Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Offerings of Silence

The events of the past one week have been extremely disturbing. For at least a week now, Christians in Orissa have been the target for groups of extremists who have been doing to these Christians in Orissa what was done, not so long ago, to the Muslims of Gujarat. From news reports we hear that while the Government is able to contain violence in urban areas, in the villages it is a free-for-all as Christian villagers flee to the jungle at sunset to save their lives from their hunters. The only crime of these Oriyas is that they are Christian and according to the supporters of the slain Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, the killers of the Swami were Christian.

Meanwhile in Mangalore a venerable healing institution, Fr Muller’s Hospital was attacked by a mob with alleged links to Hindu extremist organizations. The reason for this attack? A girl who attempted suicide was brought in, and owing to the refusal of her family to shift her to the ICU succumbed to her attempt to end her life. This provided the mob with reason to vandalize the premises of the hospital claiming negligence of the doctors.

In Goa, trouble has been brewing in Porvorim since Janmashtami where, once again, a bunch of Hindu nationalists have violently usurped the open space of a housing colony and established a shrine there. According to reports, rather than prevent the clash between these nationalists and the residents of the colony who were out to protect their open space, the police stood by as mute spectators.

In another incident that occurred only the day before yesterday, the Muslims of Quepem were prevented from praying namaz in a building that they had taken on hire. It is the month of Ramazan and a time for more frequent offering of prayers. Objection was brought to this hiring of the hall, and the Muslims compelled by the local authorities to give up the use of the hall and congregate in a household instead. Further more, they were told to pray in congregation not five times a day, but two times a day. The authorities were no doubt acting in the ‘public interest’ attempting to ensure that there was no ‘provocation’ and invitation for communal conflagration. But what sort of justice is this? A group goes about obtaining permissions and meekly hires a hall (rather than take over public space) to offer prayers in the course of the most spiritually intense month in their calendar. A known troublemaker in the area objects to this. And so, it is the law-abiding citizen, who in the public interest is prevented from exercising his right to freedom of religion, so that the fascist element at large is able to enjoy free rein?

There are two elements that unite these four episodes. The first is that there is no logical or justifiable reason for provocation of violent attack on the minorities in this country. That you are minority is enough and even the whisper of a rumour is justification for violent action. The other element is the inability or the unwillingness of the State to take any action that will set matters right. Porvorim is not the only place where police have reportedly remained as mute spectators to communal violence. This happened in Gujarat, and this happened in Fontainhas, Panjim. These two elements combine to confirm to us the steady rise of the Hindu right in this country as it bullies not just non-Hindu minorities, but even those Hindus who chose to differ in opinion and practice from these extremists. We are seeing a consistent pattern where the law is being used to silence the oppressed rather than control the aggressor.

In the face of this bleak scenario therefore I can offer you this week only silence. The silent sorrow that mourns lives lost, the silence of betrayal when faced with a State that seems unwilling to protect, the silence of shock when one realizes that one’s very existence is unwelcome.

"Sometimes the silence can be like thunder" - Bob Dylan

(Published in the Gomantak Times 3rd September 2008)

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