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
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
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)
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
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
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