It took a lot of guts for the Orissa nun to come out with her testimony. I had visited the exact spot in Kandhamar district, just days after she was raped, and the burnt jeep, the desecrated statues of Jesus Christ, the broken windows bore testimony to the gruesome violence in the name of religion. Villagers looked on from a distance but when we went and spoke to them the story came pouring out. Yes a priest and nun were caught by the mobs, they were stripped and beaten, they were paraded through the village to the market place where the police stood and watched, and yes the nun was raped.
And what has happened since? Nothing. For days and weeks the Navin Patnaik government stood by and did nothing to protect the poorest of the poor as they were killed, and turned out of their houses just because they were Christians and refused to give up their faith. The attackers speak of conversion, but there has been no forcible conversion, only conversion under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution that gives every single religion in this country the right to preach and propagate. The force was being used then, and is being used now, to beat Christians into renouncing their religion and embracing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS version of Hinduism.
The nun was not in hiding, she was in hospital, physically and mentally traumatized. She was treated for not just the bleeding wounds but also for the mental trauma, and has only just about recovered sufficiently to come out in public with her story. It took courage, and she should be respected for what she did. Not just for herself, not just for the Christians but for women and humanity.
Her right to privacy has to be respected, and it is now for this UPA government that somehow still claims it is secular to ensure that she and the other victims of the horrific violence in Orissa and Karnataka must not be dragged through the coals. The nun is right, and any one who has visited Kandhamar can vouch for this. It is not safe for her to even step inside that state, let alone the district and be questioned by a police force that has done great disservice to the uniform by allowing the mobs to terrorise and brutalise a community.
Some sections of the Christian community, probably in sheer desperation, opened dialogue with the RSS and its ilk. Others criticized them, for they know that this dialogue is false insofar as the RSS and its front organizations are concerned, and its leaders use it to project themselves as one, secular and two, as alternatives to the state with the power to restore peace. Some time ago, religious Muslim leaders too opened this dialogue with the RSS and even attended BJP conferences and meetings to prove their “we are all one” point. In some ways they are, because fundamentalism regardless of the religion gets together at some point, particularly when it has to counter its real opponent: secularism.
Secularism is an ideology that works around the fundamental principle of equality and justice. It is unfortunate that those in power today cynically exploit this to suit their ends. The BJP is more honest, it does not even bother to pay lip service to the cause, and basically denounces all those who do not agree with its divide and rule policy as pseudo secularists or anti-nationals. The Congress remains as hypocritical as always, and has become an expert at fiddling while mobs destroy lives and homes.
The regional parties are not exactly communal but are totally opportunistic using specific vote bank policies with more dexterity now than even the Congress did in its better days. The regional leaders do not hesitate to join up with communal parties as and when it suits them but to give them their due, the Nitish Kumars, Chandrababu Naidus and Mayawati’s do manage to preserve some levels of communal amity. After all today the unrest amongst the minorities is greatest in Congress ruled states and not in Bihar, or for that matter Uttar Pradesh (except for Azamgarh that had a direct link with Delhi) where despite the large Muslim population, the atmosphere is more peaceful and harmonious.
Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil has disappeared from view. His greatest achievement has been to escape the axe after he assured Congress president Sonia Gandhi that his loyalty to her could never come under question. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is wandering the world, earning accolades for the nuclear deal and for growth gone wrong.
Parliament in a parliamentary democracy has been diminished as an institution. The government is directly responsible. It has done away with the monsoon and winter sessions. It has reduced the sittings this year to just 40 days. The country is reeling under the impact of violence, inflation and a collapsing economy. But the government does not feel that there is any need for Parliament to discuss these and any number of burning issues, as it does not want to be held accountable for non governance. It does not care for either Parliament or for parliamentary democracy as under the Congress, the executive has been given the full mandate to be reckless.
India is a pluralistic state. It is any number of states and any number of peoples all rolled together under one nation, one flag and one Constitution. Its oxygen is freedom based on justice and equality. It will disintegrate and die if it is deprived of any of these, and is compelled to adopt a monolithic mantle that is totally unnatural to its existence. Fundamentalist groups insist on imposing their ideologies, their religions, their thoughts, their justice, their vision on people, even as they create the concept of the ‘other’ and try and unite their supporters to combat the opponents. If India is to survive and flourish as a healthy, breathing, vibrant democracy, secularism has to be protected and nurtured.
The nun from Kandhamar has shown us how. It is for us to learn the lesson.
By Seema Mustafa