|India's Holy Wars
Written by DIAN MUELLER
India is in deep turmoil on a number of religious fronts. While the mainstream press focuses mainly on the conflict between predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan over the threatened separation of the Indian Jammu and Kashmir state, the death toll rises in other parts of the country as internecine war widens. Hindutva groups have now embarked on a countrywide campaign of terror, distributing lethal tridents to mass gatherings of Hindus, which, presumably, are to be used against hapless Muslims. The government has, predictably, done absolutely nothing to stop the campaign. To the contrary, the supposedly liberal Prime Minister constantly reiterates his undying faith in the Sangh Parivar, under whose blessings the campaign is being conducted. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Pravin Togadia, lionized by the Sangh Parivar as the latest icon of Hindutva-brand nationalism, criss-crosses the length and breadth of India unhindered, spewing venom against Muslims and Christians and distributing lethal weapons to large crowds. For its part, the state looks on in complete apathy, colluding in this campaign of terror that threatens to send India hurtling towards civil war.
The 2,500-year-old Hindu caste system is being violently assailed in Bihar state, which has become a "large battleground of caste senas [armies]," reports Indian Express. Dozens of people are killed every year in the conflict, and approximately 5,000 have died in the past decade. On Jun 15, the upper caste landlords' militia shot 34 lower caste villagers. It was the eighth such mass murder in six months, but the first directed at the community of Bihar's state chief minister Rabri Devi.
Eleven members of the Ranvir Sena (RS) were arrested for the massacre, an apparent retaliation for the murder of 12 upper caste Bhumihar members and the village's alleged harboring of last year's attackers on an RS-protected village. The sena called on Devi to resign, holding her responsible for the Bhumihar deaths, which may have been the work of the People's War Group or the Maoist Communist Center (MCC). Both claim to represent the lower castes.
On Jun 19, the two groups declared that they would avenge the RS murders by targeting an upper-caste village. "This is a class war," proclaimed MCC spokesman Badal. In response, RS Area Commander Upendra Singh promised that his group would "kill 10 times the number they kill." Local police requested 400 soldiers from the federal government to tighten security.
Devi's husband and former state chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, who is also president of the Bihar-ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal, called the murders an attempt "to defame and pull down" his government. Although caste violence isn't a recent invention, it worsened after an amendment to India's constitution gave political, property, schooling, and employment rights to the lower castes.
Analysts speculate that the latest developments will re-intensify the violence, partially because of the shift in the RS' focus from the "untouchable" Dalits caste to the more influential Yadavs. "We are fighting a war of honor," asserts Singh. "We are fighting for our existence. We don't know when this war will end."
Attacks on Christians
With Christians comprising 2.3% of India's one billion people, allegations that missionaries unethically convert poor Hindus is at the heart of another battle. On Jun 3, for example, Christian activists held a demonstration in Calcutta protesting alleged misinformation about tribal Christians in Orissa state reconverting to Hinduism. Orissa officials had reported that about 72 conversions were performed by a Hindu holy man in Manoharpur, site of the murder of a missionary family last year, allegedly by fanatic Hindus. A member of Bajrang Dal, a hardline Hindu group, was arrested in that case.
A few days after the demonstration, Father George Kunjhikandam was beaten to death in Uttar Pradesh. Despite the official conclusion that the murder wasn't religiously motivated, the All India Catholic Union saw it as part of a pattern, including the beating of missionaries in the same area in April. One of the witnesses to Kunjhikandam's death committed suicide in police custody, prompting increased security for the second witness and the arrest of two police officers accused of torturing the first.
On Jun 8, four churches in Goa, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh states were bombed, causing one injury. Exactly one month later, another bomb exploded outside a Karanataka church; yet another went off outside a southern India church the next night.
Christian leaders blame the Hindu nationalist-led government coalition for not controlling militant groups. "It is open season on Christians again," charges John Dayal, convenor of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights.
Christians are seeking help from the UN and Amnesty International. They "have no faith in the Indian