Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ESSENCE OF LIFE, DENIED!

(This post is written as a response to the large number of messages, calls & SMSs that I have received over the past 3 days enquiring about the fresh round of violence that has gripped Mangalore. The views expressed in this post are made solely for the purpose of finding a way out of this alarming situation that faces all Mangaloreans)

The essence of life is to move forward.

What happened in Mangalore on the morning of September 14th was contrary to the essence of life. We have now moved backwards by, at least, a hundred years.

It all began with a leaflet/booklet* purported to have been published and circulated by a Christian group called ‘New Life’. The ‘New Life’ is a break away group of former Catholics & Protestants. They believe in evangelization and try to lure people to their flock; at times with the power of money. Their main targets are actually Catholics and Protestants themselves. They are of the opinion that belief in Jesus Christ only can bring salvation to mankind.
* The booklet, entitled 'Satya Darshini', was originally written in Telugu & then was translated to Kannada.The accusers haven't produced the copies to the district authorities, nor have they been able to tell the authorities the location where the leaflet has been found.

It is said that the book derided the Hindu Gods.

If this is so, I condemn the booklet in the strongest of terms. Religion is personal and precious to each individual and no one can ridicule, deride or insult any religion.

The Bajrang Dal, which has always maintained that the Christians convert Hindus; and are vehemently opposed to conversions, seized the moment and took law into their own hands. A helpful BJP Government at the helm of administrative affairs in Karnataka encouraged their cause and they proceeded to attack & destroy the ‘New Life’ centers and prayer halls all across Mangalore, Udupi & Chikmagalur Districts on Sunday morning. They beat the people up and destroyed furniture and desecrated the places of worship.

In Mangalore, in addition to the 'New Life' centres, a Catholic convent was also attacked. A gang of 8-10 youth walked into the chapel of the convent and proceeded to smash the altar, desecrate the Blessed Sacrament and break the legs and hands of a statue of a crucified Jesus Christ. This was followed by attacks on other churches in and around Mangalore.

The Catholics of Mangalore took to the streets in protest. What followed was mayhem. The agitated youngsters, unmindful of Section 144, protested on the streets in front of various churches in Mangalore the next day. Mangalore ground to a halt on Monday. A partisan Police force, angry at being stoned & egged on by some members of the Bajrang Dal, systematically quelled the protest of the indignant Catholics by brutal force using lathis, stones and tear gas,(even women & children were not spared) in the process arresting scores of Catholic Youth for violating section 144 of the IPC.

Then a farce was played out before millions of Television Viewers. The Bajrang Dal called a press conference and took the onus for the attacks & warned of more attacks to follow; a jubilant looking Home Minister openly approved the acts of the Bajrang Dal and played down the attacks on the places of worship. The state Bajrang Dal convener, while taking onus for the attacks, openly warned Christians not to resist the atrocities of his men, else more would follow; and he still runs a free man. A partisan Chief Minister visited Mangalore on Monday; shed crocodile tears and promised to repair the places of worship with the tax payer’s money. His ire was directed to people who are engaged in conversions. He skirted the issue of the attacks on places of worship. The minister in charge of the District pretended that he was illiterate – he had not read newspaper reports nor seen the Television coverage of the Bajrang Dal press conference wherein the leader had taken responsibility to the attacks, and denied the hand of the Bajrang Dal in the attacks. So much for democratic governance.

On Tuesday, a delegation of Congress leaders descended on Mangalore and shed copious tears. Every single politician has descended on Mangalore, like vultures actually, looking for someway of extracting mileage from the incident. For the politician, building up support among the people on the basis of good governance is a far more arduous task than carving out electoral bases on the basis of divisive politics.

In response to the protest by Catholics, another outfit called the Sri Ram Sena called for a bundh on Tuesday. An uneasy calm has settled over Mangalore as I write this post. What I had feared most has come alive.

Time and again I have warned my friends that a day will come when Mangalore will observe a bundh every other day; not out of solidarity but out of fear!

It is tragic, to say the least, that a few hundred youth can hold lakhs of people to ransom.

What is happening out here?

One must go down to the underbelly of Mangalore & one goes directly to the root of the problem. The economically backward, be it the Hindus, Muslims or the Christians, have to face up to a problem. Their youth are just not employable. They lack quality education and skills that would have made them employable. So there you have it; a large population of frustrated and unemployed youth.

As Karl Marx once said ‘Religion is the opium of the People’; the last resort of these people is religion. You don’t need special skills to grow into a fanatic. Slowly and surely these youth are proving to be a malaise; refusing to go away.

I have had opportunity to travel to the hinterlands of Mangalore. I have met with these youth groups. They too have dreams, ideas and plans; but there is no one listening. The educational institutions in these places impart superficial education. The youth grow up with an absence of the breadth of knowledge. They haven’t mastered the language of business – English. Their soft skills haven’t been honed. They are languishing; easy prey to wily politicians & religious leaders. Keeping them unemployable helps the cause of these charlatans.

Unless we Mangaloreans come together to sort out these issues, we are doomed. No industrialist would want to set up business in a place which observes frequent bundhs.

It is time for Mangaloreans of every faith to commence a meaningful dialogue on religion. It is important to respect each others religion and understand that only when we co exist in peace can we build prosperity. The youth of Mangalore have to be made employable. And in all these endevours, it is important to keep all selfish politicians at bay.


P.S. On September 19th, at around midnight, the Police, bowing to pressure from all quarters, finally arrested the State Bajrang Dal convener. He has been remanded to judicial custody.
On September 30th, the VHP, bowing to pressure from the BJP, asked the convener to relinquish his post. As if on cue, the state government slapped 7 different cases on the scapegoat!
Meanwhile a chastened State Govt has decided to conduct a judicial probe into the incident.