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"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.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Tsunami: In Kerala, it’s religion over relief

Rajeev P I
Posted online: Saturday, February 05, 2005

Kollam, February 5: Hindutva outfits ask Hindu victims to refuse homes not built by Mutt or govt

An overwhelming excess of donors, many wanting to leave only lasting reminders of charity but not provide for needs of the victims, is casting its shadow on rehabilitation of thousands who lost their homes to the tsunami.

Compounding it are the blatant efforts by Kerala’s loony right to divide the victims: It is Hindu and Christian institutions that had pitched most for building the 3,000 devastated homes in Kerala. Among them are the Mata Amritanandamayi Mutt (which announced a Rs 100-crore package for the victims in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry) and the Catholic Bishops Conference of India which wanted to spend Rs 30 crore in Kerala alone.

The Mutt wanted to build all 3,000 homes on its own, and the CBCI and several smaller church denominations together wanted to do the same if given the chance. That was besides some independent NGOs and corporates who wanted to chip in nominally.

The Mutt was on a collision course with the state government, until the latter abruptly acquiesced yesterday. Kollam, the worst-hit district, is headquarters of the Mutt, commanding a huge following in Kerala and outside. It did not take kindly to the Kerala government permitting it to initially construct no more than 50 of the 1,700 permanent homes, after its first proposal fell through. Besides, the Mutt wasn’t amused at being kept out of the picture in neighbouring Kochi, which the government earmarked mostly for Christian donors.

‘‘We have no problems with the governments in TN or Pondicherry. But in Kerala, we may now need to take a decision on our plans, considering the state’s posture,’’ said Swami Dhyanamrita Chaitanya, head of the Mutt’s rehabilitation programme. The Mutt had proposed to construct two-storey homes with a bedroom on the upper floor and two below. The Government shot down the idea, saying its plan was not tsunami-safe. Instead, it asked the Mutt to go for a smaller, single-storey version. ‘‘The government plan has no provisions like belt foundations or other safety features. We have to ask our own engineers if it is safe enough, and also the beneficiaries, if they would prefer this plan,’’ the Mutt said.

Hindutva outfits that have a substantial say along many stretches of Kerala’s coasts, including the Hindu Aikyavedi and the All Kerala Dheevara Sabha, have upped the ante. They have issued a public statement that Hindu tsunami victims will refuse homes given to them unless built by the Mutt or government.

As the issue began snowballing, Revenue Minister K.M. Mani yesterday announced that the Mutt would be allowed to build 1,300 homes, but the Mutt said it still had no communication on it.

The church denominations, between them, have been permitted to build 1,200, mostly in areas dominated by their community, and the NGOs have to do with 500.

‘‘We now have too many agencies wanting to help with the rehabilitation, and we have to try to be fair to them...But we have already completed the allocation target,’’ said Kollam Collector B. Srinivas.

The flip side is, while 33 different agencies had pitched in to build homes here, only a few wanted to contribute substantially to buying fishing nets and boats and providing support services. ‘‘Houses last long as great charity symbols. Services and other things don’t get much mileage,’’ explained a bureaucrat.


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