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Indian Bishop decries mob violence

17 August 2018


BJP leaders and workers burn an effigy of the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, in protest against the murder of a BJP worker, Trilochan Mahato, aged 20, in June. The BJP alleges that it was a political murder linked to the violent civic polls in the state, earlier the month

BJP leaders and workers burn an effigy of the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, in protest against the murder of a BJP worker, Trilochan...

THE entire political class is to blame for the “polarisation and radicalisation” of India that has spawned mob violence, the Moderator of the Good Shepherd Church of India, the Rt Revd Joseph d’Souza, said this week.

After dozens of lynchings in recent months, people of all religions needed to join in countering the “mobocracy” he said.

The Telegraph reports that, in the past six months, 31 people have been killed across ten states, in most cases after being accused of kidnapping children in viral posts on Whatsapp and Facebook. Among them was Mohammad Azam Usmanseb, 32, an IT technician beaten to death by a mob of 200 last month.

Last month, the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, condemned “horrendous acts of mobocracy” and urged the government to take action to combat lynchings and stop the spread of internet rumours that fuelled the violence.

“The people involved in mob violence believe that they have their own people in power, and the police don’t act when they should act,” Bishop d’Souza said on Tuesday.

Dalits, Muslims, churches, and Hindu leaders had all been targeted, he said.

“You cannot say directly that Modi and his government is involved in this, because no sane government can back this. But, you can trace it to the radicalisation of groups along very radical interpretations of Hinduism, which most Hindus do not subscribe to. So there are many moderate Hindus now fighting this. . .

“The political class as a whole, in my opinion, not just the BJP, is to be blamed for the polarisation and radicalisation of Indian society along caste and religious lines. In an attempt to get votes during an election they appeal to the narrow identities of people and their insecurities.”

The All India Christian Council — of which he is President — was leading efforts to find “fraternal partners between religious communities across the world to address these issues”. This would entail work to “challenge the lies that are being spread”, from claims that Christians were involved in forced conversions to the “demonisation” of Muslims, accused of being “terrorists and anti-national”, to reports that Dalits seeking rights were “Maoists”.

Social media was a “huge problem”, he confirmed. India had 600 million mobile-phone users, and “probably the largest Whatsapp community in the world. . . It’s a very effective tool now if you want to galvanise your friends and colleagues.” It had been used, he reported, to recruit the perpetrators of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Kashmiri girl.

As President of the Dignity Freedom Network (formerly the Dalit Freedom Network), Bishop d’Souza said that the situation of Dalits was “both hopeful and also very challenging”. He highlighted the affirmative-action benefits granted to Dalits, and the success of the Network’s 104 centres and schools, currently educating 27,000 children. Seventy per cent of the 2300 graduates had entered higher education, and one young woman had secured a doctorate in pharmacology.

But Dalit and tribal women remained the primary victims of the country’s sex trade, and gender-selective abortions and female foeticide had resulted in the loss of almost 20 million girls.

“The mindset of Indians towards women is going to take some time to change across the caste system,” he said. “A woman is a burden while a male child is a blessing. . . We are combating that . . . across faith lines.”

The caste system “poisons all of society”, and as Dalits began to assert themselves, violence had been unleashed, he said. He cited the case of Rohith Chakravarti Vemula, a PhD student at the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide in 2016. He was a member of the Ambedkar Students’ Association, which fights for the rights of Dalit students.

“The societal mindset of caste has permeated all of the religions including Christianity, it is shameful to say, in the South where there is so much of caste in the Church,” he said.

Born into a middle-class Christian family, he had been “blind” to their cause, growing up. But after marrying a Christian woman from a tribal background, and witnessing the caste protests of the 1990s, he had “had to wake up”.

“Now, of course, it completely dominates me,” he said. “I don’t think you can really do the full gospel if you ignore the issue of justice and righteousness and reconciliation.”

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