Friday, August 29, 2014

A tale of 20 years ago…more than some food for thought. COLUMN FOR THE WEEK

A tale of 20 years ago…more than some food for thought.

TEESTA SETALVAD  
This a story about Hatihalka, a cluster of villages in the Midnapore district of West Bengal. When you visit there, apart from the villagers and their homes, what is unusual about Hatihalka are the enchanting ruins of terracota temples, 32 of them, which we are told are 250 and 300 years old. These temples stretch over a three square kilometre area, they are the Sheetala, Navaratna and Das Mahavidya temples. Amongst them is also a stone image, built in the ninth century of Vishnu Lokeswar, a combination of the images of Vishnu and Buddha. Experts say that Buddhism once flourished in this area. On the walls of these temples, we can see depiction’s of the battle for Sri Lanka, episodes from the life of Lord Krishna and many hunting scenes.
Mohammad Yasin, a Muslim resident of this cluster of villages ruins. Through his childhood, he was haunted by them “What kind of people lived on the same soil that we tread? What were their thoughts? Their dreams? How did they live?”
Twenty-five years ago before two decades, when the frail Yasin became a school teacher in the same village, consumed with his passion to prevent the further decay of these temples, he began a one-man crusade. He started meeting local political leaders, he wrote to the Indian government alerting  them about the plight of this decaying heritage. Receiving no immediate answers, he travelled to Delhi himself to meet with archaeologists and even spent Rs. 50,000 of his own money to instigate action towards preservation of the forgotten
Even as he fought hard for his dream, he faced difficulties. because thought he passionately loved these temples, he had a Muslim name. Often , in the midst of his crusade, he despaired. part of a precious heritage of the medieval past, the impressive Navartna temple had many of its marble fittings stolen. And once, thanks to the vigilance of Yasin who had set up a committee of local villagers, a criminal spotted attempting to sell a stone image for Rs. 8,000 to a foreigner, was stopped.

Thanks to the singleminded efforts of Yasin, some grants were sanctioned by the government for the protection of the temples but much of it got diverted by the local panchayat away from the temple-restoration work. Still Yasin devotes his time and effort. writing on the subject of his temples, sometimes despairing but never giving up the cause of his beloved temples. through the Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee of which Yasin is a member fresh steps are afoot to save the temples that are also threatened by submergence if the Kansabati river changes its course.
But today , despite these efforts, Yasin is a lonely man. Not wanting to divulge their names locals say, “If the temples are standing today, it is because of the labours of our Pathan.” But that is in private. In public, the Muslims call him a kafir and only the other day, the old temple priest took his sandle out and shook it at Yasin in anger asking, “What is your motive in meddling in the temple business?"
A question for you and me….. 
WHAT SHOULD YASIN HAVE DONE ?
SHOULD HE HAVE GIVEN UP HIS CRUSADE FOR HIS BELOVED TEMPLES ?
WHAT SUPPORT SHOULD HE RECEIVE FOR HIS  STRUGGLE TO CONTINUE FROM US?
Have we built borders in our minds?

P.S. A recent book I picked up has an interesting title, Historic Temples of Pakistan – A Call to Conscience.Authored by Reema Abbasi through painstaking research and rigourous travels across Pakistan.  The author says in her Preface that this book “concentrates on Pakistan’s fraying social order and the sad prospects of its bringing about its own destruction by documenting Hindu places of worship,  major festivals, prominent orders of priesthood and the idol-crafter Fakira.”  The first five chapters deal with the life and times of antiquated temples in every region of the country that is Pakistan. For the lover of history and icononography, the majestic images of the image of the Varun Dev temple. Set on an island this tribute to the worship of the God of Water, Varuna isdeep inside Sindh and described by Abbasi, “…the ancient, elongated, pyramid-like structure of the Varun Dev Mandir comes into view, like a javelin ready to launch into the sky. As if presiding over the  Arabian Sea, the sandstone structure still courts mystery in majesty. Come to Ranchore Lines known as ‘mini-Mumbai” (a much more benign term that what we use in our cities when we dub an area ‘Mini Pakistan!) ..as we travel, with the author into Ranchore Lines and the Narainpur Basti, that was scarred with the cries of blood and revenger post December 6 1992 as mobs rampaged Hindu areas and signs of Hindu worship and culture, (today’s Karachi’s largest depressed caste and class populations live her; a 5,000 strong grouping of Meghwar, Kolhi, Hindu, Sikh, Marwari, Gujarati, Marathi and Hare Krishna clans) a jewel stands out in the midst of the poverty and squalor. Pristine white, the Shri Naval Mandir Ashram, from 1905 has been built in intricate Jodhpur style. Legend has it that this shrine brought the dead tolife, cleansed hearts of hatred…..Abassi met Kalidas J. Khandara of the All Pakistan Maharshi Naval Samaj who told her that Muslims, Christians, Hindus all come here for the ultimate, blessings for a child (in cases of infertility) or prosperity.  The 200 square yards, pale yellow of the Naval Para that surround this im portant shrine foreground the deities in their niches and alcoves: Santoshi Maa, Kali, Vishnu, Shiva,Ganesha, Hanuman, Guru Nanak and Rama Pir with a white Nandi bull critical to the Shaivite tradition and a large brass bell in the pillar of the sanctum sanctorium.
The age old peepul tree, the red vermillion marks and the sacred orange and coloured threads are familiar, could be rooted anywhere. Oil, sugar and sindoor is kept at its base and the meticulous commitment of the author to a journey and creation of a historical record that is both a testimony and resistance to the present politics at play in Pakistan, is what makes this book special. On a visit to Delhi a few months ago, the author was accorded a few paragraphs in the print media on her recent publication. None of the television channels however thought it fit to showcase the woman, the endeavor, the courage and the commitment. I would have hoped that the Urdu media, limited as it is by resources would have picked up this story and broadcast a detailed conversation of this author’s work.
It was not to be. We have in these dark and troubled times, become victims, ourselves of super-imposed divisions, borders, identities and entities. Not only does this reality do a gross injustice to ourselves and our history, it contributes little to forging unique and unusual resistances in these dark and troubled times.

Ends

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Remembering our Christian brethren Kandhamal 2008-2014 22.8.2014

Remembering our Christian brethren
Kandhamal 2008-2014

Teesta Setalvad

It is six years since nearly a 100 people were massacred because they were Christians and poor and adivasis, some Dalits. The pogrom under the BJD-BJP government in August 2008  -- the anniversary of the anti-Christian pogrom falls next week – followed the mysterious murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati  on a Sunday morning (August 23 2008). Praveen Togadia led the coffin over 300 kilometres all over Orisaa in the three days that followed- a la Milosoveic—the state administration allowed him and his hate ridden agenda free access and nearly 6,000 Christian houses and 300 churches were destroyed in the unabated violence that lasted weeks (according to Initiative to Justice, Peace and Human Rights, Bhubaneswar). Though two Fast Track Courts had been set up to try the bloodshed and mayhem, only 3,181 of the over 11,300 named in 828 FIRs were brought to trial with only 477 convicted for minor offenses like arson and rioting. Recent investigations by activists have revealed that of the 27 murder trials, except two all others have ended up in acquittals on murder charge due to shoddy and poor investigation, lackluster prosecution and rampant witness intimidation. Unlike in the case of Gujarat 2002, where Survivors and Activists took great risks and ensured that the Supreme Court of India kept monitoring the massacre trials, here justice has fallen by the wayside.
Manoj Pradhan, shockingly was elected as MLA from behind bars after being put up as its candidate by the utterly shameless BJP (remember Sanjeev Baliyan from western Uttar Pradesh is a Minister in Modi’s cavbinet!!!) despite being accused in seven separate murders, had been sitting as sentry at the entrance of the Fast Track Court and threatening the witnesses even in the court premises. Despite this, mid-way through the trial of the cases committed to it, the two Fast Tract Courts were wound up in March 2013.
Genocidal crimes develop in eight stages – classification, symbolisation, dehumanisation (of the target group), organisation, polarisation, identification, extermination, denial (and destruction of the evidence of crimes) – according to Dr Gregory H. Stanton of Genocide Watch. Appropriate state intervention can arrest and reverse the process in the early stages. But where the state itself is mute witness to, complicit in or sponsor of the entire process, it becomes inevitable, progressing from one stage to the next.
Kandhamal may not compare to the 2002 genocide in Gujarat in terms of the intensity and spread of violence, the extent of bestiality involved or the level of state collusion. But it is evident from the 160 page report of the National People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal that 2011 was one of the worst years in post-independence India for this religious minority. Mercifully, there was no repeat of Kandhamal in terms of the intensity and consequences of communal violence. But the attacks were numerous and widespread across 16 states and union territories. The worst offences were committed in Karnataka, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Included in the list of crimes were murder, grievous injuries and merciless beatings, rape and molestation of women, desecration and destruction of churches and other places of worship, illegal detention and arrests, abuse and insult of Christian clergy and the laity. While highlighting 250 criminal incidents, the report claims that there were a total of over 1,000 such incidents during 2011. The tribunal’s 160-page report that all the ingredients of genocidal intent and action were present in Kandhamal too: from the systematic dehumanisation and demonisation of Christians, to organisational preparations and planning for the carnage, to the obvious attempts at destruction of evidence. “The deliberate destruction of evidence pertaining to these crimes came to the attention of the jury,” says the report.
Here are two examples from the report of the attempts to destroy evidence:
One: “The body of Rajani Majhi, the warden of an orphanage at Padampur, was burnt and, according to Nicholas Barla, who testified before the tribunal and quoted Fr Edward Sequeira, the lower part of her body was completely burnt so as to destroy all evidence of alleged gang rape.”
Two: “The collector of Bargarh forced Fr Basil Kullu to remove all evidence of damage to and destruction of the Madhupur church and hostels and even sent some persons to clear the debris that was lying in the compound, indicating the nature and extent of the attack. (http://www.sabrang.com/cc/archive/2012/jan2012/index.html)
The second instance is just one of the many examples of the gross dereliction of duty and collusion of various state actors and representatives of other democratic institutions: the police, administration and officials in charge of local bodies. The shameful conduct of the police in particular consisted in the refusal to act despite advance intimation of criminal preparations; reluctance to take cognisance of crimes through refusal to register first information reports; shoddy investigation; inaction over victim survivors’ complaints of threats and intimidation or forced conversions; or lodging of criminal complaints against witnesses in a bid to turn the victims into the accused.
Compounding and concluding this sad narrative of our recurring national shame is the all too familiar failure of the justice delivery system after Kandhamal: shoddy charge sheets; public prosecutors biased against the victims/witnesses; threats and intimidation of victims/witnesses in the absence of any witness protection; and the insensitive and biased conduct of some judges during trials. In short, Kandhamal seems fated to remain yet another grim example of the failure of the institutions of Indian democracy to protect the life and property of a section of citizens, compounded by the lack of punishment of the perpetrators and denial of justice to the victims.
Recent investigations by Anto Ankara reveal that the suspicion that Kandhamal conflagration had a bigger agenda is reinforced by the publication of the book ‘Harvest of Hate – Kandhamal in Crossfire’, authored by Michael Parker and published by the mysterious ‘India Foundation’ from a fake address in New Delhi. The title of the book itself is a plagiarism of the title of the book by Swami Agnivesh and Rev. Valson Thampu - ‘Harvest of Hate – Gujarat under Siege’.
Contrary to the title, the 348-page book ignored the brutal hate crimes unleashed on the Christians and brazenly justified it. Even on a casual perusal, the language and the content would make anyone wonder if it was really the work of a Seattle-based US anthropologist.
Apart from spreading canards about Christianity, the ‘Harvest Hate’ has not spared even others who spoke out against the witch-hunting of Christians. Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju - presently chairman of the Press Council of India - who had made scathing remarks during the hearing on the witch-hunting of the Christians in Kandhamal has been bluntly accused of ‘following a script written by the Congress party’.
Despite the bulky book being mailed freely by anonymous senders and ‘gifted’ to top church officials by even RSS leaders, it was not available for sale at the address nor the email address evoked any response despite carrying a ‘Foreword’ by senior BJP leader Nirmala Sitaraman, presently a minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even the fanciful ‘India Foundation’ has no telephone number. The suspicion about the genuineness of the author behind ‘Harvest of Hate’ dubbed as ‘an honest documentation’ by the ‘Organiser’ has been confirmed with the emergence of the same book under a different name – ‘ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning’.
The ‘new’ book that is being e-marketed by the new publisher - Lulu.com - had a new author too. Thus, Michael Parker became Brannon Parker with hardly any change in the content of the book. But the most shocking element in the double Parker episode is the ‘note’ attached to the new book: “The Indian edition of the book was written under the name Michael Parker”.
Shockingly, in his preface to ‘ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning’, Brannon Parker admits that “In 2009, this report was presented to the US State Department by Ram Madhav, a National Executive of the Rashtriya of the Swayamsevak Sangha.” (Page three, last para). The Rama Madhav, RSS spokesperson had ‘gifted’ the earlier book by ‘Harvest of Hate’ by Michael Parker to church leaders in Kerala after seeking appointment for ‘harmony visit’ in 2012. This shows who is behind this mysterious book and ghost authors. No wonder Madhav has been recently honoured for this advocacy and deputed to the BJP as a senior leader.   
Though saffron lobby has put up a website called ‘Kandhamal Justice’ (http://kandhamaljustice.org/), only ‘‘ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning’ by Brannon Parker was linked to it while Michael Parker’s ‘Harvest of Hate’ has been thrown to the dustbin of history. The saffron groups have also canonized the new author as ‘Vedanta Kesari Brannon Parker’.
On August 11,2014 Digvijay Singh raised this matter in the Rajya Sanha. Referring to books that were spreading communal ideology, Singh said, "There are books like 'Harvest of Hate' and 'Kandhamal in crossfire' authored by Michael Parker and another book 'Orissa in crossfire' by Brannon Parker. These books are published by India Foundation." He said there is no information about the publisher neither on the book nor on the internet. "The name of the publisher is missing...We went to the address of the publisher, but the publisher was not found. On internet, there is no information about India Foundation. Moreover, the foreword of these books is written by Cabinet Minister Nirmala Sitaraman," he said and demanded ban on these books and an enquiry into the issue.The Congress leader also warned that if government allows circulation of such books, it will lead to further spread of communal violence in the country.
With the brazen declarations of Mohan Bhagwat that this country is not 'Bharat' but 'Hindu-sthan' and already a Hindu rashtra, with the eerie silence of the pracharak-turned Prime Minister, the signs are more than ominous. Will we all and Indian democracy withstand this onlsaught?
Ends

Column for the Week 15.8.2014

Diversity, Rights and Independence Day
Teesta Setalvad

A tragic-comedy irony of sorts will be enacted this August 15, 2014 when an RSS pracharak  will stand at the wonderful historical spot of India’s Red Fort, a tribute to the rich architecture of our syncretic past as the nation’s Prime Minister.

Even if one blots the memory that immediately takes one to Nehru’s emotive “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom….. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment, we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity. ”(http://www.citehr.com/187478-freedom-midnight-speech-jawaharlal-nehru.html#ixzz3AGw8KY83

Apart from the sheer eloquence of the delivery and the fact that Nehru had spent over 1,000 days in British jails fighting for azaadi, the fact is that India’s first prime minister, with Gandhi as his “Bapu” had jumped into the throes of a riotous mob to save lives during communal violence. A far cry from the man who sits in the same seat 67 years later, today (sic).

The social media, completely dominated by the right, be it of the Hindutva or any other politico-religious variety has been made to bait Nehru and Gandhi and any leader who represented composite nationhood.

The first time, ever, that the RSS, an outfit that was banned after Gandhi’s assassination (30.1.1948) unfurled the Indian tricolor was in 2002 after a saffron dominated government, NDA I snatched power in New Delhi. In 2004, ironically it was all set to launch ‘Tiranga yatras’ and Satyagrahas to defend the honour of the flag and the nation in an all out bid to opportunistically appropriate the Indian tricolor as it has tried to do with ‘deshbhakti’/patriotism.

Yet when the Indian people were involved in the decades, long struggle for freedom against British imperialisms, the RSS was conspicuous by its absence in the struggle When thousands of people faced lathis, bullets and jail sentences (including Nehru and Patel) for hoisting the Tiranga and participated all over the country in Satyagrahas during the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements against the British Raj, the Sangh publicly took the stand that it would not take part in the movement and seldom missed the opportunity of assuring the British rulers that they would keep to  the right side of colonial law and avoid any clash with the authorities. Of course the reason given for this was that the Sangh was secretly strengthening itself and would take on British imperialism only when it was strong enough to do so!

A similar duplicity has marked the statement and actions of the RSS and its leaders throughout its almost 89-year of history. Nothing illustrates this better than the Sangh’s attitude to the national flag.

In 1930, the Congress leadership first gave the call for observing 26th January as Independence Day. Unable to resists the popular mood, the RSS instructed its shakas to hold rallies of swayamsevaks “and worship the national flag, that is, the Bhagwa Jhanda”. The flag to be honoured was not the Tiranga, which had been adopted by the whole nation as the symbol of the freedom struggle. Nor would the Sangh observe 26 January as Independence Day again, although it became a permanent feature of the national movement.

After Independence, it was again the Bhagwa Jhanda and not the Tiranga that was hoisted and honoured at the first major rally of the RSS held at Ramlila Maidan on 7th December, 1947.

The only the RSS gave any recognition at all to the tricolour was in 1949 when the Government of India made written allegiance to the Constitution and the National Flag one of the conditions for lifting the ban imposed on the Sangh after the murder of Gandhiji. Article 5 of the first written constitution of the RSS states; “While recognizing the duty of every citizen to be loyal to and to respect the State Flag, the Sangh has as its flag, the ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’- the age-old symbol of Hindu culture.” The usual double-edged meaning of RSS statements is unmistakeable. The Tiranga is termed the State flag, not the National flag. And ‘while’ it may ‘recognize the duty of every citizen’, the Sangh still requires its members, “integral parts of Hindu Rashtra” as the shakha prayer describes them, to owe primary allegiance to the ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’.

Better late than never, it was in 2004  that, at last the RSS and the Sangh Parivar joined the ‘national mainstream’ and salute and honour the tricolour, then may we suggest that before any of their leaders forcibly, and in violation of the law, hoist the flag in Hubli or anywhere else again, they immediately hoist it first on RSS headquarters all over the country.

Now in power with a full fledged majority it is to be seen what sort of respect the man at the helm and his MPs, many of whom are involved in UP’s communal violence, and some in hate speeches deal with the Indian Constitution the architect of which was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. On the issue of judicial independence NDA II has shown up to be in a desperate hurry to assert its executive superiority. This does not bode well for the balance of power. Once before during the Emergency, India had been thus tested. We emerged scarred, but stronger. What will the human and institutional costs be this time around ?

Ends

Column for the Week 8.8.2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Press statement - ‘Sincere apologies for inadvertent Tweet’

August 22, 2014

Press statement

‘Sincere apologies for inadvertent Tweet’


Like human rights groups and individuals across the world, I too am extremely outraged by the atrocities and the barbarism being perpetrated by the ISIS against Iraq’s minorities. In fact just two days ago (August 19), I joined activists, including my husband Javed Anand, at a Press Conference called in Mumbai to release  a statement signed by prominent Indian Muslims denouncing the ISIS .  

The press conference received wide coverage from the print media the next day. A friend contacted me saying he could prepare some visuals depicting the atrocities of the ISIS which I might consider Tweeting. I agreed.

I am traveling and was in a mad rush this morning preparing for a Memorial Lecture I was invited to deliver this afternoon in Kolkata. On receiving the friend's message, I took a quick glance at the illustration depicting the ISIS’ gruesome beheading of the American journalist. Looking at the visual as a whole, I did think the illustration needed reworking as it may be interpreted differently by different people. However, in the mad rush that I was in, I Tweeted the same with my caption, ‘Chilling’.

The moment I realised that the illustration had created a controversy and had hurt many people, I deleted the Tweet and Tweeted an immediate apology for having inadvertently hurt their feelings.

While reiterating my commitment to work for communal harmony, conflict resolution and peace building, I once again offer my sincere apologies for inadvertently hurting religious sentiments.

Column for 22.8.2014 Remembering our Christian brethren Kandhamal 2008-2014

Remembering our Christian brethren
Kandhamal 2008-2014

Teesta Setalvad

It is six years since nearly a 100 people were massacred because they were Christians and poor and adivasis, some Dalits. The pogrom under the BJD-BJP government in August 2008  -- the anniversary of the anti-Christian pogrom falls next week – followed the mysterious murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati  on a Sunday morning (August 23 2008). Praveen Togadia led the coffin over 300 kilometres all over Orisaa in the three days that followed- a la Milosoveic—the state administration allowed him and his hate ridden agenda free access and nearly 6,000 Christian houses and 300 churches were destroyed in the unabated violence that lasted weeks (according to Initiative to Justice, Peace and Human Rights, Bhubaneswar). Though two Fast Track Courts had been set up to try the bloodshed and mayhem, only 3,181 of the over 11,300 named in 828 FIRs were brought to trial with only 477 convicted for minor offenses like arson and rioting. Recent investigations by activists have revealed that of the 27 murder trials, except two all others have ended up in acquittals on murder charge due to shoddy and poor investigation, lackluster prosecution and rampant witness intimidation. Unlike in the case of Gujarat 2002, where Survivors and Activists took great risks and ensured that the Supreme Court of India kept monitoring the massacre trials, here justice has fallen by the wayside.
Manoj Pradhan, shockingly was elected as MLA from behind bars after being put up as its candidate by the utterly shameless BJP (remember Sanjeev Baliyan from western Uttar Pradesh is a Minister in Modi’s cavbinet!!!) despite being accused in seven separate murders, had been sitting as sentry at the entrance of the Fast Track Court and threatening the witnesses even in the court premises. Despite this, mid-way through the trial of the cases committed to it, the two Fast Tract Courts were wound up in March 2013.
Genocidal crimes develop in eight stages – classification, symbolisation, dehumanisation (of the target group), organisation, polarisation, identification, extermination, denial (and destruction of the evidence of crimes) – according to Dr Gregory H. Stanton of Genocide Watch. Appropriate state intervention can arrest and reverse the process in the early stages. But where the state itself is mute witness to, complicit in or sponsor of the entire process, it becomes inevitable, progressing from one stage to the next.
Kandhamal may not compare to the 2002 genocide in Gujarat in terms of the intensity and spread of violence, the extent of bestiality involved or the level of state collusion. But it is evident from the 160 page report of the National People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal that 2011 was one of the worst years in post-independence India for this religious minority. Mercifully, there was no repeat of Kandhamal in terms of the intensity and consequences of communal violence. But the attacks were numerous and widespread across 16 states and union territories. The worst offences were committed in Karnataka, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Included in the list of crimes were murder, grievous injuries and merciless beatings, rape and molestation of women, desecration and destruction of churches and other places of worship, illegal detention and arrests, abuse and insult of Christian clergy and the laity. While highlighting 250 criminal incidents, the report claims that there were a total of over 1,000 such incidents during 2011. The tribunal’s 160-page report that all the ingredients of genocidal intent and action were present in Kandhamal too: from the systematic dehumanisation and demonisation of Christians, to organisational preparations and planning for the carnage, to the obvious attempts at destruction of evidence. “The deliberate destruction of evidence pertaining to these crimes came to the attention of the jury,” says the report.
Here are two examples from the report of the attempts to destroy evidence:
One: “The body of Rajani Majhi, the warden of an orphanage at Padampur, was burnt and, according to Nicholas Barla, who testified before the tribunal and quoted Fr Edward Sequeira, the lower part of her body was completely burnt so as to destroy all evidence of alleged gang rape.”
Two: “The collector of Bargarh forced Fr Basil Kullu to remove all evidence of damage to and destruction of the Madhupur church and hostels and even sent some persons to clear the debris that was lying in the compound, indicating the nature and extent of the attack. (http://www.sabrang.com/cc/archive/2012/jan2012/index.html)
The second instance is just one of the many examples of the gross dereliction of duty and collusion of various state actors and representatives of other democratic institutions: the police, administration and officials in charge of local bodies. The shameful conduct of the police in particular consisted in the refusal to act despite advance intimation of criminal preparations; reluctance to take cognisance of crimes through refusal to register first information reports; shoddy investigation; inaction over victim survivors’ complaints of threats and intimidation or forced conversions; or lodging of criminal complaints against witnesses in a bid to turn the victims into the accused.
Compounding and concluding this sad narrative of our recurring national shame is the all too familiar failure of the justice delivery system after Kandhamal: shoddy charge sheets; public prosecutors biased against the victims/witnesses; threats and intimidation of victims/witnesses in the absence of any witness protection; and the insensitive and biased conduct of some judges during trials. In short, Kandhamal seems fated to remain yet another grim example of the failure of the institutions of Indian democracy to protect the life and property of a section of citizens, compounded by the lack of punishment of the perpetrators and denial of justice to the victims.
Recent investigations by Anto Ankara reveal that the suspicion that Kandhamal conflagration had a bigger agenda is reinforced by the publication of the book ‘Harvest of Hate – Kandhamal in Crossfire’, authored by Michael Parker and published by the mysterious ‘India Foundation’ from a fake address in New Delhi. The title of the book itself is a plagiarism of the title of the book by Swami Agnivesh and Rev. Valson Thampu - ‘Harvest of Hate – Gujarat under Siege’.
Contrary to the title, the 348-page book ignored the brutal hate crimes unleashed on the Christians and brazenly justified it. Even on a casual perusal, the language and the content would make anyone wonder if it was really the work of a Seattle-based US anthropologist.
Apart from spreading canards about Christianity, the ‘Harvest Hate’ has not spared even others who spoke out against the witch-hunting of Christians. Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju - presently chairman of the Press Council of India - who had made scathing remarks during the hearing on the witch-hunting of the Christians in Kandhamal has been bluntly accused of ‘following a script written by the Congress party’.
Despite the bulky book being mailed freely by anonymous senders and ‘gifted’ to top church officials by even RSS leaders, it was not available for sale at the address nor the email address evoked any response despite carrying a ‘Foreword’ by senior BJP leader Nirmala Sitaraman, presently a minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even the fanciful ‘India Foundation’ has no telephone number. The suspicion about the genuineness of the author behind ‘Harvest of Hate’ dubbed as ‘an honest documentation’ by the ‘Organiser’ has been confirmed with the emergence of the same book under a different name – ‘ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning’.
The ‘new’ book that is being e-marketed by the new publisher - Lulu.com - had a new author too. Thus, Michael Parker became Brannon Parker with hardly any change in the content of the book. But the most shocking element in the double Parker episode is the ‘note’ attached to the new book: “The Indian edition of the book was written under the name Michael Parker”.
Shockingly, in his preface to ‘ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning’, Brannon Parker admits that “In 2009, this report was presented to the US State Department by Ram Madhav, a National Executive of the Rashtriya of the Swayamsevak Sangha.” (Page three, last para). The Rama Madhav, RSS spokesperson had ‘gifted’ the earlier book by ‘Harvest of Hate’ by Michael Parker to church leaders in Kerala after seeking appointment for ‘harmony visit’ in 2012. This shows who is behind this mysterious book and ghost authors. No wonder Madhav has been recently honoured for this advocacy and deputed to the BJP as a senior leader.   
Though saffron lobby has put up a website called ‘Kandhamal Justice’ (http://kandhamaljustice.org/), only ‘‘ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning’ by Brannon Parker was linked to it while Michael Parker’s ‘Harvest of Hate’ has been thrown to the dustbin of history. The saffron groups have also canonized the new author as ‘Vedanta Kesari Brannon Parker’.
On August 11,2014 Digvijay Singh raised this matter in the Rajya Sanha. Referring to books that were spreading communal ideology, Singh said, "There are books like 'Harvest of Hate' and 'Kandhamal in crossfire' authored by Michael Parker and another book 'Orissa in crossfire' by Brannon Parker. These books are published by India Foundation." He said there is no information about the publisher neither on the book nor on the internet. "The name of the publisher is missing...We went to the address of the publisher, but the publisher was not found. On internet, there is no information about India Foundation. Moreover, the foreword of these books is written by Cabinet Minister Nirmala Sitaraman," he said and demanded ban on these books and an enquiry into the issue.The Congress leader also warned that if government allows circulation of such books, it will lead to further spread of communal violence in the country.
With the brazen declarations of Mohan Bhagwat that this country is not 'Bharat' but 'Hindu-sthan' and already a Hindu rashtra, with the eerie silence of the pracharak-turned Prime Minister, the signs are more than ominous. Will we all and Indian democracy withstand this onlsaught?
Ends

Column that appeared on 15.8.2014 Diversity, Rights and Independence Day

Diversity, Rights and Independence Day
Teesta Setalvad

A tragic-comedy irony of sorts will be enacted this August 15, 2014 when an RSS pracharak  will stand at the wonderful historical spot of India’s Red Fort, a tribute to the rich architecture of our syncretic past as the nation’s Prime Minister.

Even if one blots the memory that immediately takes one to Nehru’s emotive “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom….. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment, we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity. ”(http://www.citehr.com/187478-freedom-midnight-speech-jawaharlal-nehru.html#ixzz3AGw8KY83

Apart from the sheer eloquence of the delivery and the fact that Nehru had spent over 1,000 days in British jails fighting for azaadi, the fact is that India’s first prime minister, with Gandhi as his “Bapu” had jumped into the throes of a riotous mob to save lives during communal violence. A far cry from the man who sits in the same seat 67 years later, today (sic).

The social media, completely dominated by the right, be it of the Hindutva or any other politico-religious variety has been made to bait Nehru and Gandhi and any leader who represented composite nationhood.

The first time, ever, that the RSS, an outfit that was banned after Gandhi’s assassination (30.1.1948) unfurled the Indian tricolor was in 2002 after a saffron dominated government, NDA I snatched power in New Delhi. In 2004, ironically it was all set to launch ‘Tiranga yatras’ and Satyagrahas to defend the honour of the flag and the nation in an all out bid to opportunistically appropriate the Indian tricolor as it has tried to do with ‘deshbhakti’/patriotism.

Yet when the Indian people were involved in the decades, long struggle for freedom against British imperialisms, the RSS was conspicuous by its absence in the struggle When thousands of people faced lathis, bullets and jail sentences (including Nehru and Patel) for hoisting the Tiranga and participated all over the country in Satyagrahas during the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements against the British Raj, the Sangh publicly took the stand that it would not take part in the movement and seldom missed the opportunity of assuring the British rulers that they would keep to  the right side of colonial law and avoid any clash with the authorities. Of course the reason given for this was that the Sangh was secretly strengthening itself and would take on British imperialism only when it was strong enough to do so!

A similar duplicity has marked the statement and actions of the RSS and its leaders throughout its almost 89-year of history. Nothing illustrates this better than the Sangh’s attitude to the national flag.

In 1930, the Congress leadership first gave the call for observing 26th January as Independence Day. Unable to resists the popular mood, the RSS instructed its shakas to hold rallies of swayamsevaks “and worship the national flag, that is, the Bhagwa Jhanda”. The flag to be honoured was not the Tiranga, which had been adopted by the whole nation as the symbol of the freedom struggle. Nor would the Sangh observe 26 January as Independence Day again, although it became a permanent feature of the national movement.

After Independence, it was again the Bhagwa Jhanda and not the Tiranga that was hoisted and honoured at the first major rally of the RSS held at Ramlila Maidan on 7th December, 1947.

The only the RSS gave any recognition at all to the tricolour was in 1949 when the Government of India made written allegiance to the Constitution and the National Flag one of the conditions for lifting the ban imposed on the Sangh after the murder of Gandhiji. Article 5 of the first written constitution of the RSS states; “While recognizing the duty of every citizen to be loyal to and to respect the State Flag, the Sangh has as its flag, the ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’- the age-old symbol of Hindu culture.” The usual double-edged meaning of RSS statements is unmistakeable. The Tiranga is termed the State flag, not the National flag. And ‘while’ it may ‘recognize the duty of every citizen’, the Sangh still requires its members, “integral parts of Hindu Rashtra” as the shakha prayer describes them, to owe primary allegiance to the ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’.

Better late than never, it was in 2004  that, at last the RSS and the Sangh Parivar joined the ‘national mainstream’ and salute and honour the tricolour, then may we suggest that before any of their leaders forcibly, and in violation of the law, hoist the flag in Hubli or anywhere else again, they immediately hoist it first on RSS headquarters all over the country.

Now in power with a full fledged majority it is to be seen what sort of respect the man at the helm and his MPs, many of whom are involved in UP’s communal violence, and some in hate speeches deal with the Indian Constitution the architect of which was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. On the issue of judicial independence NDA II has shown up to be in a desperate hurry to assert its executive superiority. This does not bode well for the balance of power. Once before during the Emergency, India had been thus tested. We emerged scarred, but stronger. What will the human and institutional costs be this time around ?

Ends