Amounting to 2.3 percent of the nation's population, Christians nonetheless constitute the third-largest religious group in India after Hindus and Muslims. Though characterized by Hindu nationalist leaders as an alien faith or the religion of India's colonial rulers, Christianity took root in India almost 2,000 years ago when St. Thomas the Apostle evangelized in the south-home today to a majority of India's twenty-three million Christians. In more recent years, missionaries have converted sizable majorities in three small northeastern states: Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya. Today, close to 70 percent of India's Christians are Catholic.
Attracted by the church's emphasis on social service and equality, many tribals and Dalits ("untouchables") have converted to Christianity in an effort to escape their impoverished state and abusive treatment under India's caste system. Most of the attacks against Christians have taken place in the country's "tribal belt," which runs from the Pakistani border in the west to Burma and Bangladesh in the east. The belt is home to eighty-one million indigenous people, whose ancestors inhabited India before the Aryan invasions of about 2,000 B.C. brought the country its dominant ethnic group.10 Animists or spirit worshippers by nature, many tribals do not practice Hinduism. Much like Dalits, they traditionally fall outside the Hindu fold. Dalits, a population of nearly 160 million people, continue to suffer from extreme social discrimination, segregation and violence because of their rank at the bottom of India's caste system. Upon converting to Christianity, Dalits lose all privileges previously assigned to them under their scheduled caste status.11
Until recently, Christians enjoyed a relatively peaceful coexistence with their majority Hindu neighbors. In the past several years, however, Christians have become the target of a campaign of violence and propaganda orchestrated by Hindu nationalist groups attempting to stem the tide of defecting low-caste and tribal voters. In 1996, two Catholic priests were killed in Gumla district, Bihar, their skulls crushed. In October 1997, the decapitated body of a third Catholic priest was found in a forest in Bihar.12 Rev. A. T. Thomas was apparently targeted for aiding Dalits in the area.13 Earlier in the month, Father Christudas was forced to parade naked through the town of Dumka after being accused of sexually assaulting one of his students.14 The string of attacks sent shock waves throughout the country and prompted Christian groups to demand increased protection of Christian communities in a state notorious for its lawlessness and ongoing caste wars. The incidents also foreshadowed the deterioration of Hindu-Christian relations in 1998 and 1999.
According to the Indian Parliament, a total of 116 incidents of attacks on Christians across the country between January 1998 and February 1999. Most of the attacks have taken place in the north and the west where the Christian populations are smaller and Hindu nationalist sentiments are stronger. The increase in violence has paralleled the rise of the Hindu right in India's political arena and the undermining of communal harmony by Hindu extremists, a trend that had been noted by the United Nations special rapporteur on religious intolerance in a 1997 report.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Question of Religious Intolerance
At the invitation of the Indian government, the United Nations special rapporteur on the question of religious intolerance, Abdelfattah Amor, visited India in December 1996. In the report resulting from his investigation, Amor warned of rising Hindu extremism and the effect it was having on India's secular democratic structure.15 While investigating the situation of Christians in India, Amor's attention was drawn to "the existence of Hindu extremism, encountered in varying degrees within ultra-nationalist political parties or parties attracted by ultra-nationalism (RSS, VHP and BJP)."16 Amor found that in some states, "proselytizing activities are sometimes hampered by abusive official interpretations of legislation prohibiting all forced conversion, or by accusations of obtaining conversions by offers of material benefits, and thus of exploiting hardship."17 The report also cited administrative obstacles encountered by foreign missionaries seeking Indian entry visas, as well as restrictions on transfers of foreign funds destined for Christian institutions in certain states.
At the time of his visit, Amor found that "Hindu extremists occasionally attempt to stir up trouble within Christian institutions,"18 though the incidents were limited. He noted that Christians had complete freedom to disseminate religious material, including the Bible, and with the exception of a few administrative obstacles, they were able to construct places of worship without restriction. The report went on to state that the situation of Christians was generally satisfactory but added:
Mention must... be made of the activities of the extremist Hindu parties, which are attempting to undermine the communal and religious harmony which exists in India by the political exploitation of religion. Occasionally the militantism of these extremists significantly (although marginally) affects the situation of Christians in the religious field and within society in general. The Special Rapporteur was informed of isolated cases of murders of and attacks on members of religious orders, including nuns in Bihar and Kerala.19
After the rapporteur's visit in December 1996, the situation deteriorated significantly.
The National Commission for Minorities
In 1998 the National Commission for Minorities conducted numerous investigations into attacks on Christian communities.20 The majority of its investigations took place in the states of Gujarat (see below), Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. Human Rights Watch spoke to Tahir Mahmood, the chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities. He claimed that the commission had been flooded with complaints from all over the country:
Similar atrocities have taken place against Muslim communities in the past fifty years. Now there is a shift of focus to Christians. These are deeply sentimental issues. Stories of coerced conversions of low-caste and tribal Hindus to Christianity are doing much harm. Society has been poisoned and the central government has been a silent spectator.21
Although the commission has submitted numerous reports on the incidents investigated, the government has done little to implement the commission's recommendations. As explained by Chairperson Mahmood:
We have sent eighteen special reports to the states. If they concern entire communities or the union territories then they also go to the central government.... Since 1992 our annual reports have not been tabled in Parliament. In 1996, I cleared the arrears, and the reports are now up to date. Soon after the reports were finally tabled, the government fell [in April 1999].... The BJP uses its status as a caretaker government as an excuse not to do anything-unless it is something they want to do; then they say they have all the powers. The government is not barred from taking action in the absence of tabling the reports. They can take action and then report to Parliament. But they will sleep over it.22
Commenting on the nexus between political parties and communal attacks, the chairperson added:
The BJP talks of distancing itself from guilty bodies, but no action is taken in that direction. These are the very bodies that helped them come to power. How can they dissociate themselves from them?... This is what they said they would do before coming to power. Now they say they are secular. But they cannot stop state governments.... In Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Gujarat, even criminals are becoming communally selective thanks to the policies of the central government. There is a nexus between criminality and communalism, and the credit goes exclusively to the policies of the BJP. Someone has to take responsibility. Communalization of politics is not new. Communalization of crimes is a new phenomenon.23
The Sangh Parivar
The Hindu organizations most responsible for violence against Christians are the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and the RSS. According to a former RSS member, these groups cannot be divorced from the ruling BJP party: "There is no difference between the BJP and RSS. BJP is the body. RSS is the soul, and the Bajrang Dal is the hands for beating."24 The RSS was founded in the city of Nagpur in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar with the mission of creating a Hindu state. Since its founding, it has propagated a militant form of Hindu nationalism as the sole basis for national identity in India. According to the RSS, both the leaders of India's nationalist movement and those of post-independence India failed to create a nation based on Hindu culture.25 More than fifty years later, the RSS still sees itself as the antidote to what it considers the dangerous tendencies of modern-day India: "the erosion of the nation's integrity in the name of secularism, economic and moral bankruptcy, incessant conversions from the Hindu fold through money-power, ever-increasing trends of secession, thought patterns and education dissonant with the native character of the people, and State-sponsored denigration of anything that goes by the name of Hindu or Hindutwa."26 Western thought and civilization are perceived as enemies of Hindu culture. Religions such as Islam and Christianity are depicted as alien to India, as they are the religions of foreign invaders-the Mughals and the British.27
The RSS believed that the liberation of the Hindu state required what it termed sarvangeena unnati, or all-round development of the nation. The RSS wanted "the entire gamut of social life" to be designed "on the rock bed of Hindu nationalism,"28 a goal that inspired the creation of RSS political, social, and educational wings, a family of organizations that is now referred to collectively as the sangh parivar.29
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was formed in 1964 to cover the social aspects of RSS activities. The VHP organizes and communicates the RSS message to Hindus living outside India and holds conferences for Hindu religious leaders from all over the country. The most publicized of the VHP's activities was its campaign to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram at the site of the Babri Masjid, a mosque in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The VHP, along with the other sangh organizations, claimed that the site of the mosque was actually the birthplace of Ram and that a temple at that site had been destroyed in order to build the mosque. On December 6, 1992, the mosque was demolished by members of the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and RSS-trained cadres. The police did not intervene. The incident sparked violence around the country in which thousands were killed. Since then, the VHP has also organized a program to reconvert those who had been converted from Hinduism to other faiths.
The Bajrang Dal is the militant youth wing of the VHP. It was formed in 1984 during the Babri Masjid conflict, in order to mobilize youth for the Ayodhya campaign.30 A young women's association, the Durga Vahini, was also founded at this time. Unlike other organizations affiliated to the RSS, the Bajrang Dal is not directly controlled by the sangh parivar. With its loose organizational structure, it initially operated under different names in different states. Its activists are believed to be involved in many acts of violence carried out by Hindutva organizations,31 including the recent spate of attacks against the Christian community in India.
The Jana Sangh Party was formed in 1951 as the political wing of the RSS. It was later replaced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980. The BJP is the largest of the nineteen parties that formed India's coalition government in March 1998. In addition to its important role in national politics, the BJP controls the state legislatures in Maharashtra (in a coalition with the Shiv Sena), Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh. On April 17, 1999, the BJP-led coalition was voted out of office, losing a motion of confidence by one vote.32 The government had lost its majority in Parliament when a major coalition partner withdrew its support on April 14. Because the opposition was unable to come up with an alternative government, the BJP-led coalition was to act as the caretaker government until national parliamentary elections in September and October 1999.
Founded by Bal Thackeray on June 19, 1966, the Shiv Sena is a Hindu party based in Maharashtra.33 Arising out of a campaign against the growing influence of non-Marathi speakers in Bombay, the Shiv Sena became a major force in Indian politics during the 1980s. The Sena is a close ally of the BJP and is part of the ruling central government coalition. An alliance of the Shiv Sena and the BJP, with the Sena as the dominant partner, has also been in power in the state government of Maharashtra since 1995. Leaders of both parties were implicated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the ensuing violence in Bombay, the state capital.
BJP president and Home Minister L. K. Advani and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh were among the forty people accused by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for the destruction of the mosque.34 Also on the list were Murli Manohar Joshi, the former chief minister of Maharashtra, and Bal Thackeray, the leader of the Shiv Sena. The CBI charged all of the accused with "criminal conspiracy, intentional destruction and defiling of a place of worship, criminal trespass and intimidation of public servants on duty."35 Advani and Joshi were present in Ayodhya when Hindu militants tore down the mosque.36
The Srikrishna Commission was established in response to the notorious 1992-1993 Bombay riots that claimed the lives of 700 people, mostly Muslims, in the aftermath of the mosque's destruction. The report's findings were presented to the government of Maharashtra on February 16, 1998, more than five years after the riots took place. The report determined that the riots were the result of a deliberate and systematic effort to incite violence against Muslims and singled out Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and Chief Minister Manohar Joshi as responsible. The Shiv Sena-BJP government, however, refused to adopt the commission's recommendations and instead labeled the report "anti-Hindu."37
The structure of the sangh parivar is premised on the notion that a strong and unified Hindu society can only be achieved through discipline and organization. The sangh therefore recruits young boys and men for local cells known as shakhas and provides them with extensive physical and ideological training for the purpose of creating a group of volunteers full of "Hindu fervor" with military-like discipline.38 Organized on the principle that only a militant and powerful Hindu movement can counter threats from outsiders, the sangh has set up approximately 300,000 shakhas all over the country, each with an estimated fifty to one hundred participants.39 Training typically involves physical-fitness activities as well as the singing of patriotic songs and a discussion of national events and problems. At the end of each session, participants line up in front of the sangh's saffron flag and recite the prayer Namaste Sada Vatsale Matrubhoome (My salutation to you, loving Motherland).40
Apart from the shakhas, the sangh also organizes graded-training camps known as sangha shiksha vargas at provincial and national levels at regular intervals. These camps attempt to indoctrinate the swayamsevaks (RSS volunteers) with the belief that India is a nation for Hindus alone, the nation's original inhabitants who have shaped its culture and society. Participants are also told that Hindus have long suffered at the hands of foreign invaders, namely, Muslim rulers and the Christian British.41
Hindu nationalist leaders continually propagate the notion that Christians, despite their small numbers, could outnumber India's 82-percent Hindu majority early in the next century. Several state governments have threatened to ban Christian conversions altogether, while Hindu nationalists have launched their own "reconversion programs" and have called on the government to expel all missionaries from the country and stop the flow of foreign funding to "proselytizing agencies working under the various humanitarian garbs."42 B. L. Sharma, central secretary of VHP, has charged: "We were slaves for 1,000 years, and now we have opened our eyes." 43 Sharma demanded that the government "throw out these people who are out to convert Hindus and ruin our culture, language and attire."44 Onkar Bhave, also a VHP leader, announced: "We want to stop this conversion business.... They are not propagating religion; it is political slavery.... They want to turn the poor into Christians so together they can say to Hindus, `Get out of India.' They want to break India into different pieces."45
The RSS sees Christian missionaries as posing a threat to Hinduism, particularly in the northeastern part of the country where three tiny states have Christian majorities. The sangh accuses missionaries of being responsible for the insurgencies and separatist movements in the states of this region. It also blames the Indian government's "secular policy" which allowed these missionaries to continue their work even after the British left India in 1947.46 Of equal concern to the RSS is the work of missionaries in tribal regions. The tribals, they claim, had always been a part of Hindu culture but had been alienated from the national mainstream by the British. Even after independence, they argue, the government followed the steps of the British and allowed missionaries to work in tribal regions. The RSS considers tribals to be particularly vulnerable to exploitation and conversions by Christian missionaries as they are largely illiterate and come from the weaker sections of society.47
In January 1999, members of the VHP reportedly drew up an elaborate plan to counter missionary activity by "reconverting" those who had adopted the Christian faith. The plan, conceived of during a nine-day meeting in Jaipur, Rajasthan, reportedly identified 200 "sensitive districts" in the country where missionary conversions had taken place. The "reconversions" were set to take place over a three-year period.48 A month later, during a three-day plenary session, the VHP demanded that the government ban religious conversions in the country. It claimed, however, that reconverting Christians to Hindus could not be equated with religious conversions as they were mere "home-comings" for those who had be induced out of the Hindu fold.49 VHP members also pronounced that the burning of churches and prayer halls in Gujarat's Dangs district, further described below, were part of an "international conspiracy" to defame BJP-led governments and to malign the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.50
Imposing a "moral code"
The activities of Hindu extremists have touched many aspects of civil society, including sports, arts, economics, and education. On May 2, 1998, as part of an already growing pattern of attacks on art and artists, twenty-six members of the Bajrang Dal allegedly stormed and ransacked the house of M. F. Husain, a Muslim and one of India's most eminent and revered painters. The attack was meant to protest an "obscene" lithograph of Hindu deities Hanuman and Sita drawn by the painter more than twenty years ago. Several priceless paintings were torn down. Those arrested for the attack were released after providing sureties in the amount of Rs. 1,000 (US$23.81) each.51 Sena chief Bal Thackeray justified the attack by pronouncing that "[i]f Husain can step into Hindustan, what is wrong if we enter his house?"52 In a protest letter addressed to the president, several Indian artists warned, "The offense and abuse signals a dangerous move towards an entirely instrumentalised and recognisably fascist use of culture. An attack on creativity, of which this is an instance, is a precursor to an attempt to regiment society...."53 The letter also labeled as "inflammatory" Thackeray's justification of the attack, adding that such justifications "criminally manufacture fear rather as crude bombs are manufactured and placed anywhere to create instant havoc."54 This and other attempts to impose a "moral code" on Indian society have led to mounting protests against increasing infringements on freedom of expression and the violent tactics used by Hindutva organizations to enforce extra-legal censorship.55
The BJP and its allies have also called for the "Hinduization" of education in India. As one of his first acts after taking office, the BJP minister of education, Murli Manohar Joshi, appointed scholars sympathetic to the Hindutva cause to national academic bodies.56 At a national education conference in October 1998, Joshi introduced a proposal to "Hinduize" the school system. The plan's more controversial points included compulsory courses on "Indian values" from preschool to graduate school, the inclusion of Hindu religious texts into all syllabi, and teacher training in Indian values and culture at all levels. The proposal, drawn up by a group called Vidya Bharati, which functions as the education section of the RSS, was ultimately withdrawn after vociferous objections from several state education ministers.57 The Minister of Education for West Bengal stated, "The BJP is attempting to destroy the basic secular fabric of [the] country because they don't believe in secularism."58
In January 1999, when Pakistan's cricket team was set to travel to India for a series of test matches, members of the Shiv Sena dug up the pitch at the stadium that was to host the first match, while police officers reportedly stood by, and ransacked the headquarters of the Board of Control for Cricket in Bombay.59 The Shiv Sena also threatened violence against any member of the Indian cricket team who did not boycott the series in fulfillment of his "patriotic duty." Shiv Sena followers reportedly dumped pigs' heads outside Chidambaran stadium in Madras as a deliberate insult to the Muslim players from Pakistan.60
10 Dexter Filkins, "Christians under fire in India," Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1998. See also Minority Rights Group International, "The Adivasis of India," A Minority Rights Groups International Report, January 1999.
11 The term "scheduled caste," by which Dalits are also called, refers to a list of socially deprived ("untouchable") castes prepared by the British Government in 1935. The schedule of castes was intended to increase representation of scheduled-caste members in the legislature, in government employment, and in university placement. The term is also used in the constitution and various laws. Pauline Kolenda, Caste in Contemporary India: Beyond Organic Solidarity (Menlo Park: The Benjamin/Cumming Publishing Co., 1978), p. 128. The term "scheduled tribes" refers to a list of indigenous tribal populations who are entitled to much of the same compensatory treatment as scheduled castes.
12 "Priest's decapitated body found in jungle," South China Morning Post, October 30, 1997.
13 "Priest found beheaded," The Toronto Star, October 30, 1997.
14 "Priest's decapitated body...," South China Morning Post.
15 See also Christophe Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1999).
16 Report submitted by Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, Special Rapporteur, in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 1996/23, Addendum, Visit to India, E/CN.4/1997/91/Add.1 (February 14, 1997), para. 57.
17 Ibid., para. 58.
18 Ibid., para. 65.
19 Ibid., para. 69.
20 The National Commission for Minorities is an autonomous body with all the powers of a civil court. The National Human Rights Commission, which has conducted its own investigations into the attacks, is a statutory body set up pursuant to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is a constitutional body set up pursuant to Article 338 of the Indian constitution. It has been entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the safeguards and protections that have been given to scheduled castes and tribes are implemented by the various implementing agencies.
21 Human Rights Watch interview, New Delhi, May 3, 1999.
22 Ibid. In the wake of increasing attacks on Christian institutions in 1998, the National Commission for Minorities has also set up a minority education cell whose "work is increasing day by day." When asked why attacks on Christian institutions were on the rise, the commission chairperson responded, "It is presumed that educational institutions are centers of missionary activity. Also, in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the Hindu groups are forcing their own traditions onto others in direct violation of Article 28 of the constitution." Article 28 prohibits compulsory religious instruction in any educational institution recognized by the state or in receipt of state funds. See also footnote 58.
23 Human Rights Watch interview, New Delhi, May 3, 1999.
24 Human Rights Watch interview, Dangs district, Gujarat, April 22, 1999.
25 The RSS did not play an active role in the nationalist struggle for independence, as it had several ideological differences with the Indian National Congress. Started in 1885, the Indian National Congress was initially a forum for the discussion of political reforms that quickly transformed itself into an all-India nationalist organization. The nationalist struggle concentrated solely on ending British rule in the country, while the RSS believed that restoring Hinduism, and not merely obtaining political independence, should constitute the core of the movement. In the eyes of the RSS, the British and Muslims were its enemies, and it was vehemently opposed to the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. The RSS was therefore particularly critical of what it termed the Congress leaders' policy of "appeasement of the Muslims." Similar criticisms were at the root of Mahatma's Gandhi's assassination in 1948 at the hands of Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist and allegedly a former member of the RSS. Following Gandhi's assassination, the RSS was officially banned in India. After its ban, the RSS began to get more involved in politics. It also began organizing several social welfare activities, in an attempt to remove the impression that it was primarily a paramilitary organization. Its contribution to community service projects in a wide variety of fields was recognized by the Indian government, and the RSS was given permission to participate in the Republic Day parade in 1963. The RSS was banned once again between 1975 and 1977, when a state of emergency was declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Apart from this two-year period, the RSS and its sister organizations have been in the mainstream of Indian politics since the 1960s. Tapio Tamminen, "Hindu Revivalism and the Hindutva Movement," http://www.abo.fi/comprel/temenos/temeno32/tamminen.htm.
26 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, "Sangh: A Dynamic Powerhouse," in Widening Horizons, http://www.rss.org/library/books/wideninghorizons/ch2.html. Hindutwa, Hindutva or Hinduvata refers to a movement for Hindu awakening.
27 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, "Sangh-Inspired Organisations," in Widening Horizons, http://www.rss.org/books/wideninghorizons/ch7.html. Both Islam and Christianity were in fact introduced to India long before Mughal and British rule.
29 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, "Sangh's March," in Widening Horizons, http://www.rss.org/library/books/wideninghorizons/ch9.html. The first of these organizations, the Akhil Bharateeya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), emerged from a student movement and grew into a Hindu nationalist student organization. To combat the educational system introduced by the British, educational institutions collectively known as Vidya Bharathi were set up throughout the country with the purported aim of inculcating "discipline, patriotic outlook, love for mother tongue, high moral values and Hindu principles" into education. Concerned by the work of Christian missionaries in remote tribal areas, the Bharateeya Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (BVKA) was founded in the early 1950s to check proselytizing activities. Ibid.
30 N. K. Singh and U. Mahurkar, "Bajrang Dal: Loonies at Large," India Today, February 8, 1999.
32 "BJP Government loses vote of confidence," The Tribune (Chandigarh), April 17, 1999.
34 CBI is a federal investigative agency that handles cases of corruption and cases of inter-state and other complicated crimes. CBI inquiries are often demanded in cases where local or state investigations are perceived to be biased or impartial.
35 "Top BJP leaders accused of razing medieval mosque," Inter Press Service, October 6, 1993.
36 "New Delhi charges top Hindu politicians with mosque razing," Agence France-Presse, October 5, 1993.
37 "Srikrishna report indicts Thackeray, Joshi," Indian Express (Bombay), August 7, 1998.
38 "The Institutional Composition of Hindutva," http://www.foil.org/politics/hindutva/hindorg.html. The Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL) was founded in May 1995 in an effort to unite Indian American groups across North America against the surge of Hindutva forces in India.
39 Tamminen, "Hindu Revivalism...."
40 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, "The Sangh Methodology," in Widening Horizons, http://www.rss.org/library/books/wideninghorizons/ch5.html. Saffron is the official color of sangh parivar organizations and is also a color often associated with Hinduism.
42 H. V. Seshadri, "Meeting the Threat of Conversion," in R.S.S.: A Vision in Action (October 1998), http://www.rss.org/library/books/vision/ch3.html.
43 Filkins, "Christians under fire...," Los Angeles Times.
45 Kenneth J. Cooper, "In India, More Attacks on Christians; Harassment Is Greatest Where Hindu Nationalist Sentiment Prevails," The Washington Post, November 17, 1998.
46 Seshadri, "Meeting the Threat...."
47 The Bharateeya Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (BKVA) was formed to prevent the conversions of these tribals, reconvert those who had been converted to Christianity, and bring all of them "back to Hinduism." The RSS claims that the work of sangh organizations has had a positive impact on the tribals who "realise that their identity is safe within the Hindu fold. By contrast, they are also realising that conversion to Christianity sucks them into a nameless, faceless replica of Western habits and tastes; their age-old values are not only obliterated but despised." Seshadri, "Meeting the Threat...." RSS's aggressive stance in converting people to Hinduism and in preventing conversions of Hindus to Christianity has also been justified with statements such as: "Militancy and intolerance become good traits when they are put to use for helping the innocent and weak in society." Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, "Sangh's March."
48 "Massive reconversion drive by RSS body," The Hindustan Times (Bangalore), February 5, 1999.
49 "VHP puts off temple issue by two years," The Hindu, February 6, 1999.
51 "Artists condemn attack on Husain's house," Rediff on the Net, May 4, 1998, http://www.rediff.com/news/1998/may/04mf.htm
52 "Letter by Artists to the Indian President," May 20, 1998, http://www.mnet.fr/aiindex/sahmat.html.
55 "Rising Hindu intolerance causing alarm in India," Agence France-Presse, May 27, 1998; "Poster campaign against intolerance," The Hindu (Bombay), January 4, 1999. In December 1998 the award-winning film Fire by Canada-based Indian director Deepa Mehta was recalled from theaters after Shiv Sena activists trashed at least fifteen cinemas where it was playing. The film, which centers around a lesbian love affair between two Indian sisters-in-law, drew sharp criticism from the Shiv Sena which claimed in a written statement that "[i]f women's physical needs get fulfilled through lesbian acts, the institution of marriage will collapse and reproduction of human beings will stop." "Canadian film sets India ablaze," CBC news online, December 4, 1998, http://www.infoculture.cbc.ca/archives/filmtv/filmtv_12041998_fire.html. In several cities, including Delhi and Bombay, Sena activists ripped up posters, smashed furniture and snack counters and warned of similar attacks against cinemas that screened "vulgar" films. The party's Delhi leader, Jai Bhagwan Goyal, proclaimed that the movie was "a well-planned conspiracy to destroy the Indian culture." "Officials recertify `Fire'," Rex Wockner's weekly "International News," February 22, 1999, http://www.queer.org.au/listarchive/queerstage/199903/msg0026.html. Sena leader Bal Thackeray took the opportunity to communalize the issue by stating that the Sena would cease its protests provided that certain scenes were cut and that the names of the women were changed from Radha and Sita (both Hindu names) to Shabana and Saira (both Muslim names). Thackeray also accused Shabana Azmi and Javed Jaffrey (both prominent Muslim actors and members of the film's caste) of "trying to promote an alien theme of lesbianism in the country where very few are familiar with the subject." "India - Fire, Pakistani and pandemonium," Business Line, December 15, 1998. In February 1999, the film was recertified by the Indian Censor Board and returned to theaters without any cuts.
56 Marion Lloyd, "Hindu Nationalists Campaign to Remake Education in India," The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 19, 1999.
58 Ibid. As of February 1999, Vidya Bharati had already set up 14,000 primary and secondary schools and dozens of colleges with a total of 1.8 million students, and sought to expand its networks in areas where Christian missionary activity was particularly strong. RSS also planned to set up a series of Sanskrit-language colleges in an attempt to make the ancient language the common language of all Indians. Vidya Bharati textbooks defend the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid by presenting archaeological evidence to suggest that the mosque was built atop the ruins of a Hindu temple which marked the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram. Despite the forced withdrawal of the controversial Vidya Bharati proposal, the BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government followed suit soon after the national conference to make compulsory the singing of Saraswati Vandana (a Hindu prayer to the goddess Saraswati) and Vande Mataram (a patriotic song) by students in its schools. The Uttar Pradesh minister of state for primary education has reportedly been using an RSS model to train education department officers, principals and heads of educational institutions. The learning of the Sanskrit language has also been made mandatory for classes III to VIII. "Saraswati Vandana made mandatory in Uttar Pradesh schools," The Hindu, October 31, 1998.
In Gujarat, the office of the director of primary education issued a directive to all primary schools in the state mandating the daily recitation of Vande Mataram before beginning the school session. The mandate was to take effect in June 1998. "Commencing daily educational session with recitation of Vande Mataram in all the Primary Schools of the State," Office of Director of Primary Education Guj. State, No. 29/Ens/1/98/ch/Guj/7213-83, dated 26/5/96. Also in Gujarat, all municipal schools were instructed to celebrate the festival of Gurupurnima on July 9, 1998. In a circular from the education officer, Primary Education Committee, Ahmedabad, the principals of municipal schools were informed that "Indian civilization treats Guru as equivalent to God" and that "it has been decided to celebrate Gurupurnima at each school on 9/7/98 to bring the teacher and the taught nearer through devotion on his day.... On this day Sarasvati Pooja and Prayers [must] be arranged and students [must be] given blessing by teachers and importance of Gurupurnima should be explained to the students." "Regarding Celebration of Gurupurnima on 9/7/98," Circular No. 41, For Municipal Schools Only, Umakant C. Tripathi, Education Officer, Primary Education Committee Ahmedabad.
Hindutva supporters have also defended their attempts to rewrite history books-including the assertion that the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent was part of a Christian plot to divide and conquer Hindus and Muslims-as a necessary counterweight to what they perceive as centuries of Muslim and Christian domination.
59 Suzanne Goldenberg, "Maelstrom of militants," The Guardian, January 22, 1999.