Saturday, December 13, 2014

FROM OUR ARCHIVES India’s Christians Salt of the Earth BY TEESTA SETALVAD
December  2000
Cover Story

India’s Christians
Salt of the Earth BY TEESTA SETALVAD
I honestly believe that missionaries have done more for women’s education in this country than government itself. The women population of this country has been placed under a deep debt of gratitude to the several missionary agencies for their valuable contribution to the educational uplift of Indian women. Of course, at present India can boast of several other religious bodies such as the Brahmo Samaj, the Ramakrishna Mission, Arya Samaj, etc., doing work in the field of women’s education, but in the past the Christian missionaries were the only agencies in that field… Had it not been for these noble bands of Christian women teachers, who are the products of missionary training schools, even this much advancement in the education of the Indian women would not have been possible; even to this day, in every province, we find the missionary women teachers working hard in a spirit of love and faith, in out-of-the-way villages, where Hindu and Muslim women dare not penetrate.
— Dr. (Mrs.) Muthulakshmi Reddi, in her presidential address to the All–India Women’s Conference in January 1931.
Being a mission school we had a Bible class every morning which nobody minded attending even though the bulk of the students were Hindus. I happened to be a good student of the Bible and carried away many Bible prizes. This fact, and the fact that I was good in English made me a favourite of the Principal. Even in those days, however, there used to be scare-stories about missionaries trying to convert students to Christianity. I remember a wholly unfounded report having reached my parents that some of the teachers were trying to convert me into a Christian!
— Motilal C. Setalvad, first attorney general of India, in his autobiography, My Life — Law and Other Things) 
Christian schools have been able to inject a large number of non–Christians with a sense of dedication and commitment to education. That has been a very major contribution. Commitment to education that comes from commitment to scholarship is a good thing. But when it comes from a stronger motive, like service to society or religion or God, I think the commitment is raised to an entirely different level altogether; and such commitment is what you have been able to achieve for a number of years and to communicate to others.
— JP Naik, eminent educationist and a former educational advisor to the government of India.
Logic and reason, and even the most elementary notion of fair play should defy the grand lie. If the lie holds it’s own against lived experience, reason, and the harsh reality of statistics, there must be ‘good reason’ for its tenacity. If hysteria governs its currency, an emotion of unreason clouds clear–thinking and honest responses, the lie has hit upon an emotional chord or bed of support, however perverted. The kind of emotion that helps perpetuate the lie.
The grand lie that I speak of — and we have as a nation been piteous victim to a series of small and big lies over the last two decades or so — is the one unleashed against Christian institutions. It is alleged that the insidious intent of ‘conversion’ is the sole reason why,  in the service of their Lord, Jesus, Christians travel to regions ignored and neglected, to people forgotten and even brutalised, to educate, to nurse, to cure and to comfort — all with the missionary zeal that has come to be associated with their life–long work.
The lie took its toll in the past, too. But it has achieved unsurpassed success in the past five years or so, with chilling violence of varied kinds being used against Christians. This despite the dogged service that these women and men of faith continue to perform. We have as a nation allowed the burning of Bibles and the desecration of churches, just as a 400–year–old mosque was demolished to lay the foundation for mass violence against others in our midst. Worse, nuns and priests have been killed and terrorised, sexual violence, too, used to ram home the message.
All these assaults have taken cover under the grand lie. Why do I call it the grand lie?
Consider this. As we enter the third millennium of human civilisation, as calculated by the Christian calendar, Christians of various denominations in India, totalling not more than 2.3 per cent of the entire population, are responsible for 25 per cent of the social services provided in the country. Consider this. Forty per cent of the total social work by NGOs undertaken in the country is undertaken by Christian institutions alone.
Consider also this. The UN Human Development Report, 2000, ranks India abysmally low in human development — at 128 out of 174 countries in the world. Low life expectancy (people not expected to survive beyond 40), high levels of adult illiteracy, deprivation in economic provisioning, counted by the percentage of people lacking access to health services, safe water and social inclusion (employment is one indicator) are the areas where Indian governance has failed it’s own people. 
A decade–old UNESCO figure tells us that we had 370 million illiterates amongst us. Literacy rates among women of all classes, castes and communities are lower than those of men; other figures of the vast disparities or differences between the opportunities and privileges available to one section as opposed to another tell their own tale:
For example, in India, the illiteracy rate among the scheduled tribes (about 7 per cent of our total population) is 70 per cent compared to 48 per cent for the country as a whole. What does this mean? That, whereas nearly half of all Indians are today denied the basic right to education, among scheduled tribes who live in remote and far flung areas, the deprivation is far higher. 
What else does this mean? That, the buzzword on development and progress notwithstanding, we need to dig deeper behind the cold comfort of numbers and see their social relevance. We need to face our own shame and recognise that based on religion and scripture and the cultures and traditions that have evolved from these, we have created and allowed different levels of denials.So that the poor and marginalised oppressed castes, were and still are subjected to inhuman levels of spiritual, physical and material denials; long–forgotten tribes who are the original, pre–Hindu inhabitants of this land were and are rendered even more illiterate; our women, whether Brahman to ‘atishudra’ or ‘mleccha’, were and are not only kept away from education and attendant empowerment, but also subjected to violent abuse, within the family and outside.
We do not, however, rise as a people in anger and shame even while these figures and searing tales of humiliation and cruelty stare us in the face. We are not outraged when the current–day perpetuators of the big lie travel long distances to perform ghar vapsi (return to the home) rites on children, women and men from whom their own forefathers have snatched land, food and shelter for centuries. And then, having forced the re-conversion on the tribal people, and unconcerned about issues like food, education, health and empowerment), say they will construct separate temples for them to pray!
Within this larger sphere of material and spiritual disparity, present day statistics and our history of the past centuries, lies embedded the contribution of Christian individuals and institutions,  of varied denominations but all driven by the message of Christ — in building schools to educate girls as well as boys, in reaching inaccessible areas and holding out a caring hand to sections brutalised and excluded by scriptural faith and certainly by living tradition. 
It was inevitable that the mission of Christians in India would take them where the Indian establishment, still shackled by caste–bound prejudice, dithers and even after Independence, gingerly refuses to tread. To provide succour and to empower the poor, the tribal, the Dalit, the women.
We turn a blind eye to both realities. And both denials together make up the grand lie. The first is the collective denial of present human development figures that stare us in the face and which are linked to the historical denial of opportunity and fair play to large sections of our population in the past. The second denial is our refusal to recognise the contribution of Christian institutions.
The second denial is indeed linked to the first because it is in the arenas of these past and present day inequities and injustices that Christian individuals and institutions have located their work, their mandate being to work for the most marginalised and underprivileged. To deny the existence of disparity now, and historically, is to deny Christian contribution, then and now, and to claim that its all nothing but convenient cover for conversion. To accept their role is to face our moral and cultural poverty, the rank injustice and marginalisation that we have perpetuated on sections of our people. To accept their role is to nail the grand lie.
We have heard so much in recent years about the offensive language contained in the Minute of Macaulay (March 7, 1835). But what we refuse to accept is that elementary and higher education came in through different Christian missions long before the colonially driven and objectionable Macaulay edict, that spoke brazenly about the promotion of European literature and science among the people of India, and that referred to the indigenous people as persons of inferior (heathen) status.
There was a St Francis Xavier who trailed the path in elementary education by exhorting companions to build a school in every village next to which a church was built; today Christian schools number 11,801 (pre–primary, primary and village level); secondary and higher secondary schools total 3,614! 
Since as early as the 16th century, several Christian colleges have existed in western and southern India. These colleges were not only in the business of education, but they also created fine libraries and collected archival material valuable for oriental knowledge. Missionaries who set up these institutions of education got engaged and embroiled in the land they came to inhabit. The tracts on biological species, the first dictionaries in many Indian languages, the singular contribution to indigenous dialects, are some of the fruits of that engagement. 
It was the Scottish mission, begun in South Konkan in 1822, that inspired the young, Jyotiba Phule, a radical mind from the region of current–day Maharashtra, who was a strong critique of the Hindu caste system in the 19th century. Pandita Ramabai, a Brahmin widow who chose conversion to Christianity as a means of emancipation from the persecution and drudgery of life as a Hindu widow, gave her testimony before the Education Commission in 1882. Official estimates of the time stated that one hundred million women were uneducated, with both Hindu and Muslim traditions historically denying women these rights. Included in this were girls, married women and, worst of all, widows who were subjected to humiliation and denied the dignity of living autonomous lives. 
Testifying before the commission, Ramabai had remarked that in ninety–nine cases out of a hundred the educated men of the country were opposed to female education and the proper position of women. It was of little use to build schools without girls to fill them, or without a staff of female teachers. The teaching profession for women was thought to be incompatible with womanly modesty, she had said. 
As far back as 1823, the Church of England Missionary Society ran 23 girls’ schools in Calcutta. In 1824, the American Mission opened the first school for girls in Bombay, a school that, incidentally, was open to children of all castes. The threat of the democratising processes that these contributions unleashed are undoubtedly behind the violent resistance to their work, then and now. 
In South India, too, it was the missions who pioneered women’s education — the first university college, the first medical school and the first training college for women — the Sarah Tucker College, Palamcottah, the Christian Medical College, Vellore in 1918 and St Christopher’s Training College, Madras in 1923 were set up by them.
In failing to nail the grand lie, we deny not just our past but also present day Indian reality. A few weeks ago, the RSS chief KS Sudarshan demanded, if you please, the ‘Indianisation’ of the church in India. It needs a great lie to hide the truth of the Church’s engagement with the marginalised people of India who are perceived by some as the real ‘problem’ of India. 
It is not my intention to uncritically glorify the role of the Church in India. It is definitely my intention to challenge the insidious attempt to deny and dismiss decades, even centuries, of compassion and commitment with a grand lie. 
‘We chose the Holy Family Hospital because we felt that 
it would at least be God-fearing’ Narayan Ananthakrishnan 
In his late 30s, Narayan Ananthakrishnan, a father of two, was suddenly faced with a medical emergency. He had to undergo a brain surgery at less than 24 hours notice. Which hospital should he choose? Guided by his neuro–surgeon, who consulted with three such institutions, Narayan opted for the low–key Holy Family Hospital at Bandra, Mumbai. Recalling those harrowing weeks, in conversation with Communalism Combat, during which his life hung in the balance, Narayan has warm memories of an institution that lived upto it’s calling — caring for a patient with dignity and compassion.
It was all such a shock. I was not even aware that I was bleeding in my brain. I merely felt an acute pain on the top of my eyes that was unbearable when I went in for the MRA scan. The diagnosis indicated that there was severe bleeding on both sides of my brain and I had to be operated upon immediately.
It all happened within the space of a few hours actually. I left home at around 9 a.m. in June 1999, went through the MRA  scan and by 12.30 the diagnosis was known. Things moved at lightning speed after that because there was no time to be wasted. My brother–in–law, a doctor, helped me identify and contact a neurologist, Dr RD Gursani, immediately. There were two options before me in the choice of hospital (to which my neuro–surgeon, Dr Harshad Parikh is attached) since the third, the Hinduja hospital, was beyond our budget. 
It was to be either Nanavati or Holy Family Hospital at Bandra. None of us were in favour of Nanavati. Faced with a critical operation upon which my life depended, we chose Holy Family because essentially I am a God–fearing person and we felt that being a Christian hospital, Holy Family Hospital, too, would at least be God–fearing!
It didn’t bother me which God or which religion. First of all, I had faith in the doctor recommended to me who consulted there. Secondly, though I am a Hindu it does not bother me which God or which religion I see in front of me. Be it a Muslim place of worship, a Christian one or a temple. It is the home of God. 
I was in the hospital for just under two weeks. The nuns used to make their rounds, the father would come every single morning, check on how I was and ask, “How are you, son?” He would then bless me and say, “Don’t worry, son”. The first time he blessed me was on the morning that my operation was scheduled.
You see, I was under severe stress and  pain. It was a critical operation. Soon after the surgery that lasted over four hours, the surgeon came and told my wife, Geeta, “Whichever God it is you pray to, go and thank him. Thank him that your husband is safe. The amount of blood that I have removed from his brain, it was not in my hands to save him. I operate with the same sincerity on all my patients. He survived because of God.”
For the first few days there was unbearable pain, so bad that I could not open my eyes. But my entire treatment there, the handling by the staff, the operative and post–operative care was impeccable. I had no complaints. Post–operative care in my case was especially important since I am diabetic. My blood sugar needs to be tested three to four times a day and the staff did not need to be reminded even one time.
I was in a non–AC room with two beds, but my room and the whole hospital was spotlessly clean, the atmosphere calm and all the rooms spacious and airy. The staff responded immediately to the bells by the side of every patient. The floors, the tables and the toilets were kept scrupulously clean. The staff is well–trained and conscientious about injections and cleaning wounds, the sort of thing that is vital for a hospital. 
The whole ambience and atmosphere of this hospital was enriched by the church just across. Patients can hear the mass as it is conducted and this is very soothing, you know. I noticed this only on the fourth and fifth day because the first three days were a living hell with the kind of pain I had to undergo.
The strange thing is that after my operation, we heard so many people bad–mouthing Holy Family Hospital because it is a charitable hospital and so on! I find this ironical because my treatment there by the staff from the ward boy to the nurses was faultless. What struck me most was that there was no indifference in their behaviour towards me. Be it someone in the general ward or the first class ward, they treated every patient with the same concern and care.
Some things from my harrowing experience have left a lasting impression. I have been to a number of hospitals. My father has been admitted two–three times for operations; we have even admitted him to the Ramkrishna Mission hospital that is also a charitable hospital. But there is a vast difference between the two hospitals. In the atmosphere, the treatment of patients, the caring and dignity, cleanliness, there can be no comparison.
One thing I remember clearly about the Holy Family hospital was the strict adherence to rules. They would not budge from the visiting hours rule, no body was allowed after the permitted time! Even my own  brother–in–law, who is a doctor, was not allowed to enter the operation theatre because he had not taken prior permission from the surgeon. He finally had to approach the head of the department for the clearance. They were very strict about certain things which I think is not happening in all the hospitals and which is why standards are not being maintained.
My wife stayed with me most days. There was another strict rule of not allowing children into hospitals to guard against their picking up any infection. On the seventh or eighth day I approached the Father to give me special permission to let me see my children for just five minutes. I had been through a tough time, come out of it but not seen their faces. I promised that I would not even speak with them and finally they allowed them to come and see me. 
The only thing that I remember on the negative side was their inability to register my request for a pure vegetarian meal, be it breakfast or lunch. I made repeated requests to the dietician but the request just would not register! It might sound facetious but once I find either egg or fish in the plate I just lose my appetite. But all things considered I feel that this was a relatively minor complaint.
Above all else, I got this efficient and considerate treatment at a decent and affordable rate. My total bill for a serious brain surgery and fourteen days of hospitalisation, including the surgeon’s charges (normally we have to pay doctors separately) amounted to Rs. 70,000. We must have spent another Rs.15–20,000 on medication and injections purchased from outside. Can you ever contemplate such reasonable treatment in a so–called private hospital?
Besides, no section of the staff was on the look out for tips every other day that has become the hapless norm in most hospitals in the city. From the man or woman who swept the floors to any other member of the staff, they did not accept tips.
I wanted to give them a donation in cash or kind before I left the hospital as a token of my appreciation but they simply refused. My father even spoke to the head sister in Malayalam explaining that what we wanted to give was a token of our appreciation for the institution but she simply said that their rules forbade her from accepting. “The fact that you recovered well is sufficient for us,” she told my father.
We all left the hospital, extremely happy. The greatest happiness of course was in my recovery itself from a critical and sudden brain surgery. Coupled with the warm treatment I received there.
Every time my father visited me in the hospital he would say, “Whenever you are feeling sad and afraid, just look up there to the photograph of Jesus Christ. Just look at him and he will save you.” The photograph of Jesus hung just above my hospital bed. 
‘Bosco made an enormous contribution to me as a person’
Mahesh Bhatt
Film Director
I do not think that I can ever de–link myself from the influence of my formative years spent in the cradle of that whole culture with the Salesian priests and their commitment to the education system. The institution that they ran with caring and a deep sense of values, the grooming I got to grow into the kind of person that I am today. All that is part of the unconscious. Something that I carry wherever I go.
This experience goes with me, colours my vision, influences the way I look at things, at the world, the way I act, react and think. It is part of the collective unconscious, in the bloodstream, in the marrow of my bones.
We have millions in this country who are a product of these missionary schools. I grew up with the saga of Mary and Jesus inside of me. My mother, a Shia Muslim, took me to seven churches, every Friday, the month of Lent.
And I was very happy that I came to know of Jesus and his way of looking at the world at Bosco. That whole dimension that is deep inside me was perhaps imbibed from my days at Bosco. The way of looking at things, celebrating Christmas, after which comes the month of Lent, followed by Easter. In many ways I am a truly Christian boy.
Through all my growing up years I never ever felt that a faith was being forced upon me. There was a clear distinction made between the Catholic boys who had to attend Catechism classes while non–Christians learnt had to attend moral science classes. Christianity was never paraded, never imposed. There was not even the faintest such streak among the priests or teachers. The teachers, too, never put especial emphasis on anything ‘Christian’. This harmful propaganda is petty paranoia on our part.
In any case, if Jesus is injected in my consciousness it is not going to disempower me. There are many highs in Christianity that you can draw from. Jesus as a person had a unique way of looking at things. A life assertive outlook, compassion and conscience, who’s appeal is not limited to Christians alone.
The concept of Santa Claus lives on for my children. It is a fairy tale from which all of us are rudely awakened as life dishes out its offerings, but all of us need to keep the concept alive for the young, for the next generation. We should all play Santa Claus till we are rudely woken up!
Now this is something I inherited from my Christian upbringing. And I am grateful for my mother for having chosen to send me to a missionary school.
I owe my formative years to them. Bosco has contributed to my being what I am and I am thankful for the teachers and fathers for being so caring, tolerant and patient with me. I was a troublesome boy, not easy to handle. I was an anti–power and anti-authority kind of guy. But they showed me tolerance and compassion.
We also, by the way, had the best church built through my school that was completed during my school days. It was, and possibly still is, one of the best churches that we have. The marble for it came from Italy. We had some great and meaningful times in that church; I used to go inside and spend long hours. We used to play on the rocks and stone slabs.
Even though I left school many years ago, over the past 20 years or so, since I became a film maker, I have kept visiting and re–visiting the spot, the Church for shootings.
Now, you only revisit what is pleasurable and memorable and my memories of years at Bosco are nothing but that. That upbringing has also made enormous contribution to me as a person, a creative artist and this lasting impression manifests itself in my films, in my work. 
‘I am what I am thanks to my school’
Shabana Azmi
Film Actress, Rajya Sabha MP, Social Activist
Shabana Azmi is a former student of Queen Mary’s, Mumbai. This is also the school where the former darling of the silver screen, Nargis, did her schooling from. While Nargis was  rose to the eminence of being Head Girl of the School, Shabana didn’t because “I was far from Head Girl material, being a very naughty girl”. But she has very warm memories of the school that nurtured her in her formative years.
We had Psalms and hymns being sung in our school every morning. So, in that sense you could say that there was a Christian influence in the general sense. But at no point did I ever feel, nor was I ever made to feel that Christian religion was more important than mine. Never did I experience any feeling of suffocation by the Christian influence.
All festivals were observed or celebrated with equal gusto, all traditions were honoured and respected.
The sheer dedication of Christian institutions, and the women and men who run them, to education is tremendous. 
The Irish lady who was the principal of Queen Mary’s when I was at school is now 84–years–old. But do you know, after retiring from  the school, she did not go back to Ireland. Today, she is in a remote village in Tamil Nadu dedicated to the education of tribals. Apart from the fact that neither you nor I are doing this, casting aspersions on this commendable dedication to basic education, when hundreds of thousands of our children have no access to basic literacy, is both cynical and spurious.
The other thing I liked about my school was its commitment to an all round education. There were the ex tremely serious lessons on morals and values, you know, like, jhoot nahin bolna chahiye, khana kis tarah khana chahiye. I feel all this helped in  moulding all of us into the persons that we are. Which is why I say without hesitation that I am the person who I am thanks to my school!
Each one of us greatly benefited from the outlook that was integral to education in our school. Marathi was given as much dedication and importance as French. 
One approach that the school followed that has left a lasting influence on me is that, on principle, children from all classes were, admitted into the school. It was not a school of  only the very rich or only the very poor. There was a genuine attempt at a policy of integration so that it did not become a typical, snooty, elite South Bombay school!
I remember so well that on our birthdays we were permitted to wear our birthday frocks instead of the uniform. But the only sweets that we were permitted to distribute among our classmates had to be the kind that all children could afford! None of us were allowed to distribute chocolate pastries, for example, simply because our parents could afford them. 
A keen sense of justice and fairness dictated the approach and commitment to education. By the way, Nargis, the darling of the silver-screen in the past was Head Girl of the Queen Mary’s in the 1950s! I was far from being Head Girl material. In fact, I was not even a monitor but I loved every minute of my school days…
There was a lot of singing, dancing, encouragement of theatre and drama, the all round development of the child. It was not a school that  concentrated on academics and academics alone. Which is why I loved my school! 

IN FOCUS Teesta Setalvad Conversions : A Warped Debate


Teesta Setalvad

Conversions : A Warped Debate
Despite the letter and spirit of the law as laid down in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, giving every citizen the right to freely practice, profess and propagate his or her religion, much of the impassioned discourse around the issue of conversions today reveals inherent bias in a dominant section of the Indian population. To them the existence of this basic right granted to every citizen appears as  anathema. Quite apart from right– wing chauvinists, the fact that it raises hackles among more progressive sections, be they Gandhians or other radicals, the issue of religious conversion bears careful examination.
Opponents of conversion cloak their inherent antipathy to it by criticising the methods used by those in the conversion business, alleging that financial incentives and material considerations govern the decision of individuals and groups to a change of faith. 
Today this bogey of  forced conversions has been successfully raised by the RSS–VHP combine, to numb the Indian middle class mind from the horrors of violence and terror unleashed on Christians and Muslims in the far–flung villages of Gujarat. The bald denial by the Gujarat state director general of police (DGP), C.P. Singh that any forced conversions have taken place have not stopped the avenging squads that are heaping terror and humiliation on large sections of the Indian population. The stamp of legitimacy to this warped discourse was recently given by none less than the liberal mukhota (mask) of the BJP, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who called for a national debate on conversions instead of assuring the brutalised population of Gujarat adequate state protection against violence and terror. 
The manipulated discourse plays into the decades’ old fear of the upper caste Hindu – approximately a tenth  of the population — that the lower castes are being seduced away by ‘alien’ faiths. But little concern is ever shown to the material and social indignities that have compelled groups and individuals to exercise this choice. This apprehension of the sanatani Hindu also stems from a deep–rooted fear of loss of majority status: once viewed as either distinct from the upper caste Hindu —  or at least not a permament adjunct, as 22 per of SCs and STs and over 50 per cent of the other backward castes (OBCs) have so far been — the “majority” status of Hindus as one single, dominant, hegemonic community comes into serious question. 
There is an even more fundamental basis for the near–pathological reaction to conversions among the adherents of this world–view. Conversion undermines the theological  underpining of upper caste, sanatani Hindu faith in birth as the sole determinant of social station and position in life and notions of the ‘pure’ and the polluted.
That a decision towards a change of faith can ever be perceived as a positive move towards a life of dignity, if not an entirely egalitarian existence is not a factor or a possibility that a sanatani Hindu faith can easily accept. 
But for those committed to a plural society based on equity and justice,  religious conversion is not seen as a threat. In India, especially, conversions have been occuring for centuries, the assimilation or absorption of indigenous tribes into jatis by the sanatani Hindu faith being the first example of mass conversions.  Thereafter, individuals and groups, mostly from the oppressed castes, have through the centuries opted to convert to Christianity or Islam. In modern day India, conversions have been a matter of political choice towards social emancipation by a significant section of Dalits. 
On the flip side is the role of the other side, that is the faiths to which persons of oppressed caste origin are converting and the motives and attitudes of the clergy and other agencies of these faiths that effect these conversions. Theologically speaking,  scriptural Christianity and Islam do enjoin on their followers to convert the non–believers and save the “heathens” from hell and damnation. Conversions for the missionary then is a sublime duty. The missionary believes he is spreading the only true faith in the interests of human salvation. Undoubtedly, this worldview posits a superiority of faith vis a vis the non–believer. 
However, though modern Christianity may have come to the third world in its later avatar as an adjunct of colonial brute force, and latter–day Islam through medieval invasions, both Islam and Christianity arrived on Indian shores hundreds of years earlier through traders. Christianity in 58 A.D. and Islam soon after its birth through the Arab settlers on the west and south coasts. 
Many conversions to Islam or Christianity in the modern period of history have also coincided with the passage of emancipatory laws liberating bonded labour that allowed oppressed sections the freedom to exercise choice in the matter of faith. These sections, then, exercised this choice, after, rightly or wrongly, perceiving either Islam or Christianity to be more egalitarian than Hinduism’s oppressive caste system. 
There were a host of lower caste conversions during the second half of the 19th cent in Travancore, for instance. Educational endeavours of missionaries and the resultant more equal status played a crucial role in their choice of faith, not by inducements but through a perceived existence of equality. For example, the first low–caste person, in 1851, to walk on the public road near the temple at Tiruvalla in 1851 was a Christian. Around 1859,thousands became Christians in the midst of other emancipatory struggles in the region where they were supported by missionaries against oppressive upper caste traditions: for example the struggle of the Nadars on the right of their women to cover the upper part of their body. 
Or, take this example. On the Malabar coast in Kerala, large scale conversions to Islam did not take place during the invasions by Tipu Sultan but during the 1843–1890 period and were directly linked to the fact that in 1843 slavery was abolished in this region. As a result, large numbers from the formerly oppressed castes bonded in slavery by upper caste Hindus moved over to Islam, which they perceived, rightly or wrongly to be a religion of equality and justice. In 1929, Dr. Babasaheb  Ambedkar advised Indian ‘untouchables’ to embrace any other religion that would regard them as human beings, and following this 12 untouchables  from a village near Nasik embraced Islam. In 1935, he strongly criticised Hindu scriptures that defined Dalits as lowest of the low. Under Ambedkar’s inspiration there was a mass movement of conversion when half a million untouchables (Dalits) embraced Buddhism on October 14, 1956 at Nagpur.
 This is a factor that needs to surface prominently in the current debate. Not surprisingly, dominated as the discourse continues to be by sanatani Hindu concerns and fears, this has not happened. On the contrary, ulterior motives are being sought to justify the fact of conversions. The reaction of Swami Aseemananda is a typical example of this. Speaking to a national weekly, on the VHP’s efforts to “popularise” Hinduism in the district he said, “We are not interested in poverty alleviation or development activities. We are only trying to alleviate the tribals spiritually.” The sudden concern of columnists of leading periodicals appears to centre around the alleged monetary incentives and inducements offered by missionaries. But there is no examination of the developmental work in education, health and other areas that is undertaken by Christian religious persons in our remotest districts.
Lastly, the forced Ghar Vapsi  movement launched by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is quite obviously a sanatani Hindu project as it has an intrinsic element of “purifying” the “impure” who have drifted and are being pulled back; if so, a pertinent question to ask the storm–troopers of the new Brahmanical order is: which caste are the “re–converted” being given entry to?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Never Again December 16...........Unqiue Protest

A band of DYFI students, tarined by theatre stalwart NK Sharma, CPI-M have for the past days been conscientising Bus travellers in the capital city on the socital  Complicity of Silence that allows/turns a blind eye to sexual violence be it molestation, eve teasing or outright rape. I had an amazing experience going for two bus rides in Delhi with this committed band, acting out in a realistic sense, "feeling around", a young girl slapping her outrage in protest, another young man shooting up to her defence and finally ending in a wonderful nostalgic slogan-song! In the first ride there was a relatively mute response and we got off sedately after the experience ended. We caught another bus, with an equally thin passenger crowd it being a Saturday..but here there was a snowballing of responses. Mostly positive. Hearteningly two men, 15 years apart in age, volunteered actively to support the girl. Once on of them (the "elder") realised that it was a"natak" his outraged ego felt the young crusaders had taken him for a ride. The other not quite sure was vacillating until he too then joined the "protesters' against the protest, now complaining that they were late late and this was making them "later".. The conducter and bus driver, panic-over cautious after the "slap" had parked the bus beyond India Gate and dialed 100. Some of us interested co-travellers started chatting with the remaining travellers; bhajans and kawaalis dot out public cultural lanscape and they too agreed that such krantikari vocalism had a place and must find voice. Seasoned DYFI had got the requisite police permission so All is Well that ended well, this 6th of December...DYFI will have a unique protest on December 16 th in the capital...Equally fascinating was the discussion that three of us women, all post 50 years had, about bringing up boys, gender injustice ..but that is for the next round of Blog thoughts.. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

‘Draupadi Taught Us How to Behave with Husbands’ Indians Must Learn this: Global Hindu Foundation to Government of India

November 15, 2014
Part Three
‘Draupadi Taught Us How to Behave with Husbands’
Indians Must Learn this: Global Hindu Foundation to Government of India
Teesta Setalvad
The ancient ‘Hindu Past’, its ways of relating between men and women and the Scientific achievements of Ancient India are the values that should be taught in Central government schools today.
In a detailed letter written to the Minister for Human Resources Development (MHRD) Smruti Irani today, November 15, 2014, the Hyderabad based Global Hindu Foundation (GHF), has, taking a leaf out of Dinanath Batra’s nine books being taught as Supplemenatry materials to four hundred thousand students in Gujarat’s schools, urged the Modi government to take this model of teaching to the nation. This letter has been posted on the home page of, the website of the “Mission to Save Hinduism and Hindu Temples”. Touted as a ‘Project of Global Hindu Heritage Foundation, (GHHF) USA’, the mission operates out of the ‘Save Temple Office’ opened in Hyderabad city in June 2012.
Apart from the exhortations to teach Nathuram Godse as a ‘National Hero who fought the British’, and unsubstantiated details about a ‘Hindu holocaust by Muslims, this letter states that the following subjects should be taught in Central government schools:
“...Mahabharata is one of the greatest epics and every single character teaches us the richness of our culture and traditions, morals and ethics that surpass the time. Numerous are the characters and numerous are the lessons one can learn from Mahabharata. Yudhishtira taught us how to follow dharma in face of numerous difficulties also the weakness of (gambling) that can bring down the kingdom; Bhishma taught us how to fulfill the wishes of his father and sacrificed his life as well as keeping his word for the rest of life and maintain celibacy; King Santanu taught us danger of yielding to sensate pleasure and the weakness toward other sex; Karna taught us the consequences of blind loyalty and passion for power as well as the generous nature of dana (gift); Dhritarashtra taught us how blind love for children can cause untold misery and destruction for the humanity, also how passion for children can smog the moral and impartial judgment; Draupadi taught us how even a small weakness resulted ....can... lead to war of destruction and also taught us how to behave with the husbands; and other characters such as Pandu, Veda Vyasa, Kunti, Dushyasana, Shikhandi, Satyavati and others were equally important in teaching us the morals and code of conduct.
“..... Finally the teaching of Bhagavad Gita by Lord Krishna to Arjuna about the responsibility of a Kshatriya and in general about Swadharma is unmatched humanity in recognizing the importance of Sthitipragna.

Puranic Stories and Morals
“     In Naimisharanya, the assembled sages worshipped the learned Romaharshana and said, "Please tell us the stories of the Puranas. Who created the universe, who is its preserver and who will destroy it? Please instruct us in all these mysteries." There are 18 main Puranas and18 upapuranas that describe the various aspects of cosmology and are considered the storehouse of stories that enriched with morals and traditions; manifestations of  (dasavataras) Vishnu incarnations, and the paths of karma, bhakti and Jnana yogas.  In fact they even described the origin of the universe, life cycles, trials, tribulations and richness of human life, respect for living and nonliving elements and scientific nature of the universe.  They talk about the worship services, numerous samskaras, formation of earth, and mathematical expressions of the universe. They give us the experiences of people through their stories, symbols and rituals. Every community has its own reality, but underneath all these realities there is an underlying theme governing the basic principles and morals that guide the human life.

Panchatantra Stories
 Panchatantra is a collection stories that teach us how to behave in a particular situation; how to solve the problems one faces; whom to trust and not to trust; how to keep your word against all odds; how to use your intellect instead of arms; how to avoid distrust among friends; how one should not deny the shelter to a needy person; how one should work toward accumulation of wealth and how to protect it; and how one should share their wealth and to whom.
“....The Scientific achievements
   “....  It is time to create pride among our youth about our scientific achievements. It was the Yogic seers who invented many mathematical calculations such as Zero, Decimals, Phi, Geometry, Algebra, computer language and more. Arbyabhatta was the champion of Astronomy and Mathematics, Bhaskaracharya was the genius of Algebra, Acharya Kanad was the founder of Atomic Theory, Naragrjuna was the wizard of Chemical Science, Acharya Charaka was the father of Medicine, Acharya Sushruta was the champion of Plastic Surgery, Varahamihra was the eminent Astronomer and Astrology, Patanjali was the father of Yoga Sutras, Acharya Bharadwaja was the pioneer of Aviation Technology, Acharya Kapila was the father of cosmology, and many more.”
Recommended Reading by Communalism Combat:
India: History repeats itself | Romila Thapar

12 July 2014
 India: Moral Presciptions from Mr Batra (of Hndutva book police) now part of Gujarat Schools Curriculum
25 July Indian Express
Man who got Wendy Doniger pulped is made ‘must reading’ in Gujarat schools

History Lessons
The appointment of a new chief at the Indian Council of Historical Research reignites old battles over who controls ideas of India
by ANJALI MODY | 1 August 2014
RSS leaders meet Smriti Irani, seek revamp of India’s education system New Delhi, October 30, 2014
India: Delhi University asked to purge Left slant in all history textbooks
Mail Today | New Delhi, October 22, 2014

India Under the Modi Regime: Delhi University’s Sanskrit dept project to prove Aryans were not foreigners

Test-Tubes In Hastinapur
Myth and epic are being introduced as fact into school curricula of states
Religion, culture and values


India - Gujarat: Hindu Right rewriting Indian textbooks
4 November 2014

Books by Hindu nationalists merging myth with reality proliferate in PM Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
Communalism and the Writing of Indian History

Communalism and the Writing of Ancient Indian History
by Romila Thapar

Medieval Indian History and the Communal Approach
by Harbans Mukhia

Historians of Modern India and Communalism
by Bipan Chandra

‘Eighty Million Hindus Massacred by Muslims between 1000 and 1525’ Teach Indians about the Hindu Holocaust -- Global Hindu Foundation to Government of India

November 15, 2014
Part Two
‘Eighty Million Hindus Massacred by Muslims between 1000 and 1525’  Teach Indians about the Hindu Holocaust

-- Global Hindu Foundation to Government of India

Teesta Setalvad

Indians should be taught about the ‘Hindu Holocaust’ when 80 million Hindus were stabbed  by Muslims in barabaric slaughter according to the Global Hindu Foundation in a letter to the  government of India’s Minister for Human Resources Development (MHRD) Smruti Irani  today. Gory and unsubstantiated descriptions of Hindus who refused to convert and who were taken atop the mountains and killed with ‘blood flowing from the mountain to the streets below’ find mention in this letter from this Hyderabad based affiliate of the sangh  parivar.

The website of the GHF states that it is aimed towards “ Empowering Hindus- Towards a Hindu Worldview” and the controversial letter dated November 15, 2014 addressed to Smruti Irani, cabinet minister for Human Resources Development, and posted on the home page of, the website of the “Mission to Save Hinduism and Hindu Temples”. Touted  as a ‘Project of Global Hindu Heritage Foundation, (GHHF) USA’, the mission operates out of the ‘Save Temple Office’ opened in Hyderabad city in June 2012.

The letter of the GHF, dated November 15, 2014 clearly emboldened by the regime in power in New Delhi, also states that students should be given a realistic picture of the brutal regimes  of the past (read Muslim and Christian) when ‘Murthies were broken and remnants of Hindu  statues used to build Mosques.” Students should also be taught in schools about how “how  many Temples were converted to Mosques, how many Christians are converting the Hindus  with deception and allurement, how minority appeasement is affecting the quality education and such similar issues should be addressed. Vast literature dealing with “Islamic onslaught”  and “Goa Inquisition” should also be included to know the history of denial of fundamental  rights to Hindus.”

The politicised project to completely colour and distort the teaching of the social sciences with a majoritarian and supremacist worldview, one moreover that stokes false hatreds  against Muslims and Chritisans is in tune with the Shiksha Bachao Andolan (SBA) project  run by Dinanath Batra.

Other subjects that the GHF feels should be taught to students through government run  schools”

“Great Saints of India

“.... School books should include the history, message and glory of great saints of India such as Adi Sankara, Madhvacharya, Ramanujacharya, Meerabai, Kabir, Tukaram, Eknath, Gnaneswar, Namdev, Bhagawan Nityananda, Satya Saibaba, Sri Pada Vallabha, Narasimha Swamy, Samarth Ramdas, Veda Vyasa, Valmiki, Sri Aurobindo, Muktananda, Gorakhnad, Sri Prabhupada, Chinmayananda, Ramana Maharishi Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda and host of others. They have kept alive the richness of our culture in spite of the attempts destroy the ancient civilization.

“.....The saints have played significant role in the preservation propagating the ideas and philosophies that were necessary to bring unity and much needed reforms to bring the appropriate changes in the society. Considering the Mughal domination of the India, the saints veered and helped bhaktas toward Bhakti marga, the path of devotion, instead encouraging them to conduct Temples pujas, especially North India.
“Hindu Temples - History and relevance

“ It is time to know the power, energy, and vibrations present in Hindu Temples. They are  the place of worship where devotees worship their chosen Gods at different times day in and  day out. Devotees go to the Hindu Temples to experience the infinite divine power through  their individual prayers as well as collective worship. Hindu Temples have been built over  more than twenty centuries providing opportunity to practice their social, religious and  cultural milieu. Each Temple is dedicated to one of the manifestation of infinite power of the  unfathomable divinity of the Almighty. Every Temple will have a sanctum sanctorum with a  presiding Deity who represents the power and energy of GOD. Hindus believe that God is  ever powerful, all pervasive, everywhere and everything is in God.

“.....The Hindu Temples have served as centers of learning and knowledge; foci for social gathering; institutes for art, dance and music; hubs for upholding the dharmic values; nucleus  for peace and nonviolence; lighthouses for philosophy and spirituality, cornerstones for  worship services; promoters of age old, time tested universal values; institutes for yoga and  meditation; holy places for conducting different festivals and rituals; and nexus for  expressing devotion through music, singing and chanting; and centers for social services.


“..... Cow is revered, respected and honored and is regarded as a holy mother. Cows milk is  light and easily digestible for a child. Its products such as milk, ghee, urine, cow dung and  curd, and are considered sacred and has many medicinal values that improve the health of the  humans and purifies the climate. Cow is considered as Kamadhenu (wish fulfilling Deity). 

Lord Krishna worshipped cows, used to play flute that attracted the cows and used assemble around him.

“...... All the scriptures such as Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Manusmriti, and others extoll the virtues of the cow. All the Gods reside in her and killing her is considered  the most heinous crime. It is often said “jivantu avadghnyah ta me vishasya dushanih”  meaning that let cows live without slaughter for their whole life-they remove poison and toxins. Many sages, many Hindu Temples and numerous Ashrams maintained Goshalas (cow shelters) for centuries recognizing the numerous benefits that accrue from the cows.

‘Godse is a National Hero who must be Taught about in Schools’ -- Global Hindu Foundation to Indian Government

‘Godse is a National Hero who must be Taught about in Schools’ -- Global Hindu Foundation to Government of India
November 15, 2014
Part One
‘Godse is a National Hero who must be Taught about in Schools’ -- Global Hindu Foundation to Government of India
Teesta Setalvad
Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi is a “national hero” who “fought for independence from the British” and whose reputation has been tarnished by previous governments and who should figure prominently among the new list of national heroes to be taught in all government schools.
So urges a controversial letter dated November 15, 2014 addressed to Smruti Irani, cabinet minister for Human Resources Development, and posted on the home page of, the website of the “Mission to Save Hinduism and Hindu Temples”. Touted as a ‘Project of Global Hindu Heritage Foundation, (GHHF) USA’, the mission operates out of the ‘Save Temple Office’ opened in Hyderabad city in June 2012.  
The letter urges that the Modi government should encourage teaching about national heroes “who  sacrificed their life in order to guarantee freedom for the future generations.” According to the letter Godse is one such.            
“.... It is time to teach about their heroism, their love for Bharath, their struggles with British rulers, their imprisonment, their hangings and/or suffering. Their martyrdom is unparalleled and unmatched. They cheerfully sacrificed their life for the sake of the people of Bharat to enjoy their unbridled freedom with dignity and pride." Others, who figure in this letter along with Godse who deserve to be taught about are Balagangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, Subhash Chandra Bose, Veer Savarkar, Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, Sukhdev, Chandrasekhar Azhad, Vasudev Balwant Phadke and the Chapekar brothers.”  Needless to say, Gandhi does not figure in the list; nor does Jawaharlal Nehru, or even Sardar Patel. 
It appears that the Save Temple project is funded entirely through saffron dollars raised in the US. The appeal for donations towards the end of the letter informs potential donors that the GHHF is exempt from the US federal income tax rules. It is not clear whether the Save Temple Project is registered under FCRA. 
The letter also stated that most of the books written by Marxists, Muslims and Western historians “are so slanted, abusive, hateful, repulsive and intolerable to the true history of India, so derogatory to the national freedom fighters, so demonizing to Sanatana dharma, so negligent of the contributions of great emperors to establish Hindutva, and so boastful of the Muslim aggressors as contributors to the Indian culture”.  The letter extols the virtues of Subramanian Swamy for “calling for the burning of the writings by Nehruvian historians.”
The letter adds that, “We feel that it is time to fire all these left wing historians who have stabbed the Mother India for many decades and employ those scholars who appreciate the richness of the Sanatana Dharma into National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT),  Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) , National Censor Board and other agencies. It is time to reclaim what is lost, revamp the whole school curriculum, and rewrite the history debunking these leftwing Nehruvian historians.”
This letter comes at a time when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s brand of history writing is attempting a complete capture of India’s institutes of higher learning and research, and also at a time when the RSS backed Shiksha Bachao Andolan is planning a national level conference at Ujjain of 200 ‘academics and experts’ to ‘review’ the emphasis and focus of the previous Radhakrishnan, Mudaliar and Kothari Commission reports. Supremacist and exclusivist brands of ‘history writing’ are making their political advantage felt with their unquestionable hold on the Modi government.
In this letter sent to Smruti Irani today, the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation has also, chosen specifically to advise the Modi government to misinform Indian children about the three sites of perpetrated conflict that have had specific import for the politics of communal mobilisation in India since the mid- 1980s, that is Faizabad-Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura.  The issue of the site where the Babri Masjid, a 400 year old Mosque stood is at present before the Supreme Court of India after the Mosque was illegally demolished on December 6, 1992. The other two sites, at Mathura and Kashi, have been at the heart of the BJP-RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal mobilisation that aims to ‘re-claim’ or ‘destroy’ the Mosques that stand cheek by jowl to temples at these sites. Presently they are governed by the Places of Worship Act, 1991 have also mentioned in a Supreme Court directive, generally protecting their status. An infamous slogan of far right in India since 1992 when the 400 year old Mosque was demolished has been,' Abhi to bas yah jhanki hai, Kashi Mathura baki hai' (This gives but a glimpse, Kashi/Banaras and Mathura still remain [as the objective]).
This letter quite clearly exhorts the Modi government that, school text books, “should also teach children as to how Krishna Janma Sthala was destroyed, how Ayodhya was converted to Babri Masjid, how Kashi Vishwanath Temple was destroyed and built Mosque in front of the Temple, and how more than 2000 Temples were converted to Mosques.”

Other suggestions coming from the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation include the compulsory teaching of the Bhagwad Geeta  in schools where the letter says a “....a mere chanting of few verses is enough to awaken the consciousness of the individual and maintain the balance between the body, mind and soul. In fact, it improves the brain capacity to absorb the knowledge; teach the individual the responsibility of their dharma; emphasize the importance of bhakti, Jnana, karma and raja yoga; equip the individual fearless and give the needed strength to face the problems at hand; encourages one to think and uphold the dharma to protect human existence; and so on. No age is bar to learn and chant Bhagavad Gita. As young as three year olds chant the divine song.  Its message is unmatched, unparalleled and unrivalled.”
The Ramayana should also be taught since “ Rama’s name is on the lips of every Hindu.  He taught us to be a perfect son, a perfect brother, perfect husband, a perfect enemy, and a perfect king. He taught us how to live according to dharma in the face of un-surmountable hurdles.

Unashamed in its motive to convert history teaching – from a vibrant discipline with specific disciplinary tools for interpretation, analysis, verification and authentication that include contemporaneous sources, an understanding of archaeology, and secondary sources, a thorough reading of ancient and medieval languages ---to a politico-religious project, the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation says it would like to see “Rama portrayed as a living national hero and Indian history as Sanatani (upper caste) Hindu.... Lord Rama, who is known for his compassion, gentleness, kindness, righteousness, non-hatred, and integrity, has served as role model for all of us to follow for millennia. His respect for father and obedience to his command was unparalleled that all humanity should emulate. Guru-Sishya relationship was emboldened in Ramayana for all of us follow, cherish and nurture, especially in the modern society....”
“...            Sita, Lakshmana, Bharatha, Dasaratha, Jataayu, Vali, Vibhishana, and Lord Hanuman have shaped the mind, body and soul of Bharath for many millennia. Every character teaches us how to live a dharmic life and how to establish Ramarajya where justice is rendered without consideration for the name and fame. Ramayana taught us the richness of valor, dharma, loyalty, mutual respect, bhakti, spirituality, wisdom and Jnana to be followed in daily life to uplift the spirit of human life. The message of Ramayana spread all over Asia and even today its popularity is unabated in countries like Cambodia, Java, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Sumatra, Thailand, Mauritius, Bali and other countries.”

There is a concerted effort to change the basic secular character of the Indian Constitution: Justice PB Sawant, former SC Judge


There is a concerted effort to change the basic secular character of the Indian Constitution: Justice PB Sawant, former SC Judge

Justice Sawant in conversation with Teesta Setalvad for Communalism Combat and Hille Le tv.

Justice Sawant was on the supreme court bench that upheld secularism as one of the pillars of the Indian Constitution as also Chairperson Press Council of India
In conversation with Teesta Setalvad, Justice Sawant shared thoughts about secularism,  ethical behaviour,  Indian democracy and the integrity necessary to be a judge.

He spoke to Teesta about secularism being part of the basic structure of the  Constitution of India and how it was simply brought into the Preamble through a Constitutional Amendment to emphaise this fact. As the very nature of the secular state in India, based on its Constitution comes under threat and attack, Justice Sawant said that there would be a "strong contestation" if there were any attempts at changing "even a word in the Indian Constitution as far as secularism is concerned." The attempts at the conversion of India into a theocratic state where Hindus enjoy superior rights was afoot but would be resisted and challenged, he declared.

Justice Sawant also pointed out that religious texts of every Faith display guidelines to ethical behaviour that can inspire societies and lawmakers. and that those in high office should never forget that they represent the Constitution of a secular state based on diversity and equal rights for all. 

While talking about his book The Grammar of Democracy,  Justice Sawant highlighted that "as long as we do not ensure (every person's right to contest an election), we cannot say that we have a truly representative democracy."

Watch Justice Sawant in conversation with Teesta Setalvad on...


The Grammar of Democracy, by Justice Sawant
Crimes Against Humanity, The Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT) Gujarat 2002