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The hullabaloo about tableeghi jama’at (TJ)

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In the backdrop of COVID19 surge worldwide, two congregations of the TJ, one (1, 50,000) in Pakistan and another (3,000) in India rippled shock-waves. The both, allegedly, violated official instructions. Hundreds of foreign attendees came to Nizam mosque as `tourists ‘instead of as ‘missionaries’ from 21 countries, including Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia, Sri  Lanka and Kyrgyzstan.

After attending the gathering, they `spread out to other parts of India such as Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh, creating a web of close contacts that now threatens to create an explosion of cases in the country’.

As such, India sealed the mosque, and booked them, including chief priest Maulana Saad, under criminal laws and unleashed a witch hunt to catch those who escaped the dragnet. Seven persons reportedly died of the disease, and as many as 24 detainees tested coronavirus.

One attendee from disputed Jammu and Kashmir died in the mosque. His death was termed martyrdom.

India’s view: `Islamic proselytizers appear to have worked around the scrutiny by hiding the real purpose of their travel to India, blindsiding Indian missions abroad’. And, `they operate in grey areas and their preaching can be used to radicalise youth in the name of Islam’. They cause

`Environmental damage by filing the Yamuna and Ganga with “religious waste” or turning the densely populated and congested Nizamuddin Basti into a “Covid-19 hot spot” for the  sake of an Islamic gathering’. A newspaper asked, `But if this isn’t plain stupidity in the name of Allah, then what is?  Contamination, from Assam to Telangana to the Andamans.

Media allegations: The New York Times reported that the participants in the 16,000-strong gathering [Malaysia] of the world’s biggest Islamic missionary movement had spread the coronavirus to half a dozen nations, creating the “largest known viral vector in Southeast Asia”. “More than 620 people connected to the four-day conclave have tested positive in Malaysia, prompting the country to seal its borders until the end of the month. Most of the 73 coronavirus cases in Brunei are tied to the gathering, as are 10 cases in Thailand”.

On 18 March, Al Jazeera, quoting Malaysian Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, reported that only half of the Malaysian participants who attended have come forward for tests, raising fears that the outbreak from the mosque could be more far-reaching.

Even in Pakistan, 27 members of Tablighi Jama’at, out of the 35 screened at their headquarters in Raiwind, tested positive for coronavirus.

The organisation has been described as “a free-floating religious movement with minimal dependence on hierarchy, leadership positions, and decision-making procedures. Controversies: However, due to its orthodox nature, the sect has been criticised for being retrogressive.

Women are always burqua-clad and the organisation has been accused of keeping women ‘strictly subservient and second string.’

Associated with terror? In France, according to an article, as many as 80% per cent of  the Islamist extremists have come from Tablighi ranks, prompting French intelligence  officers to call Tablighi Jamaat the ‘antechamber of fundamentalism.’ They have also been accused of molding terrorists who have moved to larger terror groups.

Famous members of the organisation include Pakistan’s three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif father and India’s president Dr Zakir Hussain.

Seven deaths have been linked to the religious gathering at “Markaz Nizamuddin”, the Delhi headquarters of the Tablighi Jama’at, and 24 cases have been confirmed.

On the face of it, TJ’s six principles suggest Islamic piety in its extreme. But that is merely its cosmetic exterior, inviting the innocent and idealistic young Muslims into an ideological line that ultimately turns them as terrorists. The less known and dangerous side of the century-old TJ began unfolding the world over since 2001, but not in India.

Dr. Farhan Zahid, in his analysis titled “Tablighi Jamaat and its links with terrorism” [Foreign Analysis  March 2015 Centre Francais de Reserche Sur le Renseignement] descries TJ as `nursery and gateway to terror’. He alleges, perhaps without sufficient corroborative evidence,

“TJ is another system driver and integral element of Islamist Violent Non-State Actors’  internal dynamics; in many cases it has acted as nursery for indoctrinating Islamist  terrorists,” writes Dr Farhan Zahid, a Pakistani counter-terrorism and security expert,  in his analysis titled “Tablighi Jamaat and its links with terrorism” [Foreign Analysis  March 2015 Centre Francais de Reserche Sur le Renseignement]. Dr Farhan says, TJ “in a way plays the role of recruiter and sympathiser [for terrorism]. TJ’s congregation allows radical elements worldwide to meet and discuss violent activities and provide them with the best opportunity to coordinate”. Adding “many of its followers have dual and overlapping membership with jihadist groups”, Dr Farhan cites references and says “TJ has now been considered as a ‘gateway to terrorism’.

Dr Farhan erects his views on TJ’s  `terror record in Europe, US’. He  says since 2001, traces of links have been found between TJ and Islamists  involved in acts of terror. Shoe bomber Richard Reid who attempted a trans-Atlantic  airline bombing [2001], Jose Padilla who tried dirty bomb manufacturing [2002] in New  York city, Barcelona terror plot [2008] and the arrest of American Taliban John Walker in Afghanistan [2001] were all linked to TJ. Its French Muslim recruits were found involved  in planning attacks by the Portland Seven and the Lackawanna Six in the US.

”During the 1980s and 1990s, TJ became the recruiter of Islamist radicals for the Afghan war. Dr Farhan points out that Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami [HuJI] was formed by former TJ members Qari Saifullah Akhtar and Fazal ur Rahman Kalil along with others. 

From the HuJI platform emerged other jihadist outfits – Harkat-ul-Mujhahideen [HuM]  Jaish-e-Mohammed [JeM], Sipah-e-Sahaba [SSP] and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi [LeJ]. All of them stand declared as terror outfits.

In his analysis titled “Tablighi Jamaat: Jihad’s stealthy Legions” in Middle East Quarterly [Jan 8, 2016] Alex Alexiev writes that as 80 per cent of Islamist extremists have come from Tablighi ranks and the French intelligence calls TJ the ‘antechamber of fundamentalism’. 

In his investigative story titled “French Islamic group offers rich soil for militancy’ in The New York Times [April 29, 2005] Craig Smith lists Zacarias Moussaoui [charged in the US 9/11 terror]; Herve Djamel Loiseau, who died fleeing the 2001 American bombardment of Tora Bora in Afghanistan; Djamel Beghal, an admitted Al-Qaeda member, who was convicted in 2005 for plotting to blow up the US Embassy in Paris, as TJ terror activists of French origin. Freth Burton and Scott Stewart, writing in an analysis titled “Tablighi Jamaat: An Indirect Line to Terrorism” in the Stratfor Global Intelligence Security Weekly, say that 12 out of the 14 men arrested in a pre-emptive raid on a mosque in  Barcelona for plotting to attack targets belonged to TJ, adding that TJ’s name figured in the 2005 London underground bombings in which 52 people died and also in the attempted  bombings in London, Glasgow and Scotland. Assistant FBI Director [US] Michael Heimbach says that TJ has significant presence in the US, and Al-Qaeda was found to have recruited TJ adherents [New York Post Dec 27, 2015].

Mohammed Ahmedullah’s book The Pakistan: After The Coup [Harper Collins Publishers India  2000] is full of venom against the TJ. Khaled Ahmed, former diplomat and editor of Friday Times in Pakistan writes in On The Abyss: “Because of the rise of Deobandi  militias…. the [Punjab] province is rapidly losing its Barelvi temperament.” What the authors had prophesied came true in the very next year when Pakistan was found involved in 9/11 attack on the US. Over the years, Pakistan has come to be known as the global terror hub. Says Dr Farhan, “Several mainstream Islamist violent non-state actorshave taken their roots from TJ’s indoctrination and on the platform provided by TJ missionaries. It is the Deobandi ideology of TJ which provides potential jihadists a crucial link.

An India Abroad News Service report on April 1, 2020 titled “Tablighi Jamaat shares links  with terror outfits”, said: “As per WikiLeaks, some of the 9/11 al-Qaeda suspects detained by the US in Guantanamo Bay had stayed in the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Nizamuddin West, New Delhi, years ago. Tablighi Jamaat was also suspected to be involved in the burning of 59 Hindu kar sevaks in 2002 in Godhra, Gujarat, which led to mass communal rioting in the state. According to India’s retired Research and Analysis officer,   late B Raman, TJ in Pakistan and Bangladesh gained adverse attention for association with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and members of the International Islamic Front formed by Osama bin Laden in 1998. Quoting  Pakistani newspaper reports from the 1990s, Raman pointed out that the trained cadre of  jihadi terrorist organisations like HuM obtained visas by posing as preachers of Tablighi Jamaat and went abroad to recruit young Muslims for terror training in Pakistan. Since  millions of TJ proselytisers travel around the world, TJ also developed a large following in Chechnya and Dagestan areas of Russia, Somalia and other African countries. Raman wrote that intelligence agencies of these countries suspected that terror organisations based in Pakistan were using the cover of TJ preaching for creating sleeper cells in different countries. As a result, TJ was black-listed and its preachers denied visas.”

B Raman, one of the most brilliant R&AW officers, passed away in 2013.In a piece titled “The road to Sri Lanka Carnage” on Rediff.com, the well-known security analyst Praveen Swami linked Mohammad Muhsin Nilam, a Sri Lankan, to Zahran Hashim who  was responsible for the Colombo bombings. Also known as Abu Shuraya, Nilam was killed in 

Raqqa, the ISIS capital. Nilam’s story is key to understanding the networks thought to be responsible for the carnage in Colombo. Swami says that Tablighi Jamaat had begun to grow roots among Sri Lankan Muslims from the early 21st century. Swami says, “Educated in Sharia law at Islamabad’s International Islamic University, an institution where Osama bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam once taught, Nilam had encountered with the Tablighi Jamaat. In 2011, when Nilam returned to his home in Kandy in Sri Lanka, he first worked as part-time Urdu instructor at Colombo University. When he was principal of a school in Galewala, he played a key role in Zahran’s group. Then, in 2014, feigning to go on a pilgrimage with his six children, pregnant wife, and ageing parents, he took them to Turkey and disappeared across the border into Syria. He posted in his Facebook post: “We will kill every man, woman, child, Shia, Sunni, Zoroastrians, Kurds, Christians.”Nilam had recruited for ISIS 36 Sri Lankans, maybe 100, including his friend, Thauqeer Ahmed Thajudeen. Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamaat and Tablighi Jamaat have identical goals and their  interests converge. Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaat is the mentor of Sri Lanka’s NationalThowheed Jamaat, which delivered the bombs in Sri Lanka. There is no Thowheed Jamaat  outside India and Sri Lanka.

In a 173-page paper titled “Tablighi Jamaat: Wolf in sheep’s skin [Sept 9, 2018; released to media again after the Nizamuddin episode] Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a Zionist and multi-award-winning anti-jihadist journalist and a counterterrorism specialist, unravels the massive following of JT and its terror connections the world over. Thousands of TJ teachers from within and outside assemble in India and that is what they did in Nizamuddin. Is it just to memorise the six noble principles or as Dr Farhan says “to 

discuss and coordinate terror activities”, will never be known in India, as no government has the guts to enter any mosque, thanks to the way secularism is understood in our  politics.Unless this limit is breached and the menace is outlawed, innocent Muslims attracted by its cosmetic exterior of Koran cannot be saved from becoming carriers of  Kalashnikovs and makers and throwers of lethal bombs. Let the courts decide whether TJ’s right to mentor terror in India also constitutes minority right, as is so far being understood.

Analysis: It appears that anti-Pakistan elements, including those in prestigious’ think tanks, and `intellectuals’ make pernicious allegations about TJ. Most writers appear to be sponsored by RAW, India’s premier intelligence agency. Indians in `think tank’ are in the forefront of disinformation. The aim is to tarnish Pakistan’s image. As for the USA, it is afraid of organisational  abilty and discipline  of the TJ.

Take RAND’s monograph `The Muslim World after 9/11 (RAND Project Air Force). The bloomers in the monograph caricature Rand Corporation claim on the report-jacket.  ‘The RAND Corporation is a non-profit research organisation providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world…The RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity’. ‘Objective analysis’?

 The report, influenced by Indian `peer reviewer’ Rollie Lal, is just a compilation of the others’ say-so, unverified presumptions, rumours or legends, dished out as ‘truths’. The monograph alleges `Al Qaeda recruits may have connection with Pakistan’s Tableeghi Jamat’. ‘However, the [Tableeghi] gathering is often a means to get into Pakistan, and once the individuals are in, they are fairly free to associate with whomever they desire…Raiwand is heavily monitored by a variety of intelligence organisations such as Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI), and the special branch [statement contradicting preceding allegation], p.259, ibid.).

.Here is a bouquet of RAND’s jaundiced blahs: (a) Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, are known to have connections to Al Qaeda, but are based in Pakistan rather than India (p. 308, ibid.). With the largest population of Muslims in the world, India remains an example of the compatibility of Islam and democracy (p.318, ibid.). (b) A figure titled “Muslim tendencies on a Spectrum of Democracy to Non-Democracy” classifies “Jam’at al Ulema-e-Pakistan” and “Jama’t-e-Islami (Pakistan)” as “Radical Fundamentalist” (p.10, ibid.). (c) Effects of Palestinian and Kashmir conflicts….Successive Pakistani governments have pursued a proxy war in Kashmir. To which they have subordinated the other purposes of Pakistani state to a large extent. This dynamic has dramatically changed the fabric of Pakistan’s domestic politics by empowering extremist movements and their sponsors in the Pakistan security services’ (pp. 49-50, ibid.). (d) As long as the Kashmir dispute remains unresolved to the satisfaction of India, Pakistan and the various Kashmiri constituencies, and as long as militant production and training infrastructure persists in Pakistan, security on the subcontinent will be a distant dream (p.295, ibid.). (e) In Pakistan, maulvis generally depend on the landlord (Chowdhury)…In some cases, the maulvis are even criminals (p.293, ibid.). (f) ‘Many in Pakistan have argued that the current army, though the most secular, is also the most anti-American (p.293, ibid.) [No mention of Pak army casualties and capture of over 700 al-qaeda stalwarts]. (g)  Madrassa reform is the key to breaking the cycle of radicalised madrassas [madaaris] producing cannon fodder for radical and terrorist groups (p.62, ibid.). … It has been impossible to repeal or amend the much-loathed Hudud ordinance, the blasphemy law, or the ban on alcohol (pp.290-291, ibid.). (h) Figure 0.1 in the monograph titled ‘Muslim tendencies on a Spectrum of Democracy to Non-Democracy’ classifies ‘Jamaat al Ulema-i-Pakistan’ and ‘Jamaat-i-Islami (Pakistan)’ as ‘Radical Fundamentalist” (p.10).

Inference: The eclectic media reports toe RAND’s. probably US-dictated line. RAND’s “mosque-and-madrassa reforms” reflect that the authors have never visited any madrassa. TJ has no militant agenda, so far. Through stretch of wild imagination it is being linked to militancy. India is fearful of TJ’s visits to Kashmir under her yoke.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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Religious Tourism in Pakistan: The Case of Sikhism & Buddhism

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Religious tourism plays an important role in reviving the country’s economic activity through promoting religious-based tourism. Realizing the economic and political importance of this sector, the Government has taken ample measures to support this industry. Hence, with Government support and improved law and order situation, religious-based tourism in Pakistan is flourishing and attracting different communities.

Pakistan is situated in a region that has been home to diverging civilizations, the world’s two major religions Buddhism and Sikhism have been dominant in this land for many centuries. Besides, this region also hosted followers of pre-historic religions such as the Aryan, Barhaman, and ancient Iranian and Greeks dated back to 5,000 years. Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab provinces of Pakistan, therefore, have plenty of historical sites linked to the two religions.

According to various global traveling planners, Buddhist tourism has an estimated market of 100 million dollars across the world. Pakistan’s Gandhara region comprising Mardan, Taxila, and Swat holds a special value for them. Large to medium-sized stupas of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and other heritage sites in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt, from the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region to the tourist valley of Swat are very famous among Buddhist tourists from across the globe. A 2016 Gallup survey of the Buddhist population across a selected pool of countries identified 58 million “interested visitors”, out of which 5pc (2.9 million) were “likely to visit” Pakistan.

Importantly, all the Buddhist heritage sites are fully protected and got the status of heritage. Pakistan has seen a significant increase in the number of Buddhist tourists from Japan, Korea, Hongkong, China, and Sri Lanka in the last few years. Pakistan is home to thousands of Buddhists who enjoy all types of perks, privileges, and rights and enjoy liberty like other citizens. The most visited and holiest places for Buddhism in Pakistan are Dharmarajika Stupa, Sleeping Buddha, Takht-i-Bhai, Stupa of Mankiala, and Gandhara civilization.

Takhtbai is a small scenic town located, around 160 kilometers from the capital Islamabad, is the most visited site by the Buddhists, who flock to see the ancient monastery dated back to the 1st century. Takht-i-Bahi alone has the potential to attract a major proportion of the 50 million Mahayana Buddhists in Korea, China, and Japan.

Another very important site located at Taxila in Punjab is also considered a very sacred site for Buddhists, this site includes a Mesolithic cave and the archaeological remains of several Buddhist monasteries.

Korean Buddhists in particular trace their religious origin to the area that is now Pakistan, where Korean monk Hyecho traveled 1,300 years ago. A few years back, a 48-feet-long Buddha was also unearthed in Haripur Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, making it the world’s oldest sleeping Buddha statue.

Guru Nanak was the founder of the Sikh faith and Darbar Sahib was his last resting place, therefore, Sikhs consider Pakistan as a holy place. The five most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs include Kartarpur Sahib, Gurdwara Panja Sahib, Gurdwara Dera Sahib Lahore, Nankana Sahib, and Samadhi of Ranjit Singh Lahore. Sikh tourism, heritage, cultural and religious tourism are the gems of Punjab.

The successful opening of the Kartarpur corridor has encouraged many in the global Sikh community to consider visiting the holy Sikh site in the heart of Pakistan. The Kartarpur Corridor, an initiative by the current civil-military leadership of Pakistan is intended to link a Gurudwara Darbar Sahib across the Indian side. The opening of the Kartarpur corridor (Narowal) attracted more religious tourists to Pakistan.

Pakistan knows how to respect other religions and recognizes the need for religious freedom. According to Article 36, the Constitution of Pakistan enshrines that the state will protect the legal rights and interests of ethnic minorities.

The development of the Kartarpur Corridor is part of the same effort to promote religious freedom and harmony of ethnic minorities. In November 2021, more than 8000 Sikh pilgrims from all over the world visited Pakistan to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, out of which 3000 entries were allowed by Pakistan High Commission in India.

To facilitate the tourists; Pakistan, in 2019 launched an online visa application process, easing the lengthy process of visa. It has shortened the visa process considerably, which is a major improvement over the traditional visa application process. Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) also holds roadshows and seminars through Pakistani embassies across the world to attract religious tourism. Pakistan has massive potential for religious tourism especially in the case of Sikhs and Buddhists. The federal government has also planned to use the country’s potential for religious tourism and developed special strategies for preserving religious places and providing services to tourists who come here to visit holy places. Adequate hospitality for believers, in addition to generating income, is also helping to improve Pakistan’s soft image. Pakistan is focused to provide all the facilities to religious tourists like simple visa processing, their stay, hoteling, transportation, etc. Pakistan has become the torchbearer of religious tourism and inter-faith harmony across the globe.

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Santa Claus rueful at imminent Christmas in India

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Ahead of Christmas, Indian police raided a shishu bhavan (infant house or orphanage) in Kolcatta (West Bengal) and another at Vdodra (Gujarat), Indian prime minister’s home state. The Kolkatta orphanage was established by Mother Teresa herself, and was being run by the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata since February11, 2014. The raiding police claimed that the orphanages were forcibly converting Hindu children to Christianity. They were forced to wear cross, recite the Holy Bible, and eat pork. The orphanage administrations deny the charges and call them “trumped up.  For instance a nun at the Kolkatta orphanage pointed out that the police acted upon complaint of the estranged father of an infant whose mother worked in the kitchen. The orphanage served only vegetarian food and chicken once a week (Indian police probe Mother Teresa’s charity, raid orphanage for ‘forced conversion’ , Licas News, December 15, 2021).

 The persecution of Christians rose by leaps and bounds after Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory and. appointment of Narendra Modi’sas prime minister of India. The raids were not isolated events. During the year 2021, there were over 300 attacks on Christians.

In its reportage dated December 23, 2021, the prestigious Dawn demanded Modi “should be prosecuted for not prosecuting and restricting religious freedom”. It added, “Many human rights groups in India have documented over 300 incidents of Christian persecution in the first nine months of the current year, warning that the Christmas this year might be the worst. The US Commission on Religious Freedom has requested the State Department to label India as a “country of particular concern. The persecution against Christians and other religious minorities have increased since 2014 when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power, and Narendra Modi became the prime minister. Christians in India brace for persecution as Christmas approaches. However, there are serious concerns over hate against Christians’ places of worship in India. In recent months, there has been a surge of violence against Christians who make only 2.3 per cent of India’s population. India has been ranked the 10th worst country globally by the Open Doors USA 2021 World Watch List when it comes to Christian persecution (Minorities in India facing persecution, Dawn, December 23, 2021).

As incriminating evidence, the raiding police mention “13 Bibles were found in the library of the institute and girls staying there were forced to read the religious text”. The Missionaries of Charity, founded in 1950 by the late Mother Teresa, denied the allegations.

In Madhya Pradesh state, authorities also, authorities raided an orphanage, The St Francis Sevadham (charity home) orphanage in Shyampura area (Sagar district) on suspicion that children were fed beef and made to read the Bible. Father Shinto Varghese, director of St. Francis Sevadham orphanage said beef is not even available in the state and only chicken is served once a week and “other nutritious substitutes for vegetarians.”

The priest also clarified that denied that scriptures of all faiths were placed in the prayer room, not bibles only, and that no one was forced to read the Bible as claimed. Father Varghese, who had taken, said the real issue is the 277-acre land that was leased to the orphanage in 1875 for a period of 99 years.

He alleged that upon pressure of Hindu hardliners the state government now wants to take the land.

Earlier there were attacks on churches in New Delhi on February 5, 2015. Following the attack, Christians demonstrated outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Christians say they have been feeling very insecure since 2014 when Narendra Modi came to.

In 2020, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom listed India as a “country of particular concern” for the first time since 2004.

Attacks on Christian-managed schools

Such attacks are seldom reported. But, the recent attack by a Hindu mob of 200 to 300 people in Madhya Pradesh came into limelight. According to Brother Anthony Tynumkal, principal of St Joseph School, the mob pelted stones at the building. They later barged into the school while students were taking their exam.

Sister Clarissa, speaking from the house in Vadodara, said: “We are in shock, what they say is not true at all and the investigations are ongoing.”

Archbishop Felix MachadoVasai, secretary general of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, told the Asia News agency that he was “deeply distressed” by the investigation.

Although nearly 80 per cent of the country’s one billion population are Hindu, there are also 28 million Christians, who make up 2.3 per cent of its population. Some Christian communities in India were established by St Thomas, the Apostle, in the first century.

Hindu nationalist politicians often stoke hatred against Christians and other minorities (dalit, Muslims, etc) castigating them as outsiders who cannot be trusted. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Sangh Parivar, BJP and other Hindu outfits ‘ slogan is “Hindustan is for the Hindus”. They want Christians and Muslims to leave India as they look towards Vatican City or Mecca. The country in 2020 was ranked the 10th worst in the world for the persecution of Christians by Open Doors, the human rights group.

Why Hindus convert to Christianity

Hindus, particularly the low castes, embrace Christianity or Islam because of the regressive Hindu caste system (Varna, averna, saverna). There are no forceful conversions though several states have outlawed coercive conversions.

Disgusted with religio-economic extremism, more and more people, including dalit (down-trodden) are converting to Christianity, a class-less community. Dalits are not allowed to enter even high-caste Hindu temples. Some dalits were even killed at doorsteps of temples for daring tread foot-steps to temples. According to religious tables in India’s Census Report, 24 million Christians constitute 2.3 percent of India’s total population of 1,028 million. The Christian population includes 14 million Christian dalits. Dalits are Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist members of “untouchable” castes who convert to Christianity. The “untouchable” (sudra) Christians are the most neglected community in India.

Roots of Christianity in India

Christianity is India’s third-most followed religion after Hinduism and Islam. According to religious tables in India’s 2011 census of population, excepting counting, errors and omissions, about 28 million Christians live in India. They constitute 2.3 percent of India’s population.   Thomas the Apostle introduced Christianity to India. He reached the Malabar Coast (Kerala) in 52 AD. And, he carried on preaching in every nook and corner of India until martyred.

Today, Christians live all across particularly in South India and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeast India. Through sheer hard work, Indian Christians developed niches in all walks of Indian national life. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners. To the ruling Bharatiya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after Jains. Christian women outnumber men among the various religious communities in India. The fanatic Hindus fear lest Christianity, with its egalitarian and social- service message, should engulf Hinduism.

Arrival of Catholicism

Till 16th century, Roman Catholicism was unknown to India.   It was introduced by the Portuguese, Italian and Irish Jesuits who preached the gospel of Jesus Christ among the Indians. Alongside preaching, the preachers established Christian schools, hospitals, primary health-care centres through their missions. Later, British, American, German, Scottish missionaries came to preach Evangelical. The evangelist introduced English in missionary schools and translated the Holy Bible into various Indian languages (including Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and others).

Christians now form a major religious group in three states of India:  Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland with plural majority in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.  Significant Christian population lives in Coastal Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Kanara (South India).

Pioneers of persecution

India’s present prime minister Narendra Modi, when chief minister of Gujarat state, and LK Advani could be called pioneers of anti-Christian movement. They distributed Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto, which, inter alia, spoke of enacting an anti-conversion law in states including Gujarat. The laws against conversion are meant to persecute minorities.

The BJP’s manifesto was outcome of decades of hatred, stoked up by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) elements acting with legal impunity and state governments’ connivance. The anti-Muslim hatred created a gory situation first in Gujarat and then in Orissa. The BJP accentuated its propaganda to create an incendiary situation against the aforementioned minorities in different states during elections.

The BJP acted hands in gloves with Sangh Parivar a collection of Hindu nationalist organisations co-operating towards making India a Hindu State to weave religion and politics strategically together in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enabling the Sangh to exploit religion for political gain.

The country’s legislative history, relating to the issue of conversion underscores the reality that the government always harbored grudge against conversion. Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan. Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu passed Freedom of Religion Acts. A common feature of these anti-conversion law is that they made so-called ‘forced conversion’ a cognisable offence under sections 295 A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code.

Cognisability of the offence allowed police to harass missionaries and converts under influence of Hindu fanatics or Government functionaries. Some Indian courts intervened to stop persecution of nouveau converts or Christian preachers. For instance, Chief Justice A.N. Ray in Reverend Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1977 SC 908), and Yulitha v. State of Orissa and others, ruled that propagation is different from conversion. Ray observed adoption of a new religion is freedom of conscience, while conversion would impinge on ‘freedom of choice’ granted to all citizens alike. But the state governments remained nonchalant to the courts’ observations. The courts’ decisions being declaratory (certiorari), not mandatory (mandamus), remained un-implemented. Interestingly, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (February 1981) advised the State Governments and Union Territories to enact laws to regulate change of religion on the lines of the existing Acts in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh (The Statesman, Delhi, November 16, 1982).

There are iron-clad guarantees in the Constitution for religious freedom. Yet, not only the born Christians but also Hindus who become Christians complain of persecution. It is not only Orissa, but also several other Indian states that have passed anti-conversion bills forbidding Hindus to convert to other religions. Such legislation violates the UN Charter of Human Rights which gives a person the right to change his or her religion.

Majoritarian justification

The ostensible justification for such laws is that, in a democracy, the majority has the right to benefit from the principle of ‘majority rule. So, Hindustan (India) is primarily for the Hindus only.

The anti-conversion campaign aimed at restricting the right to propagate religion, which is guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. The aim of the two parties was to convert India into a Hindu state. India claims to be a secular country. But, unfortunately

Harassment and social boycott

To discourage dalits from converting to Christianity, not only the Centre but also the Indian states have deprived ‘dalit Christians’ of minority-status privileges. Any Hindu who converts to Christianity is socially boycotted and tortured in different ways. Six women at Kilipala village in Jagatsinghpur district (Orissa) had their heads tonsured by influential Hindus. Their offence was abandoning Hindu faith at their own free will. Christian missionaries are harassed, deported and even killed. The Indian government ordered ‘deportation of three American preachers from Church of Christ in North Carolina on the first available flight to the US.’.

To add insult to their injury, the preachers were even attacked by Hindu fanatics. They had a narrow escape. Courts rarely punish people who manhandle Christian preachers. Dara Singh murdered Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons.

A few years back, Hindus attacked Christians as tit-for-tat for a book which allegedly insulted Hindu deities. Investigations revealed that the book was not written by any Christian. But, it happened to be displayed on one of the Emmanuel Mission’s book-shops for sale. The Mission is a Christian organisation that runs a chain of schools in various Indian states.

RSS dubs the Christians “anti-national and terrorists”

In a resolution, the RSS has called upon the Hindus, particularly Swayamsevaks, to be vigilant about `anti-national and terrorist’ Christian groups, posing a threat to the country’s internal security. It urged the Government to take strong measures against said groups. They condemned Pope John Paul II’s statement criticising Indian states’ legislations banning conversions of the Hindus by missionaries.  The executive declared that such conversions were a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the country. It is significant to mention that the Pope had just said that ‘‘free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom was prohibited in India”. RSS’s resolution ignored that the right to change one’s religion was enshrined in the UNO’s Charter of Human Rights, also.

The RSS urged the Centre to lodge a protest with the Pope for exhorting the Christian missionaries to carry on their campaign of conversions defying the law of the land. The persecution continued for five more years. On 12 October 2008, he Pope Benedict XVI was compelled to draw the Indian government’s attention to the continuing anti-Christian violence in India.

On 28 October, the Vatican called upon the memory of Mahatma Gandhi for an end to the religious violence in Orissa. In a written appeal addressed to Hindus, the Vatican office said Christian and Hindu leaders needed to foster a belief in non-violence among followers (“Vatican invokes Gandhi in plea to end Orissa violence“. In.reuters.com. 28 October 2008).

Christians dubbed `insurgents’

In his interview with India Today (April 4, 2005, Christian Missionaries are with Naxals, page 80-81), K. S. Sudersan (Rashtrya Swayem Sevak Sangh) says, ‘Naxals have a safe base in Andhra Pradesh because Christian missionaries are with them. They attack mandir (temples) and other Hindu institutions but never attack a Church.  Because the Chief Minister is a Christian, he has given them abhaydaan (freedom from fear) and crowds of two lakh or more they can gather’.

Sizeable number of Christians (Catholics) also lives in Pondicherry and Goa. A much smaller number live scattered amongst the majority Hindu population in the rest of India.

More incidents of violence

Incidents of violence against Christians have occurred in nearly all parts of India, particularly in north, central, and western India, in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and the capital area of New Delhi.

Genocide

The genocide of Christians in India’s north-eastern state Orissa was outcome of Hindus’ muffled hatred against Christians. Over 500 Christians, including some nuns, were burnt alive. Countless churches, houses and shops were gutted. Even Christian orphanages were not spared.

Attacks on churches

In June 2000, four churches around India were bombed (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu).  A church in Maharashtra was ransacked.  In September 2008, two churches were partly damaged in Kerala. In 2015, a church building under construction was vandalised in Haryana. St. George church in Mumbai was also attacked by masked persons. In the same month, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and more than a dozen people were injured. The same cathedral had also been attacked in 2008 and the entire altar burnt down. In April 2015, St. Mary’s Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus were damaged. A Church in the Kachna area of Raipur was attacked by a mob during a Sunday service and five people were injured when they tried to stop the assailants.

Several churches were attacked in the capital Delhi in recent years. They include St. Sebastian’s Church (burned), St. Stephen’s college chapel May 5, 2018 (vandalised and the cross desecrated with pro-Hindutva slogans).

In Madhya Pradesh a church was destroyed and bibles were burnt in Mandla district in September 2014. In March 2015, a Bible convention was attacked in Jabalpur, with allegations that religious conversions were taking place. So on.

Concluding remarks

Hindus are an ungrateful nation. They ignore the fact that Christian missionaries started coming to India, particularly the North-East, in the late 19th century. They promoted education and socio-economic developmental work in the region. In Rajasthan, the Emmanuel Mission, alone, runs over 50 schools.

India should have the decency to let Christians celebrate Christmas freely.

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Religion

The Hindu, Hinduism, and Hindutva

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Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s book Sunrise Over Ayodhya has irked not only the Hindu extremists but also some moderate leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad. The bone of contention is his comparison of  Hindutva to terror outfits with ISIS and Boko Haram. Some people pelted stones on Khurshid’s Nainital residence, before trying to set it afire. In viral videos, Khurshid says,’If you want to see what Hindutva does, see the burnt door in my Nainital home’. Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of the occupied Kashmir, and Rahul Gandhi supported Khurshid’s observations in the book. Mehbooba said, `Those who make Hindus and Muslims fight in the name of religion can be compared with ISIS or any other (terror group) because both of them kill people in the name of religion’. Referring to ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family, as taught by Hindu scriptures), she said: “Sanatan Dharma teaches us that the world is one family. What BJP and RSS are trying to teach us is neither Hindutva nor Hinduism.”

She said Sananatan dharam teaches inclusivity and BJP is antithesis to that. Mehbooba clarified that the real Sanatan Dharma doesn’t teach communalism. She accused RSS-BJP combine of hijacking Hinduism and Hindutva, and making people fight against each other all over the country.

Rahul Gandhi questioned, ‘Is Hinduism about beating a Sikh, or a Muslim? And then answered ‘Yes, Hindutva, of course, is’.

The Hindu and Hindutva

The ‘Hindu’ were persons inhabiting the Indus valley area and beyond. The territory inhabited by them was Hindustan. But the communalistic Hindu calls the territory Hindusthan (the Hindu’s place). The suffix ‘-stan’ being of non-Hindu origin is obnoxious to the communalists. The communalists find Bharatvarsha more palatable. This word originated from an ancient Hindu king Bharatvarsha. The communalists’ outfits like Sangh Parivar use this name preferentially as it emphasizes Vedic roots of the country and its original people.

According to the bulk of literature on the subject, `Hinduism’ is not a closely-knit or bounded faith or collection of doctrines. It is a religion (mazhab), not a deen, or a way of life without a founder. According to Encyclopedia Britannica 1994-2001: “Hinduism is both a civilization and a congregation of religions: it has neither a beginning nor a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy nor organization. Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved unsatisfactory in one way or another…”.

Hinduism does not have One Church, One Pope, One Prophet, One Holy Book or One Ritual. A One can be a Hindu as well as a believer or an agnostic or an atheist!

Hinduism does not prescribe one system of marriage or one system of succession/inheritance. The Hindu law reforms (1955-1956) tried to bring about uniformity but diverse practices continue.

Hinduism allows a Hindu to worship other gods and saints. Thousands of Hindus go to worship at the shrine in Velankanni or pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar or offer obeisance at the Dargah Sharif in Ajmer.

Hindutva

Hindutva is controversially defined in Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his book Hindutva and adopted by Hedgewar as the basis of his ideology (An Indian parliamentary committee resurrected him as a hero by allowing his portrait to be hung in Indian parliament). The RSS’s aims are a mix of cultural, religious and political objectives – To serve Hindu dharma (religion), sanskriti (culture) and rashtra (nation). Sarvarkar distinguishes ‘Hinduism’ from ‘Hindutva’. He clarified that the `Hinduism’ was concerned with `relevance of life after death, the concept of God and the Universe’. ‘Hindutva’, on the other hand, was ‘Hindus being a nation, bound by a common culture, a common history, a common language, a common country and a common religion’.

Two camps

The book has brought into limelight the bitter reality that the majority of India wants a minority-mukt  India. The feeble voices about peaceful existence are fading. The RSS, BJP and their ilk speak the same language.

Mohan Bhagwat (RSS) who shouts ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, actually prefers the term “Hindu” to “Bhartiya,”. Bhagwat equates “Hindu” and “Bhartiya/Indian”.

While speaking on the occasion of launching the Krishnanand Sagar’s  book ‘Vibhajan Kalin Bharat ke Sakshi’ (The Witnesses of Partition-era India), Bhagwat said, ‘India’s suffering at the time of Partition should not be forgotten and that it will go away when the Partition is “undone”. This is India of 2021 and not of 1947’.

He spoke in the same vein as had Pandit Jawahar lal Nehru and Vallabha Patel. Before his final flight (Aug 7, 1947) from Delhi to Pakistan, the Quaid sent a message to the Indian government: “the past must be buried and let us start as two independent sovereign states of Hindustan and Pakistan, I wish Hindustan prosperity and peace.”

But, Vallabhbhai Patel replied from Delhi: “the poison has been removed from the body of India.” Even Nehru, an ostensibly liberal leader, regarded the creation of Pakistan as a blunder. His rant against Pakistan reaches a crescendo in his remarks: “I shall not have that carbuncle on my back.” (D. H. Bhutani, The Future of Pakistan, page 14).

There is marked similarity between Bhagwat’s speech and Narendra Modi’s speech earlier. While delivering the Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15 earlier this year, PM Modi declared, ‘August 14 will be observed as the ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’. He described partition as “one of the biggest tragedies” of the last century.

Jihad under Hinduism and other religions

The concept of holy wars (or call it terrorism) exists in many religions.In the historical context, the term “holy war” meant different things to different individuals and communities. The oldest ‘terrorists’ were holy warriors who killed civilians. Recent examples of religious terrorists are Aum Shinrikyo (Japanese), Rabbi Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir (Jews).  The Israeli media describes Hezbollah and Hamas as ‘religious terrorists.’ In the first century A.D Palestine, the Jews publicly slit the Romans’ throats. In the seventh century India, the thugs strangulated gullible passersby to please the Hindu Devi Kali. And the 19th century, adherents of Narodnaya Volya (people’s will) mercilessly killed their pro-Tsar rivals. The term `terrorism’ became notorious during the French reign of terror in 1793-94.

It is now common to dub one’s adversary a ‘terrorist’. Afghan “freedom fighters” became “terrorists” like the Kashmiri freedom fighters. Doing so, forecloses the possibility of political negotiation and gives the powerful definer the right to eliminate the ‘terrorist’.

Gita:  Verse 193 is no different from what Krishan taught Arjun. How is this any different from Lord Krishna telling Arjun in the Bhagavad Gita to fight as his dharmic duty?

BG 2.33: “अथ चैत्त्वमिमं धर्म्यं संग्रामं न करिष्यसि। ततः स्वधर्मं कीर्तिं च हित्वा पापमवाप्स्यसि। (O Arjuna! If you do not fight for this religion and turn away from your religion, then you will lose your fame and glory).” Surely, Hindus will know the context.

 Bible: Deuteronomy 20:1-4: “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory’.”

Torah: Do Torah’s verses also speak of genocide and pillage?

Numbers 31:1-10 say: The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites; then you shall be gathered to your kin.” Moses spoke to the people, saying, and “Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. You shall dispatch on the campaign a thousand from every one of the tribes of Israel.” … “The Israelites took the women and children of the Midianites captive, and seized as booty all their beasts, all their herds, and all their wealth. And they destroyed by fire all the towns in which they were settled, and their encampments.”

Hindu holy and unholy wars

The Ramayanas and the Mahabharata wars elucidate various types of yuddha (wars). In ancient India there were three schools of war. Bhishma’s school of warfare belonged to dharma yuddha (ethical or just war). Two other schools, Brihaspati and Krishna’s school of warfare belonged to koota yuddha (all-out war) or maya yuddha (war by tricks or stratagems). There is too much of negative publicity about Islamic jihad (struggle). But, there is little limelight on koota yuddha in India’s history. Koota yuddha signifies all-out, no-holds-barred or unethical warfare.

Bhishma stressed chivalry and ruled out surprise and deception. But Brihaspati recommended that the king should attack an enemy only if the enemy’s strength is one-third of his own (`Udyog Parva’). He suggested that the king should never trust the enemy or spare him, no matter how old or virtuous he may be.

Concluding remark

The world is unconscious about the undercurrents of Hindu jihad in Indian politics. It is manifest from lynching minorities and legislativive steps to gag voice of minorities struggling for rights. Some political parties are exploiting Hindutva concept to hoodwink masses and win elections. Political gains are uppermost in BJP’s mind. It has agreed to withdraw controversial farm laws but will never withdraw anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizenship. 

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