72

ISHVANI KENDRA
Institute of Missiology and Communications
Pune – India
February – 2009

I.    REPORT AND DOCUMENTATION

1. Call to Unite in order to Uproot Terrorism – Neeraj Jain

On 26th November 2008, young men armed with AK47 guns and hand grenades got down from boats at Mumbai coast. They broke up into groups, hired taxis and went to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, The Taj, Oberoi Trident Hotel and Nariman House. Entering the thickly crowded railway station and the five star hotels, they began firing indiscriminately, unleashing a dance of death. For nearly three days, the terrorists held several hundred people hostage in the luxury hotels. Finally, after a 60 hour operation involving a force of 477 National Security Guard personnel, one unit of marine commandos, six columns of the army and 400 members of the Mumbai police, 9 terrorists were killed and one captured alive. The bloody drama, which involved attacks in as many as 11 places in the city, left 183 people dead, and 239 wounded. The objectives could be many:

The scale of the terror attacks left Mumbai reeling. But within two days, it recovered. No riots took place either in Mumbai or anywhere else in the country. Mumbaikars faced the tragedy with stoic and calm. They even organized a huge demonstration for peace and unity condemning terrorism.

Recently, in Orissa, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad brutally attacked Christians. The orgy of lootings, burnings, and murder continued for nearly two and a half months. It left more than 40 dead. Forty thousand people have been driven from their homes, half of who now live in refugee camps. Hindu extremist organizations have carried out bombings in Parbhani in 2003, in Jalna in 2004… in Malegaon in 2008. The MNS has carried out brutal attacks on North Indian workers in Maharashtra, forcing thousands to flee.

In all these and innumerable other cases where a reign of terror has been unleashed on the ordinary people, no voices are raised; no campaign is waged by politicians, intellectuals, media to bring the perpetrators to justice. But when Mumbai’s incredibly luxurious hotels are targeted, 23 foreigners are killed it is made into a major issue! Nevertheless, it is important take a look at the forces responsible for this terror attack.

Who are the real terrorists?

Everyone condemns the terrorism of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other such organizations, as indeed should be done. But what most people forget is that its roots lie in American economics and politics. Also never mentioned is America’s global terrorism, which is incomparably more brutal, and has led to the deaths of lakhs of innocent people.

In Afghanistan, in order to overthrow a leftist government, the US created Osama Bin Laden and the fundamentalist Taliban and gave them enormous amounts of funds and arms. And when the demon refused to go back into the bottle, it became the excuse to attack Afghanistan after the September 11 bombing. The attack began on 7 October, 2001. Lakhs of old men, women and children died in the invasion. On 20th March 2003, US invaded and occupied Iraq in order to take control of its immense oil wealth. Lakhs died.

Why is India a target?

On 6th December 1992, without any reason, Hindu fundamentalist forces destroyed the Babri Masjid. After that there were riots in Mumbai. It was in reaction to these incidents that there occurred 12 bomb blasts in Mumbai on 12th March 1993, in which over 300 people died. The next major wave of terrorist attacks has begun from 2002 onwards, after the BJP carried out the genocide in Gujarat in March 2002: 2nd December 2002 – Ghatkopar, 6th December – Mumbai Central, 27th January 2003 – Vile Parle… the July 11, 2006 serial bomb blasts in local trains. All are in revenge for Gujarat.

A second factor providing the breeding ground for growth of terrorism is the policy of globalization being promoted by the Indian government. It is sharpening the polarization in the country. On the one hand, the life styles of the rich are becoming more and more opulent, with their huge shopping malls, luxury cars and designer clothes. And on the other hand, a very large section of the population is being driven into deeper and deeper poverty.

2. Eradicating Terrorism: Groping in the Dark – Ram Puniyani

November 26 terror attack on Mumbai shook the whole nation like never before. The society and state have been putting in their best to see that measures are taken where by the terror acts don't repeat. So traumatized has been India that every conceivable measure is being given a serious thought for the safety and security of society.

To begin with the condolence for the dead was expressed through number of events, candle light march, human chains, all religion prayer meetings and area networking has come up in a very visible fashion. In many of these protests the anger against politicians had a free for all expression, at places sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly the fear of Pakistan and 'Jehadi' terrorists has been the running thread of the protests. The misplaced call for war against Pakistan is the part of this phenomenon only. The state, the central Government in order to show that something is being done, passed a law, empowering the state as if that will deter the terrorists, who generally come with the full readiness to die. The state is blowing hot and cold, sometimes threatening war and at others talking tough and less often also saying that war is no option.

It seems that the knee jerk reaction after the phenomenon is more focused on the symptoms of the phenomenon. Tighten security, have better bullet jackets and have stringent laws. There is not much attempt to go beyond the obvious to unravel the truth of sectarian and terrorist violence. Surely sectarian violence is due to some political groups baking their bread in the divisive politics, the ground for which is prepared by the hate ideology, spread of misconceptions and distorted view of the minorities, their history, their present. So, as lot of groups and individuals correctly talk about peace, about need for amity, their attempts do not reach to the core issue of fighting against divisive politics, the attempt to unravel the truth about minorities, their present and their past.

The communal violence and emotive issues give more strength to the communal parties, who in turn give bigger space to their affiliates who work at cultural and religious level to increase the communal divides and weaken national integration, further paving way to still worse violence in times to come. Not only that, their intensity has been worsening every next time they are staged. Gujarat was worse than Mumbai and Orissa has been more horrific than Dangs. The trajectory of communal violence has clearly shown that all the efforts by state to curb it have been misdirected; the social initiatives have been serious but probably not hitting the target in the effective way. One means the communal congruence of right wing ideology during last three decades.

As far as terrorist attacks are concerned, the formulation that All Terrorists are Muslims has been the understanding on which policies are made and implemented. With the result that the real causes of terror are not taken up for treatment of the disease of terrorism. From 1993 onwards terror attacks have been occurring, stringent laws or other wise. The deeper injustice has been giving raison de tre to the repetition of these attacks. Here also the attacks have been worsening, the Mumbai one being worst so far.

If we see a bit more seriously, the real causes of terrorism have not taken up for fighting against. The popular perceptions stops at Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba being the real cause obviates the need to see beyond Al Qaeda etc. It prevents us from seeing the role of US imperialism in bring them up and using these groups for US' political-economic gains. So all anger, protest against Pakistan and accompanying factors gets major importance. One misses the point that terrorism of Al Qaeda variety has roots in US policies of control over oil resources. It is due to those policies that these groups were propped up to fight Russian armies occupying Afghanistan. One has to see beyond the obvious to realize that this type terrorism has its genesis from the deeper political designs. The indoctrination of the radical groups which began due to this policy of US can not be fought against merely by strengthening some more laws and by new set of weapons.

Pakistani society is as much a victim of this dastardly phenomenon as India is. Terrorists always are looking for the holes in security through which they operate and their biggest advantage is that they are indoctrinated to the extent that they are willing to stake their all, including their lives to do what they have been doing. On similar wave length operates the terror attacks by Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and other of her group. These Hindutva warriors have also been indoctrinated into hating others for the sake of their avowed goal of Hindu Rashtra. So where do we go, what direction we give to our concerns to ensure that terror attacks do not occur?

First and foremost, all places where injustice prevails, where democracy is stifled in a short-sighted way, those places become a rich fertile ground for breeding of terrorism. The one planted by US, Al Qaeda type, needs to be fought at global level. US is to be made accountable for much of this cancer which has spread in the area. While firmly dealing with the present terror set ups, democracy also needs to be made strong in Pakistan itself. One sees the subtle difference in the utterances of democratic elements in Pakistan and the Army-ISI-Mullah combine. The global peace movement has to ensure that the United Nations comes to the fore and stops the hegemony, the imperial behaviour of US in particular. No measure short of restoring UN, making US follow the wishes of global community, a more democratized United Nations will suffice. This rejuvenated UN has to take up the global issue of terrorism, and put a brake on one sided, arbitrary US policies. US war on terror, and those who go by that, need to be put on the margins and entire charge of global interventions taken up by UN.

While draconian laws are no solution to the problem, it is likely they create and intensify the problem. The mantra of 'tighten the security' has not yielded any success in preventing it. The core point is to see that the concerned civic society makes its stand clear, that terrorism's roots lie in injustice on one hand and US policies on the other. We need to raise our voices against injustice and US hegemony both to see that over a period of time the terror menace is eliminated by and by.

3. Voices from the Margins: Response to Communal Violence

Streevani (the voice of woman) organised Dr. Frances Maria Yasas Memorial Lecture on 24 January 2009, at Ishvani Kendra, Pune. The Speaker of the day was Dr. Teesta Setelvad, well known journalist and human rights activist. Bro. Varghese Theckanath SG who chaired the Memorial Lecture placed the theme, Voices from the Margins: Response to Communal Violence in the context of his experiences in Kandhamal, Orissa. He remarked:

“We are here to celebrate the life of Dr. Frances Yasas. We are here to re-dedicate her memory to the world once again through this lecture. Dr. Frances Maria Yasas is a person vivid in my memory. I spent three days with her in the early part of 1994 while taking a break from the relief work that I was co-coordinating after the Latur earthquake. She gave me some great insights into the gender question that has shaped my attitudes to life a great deal since then. But even more than her perceptive and incisive insights, it is her person that impressed me the most. She was gentle but courageous, and persuasive but never imposing. She had clarity, convictions, and above all the courage to act on her convictions. I feel extremely privileged to facilitate the Annual Streevani Lecture in memory of Dr. Yasas this year by a person of such eminence as Dr. Teesta Setelvad, on the theme: Voices from the Margins: Response to Communal Violence.

The viciousness of communal violence, and how it can corrode the consciousness of individuals and communities, hit me like a Tsunami when I went to live in the slums of the communally tense old city of Hyderabad in July 1990. I went there for three months, but stayed on for 11 years. Some images for the worst orgy of communal violence that occurred in Hyderabad and killed almost 700 people still remain fresh in my mind even after 18 years. The first image that comes to my mind is the shock of seeing little children, both Hindu and Muslim, walking around with sticks and weapons in hand for self-defence, in the months prior to the riots that were triggered by the Rath-yatra of Lal Krishna Advani, to mobilize support for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

But the worst nightmare for me was visiting the riot torn Sultan Shahi area of the Old City with police officer friend during the curfew. The modus operandi of the rioters was to play loud, the tape-recorded sounds of rioting crowds attacking people in the lanes and by lanes. As unsuspecting neighbours opened their doors thinking their friends or relatives were being attacked, they were assaulted. In the neighbourhood we visited, a young man opened the door to come to the rescue of relatives who he thought were being attacked. The rioters hacked him to death. So was his young wife who ran out to rescue him. The house was set on fire. Their little daughter who ran out of the burning house was tossed into the flames by one of the rioting marauders. The remnants of the diabolic dance of death that night were there for us to see when we visited the area. That is a scene that will always remain etched in my memory as what some human beings are capable of doing to others.

Such gory stories have been repeated over and over again in India. I spent my last Christmas in Kandhamal, Orissa. The midnight Service was in a relief camp in Naogaon, the little town where Sr. Meena Barwa was brutally raped and paraded on the streets. One of the women in the Camp there, Pushpa Diga, a Dalit woman, narrated to me how her husband was killed. When the rioters came, her husband was hiding in a neighbour’s house along with two others. They caught the other two and chopped them into pieces. But her husband managed to run. But they eventually caught him. Pushpa, carrying her 11 year old polio affected daughter in one hand, and her four year old daughter in the other, followed them pleading with them to spare her husband for the sake of her small children. But even as she looked on, they asked him to become a Hindu or be killed. When he refused, they chopped off both his feet. They made him stand up and then chopped off his legs above his knees. Then his private parts were cut and then his head. He was killed part by part with his wife and two children watching. The greatest shame and sorrow of Pushpa is that in spite of her identifying those who so brutally killed her husband, the perpetrators are all proudly roaming the streets of her village, while she is languishing in fear in the inhuman conditions of a relief camp.

Such gruesome stories were heard over and over again as I met the victims in the relief camps of Kandhamal. Today, the soul of India is being reshaped. It is receiving a new hue all together. What shape and colour India will take, only history can tell. The Church in India is also caught into the same turmoil. The year 2008 can be considered the 9/11 for the Church in India. It is its 26/11. The Church in India can no more be the same. Everything that She had held sacred in the past has been de-socialised during the course of 2008. Churches have been desecrated and burnt; little children in schools have been attacked; Mother Theresa’s Sisters and Brothers, the best recognized icons of Christian service in India were attacked, and their house razed to the ground. Even the cloistered nuns were not spared!

This comes as a shock to us, but also as a challenge for the future. The year 2008 is a clarion call to the Church in India to re-invent herself for the future. But what is the direction of such re-founding? Well, we do not know. But there are indications of the future that come not so much from the centres of power or decision making, not even from the centres of learning, but from the bottom, from the victims, from those who have experienced what it is to have their rights violated. Let me share with you three such little, but powerful voices that indicate what the direction of the future mission of the Church in India should be, if Christians are to live with dignity.

The first of the voices of the future I heard comes from Phulmani Pradhan, a tribal woman, a mother of three children, who saw her husband being dragged to the forest and cut to pieces. She went back home to fetch a bed sheet to collect the remains of her husband. But when she returned, she found that the head of her husband was gone. After she narrated the happenings of the day that changed her life, she made a simple statement. She said, “I have been going to the Church every Sunday. The priests and sisters taught me prayers. But they never taught me how to protect myself and my family. They never taught me how to make a police complaint; how to preserve the evidence of murder; or how to get justice.” Phulmani Pradhan has thrown a powerful challenge before the Church in India: To leave the temple and become political. In her own simple, but inimitable way she has told the Church that ‘to be religious is to be political’.

The second voice that I want you to hear comes from Muhammad Arief, a Muslim social activist. He told me, “I don’t know what to think of the Christian Community in India. When Muslims were attacked, you remained silent. We thought you were not concerned because we are Muslims. But now you yourself are attacked. But you are still silent! What more is needed to make you break your silence?” This taunt from a Muslim friend has a powerful lesson: The future mission of the Church in India is in breaking the silence; in speaking up courageously; in creating alliances with all oppressed peoples across communities and societies; in joining alliances with all people of good will.

Finally, there is a third powerful voice that I want to share with you. It comes from a Dalit Priest (I do not name him for obvious reasons) from Kandhamal whose village has been burnt, and people attacked. He said, ‘The Church leadership in Orissa see us as a problem. Some even say, ‘They deserved it’. Government is in a hurry to dismantle the camps, send the people away, and says, ‘everything is normal in Kandhamal. The Church leadership is going along with the government. But the people are scared. They are insecure. They don’t want to go back to their villages. They want security. They want justice. If the camps are closed, they will just disperse to the slums of the cities and to other states where they feel more secure. Thousands have already done so. But the Church doesn’t care. It only wants to be in the good books of the government, because she wants to protect her institutions. She does not care what happens to us!’ This is again a strong indictment of the Church, and an invitation. This Dalit Priest from Kandhamal challenges the Church to opt for people, for their security and justice, over the security of its institutions.

These are voices from the margins for a possible direction for the future of the Church in India. Yet every situation demands a pioneering commitment. Perhaps, Dr. Yasas in whose memory this lecture is held has an insight to offer us. She was once asked how she launched so many of her pioneering projects. She simply replied: “At many times, in my life, I found myself in deep forests. I could not find a path and wondered what I was going to do. And then I heard the voice of the poet. ‘Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking the walk’.”

4. Meeting for Principals and Teachers

The Centre for the study of Religions and Communications, Ishvani Kendra, Pune, India held a National meeting on the burning problem the country is facing with the theme of ‘In Defence of Pluralism and Democracy’ on 9th and 10th December 2008. The participants were about 100 men and women leaders across religions and ideologies. In the two day intensive meeting, they expressed serious concern over the spread of communalism and divisive politics by certain groups with vested interest and stressed that the growth of communal and divisive politics was a danger to democracy and pluralistic character of India. One of the action plans they had worked out to combat communal forces was to educate the public, particularly the young minds, about the rich pluralistic heritage of the country.

In response to that together with the Pune Diocesan Board of Education, Ishvani Kendra organised a one-day seminar on ‘Democracy and Human Rights’ on Saturday 17th January 2009, for Principals and teachers. About 200 teachers from Pune, Lonavla, Kirkee, Chinchwad, Solapur, Kolhapur, Satara, Daund, Miraj, Karad, Ratnagiri and Panchgani actively participated in the seminar, which Most Rev. Valerian D’Souza, the Bishop of Poona, inaugurated at 10.00 a.m. and ended at 5.00 p.m. Relevant materials were presented in a file together with “Communalism: Illustrated Primer” by Ram Puniyani.

Dr. Cedric Prakash SJ, director of Prashant, a Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace from Gujarat, Advocate Irfan Engineer, director, Institute of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution from Mumbai and Mr. Neeraj Jain from Lokayat, Pune were the resource persons. Irfan gave a total picture of communal problems, Cedric exposed the State of Human Rights and highlighted the plight of minorities in Gujarat, Orissa and Karnataka. And Neeraj concluded the morning session presenting the cultural, social and economic back drop of threats to democracy.

In the afternoon, in preparation for group discussions, the resource persons took 10-15 minutes each presenting the type of concrete activities they were involved-in, under the titles: “Awareness Programmes” (Irfan), “Human Rights Campaigns” (Cedric), “Cultural and Associated Activities (Neeraj) and “Role of Institution in preserving Secular Values” (Joy Thomas). They acted as conveners for the group discussion that followed and one each from the groups summarised their deliberations in the plenary. Discussion was oriented to drawing the following concrete plans of action:

  1. Day-long training programme in all schools for teachers to be open to secular values and not to violate the rights of students especially not to neglect poor children. Refresher courses especially on History.
  2. Have a human rights week in the school with assembly and speeches on the theme. It could also be the theme of the annual concert. Special classes on ‘rights’ during value education classes.
  3. Students are the future of the nation: Encourage them to read news papers, prepare posters and write essays on the chosen theme, inter-religious service, enacting plays to communicate secular values to them and film clubs to screen value-based films on social issues, human rights, child labour, etc. Introduce inter-school programmes, especially if the school is not co-ed.
  4. Establish solidarity with people living around our institutions and establish contact with parents. Invite speakers from all religions for annual day programme.

II.    NEWS: National Communal Award

Dr. Dominic Emmanuel SVD and Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan have been selected for the National Communal Harmony Award for the year 2008. The Jury, headed by the Vice-President of India, selected Dr. Dominic Emmanuel SVD, Delhi in the individual category and a Delhi based organisation Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan in the organisation category.

The National Communal Harmony Awards were instituted in 1996 by the National Foundation for Communal Harmony (NFCH), an autonomous organisation set up by Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, for promoting communal harmony and national integration. The award has been instituted with a view to demonstrating due appreciation and recognition of the efforts of individuals and organisations/ institutions for promotion of communal harmony and national integration in a sustained manner over a sufficiently long period of time.

Dr. Dominic Emmanuel SVD has been working for communal harmony for the past two decades. Having a Ph. D. on 'Communication as Dialogue: Its Progressive Recognition in Modern Christian, Academic and Broadcast Discourses', Dr. Emmanuel has been in the service of inter-religious dialogue. He has been actively involved in resolving conflicts/ differences between different communities. His literary works include 14 books on subjects covering value education for school children and communal harmony. He has been contributing articles in national dailies for the promotion of communal harmony and national integration. He has worked as Radio Journalist on the themes of communal harmony. He also participated in sadbhavna yatras in the aftermath of Gujarat riots 2002. He is also one of the founding members of Parliament of Religions (Sarvadharam Sadbhav).

III.    NEW BOOKS

Legrand, Lucien: Mission in the Bible, Pune: Ishvani Publications, 1994 (Available at Ishvani Kendra).

It is a truly creative, synthetic, study of the Biblical Theology of Mission that brings into the multi-faceted nature of mission in the Bible. At the same time it shows how that variety is at the service of the Mysterious One who comes to us – empowering, reconciling, challenging and renewing.

Puniyani, Ram, Communalism: Illustrated Primer, Mumbai: Bombay Sarvodaya Friendship Centre, 2007 (Available in Ishvani Kendra).

The rise in communal violence in recent times poses a serious challenge to the democratic and secular values of Indian society. We need to understand the phenomenon of communal violence in a deeper sense to protest our democracy and pluralism. This book is an attempt to understand this phenomenon.

Abraham, Koshy (Dr.), Christ in Ancient Indian Thought, Kerala: Mantra Publishers, 2008 (Available in Ishvani Kendra).

This Book is a revelation – of facts not widely know. A Revelation that biblical truths are available in the ancient Indian scriptures. The author, a Sanskrit scholar, offers conclusive evidence of the presence of Christian vision in the Vedas and Upanishads. It is the culmination of research and study spread over many years and addressed to seekers of truth, irrespective of faith and creed, everywhere. The book holds no particular brief, except to proclaim that Truth is one, through expressed differently. That however requires differentiating the substance from the poetic imagination of language and it is in this context that the author provides totally fresh interpretations and insight.

Michael, S. M., Chittattukalam, Kuriala, (eds.), Cultural Challenges in Christian Mission in the 21st Century, Delhi: Media House, 2008 (Available at CBCI Centre, Delhi).

The Culture has moved quite unexpectedly to the centre of people’s aspirations and anxieties. It is linked with people’s deeper level identities, their historic memories, ethnic pride, their collective psyche, community ambitions, motivations, shared prejudices and fears, “says Abp. Thomas Menamparampil SDB, the Chairman of the CBCI Commission for Education and Culture.

Dr. Joy Thomas, SVD (Director)

ISHVANI KENDRA
P.B. 3003, Off Nagar Road, Sainikwadi
Pune – 411014 – INDIA
Ph : (0091) - 020 – 27033820; 27033507

E-mail: ishvani@dataone.in
Website:
www.ishvanikendra.org

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