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A heinous crime

THE ATTACK ON a missionary at Thiruvananthapuram is yet another pointer to the extent to which religious propaganda and hate have permeated the body politic. While it is still not clear as to whether associates of the RSS were directly involved in the criminal act, the manner in which the local leaders of the Sangh Parivar have reacted to the incident — charging the missionary, Joseph Cooper, and others with him with having made "communally inflammatory" speeches that were "insulting to the practitioners of the Hindu faith" even while denying involvement of any of their men in the attack as such — is indeed disturbing. This refrain from the RSS saha karyavah in the district, R. Santosh, amounts to holding a brief for those guilty of the heinous crime as it was when some Sangh Parivar functionaries had sought to explain away the grisly murder of five young men belonging to the Dalit community in Jhajhar (in Haryana) recently that the lynching of the hapless youth was a manifestation of the Hindu sentiments that were hurt after rumours were spread that they had slaughtered a cow. The Sangh's associates had taken a similar line in the aftermath of the killing of an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two sons in Manoharpur in Orissa a few years ago. This pattern of blaming the victim and justifying the crime in the name of hurt sentiments is repeating itself with a disturbing frequency.

The attack on Mr. Cooper and his associates is a cause for concern for yet another reason. True that such violence and murderous assaults in which the Sangh associates were allegedly involved have been witnessed across Kerala several times in the past two decades. The high voltage campaign by the RSS and its other associates after a cross was "discovered'' in Nilackal in Pathanamthitta district (in the early 1980s) led to several instances of violence across the State then. In this sense, the Sangh's strategy of indulging in campaigns intended to conjure up images of the Hindu faith being in danger and thus whipping up communal passions was carried out in Kerala even before the campaign centred on Ayodhya. It is also a fact that the BJP as a party had managed to build up its organisation in several parts of Kerala (and it is the strongest in Pathanamthitta district) primarily on the basis of the RSS campaign around the Nilackal issue and on spreading a sense of hatred against the Christian missionaries and their institutions, as in the Dangs district of Gujarat and the various other places where the missionaries were active. Hence, the violent attack against Mr. Cooper and those who went with him for the convention cannot but be seen as the fallout of a vicious campaign carried out by the Sangh over the years. The State Government will have to ensure that police officials move fast and apprehend the culprits and also ensure that such incidents are effectively averted.

Despite giant strides in the field of literacy and a strong tradition of social reforms, the social fabric in Kerala is indeed fragmented on the basis of religious and other denominational factors. Among the several factors that could be identified for this state of affairs, the most important is the reluctance of the parties, both within the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front and in the Congress-led United Democratic Front, to spend their energy on consolidating the democratic edifice and addressing the task of governance. Having caught up with the task of managing the conflicts within their own folds, the political leadership of both the Fronts in Kerala seem to have been left with very little time and energy to indulge in any meaningful efforts to arrest the sense of alienation that has afflicted the youth across the State. This, indeed, is a fertile ground for fundamentalists of all religions to spread their hate campaigns. The attack on Mr. Cooper is indeed a warning signal that the political establishment in Kerala should take note of.

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