Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pogrom in India

In India Christians are being killed and driven from their villages, and part of the reason may be that the Christians in India are converting—as did Christ—from the lowest classes; in this case the caste of the untouchables, so oppressed by the Hindus that even Gandhi resisted giving them any rights.

This was written about in First Things recently and here is an excerpt.

“On August 23 of this year, armed men stormed a Hindu school in the Kandhamal district in Orissa, a remote and destitute state in eastern India, and killed the Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his followers. (Saraswati had belonged to a radical Hindu association opposed to the conversion of Hindus to Christianity.) Although the police suspected Maoist rebels were responsible (a letter was left behind by a local Maoist group claiming responsibility), local Hindus blamed Christians and in retaliation five hundred houses were burned.

“Since that fateful evening, Hindu violence against Christians has spread throughout south and central parts of the country. Not two days later, at least sixteen people were killed in a nearby village, in a clearly premeditated attack. Reporters for the New York Times wrote:

“Those who came to attack Christians here early last week set their trap well, residents say. First, they built makeshift barricades of trees and small boulders along the roads leading into this village, apparently to stop the police from intervening. Then, villagers say, the attackers went on a rampage. Chanting “Kill these pigs” and “All Hindus are brothers,” the mob began breaking into homes that displayed posters of Jesus, stealing valuables and eventually burning the buildings. When they found residents who had not fled to the nearby jungle, they beat them with sticks or maimed them with axes and left them to die. A local official said three people died as a result of the attack on August 25. The carefully placed roadblocks accomplished their purpose; residents say a full day passed before help arrived. One villager, Asha Lata Nayak, said, “I saw the mob carrying sticks, axes, swords, knives, and small guns. They first demolished the village church and later Christian houses. Nobody came forward to help us.”

“The violence continues to this day and has spread far beyond Orissa. Given the large number of incidents involved, repeated over several weeks, one cannot help wondering why these events have received so little coverage in the rest of the media. (With one exception—the Times story cited above—I learned all I know about these events from Catholic websites.) Of course, there is an election going on, and Wall Street is under assault from a herd of wild bears. But still.

“No doubt, part of the problem is that Hinduism is the most nation-specific religion on the planet, and no country is harder for the foreigner to understand than India. Among other implications, this means that Hindu violence—whether against Muslims, Sikhs, or Christians—remains confined to India, which, vast as it is, does not present the geopolitical challenge as does Muslim radicalism.

“Another dimension to these woes comes from the fact that the modern, independent state of India was midwifed by the most remarkable orgy of communal violence in human history: More than one-and-a-half million Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus (though not so many Christians) died in mutual massacres during the slow partition of Pakistan from India that culminated in full independence from Britain for both countries in August 1947. The embers of this violent birth have never died out, as the novelist and Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul noted in his usual sardonic way:

“The liberation of spirit that has come to India [since 1947] could not come as release alone. In India, with its layer below layer of distress and cruelty, it had to come as disturbance. It had to come as rage and revolt. India was now a country of a million little mutinies.

“Underneath all those little “layered mutinies” lurks what might be called the Greater Ongoing Mutiny: the demand for full political rights by the untouchable caste (often called by their Hindi name, dalits, and by the euphemism “Scheduled Classes” in government officialese). Even the Mahatma Gandhi opposed dalit political rights. (He once told an American interviewer, “Untouchability for me is more insufferable than British rule; if Hinduism embraces [it], then Hinduism is dead and gone.”)”