Attacks on churches and clergymen are on the rise again as the BJP government fails to punish right-wing fanatics. Imran Khan reports
EVEN AS the Justice BK Somasekhara Commission report on the 2008 church attacks gathers dust, Christian missionaries continue to bear the brunt of violence unleashed by right-wing extremists in Karnataka. So far this year, 24 incidents have been recorded in which pastors were attacked and cases foisted on them for allegedly indulging in religious conversion.
In a recent incident, Rev Sangappa Hosamani Shadrak, 28, a resident of Mudhol in Bagalkot district, was attacked by 20 Bajrang Dal activists on 21 August when he was conducting mass at a parishioner’s house. After the initial attack, Shadrak was forcibly taken to a nearby village where he was tied to a tree. What rankles the minorities is that the BJP government has turned a blind eye as Hindu fanatics wreak havoc against clergymen.
The government’s apathy can be gauged from the fact that it is yet to discuss the Somasekhara Commission report — which was submitted in January — even though rules stipulate that it should act within six months. The report hasn’t been discussed in the Assembly either.
Replying to TEHELKA’s queries, government officials blamed bureaucracy for the delay. “There were issues with the report because a large section of the minorities had opposed it,” says NM Jamdar, principal secretary (home). “The report was sent to the law department for reexamination. We cannot say when action will be taken.”
The communal conflict that engulfed Karnataka in August-September 2008 saw 55 attacks on churches and Christians in different parts of the state such as Davangere, Udupi, Mangalore, Chikmagalur, Shimoga, Kolar, Kodagu and Bengaluru. Justifying the attacks, then Bajrang Dal state convenor Mahendra Kumar had said it was “a last-ditch attempt to stop forcible conversions”.
When civil society raised a hue and cry, the BS Yeddyurappa regime did what governments usually do to stall — it ordered a commission to probe the attacks and identify those responsible for the violence. After spending 28 months and Rs 3 crore, holding 300 sittings and examining 800 evidences, the commission submitted its report.
“There is nothing substantive in the report to nail the accused,” claims lawyer Byatha N Jagadeesha, who represented the Christian community before the commission. “The commission has betrayed its mandate. It gave a clean chit to the Sangh Parivar by concluding that neither the Bajrang Dal nor the Hindu Jagran Vedike are part of the parivar.”
According to the report, “there is no basis to the apprehension of the Christian petitioners that politicians, Sangh Parivar, BJP and the state government are involved in the attacks, either directly or indirectly”. In fact, the most striking observation of the commission was that “no real Hindus are behind the church attacks”.
“In its interim report, the commission held the state government responsible for the attacks. But it made a U-turn in its final report,” alleges PB D’sa, state president, People’s Union for Civil Liberties. “On one hand, the government has withdrawn 76 cases filed against Bajrang Dal activists. On the other, 338 cases filed against Christians for peacefully protesting against the attacks haven’t been withdrawn.”
Justice Somasekhara was non-committal when asked about the next step. “Once we submit the report, our relationship with the government is over. I have no idea about the report’s fate,” he says.
Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.