Friday, August 29, 2008

The mayhem in Orissa

The tragic events in Orissa reminded me of something that happened in 1986 on the eve of the Pope’s arrival in Kerala. I was present at a discussion about the impact the visit could have on the different religious groups in the State. There was apprehension that protests might be organized on the contention that the Pontiff’s trip would adversely affect the Hindu interests and feelings.

One middle aged Nair gentleman concluded the dialogue by saying that Hinduism was not a weak entity that could be damaged by the visit of a Pope. He knew the strength of Hinduism. It is a religion or a way of life that is built on solid theological basis. Jesus Christ is believed to have told His chief disciple, ‘Peter, you are the rock on which I shall build my Church’. The wisdom of the Rishis, and the Vedantas form the indestructible foundation of Hinduism.

History stands witness to this. India has been ruled by the Moghuls and the mighty British. The Portuguese, the Dutch and the French dominated pockets in the country for long periods. In spite of all these, Hinduism survived.

Some people claim to be apprehensive about the future of Hinduism. Do they really believe that there is a genuine threat to the religion? In Orissa, out of the 36.7 million people, 94.35% are Hindus. This includes 5.1 million Dalits and 7 million plus Adivasis; they are the underprivileged.

Most of the Dalits and Adivasis live in abject poverty and backwardness. Reportedly, there are instances of them being denied entry into temples. It is doubtful whether they are accepted as true Hindus by the savarnas (upper class). It would appear that the Christian missionaries are mostly working among these oppressed people.

Uplifting the downtrodden through education and other means often pose problems to the vested interests. When the Portuguese were converting low castes in Kerala in the 17th century, protests arose from the upper caste Hindus and Christians. There was nothing religious about that. It caused inconvenience, economically and otherwise, to the savarnas because conversion released avarnas (lower class) from their caste obligations. (See History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview )

Another significant point is that the Christians, not Muslims, are the second largest religious congregation in Orissa, though their strength is only about 620,000. The Muslim population is even less, and rather subdued. It is the Christians who provide education and other amenities to the backward people, thereby empowering them.

Affiliation to any particular religion is not a prerequisite to be a citizen of India. That is what secularism is all about. And, any citizen of India is free to do what he wants within the bounds of law. That is what democracy means, what the Constitution guarantees. Again, it is the job of the government to enforce law, not that of a citizen or a group. That is known as the rule of law.

Any one who breaks the law should be brought to book. This includes erring missionaries, bogus god men and people who indulge in arson and murder for whatever cause. Those responsible for the killing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader and his four aides last Saturday, whether Naxals or Christians, should be arrested and prosecuted without delay. The same should apply to those who indulged in criminal activities since then. That is the duty of the government.

We have an ancient civilization. Every Indian should be proud of that. But what is happening in Orissa today is making a mockery of our heritage and traditional values.

Very sad indeed!


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, very meaningful post!
Lekha Nair

Ashwin said...

Whatever be the cause, those who use violence neither belong to a religion nor have a conscience.
As for the issue of conversions, debates and not violence should be the way to find a solution. For time immemorial, India has seen religious debates. Even during the dawn of Buddhism, it was through debates that the religion spread.
What is happening in the recent days is not a true reflection of India.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you Lekha Nair. I'm happy you liked the post.
If you are the person I think, you have used the name under which you were writing earlier.

Abraham Tharakan said...

ashwin, I agree with you.
It is said that on his arrival in Kerala in 52 AD St. Thomas the Apostle engaged the local intelligentsia in debates and won several followers.

Kariyachan said...

Perhaps these latest violence is more on a political scale rather than on a religious angle.

And regarding the conversion, nobody is forcing any conversions like that of the Mohgul era.

And our constitution guarantees the freedom of faith, what is happening is a political unrest.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Kariyachan, thank you for the comment. I think what is happening in Orissa is due to a combination many things including politics.

Jacob said...

I like your article Abraham and your blog.

I agree with kariyachan that the violence is partly politically instigated.

I live in the UK but follow events in India quite closely. The recent violence in Orissa moved me so much that I wrote an article about it on Just click on my name to read it.

Kariyachan said...

How on earth can a Communist or a Maoist be a Christian?

Reading the latest news.. maoists and communists believe in religion or God...?

Forces across the border trying to weaken India by destablizing various areas..?

Looks like a puzzle, but more of a staged performance?