition in the Supreme Court.

The significance of the judgement is borne out by the fact that the Union Cabinet had, at an extraordinary meeting a week ago, decided to appeal to the people to maintain peace when the verdict is delivered. The appeal, which was published in leading newspapers and through other media, also reminded the people that if anybody was not happy with the verdict, there was the option of challenging it in the Supreme Court.
In other words, the verdict was not the end of the matter. Yet, the whole country is curious about how the three judges would tackle the case, which actually does not involve any complicated legal issues. There are two major issues involved in the case.

One is whether the Babri Masjid was situated on the spot where Lord Ram was born or not. How could the poor judges determine the historicity of the Lord’s birth when it is believed to have happened thousands and thousands of years ago? The department which maintains records of births and deaths in Uttar Pradesh has no such record to prove that he was born on the spot where the masjid stood.

Another issue is whether the Masjid was built by demolishing a Ram temple at the site or not. This, too, cannot be verified. And if one goes by the proofs the Sangh Parivar produces, one has also to believe that the Taj Mahal was originally a Hindu temple which was "converted" and modified into a "grave" by the Mughal ruler, who wanted a memorial for his lady love Mumtaz. One has only to search the Internet to find all the "proofs" for the Parivar’s contention.

It was not just the Government of India which was worried on September 24. Even I too was worried. Will the Hindus accept the verdict if it was not in their favour? Former Science and Technology Minister Murli Manohar Joshi has already said he would gracefully accept the verdict if it is in favour of the Hindus.

On Saturday when my mobile phone came alive, one of the SMSs I got was from the Citibank. It informed me that the Government of India had blocked bulk messaging facility for a few days and the bank would not be able to provide certain mobile services till the restriction lasted. This was done to prevent spreading of rumours.

Now come to think of it, we are a nation claiming to be on the fast-rack of development. Our leaders often mention that India would soon overtake Japan as the world’s third largest economy. Our columnists are never tired of mentioning the names of brands and companies which are now in Indian hands, including the East India Company, which came to trade with India and ended up ruling India.

They do not consider it a shame that peace in the country can be destroyed by the verdict of a court about the ownership of a small plot of land measuring less than an acre.Is our Constitution and democracy so fragile that we are so threatened by a verdict that the Union Cabinet has to issue an appeal and telephone companies have to be coerced to block bulk messaging? No, I am not questioning whatever steps are being taken to prevent riots.

We as a nation were ashamed when the Commonwealth Games chief said it was a mistake the Federation committed when India was chosen to host the 2010 Games. And we as citizens are ashamed that a small land dispute can endanger peace and tranquillity in the country. It is a season of shame and I write from a land that shamed the nation — Kandhamal.
courtesy Indian Current

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