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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 40

Communal Violence in Orissa

Tuesday 23 September 2008, by Sabita Sahu


Orissa is in the grip of communal violence. It is shameful that the noble name of religion has been used to kill innocent people. It is alleged that Christian missionaries have been converting people in several parts of the State. Those who do so are the self-proclaimed guardians of Hinduism. They have been spreading the falsehood that the rate at which conversion is taking place will eventually endanger Hinduism. They apprehend that rise in number of Christians will imperil national unity. This is a travesty of truth.

Muslims and Christians ruled this country for almost seven hundred years. Christianity came to this country in 52 AD. There is misperception prevailing among the people that Christianity came to this land only after Vasco da Gama discovered sea routes to India. It is instructive to note that three hundred years after Christianity came to India it reached Europe. In other words, India has been the original habitat of Christianity. It first came to Kerala. Its spread in this country, including Orissa, has been a major force behind our progress and development. While disapproving conversion by force one certainly will acknowledge that wherever we find Christians we find the establishment of good and quality educational institutions. In the long history of India people have changed faiths without any disadvantage to social harmony and tolerant tradition of our country. Our Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to citizens to preach and propagate religion. People belonging to all faiths are entitled to exercise this right. If people embrace Christianity they do so by following the adherents of this religion who exercise this right enshrined in the Constitution of India. Those who convert to Christianity are the people who suffered caste discrimination and exclusion. None of the high-caste people has ever changed religion. If at all they did it always constituted a rare instance.

Swami Vivekananda, the great Hindu monk, taught Vedant to the Christians of America and Europe. They were mesmerised by his exposition of Hinduism. Only after the Western world accepted the teachings of Swamiji did he become world famous. He refused to deliver lectures to Indians because he found that people of our country, a majority of whom belonged to the Hindu faith, were poor, illiterate and hungry. He wanted to spread education among them to lift them from ignorance and equip them with abilities to earn their livelihood. Therefore he established the Ramakrishna Mission which is rendering valuable service in spreading spirituality, educating people and serving those who are in the margins of society and victims of natural and man-made disasters. They do so in the name of Hinduism and yet they never say that Hnduism is in danger due to conversion of its followers to other faiths. Nor do the devotees and followers of the Divine Life Society who serve in the name of Hinduism say so.

Those who attack Christians and minorities are the anti-national forces. They subscribe to a social order which belives in graded social inequality. All those who leave the Hindu faith and embrace other faiths are the victims of untouchability. Swami Vivekananda had said that the day India discovered the word mlechha from that day the doom of India was sealed. Mlechha meant segregation and exclusion. It kept people away from many social activities which are essential for human and national development.

In spreading education and an enlightened outlook Christians are engaged in a movement for an inclusive society. Those who are attacking them are in fact attacking the egalitarian values which are part and parcel of our constitutional scheme and which must inform all our actions.

In the late 1880s Swami Vivekananda described the State of Kerala as the land of the lunatic asylum. He said so because of the wide prevalence of the practice of untouchability. Eventually the land of the lunatic asylum has become the role model for the entire world due to its impressive progress in the field of human development. The Christian missionaries played a key role in transforming the “lunatic asylum” into a model State.

Again let us quote Swami Vivekannada. He said that in India alone Hindus built mosques for Muslims and churches for the Christians. He appealed to the Hindus to continue that tradition in the face of all odds. At a time when the churches and educational institutions run by the Christians are being attacked and destroyed it is important to recall these words of Swami Vivekannada to restore our tolerant tradition and save Hinduism from those who stress on violence, superstition, ritualism and dogma.

IN Orissa who does not know of Utkala Gaurab Madhusudan Das? He was the pride of Orissa. His initiatives in establishing small and medium factories in the State inspired Mahatma Gandhi. He fought for the freedom of our country and the unification of Orissa. He was proud of his Christian faith which striking blended with his other identities based on his Oriya roots and Indian nationality. The great lady writer, Shrimati Kuntala Kumari Sabat, was a Christian. The jewel of Orissa and the poet and littérateur of worldwide fame, Professor Jayant Mahapatra, professes the Christian faith. Even the illustrious singer and the heart throb of millions, Pranab Pattaniak, belongs to the Christian faith. The history and culture of Orissa would have been poorer without their creative and immense contributions. The attack on Christians is a attack on their legacy which these leaders, writers, and poets so splendidly represent.

Let us remember that by changing faith no- body is becoming anti-India. Therefore, increase and decrease of population of a particular faith is of no consequence to India as a whole. The Parsis are quite small in number. Their population is dwindling. Yet look at their unparalled contributions to nation-building. They are not the original inhabitants of India. Their forefathers came from some other country where they were persecueted. India gave them shelter. Their entrepreneurship and modern and forward looking vision defines their identity. There is no greater and better example of entrepreneurship than that of the Tatas. Are they less Indian just because they profess a different religion? Certainly not. Similarly pursuing a faith other than the faith of the majority population is not anti-national.

What happened in Orissa in attacking Christians and their churches following the killing of Swami Lakshmananada Saraswati is a blot on Hinduism. Those who killed Swamiji have disclosed their identity. So why target innocent Christians who are peacefully spreading education and providing health care to those who reside in inhospitable regions of the State and who suffer humiliation and discrimination in the mainstream society? Destruction of their places of worship and houses is contrary to the culture of the State at the centre of which reside Lord Jagannath in whose name no bloodshed has been ever perpetrated in the State. To salvage the situation let us follow Jagannath and build the destroyed Churches and restore security and peace so that all communities can live peacefully. Mahatma Gandhi had eloquently said:

I do not want India of my vision to be wholly Hindu, wholly Islamic, wholly Christain. I want India to be wholly tolerant with all its religions coexisting and living side by side.

Let us be inspired by this inclusive vision to remove the blot caused by the communal violence in Orissa.

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