Monday, March 2, 2015

Ghar Wapsi, Attacks on Christians and Media

The 'Ghar Wapsi' - re-conversion - roadmap being undertaken by the RSS and other affiliates is actually a dangerous game. But as a media person, I am constrained to say that equally dangerous — if not more – is the ruthless manner in which the media has hyped these episodes. Actually, the media only supplies oxygen to communalists, especially among the majority Hindus.

Frankly, most Hindus, in my conviction, are least bothered about how many Christians in Kerala or Muslims in Agra have “come back” to the fold of Hinduism. They are more concerned about the issues of development and employment — the original agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One could vote against the BJP but this agenda should not be derailed.

But what happens when publicity is generated over the “Ghar Wapsi” programme and rank communalists like Sakshi Maharaj and Yogi Adityanath steal the limelight. On the other hand, in some pockets a few minority leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the AllIndia Majlis Ittehadi Muslimeen, gets his opportunity to play up the “fear” card. This helps players like him expand base. Owaisi’s party, once virtually tamed in Hyderabad, has now expanded base and has found a toehold in Maharashtra, too.
In fact, none other than Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, father of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, said in the Lok Sabha on 11 December that the Agra episode of “Ghar Wapsi” was blown out of proportion by the media. 

Mulayam, never a votary of pro-Hindu politics, stunned the opposition members in the Lok Sabha, if not embarrassed them, when he said the debate on the much-talked about “reconversion” row was “unnecessary... When there is no trouble in Agra... When people of Agra are not talking about it... Why the debate here”? he’d asked.

A section of Christians has also played a dangerous game when opposing the move by a group of Catholics to invite the Prime Minister to a function to mark the canonisation of two Keralites, Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia. Two sections of the Catholic church in India — the Latin rite and Syro-Malankara rite — had opted not to be part of the function. This is not appreciable as Christians should not walk into the trap of “isolationists”.
PM Modi’s 17 February speech at the function did go down well, especially his assertion that the religion of an individual in India, as guaranteed by the Constitution, was a “personal matter”. He continued, “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions”. He appealed to all religious groups “to act with restraint, mutual respect and tolerance” to safeguard the religious rights of all.
Over the months, the Christian clergy has said that thousands of Christians have faced threats in recent months from hardline Hindu groups agitating to make India a “Hindu-only nation”. Hindu groups have also intensified their campaign to forcefully reconvert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, it alleged.

Most conflicts in the world now have to do with negativism. Individual and collective apprehensions of what the future will bring serve to create an aura of insecurity for everyone of us. Half the violence in the world, not excluding the insurgency-related conflicts in the North-east, is as much related to this phenomenon. In Nagaland, the late Vizol Angami, perhaps the best known man of integrity among Naga chief ministers, once said the root cause of tribal-non-tribal conflicts in the region was due to “the fear factor” about outsiders.

Not many can deny this. This is mostly accentuated by the category of people who thrive on preserving the divides and fuel “apprehension" about the unknown enemy. Thus, political and student bodies often play the parochial card — sometimes between Nagas and non-Nagas, Nagas and Kukis, Assamese and Bengalis, Khasis and non-Khasis or Mizos and non-Mizos.
Perhaps covertly, various religious bodies have also been playing their parts. Church organisations have their reasons to talk about mythladen Hinduism or the “negative power” of mantras or Tantrik philosophy from the mainstream.

These fears and differences are actually sustained by what I often say is “a network of myths”. These are religious, political and also social, and most often based on lies.

Therefore, my worst fear about the wide publicity given to the RSS and the BJP’s “Ghar Wapsi” (reconversion) programme is that it should not leave any gory impact in the sensitive Northeast. People there are extremely touchy and moody and this frame of mind can be easily exploited by forces inimical to the growth and prosperity of North-easterners.

For long, politics in the region, like elsewhere in the country, has been a “blame-giving and credit-seeking game”. Politicians are also known as strange bedfellows, gluttons for opportunism. So much is fair weather friendship for North-east politicians that the often heard political proverb in the region is: When Delhi shivers, North-eastern states sneeze.
But the announcement by sitting Naga Lok Sabha member Neiphiu Rio, a former chief minister and a practicing Christian, that they would work “positively” vis-à-vis attacks on churches and the reconversion row is important and ought to be welcomed.

Everyone interested in northeast should play a “positive role” and prevent issues related to anti-Christian attacks from escalating further. And media has a solemn role in this. 


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