I Experienced an Ocean of Sorrow in the Forest Land of the Dang.....

Indukumar Jani

I spent the Christian New Year's Day in Dang. I feel that the rally taken out by the Hindu Jagaran Manch on December 25, 1998 is responsible for whatever is happening in Dang till today. The Manch has distributed some leaflets. Dang district is identified under the District Primary Education Project for the eradication of illiteracy. It is one of the three districts of Gujarat state with a minimum rate of literacy. Even then nearly 5000 copies of the pamphlets were distributed here. Who must be reading them? How many can read them? In order to awaken (Jagaran), they need to be first provided with basic education. Once educated they will themselves be able to decide what is their own good. Why don't you - the Manch people engage in the first step of this constructive activity rather than publishing so much printed garbage?

In the said leaflet it is stated that 'To teach a lesson to the Christian missionaries is a religious task'. In the preceding sentence it is mentioned that the Christian missionaries are scared of the awakening of Hindu might - a glaring self contradiction is evident. The contents of a similar leaflet which was distributed in a rally at another village in Songadh Taluka of Surat district was carried by The Statesman on 1/1/99. Here the need to show the Hindu might is mentioned. If, as stated by them, forced religious conversion is being carried out, then it is possible to take recourse to legal. And the state is also ruled by the party of their favour. Then why have no legal procedures against such conversions been initiated? What is the need to take the law into ones hands? Or do these people have no faith in the capability of the Keshubhai Government to enforce the rule of law.

Christmas is a Christian festival. Taking out processions on a Hindu festival day is understandable. But what can be the motive for a rally on Christmas day but to vitiate the atmosphere and create tension? Well in advance the office of the district collector had received the following written applications urging him not to grant permission to the proposed rally by the Manch:

1) The Rev. M.M. Pawar of C N I (Churches of North India) church, Ahawa wrote that some anti-social elements from outside the district. were to participate in the said rally. It was important that the Christians be allowed to celebrate the festival peacefully. It was possible that there would be inciting speeches which could generate tension. Hence on 21/12/98 he requested the collector to ban the rally.

2) A similar request was sent in by CNI church, Dang. On the same day Ms. Shakuntala Shewur (Women's wing, Christian security dal, Nishanpada, Dang) stated in writing that the Christians celebrated only one festival in a year. Today in the secular nation we were being targeted, so the rally should be banned. In the event of any untoward incident the district collector would be held responsible.

3) On 24/12/98, on behalf of the South Gujarat Lokadhikar Sangh, the human right organization, Mr. Bharat Mansubhai Pawar clearly told the collector that there was all possibility of violence and communal tension due to the rally, and that permission should not be granted for the rally on Christmas day in any circumstances. It might be allowed on any day after that.

In spite of this widespread apprehension of violence the rally was granted permission and we are now witnessing the aftermath.

The Hindu Jagaran Manch kept holding a number of programmes in the Dang 1998. The CNI church, Dang gave a written report to the minority board of Gujarat and the NMC (National Minorities Commission) on 5/1/98. It submitted another memorandum to the NMC regarding various incidents of atrocities on 11/8/98. The Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Dang-Vansda, Mr. Madhubhai Bhoy wrote an extensive letter to the Chief, Keshubhai Patel giving the village-wise details of attacks on Christians on 7/7/98. Not only that he provided information about the interrelationship between the leaders of the Hindu Jagaran Manch, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), the Viswa Hindi Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal (BD) as well as about the rallies taken out by the Manch. The Christians of the Dang like their counterparts all over the country took out a protest rally in Ahawa on 4/12/98 and submitted a memorandum addressing the Chief Minister. In that they demanded that the incident of an attack on the community celebration of Christmas in 1997 at village Pipalawad should not be repeated by the Hindu fundamentalists. They also provided the details of village wise data on all such attacks in the district.

Thus the situation in the Dang was explosive and waiting only for a small igniting spark. No person with a minimal common sense would have underestimated the possible consequences and granted permission to the rally of the Manch as was done by the district collector. The rallyists burned down four shops belonging to the minority communities including Muslims and Christians and shouted highly provocative slogans against the Christians and the missionaries. According to the Principal of a mission run school known as Deepdarshan, Sister Carmen Bourges, 'Apart from the leaflets, the ralliysts used jeeps. I asked for the police protection on 21/12/98. But two constables arrived only on 24/12/98 and went back at night only to return on the next day at 11 a.m. They possessed only sticks. The rally leaders were giving inflammatory speeches saying - 'Fathers and Sisters are thieves and convert us forcibly. Their homes should be looted' etc. I saw the gathering from the upper floor and sensed its seriousness. I asked for more police by telephone. One group of people from the gathering entered our boys' hostel from behind on the jungle side. They pelted stones and damaged school property worth about Rs. 60,000. I believe all this was pre-planned.'

I asked her that if this school was considered to be the most prestigious school of the district, why had she not called for the support of the parents of the wards? Her answer was, 'about 90% of the children belong to poor tribal families living in villages. The others are the children of the local officials from tribal and backward background. But so far only Dr. Patel came to inquire about us. Nobody else is bothered. We feel isolated in such trying times'. A young and politically committed social activist - advocate Paresh Choudhary - was with me. The sister told him that she was in great need of him on the troubled day as nobody had filed an appropriate First information report of the incident with police.

Thereafter I met the Rev. Gayakwad in the mission compound who provided the following information:

1) The sequence of incidents during the day of 25/12/98 was similar to the above. During the night of the same day the prayer halls of Gadvi, Jamalpada, Padalkhadi, Diwan Tebrabun were set on fire or broken up by pelting stones. At Gulkund, Mr. Devadan Pawar was beaten up. At Subir Fr. Antony's jeep and motor cycle were set on fire, the Father was beaten up and the hostel - godown of his school was destroyed.

2) 26/12/98- Even though the State Home Minister was in the district, the prayer halls of Karadi Aba and Behdun were destroyed. One Anand Varde and his relatives were beaten up, A 500 strong mob attacked the Sarpanch Dinkar Gavali of Vanki, set his house and the prayer hall on fire. While trying to fire in the air for self protection, he was hit by a stone on the forehead and the bullets hit some people in the mob. (The injured were presented in front of the NMC team in Ahmedabad after 12 days and were kept at a secret place all the while. Nobody was killed).

3) 27/12/98 - The Home Minister called a meeting of the peace committee. While the meeting was going on and after that the prayer halls of Mulchond, Lahan Kadmal, Raochond, Barapada and Barada were set ablaze. One Gamaji Pandu of Pipllyamal and Gomabhai of Dhongyamal were attacked by mobs. The Rev. Gayakwad also informed that at Vanki a jeep with the number: GRD 7443 belonging to the Forest Department was used to transport the Hindu fanatics.

On inquiring about the future strategy of the mission the Rev. Gayakwad said, they believed in non-violence and if the attacks persisted they would go on an indefinite hunger strike.

On the night of 30/12/98 while I was in Dang the situation was far from peaceful. I tried to contact the district authority but in vain as they were away into the interior of the district.

In 1991, I had written a series of articles highlighting the plight of the Bhils of Dang, on the atrocities and the reign of terror unleashed by the Forest Department on the poorest of all the tribes living in the district under the false cover of curbing Naxalism. These tribals migrate to the plains of Gujarat immediately after the rainy season as sugarcane labour. The maximum conversion to Christianity is reported from the Bhil tribes. First they were persecuted by the Forest Department officials and now they are victims of the violence perpetrated by their own tribal brothers who are being manipulated by the Hindutva forces.

Another factor worth mentioning here is the question of the implementation of the Bhuria Committee Report on Tribal autonomy. Dang will be one of the first districts to be provided with administrative autonomy. This is highly resented by the non-tribals living in the district. These disgruntled elements are resorting to a 'divide and rule' policy by creating this artificial division of Hindu vs. Christian tribals. As such the tribals have never been considered as Hindus since they worship their own primitive gods of nature quite different from Hinduism.

The loud and consistent propaganda of the state and the ruling party in its defence tries to convince the world that the actual damage to property in Dang is very little (approximately Rs. 4 lakh), there is no loss of life, and all the hue and cry over the events in Dang is just a politically motivated international conspiracy. It is an obvious fact that if people are poor their God is going to be equally poor and residing in such huts as his worshippers can afford to build. (Most of the chapels burnt down were improvised, hutment structures). The issue here is not quantification of the losses but the intentional and planned act of intimidation of the minorities and the blatant violation of fundamental rights of the citizens of this nation in open connivance with the ruling authorities of the state.

It will be interesting to remind you of a recent episode of Ahmedabad. One small road side temple-like structure of a so-called Santoshima - a fictitious Mother Goddess - was demolished by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) the for widening the road. It was ordered by an authority no less than the Commissioner himself. The Hindutva forces turned it into a big issue. The material or otherwise value of this temple was also quite insignificant and yet the entire leadership of the Hindutva forces were quick to rally behind it. The same leadership, and also the governing head of the state, has the audacity to brush aside the destruction of someone else's place of worship as an 'insignificant loss of a hut'.

We have been saying for quite some time that the BJP has no economic programme to offer, as a party it lacks a commitment to basic democratic values and a perspective for development. It intends to remain in power by misguiding and dividing people in the name of Hindutva against others. The same opinion was expressed by the former Deputy Mayor of AMC, who happens to be a prominent leader of the BJP. Disheartened and alienated he has decided not to fight any more elections in future.

From: 'Naya Marg', January 16, 1999, pp. 14-17, Translated from the Gujarati by Sonal Mehta

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