The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Death of a Missionary

By Rajeev Srinivasan

None of us can help but condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the recent burning of an Australian Christian missionary, Graham Stains, and his two small sons, in a remote Orissa tribal area. There is no greater fundamental right than the simple right to life; and it is unpardonable to deny this to anybody, especially two little boys. Stains' skin colour, his nationality, and his profession are immaterial -- no one deserves to die this way.

I mourn the death of Graham Stains just as I mourned the deaths of Christian Ostroe, a Norwegian tourist, beheaded by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir; the anonymous Hindus periodically massacred, also in J&K; the victims of the Ranbir Sena as well as the People's War Group; the tiny casualties of infanticide in many parts of the country; the women murdered in instances of 'dowry deaths.' They were all killed because of what or who they were.

I object on purely humanitarian grounds to murder; and I also object on the basis of enlightened self-interest. I recall the words of a German priest which went roughly thus: "When the Nazis came for Gypsies, I did not speak up, for I was not a Gypsy; when they came for Jews, I did not speak up, for I was not a Jew; when they came for homosexuals, I did not speak up, for I was not a homosexual; and when they came for me, there was no one left to speak up for me."

Therefore, I speak up for Stains, and I condemn this brutal act. Just as I spoke up for the Muslims killed in Mumbai in 1992, the Sikhs killed in Delhi in 1984. The rights of every one of us are diminished when the rights of any one of us are diminished.

Moreover, I speak up for Stains, for he appears, according to reports, to have been an earnest humanitarian, not some fly-by-night evangelist-businessman who is in the conversion business purely for profit.

There is, however, a very relevant question as to who committed this offence, and why at this particular time. It is inappropriate to assume a priori (it must be so proven) that it is the work of Hindu extremists confident of the support of a BJP-dominated central government. The BJP-led government has, after all, been in power for some time.

No, this has to be seen in the prism of the recent gains by the Congress in the assembly election, and the widespread speculation in the English-language media that there was a Sonia Gandhi wave in the making. She has, without entirely convincing evidence, been anointed as the Great White Hope; as the brains and the Great Helmswoman behind the imminent comeback of the Nehru dynasty to power at the Centre; and the prime-minister-to-be any day now.

This is a splendid example of the "manufacturing of consent" by the allegedly balanced, self-righteous English-language media. A case can be made, as Rajakrishnan pointed out alliteratively in the Malayalam daily, the Kerala Kaumudi, that it was palli then, and ulli now -- mosque and onion -- that led to victories for the BJP and the Congress in the last two elections. Not necessarily the result of Madame Gandhi or anyone else's leadership or persuasive powers.

In any case, a number of people have become convinced that Sonia Gandhi will be the prime minister of India very soon. What is the relevance of this political matter to the timing of these troubles surrounding Christians in India now?

Only this -- that Sonia Gandhi made a major tactical blunder, perhaps a Freudian slip that makes her appear to be a borderline Christian fundamentalist. Perhaps she thought nobody would notice, but people did. Now Madame Gandhi is backpedalling furiously, visiting Tirupati and the Ramakrishna Mission, and (mis)-quoting Swami Vivekananda. She has also been reticent about the Christian-related incidents. She wants to avoid alienating Hindu voters.

What Madame Gandhi committed was an act of political naivete: she surrounded herself, as soon as she became Congress party leader, with a clique consisting only of Christians -- eg. Vincent George, Tom Thomas, Tommy Thomas, Margaret Alva, Ajit Jogi, Purno Sangma. I am told she has always been an avid church-goer, named her son Rahul John Paul Gandhi (presumably after the most fiercely fundamentalist Pope in recent times), made sure her daughter married a Catholic; and, in general, made no bones about her strong preference for Christianity.

Political correctness aside, as the saying goes, the Caesar's wife has to be beyond reproach. It is inappropriate for an aspiring leader of this pluralistic country to be perceived as religiously biased, whether or not she is. No wonder she is scrambling for photo-opps at Hindu temples -- I don't know if she used to do this before, or whether it is new-found tactical zeal.

The Hindu right-wing noticed; and so did the missionaries. For the former, this meant fear, and a short window of opportunity to warn Madame Gandhi to be circumspect. For the latter, it meant joyous tidings -- the prospect of a no-holds-barred assault on Hindus to convert them, with tacit support from a Sonia Gandhi-led central government, and all this conveniently timed to coincide with certain Christians beliefs about the world coming to an end in 2000 CE and some Biblical prescription to make everyone on earth a Christian by then.

It may be a combination of these two factors that led to the recent confrontations in the Dangs area in Gujarat and elsewhere, as reported by reliable Gandhian witnesses: Hindus taking out a show-of-strength procession, being attacked by Christians, resulting in the latter's shacks and a Hindu's jeep being torched; Christians urinating in a Hanuman temple, and breaking a Hanuman idol and throwing it into the river. Both groups have thus become more belligerent.

This may explain the timing of Stains' murder; but who might have committed it? The usual suspects, say the pundits: the Hindu extreme right-wing. However, as Sherlock Holmes might say, we have to consider the possible culprits and eliminate the less likely ones. And the possible villains would be the set of all who stood to gain from this ghastly deed.

Eyewitnesses say Stains' attackers conducted an operation with military precision -- obviously pre-meditated -- and then, before they left, they shouted pro-Bajrang Dal slogans. That last, however, is very suspicious. If it were pre-meditated and skilfully executed, why on earth would they leave their visiting card, as it were? Unless it was someone else pretending to be the Bajrang Dal, surely?

Who might that someone be? Who might be motivated? Perhaps someone who wanted to malign the Bajrang Dal and remove Stains as a competitor simultaneously? May be an impatient rival missionary group (probably American) which believes in quick-fix conversions as opposed to Stains who, it is reported, ran a lepers' home for the last 34 years?

There are other potential suspects too: whoever stood to gain. Surely, non-Christian Congress politicos who had a magnificent opportunity -- make the BJP look like dangerous murderers and at the same time gently nudge Madame Gandhi away from her coterie of Christians? And all this at no risk to themselves, as they shed large crocodile tears in public...

Who else might gain from this grisly murder? Of course, Pakistan's ISI is always fishing in troubled waters, but I am not convinced of their ability to actually execute -- the Indian press gives them too much credit; after all, why should they be better than India's own ineffectual intelligence services?

Then there are the inevitable American covert services. Now that Strobe Talbott is coming to India for yet another round of an exercise in futility, and the Indians do not appear to be caving in on the CTBT as quickly as expected, why not turn up the heat a notch? What better than some atrocity that will really put the Indians on the defensive? Remember, the Americans are good negotiators.

Therefore, if the US government or the Australian government were to -- as they are wont to -- now accuse India of acts against religious minorities, I would like to suggest that the Government of India not repeat its usual shrinking-violet act and get weak-kneed and apologetic. India should ask pointed and rude questions of them, for they are hypocritical and motivated in their queries.

Of the US, I would ask:

* Exactly what business is this of yours? None of your citizens are involved. Where was your sense of moral outrage when Hindus were massacred by your ally Pakistan? When Tibetans were gunned down by your ally China? When Hindu shrines were torched by Christian fanatics in Fiji? Since you chose to be silent then, kindly stay silent now.

* Secondly, could we get an official explanation from you about why you did not protect the fundamental rights of your own citizens in the following instances of violence against your religious and ethnic minorities? These were atrocities perpetrated by your government forces.

1. The black group MOVE that was incinerated in an attack in Philadelphia in the '80s in a Vietnam-style helicopter gunship attack, in a joint state and Federal operation.
2. The Christian cult, the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas that was burnt alive in the '90s by a combined team from various Federal agencies such as the BATF.
3. The Tuskegee experiment in the '50s where blacks infected with syphilis were observed and monitored, but intentionally left untreated by government doctors.
4. Charanjit S Aujla, a US citizen or resident of Indian origin, who was murdered on December 4, 1998, in Jackson, Mississippi, by six sheriff's deputies who shot him in the back of the head in the liquor store where he worked (see for details).

* Thirdly, could you give us an official explanation about why you failed to protect the human rights of the following minority US citizens or residents who were brutally attacked and murdered on your own soil?

1. Feroze Mody, a US resident of Indian origin, who was beaten to death in Jersey City/Hoboken, New Jersey, in the 80's, for being a 'dot-head' (a derogatory name for Indians).
2. James Byrd Jr., a black resident of Jasper, Texas, who was chained to a pick-up truck and dragged to his death by racists in 1998.
3. Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, civil rights activists, a black and two Jews, who were murdered by racists during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

In fact, India should set up a Commission for the Global Protection of Religious Minorities of all types -- and demand investigations, for example, into the following allegations:

1. The harassment of the Rajneesh/Osho community in Antelope, Oregon by the US FBI.
2. The harassment of the Rev Sun Young Moon's group by the US Internal Revenue Service.
3. The harassment of L Ron Hubbard's Scientologists by the US federal government.

Of the Australians, I would enquire:

* How many aborigines have you massacred lately?
* How many of the 5,000 children who have died in Iraq in the last five years can be traced back to your diplomat, the UNSCOM man Richard Butler, running in effect a spy ring for the US under the pretext of a UN mandate?

These are fighting words, and I only use them to illustrate a technique the Chinese have mastered: when accused of wrongdoing, they shout from the rooftops the sins of their accusers; whereupon said accusers withdraw. Agreed, two wrongs do not make a right. The intent is for India to set her own house in order with out interference from unhelpful foreigners.

Going back to the question of who did it, it is true that by the use of Occam's razor, the simplest explanation is that of Hindu right-wing guilt; however, they must not be presumed guilty until and unless proven so beyond reasonable doubt.

In any case, the killing of one man, as Josef Stalin infamously said, is a tragedy; but the death of a thousand is a mere statistic. Graham Stains' death is a tragedy; I wish all of us who shed a tear for him will also shed a tear for the thousand mere statistics murdered by fanatics of all religions in India for all the wrong reasons.


At 12/24/2011 10:01:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well thought out and nicely presented. I concur on your views.


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