Of victims and victimhood
Aug 30 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – THE cruel murder of an 84-year-old Catholic priest in France by two Muslim youths, who slit the fragile man’s throat during a morning mass he was conducting in his serene church, left me numb for days.
The terrifying effect of knives, daggers and trishuls somehow feels more horrific than suicide belts and car bombs that snuff out life with ease these days. Only recently, a masked British Muslim butchered a Western journalist and filmed it in a gory video for the Daesh.
The evil craft on display by the militant Islamic State group was honed or revived in Afghanistan by the Taliban. But others cheerfully embraced it, most enthusiastically the Hindutva mobs in India. We say terrorism has no religion, and there’s little to quarrel in that. Butchery with the intent to terrorise is common to Muslims and Hindus of the subcontinent just as it is or was with Jews and Christians elsewhere.
That Hindus and Muslims can out-kill and out-rape each other was well established in the 1947 Partition. That innocent Christians find themselves increasingly in the cross hairs of Muslim zealots in the Middle East is the dominant narrative as it should be. Yet right-wing Hindus have been lunging at Christian throats since India’s independence, and this is less widely acknowledged.
The global surge in Muslim-Christian feuds found traction after Osama bin Laden turned upon his mentors, a reckless alliance of Muslims, Christians and Jews. The current methods of Hindutva zealotry have borrowed elements from the Jewish Haganah, the Daesh’s interpretation of jihad, and Christian Crusades.
Father Jacques Hamel’s murder was the handiwork of a hateful fanatic. The virus afflicts Muslims in many parts of the world, not least in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Europe is, of course, the new theatre of their bigoted bloodletting. Should that take the focus away from the perpetual threat the Christian minorities face in India?
What is really disturbing is the fact that India’s serially pummelled Muslims are among the biggest offenders in not acknowledging the rough treatment meted out to their Christian cousins. Indian Muslim leaders wail, given half an opportunity, about their problems, and their sense of victimhood is pervasive. But rarely do we find any among them sharing the grief of others, leave alone the Christians.
This is par for the course with the largely upper-caste media, which revels in the Hindu-Muslim cockfight on TV screens but fights shy of accepting that the communal problem is more varied and complex. This could be partly because Hindutva attacks on Christians as distinct from attacks on Muslims would involve a discussion on caste — which is a deterrent to open debate. A large swathe of Indian Christians belongs to the lower rung Dalit and tribal communities.
The Hindutva hatred of Christians has old roots. An early founder of the ideology had thundered that “in this land Hindus have been the owners, Parsis and Jews the guests, and Muslims and Christians the dacoits”. The two have been bunged together repeatedly, the Muslims and Christians. They are the main targets, mostly for their religious identity but also subtly as caste groups.
Yet Muslims are so absorbed in their own victimhood that lending a shoulder to the brutalised Christians is not a tempting thought. (At another level Kashmiri Muslims seldom show empathy for the struggle of largely Christian Manipuris though Manipuris often lend their voice to Kashmiri protests.)
Among the most vocal Indians who speak up and lead from the front when Muslims are under assault whether in Kashmir or elsewhere are India’s Christian preachers. I have seen the Christians being treated with scant respect in Pakistan way before the Salafist creed began to course through the nation’s arteries. One visit to Youhanabad near Lahore made me ill for days with the squalor the Christian community is made to endure.
In India, the missionaries and the church have managed to ensure that the Christian laity is better buffered against the humiliations they face in Pakistan and now in Bangladesh.
Yet who can take on the might of a powerful state and its nefarious alliances with religious fascism? The ceaseless attempts to undermine the church’s good work are occasionally reflected in the state’s collusion with the denial of visas to foreign Christian missionaries. Recently, even some American religious rights officials were refused entry by the current government.
I find it amazing that many young and old leaders in the Hindutva stable endorse the policy of targeting Christians though they were schooled in schools run by Christian missionaries, or treated at hospitals cared for by Catholic nuns. The Hindutva hatred possibly stems from two factors. One has to do with an ingrained inferiority complex. Hindutva cannot set up a school like the grand La Martienere College in Lucknow where teachers teach not just the biblical belief in the Creation but also offer the option to contemplate the scientific possibility that humans may have evolved from early apes.
The Hindutva model of narrow-apertured schools borrows from the Muslim madressah system, where Darwin and Ghalib are anathema.
The other factor in the perpetual hatred is the Christian appeal, through work like the one associated with Mother Teresa, which disrupts Hindutva’s own proselytising requirements.
Much of the Hindutva clamour for ghar wapasi reflects a desperate effort to somehow hijack someone else’s brood of homing pigeons in flight. With the state’s support for right-wing groups this is a patently unequal contest.
The assault on Indian Christians is a recurring affair. After an Australian missionary and his two young sons were set ablaze in their jeep in Orissa by Hindu zealots in 1999, the mob returned in 2008 to carry out horrific rapes and murders of Dalit Christians again in Orissa. The killers of a lovable priest in France will find amazing kindred spirits in India.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan