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RSS ‘Kumbh’ in MP: Petrified Christians fear Kandhamal-like situation

Wednesday February 09, 2011 10:40:01 PM, Pervez Bari,

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Bhopal: The spectre of fear and depredation is haunting minorities, especially the Christian community, in tribal-dominated Mandla district of Bharatiya Janata Party, (BJP), ruled Madhya Pradesh as all is geared up for the three-day huge congregation of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS), “Kumbh” festival wherein over 20 lakh (two million) people are expected to assemble. Although Christians are not opposing the mega event but media reports that the festival aims to “return” tribal Christians to Hinduism have created fear among the community.

The congregation christened as “Maa Narmada Saamaajik Kumbh” (Social Fair of Mother Narmada river) is being organized by the Dharm Jagaran Vibhag (Religious Revival Department) of the RSS from February 10 to 12 ostensibly to hold a social gathering but the “main aim” is mass reconversion programme called “Ghar Wapsi” (Home Coming) for tribal Christians as the community heads fear. As such the Christian community not just of the Mandla district but of the entire region encompassing Madhya Pradesh and neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh, have solid reasons to fear an outbreak of violence against them during or after the event from cadres of the Sangh Parivar.

Among others, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, former chief K. S. Sudarshan and RSS leader Suresh Soni along with Chief Ministers Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Narendra Modi and Raman Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh respectively are expected to address the conclave. Besides MP, tribals from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Rajasthan are expected to attend the “Kumbh”.

The programme schedule of the three-day “Kumbh” includes Dharam Sabha, Saint convention, Yuva sammelan and Mahila Sammelan. Besides, “Shahi Snan” will also be performed. Twenty “ghats” (platforms) have been constructed on the banks of the river Narmada. Six small townships have been constructed for housing those coming to the Kumbh, namely Shankar Shah Raghunath Mahanagar, Mata Bambleshwari Mahanagar, Shivaji Mahanagar, Maharana Pratap Mahanagar, Mahismriti Mahanagar and Chhatrasal Mahanagar.

The “Mandla Kumbh” is being organized on the lines of the “Shabri Kumbh”, held in Dang district of Gujarat in 2006. Swami Aseemanand, who is now in jail on the charge of being behind several terror attacks in the country, was the chief organizer of the Shabri Kumbh. It is alleged that rudimentary plans for the subsequent bomb blasts at Malegaon, Mecca masjid, Ajmer Shareef and Samjhauta Express were drawn up at Shabri Kumbh. Then, besides hate speeches before, during and after the event, the “Shabri Kumbh” also led to the beating of Christians, with many abandoning the area, and much loss of Christian property, including graveyards. Christian graves were dug up then and crosses were desecrated.

It may be pointed out here that a Compact Disc, (CD), produced by the Shabri Kumbh Samaroh Aayojan Samiti (Organizing Committee) entitled "Shri Shabri Kumbh 2006: Spirituality along with the Wave of Patriotism," was banned by the Supreme Court of India because it incites "Hindus against the Christian community and suggests that Christians be attacked and beheaded."

The organizers of the “Kumbh” admit, though privately, that the main objective behind the grand show is to create an atmosphere in which the Church finds it increasingly difficult to convert tribals into Christianity. They indicate that the Kumbh may also be used to encourage the tribals who have already embraced Christianity to come back to the Hindu fold.

The palpable fear among the Christians is not unfounded as run up to the gigantic event a hate-mongering campaign in the area is going on since last more than a month or so. The campaign is underway with the distribution of objectionable literature targeting Christians and also Muslims mocking their faith and religious leaders. Media reports emanating from the region say that provocative slogans are being raised by the cadres of RSS and its various affiliates while roaming the tribal Christian localities and brow-beating them to fill up forms for the “Ghar Wapsi” function to be held during the congregation.

Reports emanating from Mandla say that every day, small rallies, called “Kalash Yatras” are being taken out in which anti-Christian slogans are raised. The slogans warn the Christians of “counter-action, if they do not stop their nefarious activities”. Local Christian leaders fear that they may be physically assaulted and have sought police protection.

The statements and sayings yesteryears Indian leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar have been invoked by the RSS to convey its warning message to the Church. Huge bill boards and hoardings carrying the quotations of Gandhi, Vivekananda and Ambedkar, have come up around the “Kumbh” venue. A hoarding, ostensibly quoting what the Mahatma Gandhi said in 1935, reads “If I get the power to enact a law, the first law I will enact will put a blanket ban on Conversions”. Similar quotations from Vivekananda and Ambedkar welcome the guests at the main entrance of the Kumbh venue. Visitors are being reminded that Rani Durgawati had also resisted attempt to convert her.

The religious leaders of the scared Christian community are moving from pillar to post to make the administration and the law enforcing agencies from top to bottom understand their plight and worst fears and take precautionary measures before it is too late. The pleadings of the Christians have had little effect as not much concern was shown to the seriousness of the matter by those holding the reins of power.

The Christians while keeping pressure on the state government officials later on knocked the doors of the state High Court through a petition demanding directions to the BJP Government to provide enough security to them to save their life and property which is at stake in view of the vitiated atmosphere created by the saffron forces. The High Court is reported to have ordered the State Government to heed to the Christians deep concern and take necessary precautionary steps to stall any untoward incident that may take place during the “Kumbh” festival or afterwards which may endanger the life and property of the minorities.

Fr. Anand Muttangal, spokesperson for the Catholic Church of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh talking to newspersons claimed that unless preventive measures were taken “a Kandhamal-like situation may develop in Mandla”. Fr. Anand said: “Christians in the State are upset over the virulent campaign against their community and their faith by the organizers of the Kumbh.” Pamphlets being distributed in Mandla, among other things, describe missionaries as “Wolf in a lamb’s clothing”. Another pamphlet purports to expose the “real face of Mother Teresa”. Yet another pamphlet claims that Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama, who landed in Calicut in 1498 “persecuted Hindus and killed a Brahmin”. In contrast, the pamphlet claims, when Syrian Christians came to India in 321 AD, they were allowed to live here by the Hindu rulers and were even permitted to construct their places of worship”.

Fr. Anand on behalf of Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Chouhan asking him to explain the true purpose of the event and cited a state law, the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, which requires anybody converting to another faith to give prior notice. He said he had information that many tribals who had earlier become Christians would be forced to sign forms to “reconvert.”

The leaders of the Christian community have met the Madhya Pradesh Governor Rameshwar Thakur, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Director General of Police S. K. Raut to apprise them of the objectionable and inflammatory publicity material being used by the organizers of the “Kumbh”. They were also handed over copies of the pamphlets etc. being distributed.

Meanwhile, a two-member fact-finding team of the All India Christian Council, (AICC), recently spent three days in the Mandla-Jabalpur region and painstakingly concluded that there are imminent threats to the Christian community. The fact-finding team was comprised of Dr. John Dayal, member, National Integration Council, Government of India, and AICC secretary general, and Vijayesh Lal, human rights activist and secretary of the Religious Liberty Commission, Evangelical Fellowship of India.

The team uncovered plans for ‘ghar wapsi’ (homecoming celebration) or conversion to Hinduism of local Christians despite Madhya Pradesh’s Freedom of Religion Act which requires prior notice of such actions. Literature distributed near the site talks about purging the region of ‘Christian missionaries’ who are falsely accused of large-scale conversions of tribals, mostly Gonds. The fact-finding report was submitted this week to the Madhya Pradesh Governor, the Union Minority Affairs minister, the Union Home minister, and the National Commission for Minorities.

Dr. John Dayal, AICC secretary general, said: “We support the freedom of the majority community to hold massive religious events. But, we fear that, even if there is no violence or a forcible conversion of Christians to Hinduism during the “Kumbh”, the Hindutva campaign has poisoned the atmosphere in Madhya Pradesh. This will negatively impact relationships between Christian and other tribals in the hamlets, villages, and townships of the region.”

“The penetration of hard core Hindutva activists in Madhya Pradesh may have a long-term dampening effect on freedom of religion in this region. It may also negatively impact the continuing social work of Christians, including schools and medical centers in under-developed districts,” said Dayal.

“We were told that sadhus and Hindutva activists have traveled throughout the Mandla’s villages. While collecting money for food and care of Kumbh participants, they made oral threats and allegations of illegal activities by missionaries or priests, according to Christian and social leaders in Mandla. They threatened to wipe out Christianity from the region and convert the region’s Christians to Hinduism through ritual cleansing,” said Dr. Dayal.

The police superintendent issued orders on December 6, 2010 telling churches, and other groups, they must close schools and institutions and house visiting dignitaries and women police. School officials told police a lengthy school closure will be impossible. The police superintendent now claims he did not sign the order, but the fact-finding team has procured what appears to be an authentic copy.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Congress party is maintaining an absolute silence on this issue. It is only criticizing the alleged corruption and irregularities in the preparations being made for the Kumbh. It says that public funds should not be spent on a religious-cum-political function. However, the party is making no comments on the real intentions of the organizers of the show. But, a block level Congress leader of Bhopal Naveen Chaube submitted a memorandum to the state Governor bringing to his notice a magazine titled “Pathey” brought out by the organizers of the “Kumbh” namely “Maa Narmada Saamaajik Kumbh Samaroh Samiti” of Madhyabharat-Malwa Prant spewing venom and trying to vitiate the communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims in the state. The booklet contains cartoons depicting Indian Prime Minister with closed eyes holding a hand of a terrorist with a dagger, calling a Hindu Sadhu (saint) a terrorist, “Love Jehad”, increase in Muslim population with slogan of “Hum Panch Hamare Pachchis” etc. Chaube demanded that the registration of the magazine be cancelled forthwith and action taken against its publisher and printer under the National Security Act, (NSA), while registering cases against all the office-bearers of the committee.

Meanwhile, Congress general secretary and former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh has alleged that the RSS) and the BJP were ruining established Sanatan Dharam (Hindu religion) traditions.

Singh in a statement said that in India four kumbhs have been held since the Sanatan period and all followers of the religion have faithfully associated with Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nasik. However, the BJP Governments of various States in association with the RSS are organizing “kumbhs” festivals at places other than the traditional venues.

The Chhattisgarh Government, led by Raman Singh, is busy in organizing Rajim “Kumbh” and now the Madhya Pradesh Government is going to organise a three-day Kumbh in Mandla from February 10, thus equating them with the mythological “Kumbh”, he pointed out. He claimed that such changes are not only ruining Sanatani traditions, but also amount to cheating people by playing with their sentiments.

The Congress leader said that he welcomes Jagadguru Shankaracharya's statement, alleging the BJP Government in Madhya Pradesh of ruining the established Sanatani traditions. He requested the BJP and the RSS to refrain from terming these events as the “Kumbh”, as it amounts to playing with the sentiments of people and also misguides them.

It may be pointed out here that originally the “Kumbh” was a gathering of holy men to discuss Hinduism. Since then Hindu nationalist led by the RSS have steered the traditional definition toward their own ends.

Meanwhile, according to Home Department the State government has allotted a whopping Rs.250 crore to the Mandla district administration for developing new roads, repairing existing ones, and ensuring uninterrupted drinking water, electricity and health services during the “Kumbh” in this backward tribal-dominated region.







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