Hot News

Freedom Of Religion

Freedom Of Religion

On August 12, 2017, the Jharkhand Assembly passed in haste a Bill that seeks to curtail the religious freedom of the people. The pleas made by the Opposition to refer the Bill to a Select Committee to study it in detail were rejected by the government which gave the impression that the heavens would fall if the Bill was not passed the same day.

The Bill seeks to punish anyone who fraudulently converts a person to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000. If the converted person is a tribal or woman, then the punishment is four years’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.

That the Indian Penal Code has provisions to punish anyone who commits fraud was not considered. Jharkhand is not the first state to pass such a Bill. What’s interesting is that till today not a single person in any state has been convicted for fraudulently converting anyone to Christianity.

Yet, the propaganda is that Christians are out to convert the entire Hindu population in the country. 

The propagandists use fraudulent means to defame Christians. In the run-up to the passing of the Bill, the Jharkhand government published an advertisement in all the newspapers in the state carrying a quotation attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.

I wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of Jharkhand requesting him to withdraw the advertisement and to apologise to the Christian community.

Here is the letter:

Open letter to Jharkhand CM

Christians a blessing to Jharkhand

Dear Shri Raghubar Dasji,

I was shocked to see an advertisement issued by your government in all the leading newspapers in Jharkhand. It showed a quotation attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Here is a translation of the quotation:

“If Christian missionaries think that a person can get salvation only through converting to Christianity, then why don't you start this work beginning with me or Mahadev Desai (Gandhi's Personal Secretary)? 

“Why are you emphasising religious conversion of these simple, innocent, ignorant and poor Dalits and Vanvasis (Tribals)? They can't even differentiate between Jesus and Mohammad and are not even capable of understanding your religious teachings. 

“They are as mute and simple as a cow. These innocent and illiterate Dalits and Vanvasis whose poverty you are milking and are making them Christians; they do not become Christians because of Jesus but because of 'rice' that is for their stomach.” 

An elementary decency you should have shown was to give the source of the quotation. Did it appear in Gandhi’s autobiography “My Experiments with Truth”? Or, did it appear in the Complete Works of Gandhi which fills up a whole shelf as it has 100 volumes? I have a friend Prof Omchery NN Pillai who has all the volumes. Can you give me the Volume number and Page number to check?

I am sure you cannot because the quotation is wholly fabricated. Whoever is behind this advertisement, which could not have been issued without your knowledge as it carries your beatific picture, took some of Gandhi’s words from here and there to produce it? And in doing so, he or she made a big blunder like the blunder two Congress turncoats did in Gujarat while showing their ballot papers to Amit Shah facilitating the victory of Ahmed Patel.

Do you know what the blunder is? Gandhi never in his life used the word Vanvasi for tribals. His favourite word for Dalits was Harijans and for tribals Girijans. Vanvasi is a word coined by the RSS and its associates for a political purpose. I know this for certain because I was myself a recipient of the RSS ire. I was at that time with the Indian Express as edit page in-charge.

I wrote an article on the editorial page explaining why the RSS and its affiliates never used the word “adivasis” or aborigines for tribals. Instead, it used the word Vanvasis, which means residents of forests like the wild animals. The reason is very simple: When we call them Adivasis, we admit that they are the original inhabitants of this land.

The RSS is against the theory that the Aryans came from the North and settled down on the river banks in what is now India and Pakistan. The Vedas and other Hindu religious texts are attributed to them. In other words, Hinduism like Islam and Christianity was brought to India. The RSS and its spin-masters want to negate this well-established theory by claiming that Hinduism was the religion of the original inhabitants of India.

Hence they do not want to call the tribals Adivasis and give them the status of the aborigines. That is why the RSS uses Vanvasis for tribals in all its publications.

When I wrote that article, a well-known columnist of the Panchjanya, the mouthpiece of the RSS, wrote a seven-page article in the magazine to attack me. By the way, there are many such fabricated quotations circulating in the cyberspace, including one attributed to Macaulay.

You and your government are guilty of not only fabricating a quotation but also for using the picture of Gandhi for a nefarious purpose. The Constitution prohibits spreading of enmity against a community but here you have spent the tax-payer’s money to spread falsehood. This is a breach of your pledge to uphold the Constitution at all times.

The advertisement also carries pictures of two adivasi leaders — Birsa Munda and Kartik Oraon. I know why you brought Kartik Oraon into this advertisement. He moved a Bill in Parliament against allowing Adivasis to choose any religion of their choice. Do you know that Oraon was also against Hindus claiming Adivasis as fellow religionists. He wrote a book titled “Adivasi Hindu Nahi Hein” (Adivasis are not Hindus).

Let me quote from the book: “Let it be known, there is no space for Hindu gods and goddesses in the Adivasi community. Hindus believe in God whereas the Adivasis worship nature and follow the Naga culture. The High Court of Jabalpur has also said that Adivasis are not Hindus. Even then the Hindu missionaries insult them by calling them ‘Vanvasi Hindus.” 

Oraon would have turned in his grave when you fraudulently put the word “Vanvasis” in the mouth of the Mahatma. Why the picture of Birsa Munda? You may not like to know that Munda had become a Christian. His name was changed to Birsa David. It is also true that he turned against the church later in his life. Why? He declared himself a Messiah with his followers attributing miracles to him.

Munda certainly benefited from his contact with the Christian missionaries of the period. He studied in a school run by the German missionaries. 

It was the education he received from them that made him aware of the rights of the tribals. The agitation he launched was against the changes brought about in the Chhottanagpur tenancy laws. Do you know that Christians were in the forefront against the British who fiddled with the rights of the aborigines?

Now I want to tell you something you may not understand. You may say that the first war of Independence or the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny was a turning point in Indian history. Do you know what the mutineers did while reaching Delhi from Meerut? They attacked some churches and killed some Christians.

And what did they do after reaching Delhi? They anointed an old, doddering poet as India’s ruler for they did not have a leader capable of providing mature leadership. In short, nationalism was not strong in India at that time. How did nationalism take roots in India?

It was the setting up of three universities in India in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras around the same time as the  1857 revolt that transformed India. Even your RSS was a child of the university movement initiated in India. 

Now, you are the Chief Minister of Jharkhand. Do you know that the RSS was against the name Jharkhand? Do you know why the RSS was against it? The RSS believes that the Jharkhand is a Christian idea? I do not know whether you had any time to study the history of the Jharkhand movement? 

If you do so, you will come across the name of one Jaipal Singh. He was also a Munda like Birsa Munda. He was a famous hockey player. He led the Indian team that won the gold at Amsterdam in the thirties of the 20th century. He studied in a missionary school. He was a brilliant student. The missionaries were so enamoured of his brilliance that they sent him to London for higher studies.

After his studies, he got into the British colonial service and was posted in an African country. But he was not satisfied with money and comfort alone. He came back to India to serve the country, especially the Adivasis. He was a nationalist unlike thousands of Indians who went to Africa, made money and settled there.

He formed the Adivasi Maha Sangh. He had the common sense to realise that Adivasis needed non-Adivasis also in the struggle against exploiters. That is how he formed the Jharkhand Party. He was known as the Great Leader. There was a time when he could field anyone and get him or her  elected to the Assembly and Parliament from South Bihar, as your state was then known.

That is how hotelier MS Oberoi and newspaper baron Ramnath Goenka became MPs from the area where you are now the chief minister. Do you know that Jaipal Singh could check into any Oberoi hotel and stay there free of cost for as long as he wanted till he died? That was the reward he got for getting Oberoi elected to Indian Parliament. Of course, the episode I mentioned did not show him in a good light.

More important is the fact that Jaipal Singh was a member of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Indian Constitution. He represented the whole Adivasis in the Assembly. He knew the condition of the Adivasis better than anyone. In one of the speeches, this is what he said and it needs repetition in today’s context:

“As a jungli, as an Adivasi, I am not expected to understand the legal intricacies of the Resolution. But my common sense tells me that every one of us should march in that road to freedom and fight together. 

Sir, if there is any group of Indian people that has been shabbily treated it is my people. They have been disgracefully treated, neglected for the last 6,000 years. 

“The history of the Indus Valley civilisation, a child of which I am, shows quite clearly that it is the newcomers — most of you here are intruders as far as I am concerned — it is the new comers who have driven away my people from the Indus Valley to the jungle fastness ... 

“The whole history of my people is one of continuous exploitation and dispossession by the non-aboriginals of India punctuated by rebellions and disorder, and yet I take Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru at his word. 

“I take you all at your word that now we are going to start a new chapter, a new chapter of independent India where there is equality of opportunity, where no one would be neglected”.

Dear Chief Minister, it was Jaipal Singh Munde who was instrumental in the creation of Jharkhand of which you are the chief. Munde would have died, unheard and unsung, if Christian missionaries had not educated Jaipal Singh and enabled him to stand up on his own legs and fight for his people. 

Do you know that the RSS did not want to name your state Jharkhand? It wanted it to be called Vananchal. It was the fear of public opinion that forced the RSS to accept the name Jharkhand. It could not ignore the protest against the name Uttaranchal, which was subsequently changed to Uttarakhand.

I am happy that you have found virtue in Gandhi. He was one of the most hated figures for the Sangh Parivar. Why?  Because he wanted India to be fair to the Muslims even after the Partition. He sat on hunger strike so that Pakistan was given the monetary dues promised.

It was in protest against his hunger strike and his policies that one of the “ex-RSS” persons Nathuram Vinayak Godse assassinated him. Do you know some of your people celebrated his assassination by distributing sweets? I am an admirer of Gandhi but I am not an admirer of some of his views. 

He once advised his people not to marry and if at all they were forced to marry, not to make love to their wives. He was the one who propagated celibacy among married couples. He also believed that if one was able to retain semen in his body he could accomplish great things in life.

Anyone knows these are foolish ideas. Gandhi was initially against Vaikom Satyagraha. He forbade the tallest Christian leader in the state not to participate in the Satyagraha because it was a Hindu affair. Similarly, he forbade the Sikhs from running a langar for the Satyagrahis at Vaikom. He could not understand the fact that the struggle was to protect the rights of the Dalits to walk on a public road, not to enter the famous Shiva temple.

Gandhi had written many contradictory things. He was once asked about it. His reply was: “If I have expressed two opinions on the same subject, my second opinion should be considered as my opinion, not the first”.

Your fabricators fabricated the impugned quotation from a long conversation an American missionary had with Gandhi. His opinion changed as can be inferred from the writings of Stanley Jones, who was a close friend of Gandhi and who said Gandhi was Christ-like. It was Jones who started the Ashram movement among Christians and who prayed on behalf of the Christians at Gandhi’s funeral.

If you are a sensible politician, you should use the Christians to educate your people so that they do not remain like “cows”. You should also realise that you would not have become Chief Minister of Jharkhand if there was no Christians to educate the Adivasis in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The minimum that I expect from you is to withdraw the advertisement and apologise to the Christians for hurting their sentiments. They would gladly accept your apology because that is what their master Jesus had told them. After all, nobody is infallible.

Yours etc

ajphilip@gmail.com

(Published on 21st August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 34)