Rip Van Winkle and Raman Singh Government

Can an elected Panchayat deprive a section of its own people belonging to a minority community its constitutionally granted right to practise its religion – e.g. organise prayers or engage in religious propaganda and have sermons?

Or can it ever deprive them of their mandatory quota of grain under PDS (public distribution system) which is focused more on persons living below poverty line?

Anyone conversant with rudimentary understanding of law would reply in the negative. It appears that in Chattisgarh they do it differently. In fact, Sirisguda, Kunguda and many other villages in Jagdalpur and adjoining areas in the state are in the news for similar reasons.

Few days back a team of civil liberty activists belonging to PUCL had visited the villages and had come back with stories of intimidation faced by a section of the villagers – mainly belonging to Christian community – at the hands of Hindutva fanatics. Many amongst them have even left for Jagdalpur fearing reprisal attacks by them. These tribals are being pressurised to ‘return to Hinduism’.

The local MP from the area – belonging to BJP – had organised a big ‘reconversion’ programme ( presented as ‘gharvapasi’ ) in Kunguda on 11 th October which ‘witnessed’ 33 tribal families embracing Hinduism. It is rumoured that the actual figure was low and many of the ‘convertees’ were Hindus only. The big congregation organised on this occasion was followed by a procession in the village itself where anti-Christian slogans were raised which further terrorised the people.

A tragedy is that the local media is either silent over these developments or is presenting one sided versions of the whole developments there. And as far as the police is concerned it is no better. The very fact that resolutions of the local Panchayats are being used to deprive the minority Christians (all of them tribals) of their basic constitutional rights does not seem to be their concern. The hapless christian tribals are even denied grain under PDS Scheme.

Double standards adopted by the district administration vis-a-vis conversions are for everyone to see. Concerned citizens are raising a very valid question about the selective application of the tough anti-conversion law in practice in the state. While the law mandates that before any conversion the said party should contact the district administration , activists are saying it is strictly implemented in case of Christians and other minorities only while similar attempts by the  majority community are going unchecked. It is as if the state is protector of a particular religion and not its secular principles.

It need be reminded that it is not for the first time that these villages are in the news. Few months back reports had appeared in a section of the press (‘The Hindu’ Updated: July 5, 2014 23:18 IST ) about developments in these villages. According to it an

‘[a]ggressive campaign by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had led to a ban on the entry of and propaganda by non-Hindu missionaries, especially Christians, in more than 50 villages of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region in the last six months.’

Referring to a discussion with a local Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader it had even talked how these Panchayats passed orders under Section 129 (G) of the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act banning all “non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers and speeches in the villages.”

An order passed by Sirisguda Panchayat read as follows :

“To stop the forced conversion by some outsider religious campaigners and to prevent them from using derogatory language against Hindu deities and customs, the Sirisguda Gram Sabha bans religious activities such as prayers, meetings and propaganda of all non-Hindu religions.” (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/in-bastar-50-villages-ban-nonhindu-missionaries/article6180825.ece)

It is disturbing to know that despite the ‘illegal and unconstitutional’ step not much was done to rein in the violators and the situation was allowed to deteriorate further. Reports in few national dailies were to no avail. Today when the situation seems to have become worse, there is further silence on part of the media. One does not know what will happen next.

Whether the Raman Singh government would rise from its deep slumber and would do something about it remains to be seen.

As an aside it may be mentioned that the Narendra Modi government, which believes itself to be efficient and hard working, recently got a slap on the wrist from the Supreme Court which said it behaved like ‘Kumbhakarna‘, the mythological character who loved sleeping for long periods, and 19th century story character ‘Rip Van Winkle’, who shirked hard work. A two member bench of the highest court was deliberating on the failure of the ministry of environment and forests to submit a report in stipulated time.

Perhaps it is high time that the highest courts of the country suo motto reminds the Raman Singh government of its constitutionally mandated duties and tell it not to behave like Rip Van Winkle in executing them.

7 thoughts on “Rip Van Winkle and Raman Singh Government”

  1. The highest courts of India sure should guarantee religious freedom of the people in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, but how can they if no one, Individual or organization, approaches them? I am a bit confused, as it is not clear if it has been done.

    1. There are occasions when one learns that judiciary decides to intervene when it comes across news about say ‘bad conditions in government hospitals’ and issues notice to the concerned authorities, there have also been occasions when judges have acted suo motto when they themselves were caught in some traffic jam caused by some strike by workers. ( It happened few years back in Kolkatta).

      Let me admit that I am personally not much aware about the legal nuances but I fail to understand what happens to the much valorised judicial activism when it comes to ‘hate speeches’ or ‘targetting of vulnerable sections of our society’ by the high and the might trampling under the feet all guarantees bestowed upon them by the constitution. It is worth emphasising that Justice A M Ahmadi, (retd) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had in his thought provoking article ‘Judicial Activism’ had expressed similar concern.

  2. There should be religious freedom – which I would think should mean that the tribals should be left to practice whatever they have been practicing for ages and not being told that what they are doing is wrong and calling them ‘pagans’. Both Hindus and Christians should keep their hands off them! A missionary throws a wooden cross and a metal idol in a water body and tell the tribal that their god cannot save itself how is it going to save them, and the wooden cross is floating so it has saved itself! If this is the kind of ‘propaganda’ that should be allowed to propagate their religion, I have nothing to say.

  3. The answer to the question “has any one complained” is that Subhash Gatade has, he is complaining in the only media that is available to those whose voice is no longer heard by the media that has sold its soul to the corporate houses and the dream of “Make in swachch Bharat”

  4. What Judicial Activism?When one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of India says ,if he were the dictator he would enforce the teaching of Geeta as compulsory.

  5. Christian missionaries in Chhatisgarh do not go around calling tribals or their practices pagan. Both the missionaries and tribals do live in today’s world where such behavior does not fly. These are not colonial times where the power relationship allowed far worse behavior than calling tribals or Hindus (two distinct categories) pagan. A missionary who tries to convert people by insulting their beliefs is hardly likely to be successful! What they do talk about is that Jesus preached love and forgiveness and that believing in him would help them find salvation. What is truly interesting is that the tribal Catholic Church has embraced tribal festivals and customs such as venerating trees and their festivals are celebrated according to their customs. In the meanwhile, I have not seen anyone in the media or in political parties even mention these festivals. One hears and reads about Dussehra, Diwali, Eid, Christmas etc being celebrated with fervor and pomp but when it comes to tribal festivals no one other than the tribal Catholic Church know the existence of tribal festivals or pay any respect to them. Moreover, the missionaries provide modern education to those whom society and govt have forgotten. More power to their arm!

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