Editorial-2: November 2008
LAW & ORDER
The brutal and reprehensible murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on August 23 was the trigger for a wave of anti-Christian violence that engulfed Orissa, targetting Dalit Christians. More than 100 Christians were killed. As many as 139 churches, besides 5,000 Christian houses and 4 convents, were torched or razed to the ground, more than 50,000 Christians (estimates vary) have been forced to flee, merely on the basis of rumours that sweets were distributed in some churches, after the Swami's killing. A nun was gang-raped and several seriously injured. The police remained mute spectators when all this happened. The government failed miserably in protecting the lives of the citizens.
Over 30,000 people are now sheltered in the relief camps. They continue to relive their nightmares. 80-year-old Turi Mallick, sitting in a relief camp, said: "I could not believe that human beings could be so cruel against fellow human beings." She describes how she dragged herself to the nearby jungles, along with others, starved for 2 days and then was brought to the camp. "The attackers forced us to chant Vande Mataram and Bajrang Bali Ki Jai. Then they poured kerosene on our houses and burnt them." Sarojini Nayak can never forget the horror she has been through: one of her brothers was burnt alive. Satyavan Diggal says: "Fearing death, I agreed to reconvert. But once I came to the camp, I changed my mind and left everything to God. We are Christians by conviction and not by force."
The pretext in Karnataka allegedly was that 'inflammatory pamphlets' were circulated by some Christian groups. Great care ought to be exercised by everyone not to offend any group. However, there is a need to respond with dignity even in offensive situations. In any case, mobs should not be allowed to get away with mayhem and murder. What is required is firm action by the authorities to restore a sense of security for the citizens. The State should withstand all attempts to create law & order problems and disturb communal harmony.
We should not be deterred by the atrocities being perpetrated. We should continue to present the uniqueness of Christ-The Way, The Truth and The Life-to our fellow countrymen, because of our love and concern for their souls. Instead of retaliating, we should deem it a privilege, and, as foretold by Christ, a sign of His imminent return (Matt. 24:9). We should hasten the end by preaching the Good News to the whole world (Matt. 24:14). Persecution should be seen as a God-given opportunity to demonstrate our Christian character-to love our enemies, not to hate them, or take revenge, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The thought that Christianity can be destroyed by persecution is grievously mistaken. Anyone who knows history should be aware that Christianity flourishes under such circumstances. A true Christian has Christ in him and he remains unmoved in spite of difficult situations.
People convert for their own reasons. It is not for any one else, including the State, to decide whether the conversion is genuine or not. It should also be noted that staying in any faith can often be due to inducement, coercion, peer pressure or fake representations. Our Constitution entitles "all persons equally to freedom of conscience, and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion," subject to public order, morality and health. Is the faith so fragile that it gets confused at the slightest provocation, when a pamphlet is distributed?
Article 355 of our Constitution stipulates: "It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance, and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution." The attacks against Christians in Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala are "internal disturbances" that the State governments are unable or unwilling to tackle head-on. Chief Minister of Karnataka admitted that there has been a 'lapse' in police action. It is shocking that the State needed a rap on its knuckles to bring to book those who claim responsibility for anti-Christian violence. It is the duty of the governments to ensure that all citizens are protected.
Many innocent civilians are being victimised. Continuance of violence on churches and Christians is also posing the danger of spill-over effects. If the law of the land is violated, and innocent people suffer as a result, the first priority of any government is the reassertion of the rule of law. It is callous and insensitive to turn a blind eye to what is going on. The governments must be seen to stand for all people. The police force must have been instructed to restore law and order with immediate effect. During the recent anti-Christian violence, the governments abdicated their basic responsibility to protect the lives and property of the citizens. This should not be allowed to recur.