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/ Minorities / Nationality and Religion /

Rape and the Minorities:
BJP's fascist face

The fascist face of the Hindu Right has been revealing itself over recent weeks (in India). In the bizarre and frightening world of the Hindu Right, Christians and rapists are both under attack. And what exactly do these two have in common. At one level, absolutely nothing. Christians are a legitimate religious minority. Rapists are criminals, but, in the hands of the Hindu Right, the issues like rape and religious minorities - like everything else they touch - are slathered in nationalism, authoritarianism and intolerance.

The Christian community has found itself under increasing violent attack The most violent expression has come in the wake of the recent incident of rape of four Christian nuns in Madhya Pradesh by militants associated with the Hindu Right. Then, there was the violent attack on Christian religious leaders at a national conference in Baroda by mobs of the Hindu Right. The mobs claimed, true to form, that they had rescued 47people (read Hindus) from a foreign-inspired drive of conversion.

These attacks are not isolated events. There are more than 30 recorded instances against Christians that have occurred over the past four months. For instance, in July a mob entered a missionary school and burned hundreds of Bibles after forcing students to spit on them. And there was the exhumation of a coffin in Gujarat, the desecration of a statue at Jesus and Mary College in New Delhi and the attacks on a convent in West Bengal.

The Christian community was reminded not only its minority status, accounting as it does for only 2.6 per cent of the share of the population. It was also reminded loud and clear, of its precarious place in a nation that increasingly defines itself as Hindu. The Home Minister LK Advani has assured the community that these incidents will be investigated. But, no formal prosecutions have yet been started. This steady campaign and annihilation is all too consistent with the BJP election manifesto calling for "one nation, one people and one Culture.’

The recent attacks on the Christian community may seem unprecedented - but only in degree and visibility--in practice conversion has long been a favourite target of the Hindu Right, leading to their demonisation of the likes of Mother Teresa, and their many efforts to stop mass conversions of Hindus to Christianity.

But the real focus of the Right wing’ s censure has more traditionally been the Muslim minorities, who have long suffered at the hand of their anti-minority rhetoric and violence. The current attack on Christians may be a strategy intended to appease the more militant elements in the Sangh Parivar, bent on propagating and establishing their doctrine of Hindutva. The Muslims are experiencing a welcome though temporary reprieve, for any attempt to violently attack and destroy their places of worship or disrupt their community would lead to riots as witnessed at the time of the destruction of the Masjid - something that the very precariously balanced government can ill afford.

Then, there is the seemingly unrelated effort of dealing firmly with atrocities against women. But getting tough with rapists Advani has declared the Government’ s intention to institute the death penalty for rapists. While attempting to project itself the upholder of women s rights, the issue of rape has long been a highly communalised one.

The Hindu Right has frequently highlighted the atrocities against women in Muslim countries, in South Asia, the opposition to the call for Taslima Nasreen’ s death in Bangladesh being one recent example of this process. The demonisation of the Muslim male has been intrinsic to the Hindu Right’s agenda and this is ernphasised in the context of violence against YI Women.

The death penalty for rape cannot be understood in isolation. It is unlikely to lead to an increase in the conviction of rapists, since judges will be loath to indict such severe sentences.

Further, convictions are likely to be disproportionately at individuals from disadvantaged and otherwise despised communities. Statistics in the United States reveal that Black men make up a disproportionate number of death row inmates. In the context of India, a review of laws that are punishable with capital punishment brings out the discriminatory way in which such laws are applied to disadvantaged communities. There is every reason to fear that the death penalty will be disproportionately used against Muslim men.

This may, in turn, only serve to reinforce the stereotype of Muslim men as lustful and rapacious, and deflect attention from the violence inflicted by Hindu men against women.

And finally, there can be no compromise on the basic human rights standard. Regardless of the nature of the crime. The death penalty has always operated against disadvantaged communities in every place in the world where it has been enforced. India is no exception to this rule. The death penalty is an easy solution to a complicated problem, a way in which the state can flex its muscles and fall back on- its prehistoric beliefs that might is right, never reflect the rule of law.

Which brings us back to the attacks on the Christian community.

Advani’s response in the rape of the nuns is couched in the language of nationalism and seems to put the blame on Christian missionaries who have provoked the ire of Hindus with their proselytising mission. There was no condemnation or disagreement with the statements of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, both members of the Sangh Parivar, of Hindus with their proselytising mission. There was no condemnation or disagreement with the statements of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, both members of the Sangh Parivar, which virtually justified the attacks on the Christian community and the missionaries. In fact B. L. Sharma, General Secretary of the BJP, stated that "the assault on the mission in Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh and the violence and loot in Bhaghpat, Uttar Pradesh, was the direct result of the conversion of the Hindus to Christianity by the priests ".

It would seem then that the proposed new law for getting tough on atrocities against women is not designed for communal rapes committed by Hindu militants.

Rapists may be under attack, but apparently not at the expense of the attack on the Christian community.

The targeting of religious minorities is in keeping with the BJP agenda to east Christians and Muslims as foreigners who are posing a threat to the Hindu society and the Hindu nation.

(Courtesy: The Hindu, 29 November 1998)