by Karan Thapar (Hindustan Times August 30, 2008)

Does the VHP have the right to speak for you or I? Do they reflect
our views? Do we endorse their behaviour? They call themselves the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad, but who says they represent all of us? This
Sunday morning, I want to draw a clear line of distinction between
them and everyone else. My hunch is many of you will agree.

Let me start with the question of conversion — an issue that greatly
exercises the VHP. I imagine there are hundreds of millions of Hindus
who are peaceful, tolerant, devoted to their faith, but above all,
happy to live alongside Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains
and Jews. If any one of us were to change our faith how does it
affect the next man or woman? And even if that happens with
inducements, it can only prove that the forsaken faith had a tenuous
and shallow hold. So why do the VHP and its unruly storm troopers,
the Bajrang Dal, froth at the mouth if you, I or our neighbours
convert? What is it to do with them?

Let me put it bluntly, even crudely. If I want to sell my soul — and
trade in my present gods for a new lot — why shouldn’t I? Even if the
act diminishes me in your eyes, it’s my right to do so. So if
thousands or even millions of Dalits, who have been despised and
ostracised for generations, choose to become Christian, Buddhist or
Muslim, either to escape the discrimination of their Hindu faith or
because some other has lured them with food and cash, it’s their right.

Arguably you may believe you should ask them to reconsider, although
I would call that interference, but you certainly have no duty or
right to stop them. In fact, I doubt if you are morally correct in
even seeking to place obstacles in their way. The so-called Freedom
of Religion Acts, which aim to do just that, are, in fact, tantamount
to obstruction of conversion laws and therefore, at the very least,

However, what’s even worse is how the VHP responds to this matter.
Periodically they resort to violence including outright murder. What
happened to Graham Staines in Orissa was not unique. Last week it
happened again. Apart from the utter and contemptible criminality of
such behaviour, is this how we Hindus wish to behave? Is this how we
want our faith defended? Is this how we want to be seen? I have no
doubt the answer is no. An unequivocal, unchanging and ever-lasting NO!

The only problem is it can’t be heard. And it needs to be. I
therefore believe the time has come for the silent majority of Hindus
— both those who ardently practice their faith as well as those who
were born into it but may not be overtly religious or devout — to
speak out. We cannot accept the desecration of churches, the burning
to death of innocent caretakers of orphanages, the storming of
Christian and Muslim hamlets even if these acts are allegedly done in
defence of our faith. Indeed, they do not defend but shame Hinduism.
That’s my central point.

I’m sorry but when I read that the VHP has ransacked and killed I’m
not just embarrassed, I feel ashamed. Never of being hindu but of
what some Hindus do in our shared faith’s name.

This is why its incumbent on Naveen Patnaik, Orissa’s Chief Minister,
to take tough, unremitting action against the VHP and its junior
wing, the Bajrang Dal. This is a test not just of his governance, but
of his character. And I know and accept this could affect his
political survival. But when it’s a struggle between your commitment
to your principles and your political convenience is there room for
choice? For ordinary politicians, possibly, but for the Naveen I
know, very definitely not.

So let me end by saying: I’m waiting, Naveen. In fact, I want to
say I’m not alone. There are hundreds of millions of Hindus, like you
and me, waiting silently — but increasingly impatiently. Please act
for all of us.

o o o


hardnews - September 2008


So, what was her crime? Rajani Majhi cared for children in an
orphanage in the interiors of backward Orissa, where every big Indian
and MNC wants to dig for the treasures buried deep beneath the tribal
forests, home to several of India's indigenous tribes for thousands
of years. Was it a crime to protect the children when the mob,
inspired by the VHP bandh, attacked the orphanage and set it on fire?
Did Rajani murder Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, the undisputed guru
of the VHP? Was she a Maoist? Was she a Christian fanatic? Did she
participate in hate campaigns? Was she a proselytising zealot?

Now, reports are coming from this hazy twilight zone of burnt houses
and churches, of terror unleashed and exile and condemnation in their
own imagined homeland, that Rajani Majhi was a Hindu.

So, why did they murder her? Was it revenge? Was it divine
retribution, sanctioned by the gods?

It was for the law enforcement agencies to find and punish the
killers of the swami. Is the VHP/Bajrang Dal/RSS a constitutional
authority to punish, with quick and bloody retribution? If the
Maoists were behind the killing, let the Indian State tackle it. Why
let loose criminals on the innocent, make a public spectacle of
xenophobic enactments?

Go back to Gujarat 2002. Did the people of Naroda Patiya, Juhapura
and Gulberga attack coach S-6 at Godhra? Did Ehsan Jaffrey burn the
coach? Why were innocent people hacked and burned; and hapless women
raped? The persecution continues to this day, after what was clearly
a State-sponsored massacre like the November 1984 organised massacre
of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere.

This is because this hate machine has neither rationality nor
humanity nor religion. It neither believes in the Constitution nor
democracy nor civilised codes of conduct. It has no social or
political agenda except to indulge and wallow in organised hate
campaigns against Muslims and Christians. In that sense, they are
outside the pale of the Indian justice system, outside all
accountability. Blinded by vicious madness, these little men are
caricatures of Hindutva's perverse distortion of both Hinduism and
humanism. Like the fundamentalist Islamic jihadis who kill
innocents, these Hindutva jihadis share the same barbarian instinct,
and their place is either the mental asylum, or the prison.

Why should the VHP and Bajrang Dal be let off if the Simi can be
termed terrorist and banned? And, how is the BJP a mainstream party
when it patronises and pampers this hydra-headed monster? In fact,
all the members of the sangh parivar are intrinsically linked - the
RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal-BJP, a diabolical symphony of several fronts,
using mainstream and underground spaces, terrorism and communal
violence to further its ends. Trace most of the ‘landmark communal
riots' in India, and enquiry commission reports, and you will find
their sinister shadow.

Remember Geetabehn? Rajani Majhi brings the old narrative back,
however stunningly tragic and barbaric it all seems. And there is a
lesson and message in it.

Wrote Siddharth Varadarajan in The Times of India on April 18, 2002
(The Mask is Off - A Tale of Two Hindus, edit page): "Two weeks ago,
the resident editor of The Times of India in Ahmedabad sent our
office in Delhi a photograph so shocking it made my stomach churn.
Shocking not just for what it depicted but because, to paraphrase
Roland Barthes, "one was looking at it from inside our freedom." This
was my India. This is my India....

"On a hot and dusty patch of asphalt lies the naked body of a woman,
Geetaben, her clothes stripped off and thrown carelessly near her.
One piece of her underclothing lies a foot away from her body, the
other is clutched desperately in her left hand. Her left arm is
bloodied, as is her torso, which appears to have deep gashes. Her
left thigh is covered in blood and she is wearing a small anklet. Her
plastic chappals sit sadly alongside her lifeless body and in the
middle of the photo frame is a gnarled, red, hate-filled remnant of a
brick, perhaps the one her assailants used to deliver
their final blow...

"Geetaben was killed in Ahmedabad on March 25, in broad daylight,
near a bus stop close to her home. She was a Hindu who in the eyes of
the Hindu separatists currently ruling Gujarat had committed the
cardinal sin of falling in love with a Muslim man..."

The question returns: Why was Rajani burnt alive, like Graham Staines
and his two little sons? And let us not forget his wife, Gladys, who
chose forgiveness for the killers, continuing to work in the leprosy
camp in the forsaken interiors of Orissa.

o o o