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The State of Saffron
|by Elsa Sherin Mathews|
When Muslim cattle traders in Orissa's Bhadrak district are forced to pay heavy bribes regularly while transporting cattle, it doesn't make headlines. Nor do the numerous cases of land grab in various districts of Orrisa, in which the verdict almost always favors Hindus, denying legal land rights to Muslims, Dalits and Christians.
The brutal murder of missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons by right-wing goons in 1999 was an indication that the tentacles of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) had spread to Orissa. Now, warns a new report, the communal situation in the state is far, far worse.
"It seems there will have to be some large-scale violence before everyone realizes that Orissa has been taken over by communal forces," says Angana Chatterji, Convenor of the Indian People's Tribunal on Communalism in Orissa. The findings of the tribunal were released earlier in October 2006 in New Delhi, in a report titled, 'Communalism in Orissa'. The eight-member panel was led by retired Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, K K Usha. It conducted its investigations from January 2005 to April 2006. Advocate Mihir Desai and Angana Chatterji were the tribunal convenors and report editors. This tribunal was set up by the Indian People's Tribunal for Environment and Human Rights.
Explaining the decision to enquire into the deepening communal situation in Orissa, Chatterji recalls a statement made by a Bajrang Dal member in 2003. (The Bajrang Dal is an organization under the umbrella of the right-wing RSS, also known as the Sangh Parivar). "He said that Orissa was the second Hindu Rajya (state) after Gujarat," says Chatterji, who is Associate Professor, social and cultural anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. "That impelled me to make further enquiries and look into the communal situation in Orissa."
Since 2000, Orissa has been ruled by the Biju Janata Dal, which is part of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (the political wing of the RSS).
The 80-page report records various incidents of violence and harassment meted out to Muslims and Christians over the past 10 years in Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpuri, Keonjhar, and Phulbani districts. According to the report, the sharp divisions of caste, class and gender in Orissa facilitate the furtherance of the Sangh Parivar agenda. While 57 per cent of the rural population is poor, unemployment persists and daily wages are meager. The Sangh Parivar has taken advantage of these conditions and has established itself in 25 of 30 districts in Orissa.
The Sangh Parivar operations in Orissa seeks to build a cadre comprising Hindus (both men and women) and targets Christians, Muslims, Adivasis and Dalits. Communal groups in the state also try to prevent SC/STs from converting to Islam or Christianity.
The report states that the Sangh Parivar's cadres in Orissa total a few million and constitutes the largest voluntary effort in the state. Building on the failure of the state to provide accessible and affordable education, the Sangh Parivar has created a network of schools that follow a fundamentalist curriculum, the report adds. Vidya Bharati operates 39 Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools with 1,11,000 students. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA, a Sangh Parivar-affiliated educational institution) runs 1,534 projects and schools. The Sangh has initiated 932 Ekal Vidyalayas in 10 districts in the state.
The Sangh's curriculum legitimizes the sanctity of a 'Hindu worldview' in India and the creation of a Hindu State. The RSS describes this education as 'holistic', 'patriotic' and 'accessible'. According to the report, however, the Sangh Parivar's curriculum fans hatred and aims to convert students to Hinduism.
The report says: While Christian schools may use education to proselytize, we note it happens on occasion and not as a norm. The right-wing seeks to offer education that teaches hate and intolerance, and self-loathing (for Adivasis and Dalits), and uses education as a tactic to build citizenry that will rally to form an authoritarian state in India.
The report states that on March 16, 2002, after the riots in Gujarat, 300-500 communal activists attacked the Orissa state legislature, demanding that the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya must go on. "In Orissa there are members of the bureaucracy and the judiciary who are also sympathizers of the Sangh Parivar," claims Chatterji.
The participation of women in Sangh Parivar activities has also increased across Orissa, says the report. The RSS also conducts campaigns urging Hindu families to give the go-by to the two-child norm and have at least three children in order to 'strengthen the nation' and its Hindu majority status.
The RSS conducts month-long training session across Orissa during the summer vacations, drawing youth, students and young children. Apart from this, the Sangh also supports the people of Orissa monetarily during catastrophes. For instance during the Orissa cyclone, funds were mobilized from Sangh-affiliated organization based in India and abroad, such as the Indian Development and Relief Fund, Sookruti, and Seva International. The Tribunal has recommended an enquiry into the activities of the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.
Conducting investigations into the state of communalism in Orissa wasn't an easy task for the panel members. "Justice Usha and I were threatened with rape. They also said they would parade us naked," says Chatterji. The incident occurred in June 2005 while the Tribunal conducting a hearing with Hindu nationalist organizations at the Red Cross Bhavan in Bhubaneshwar. They were also subject to threatening phone calls.
Talking about the similarities between Orissa and Gujarat, Chatterji says, "Both states have a culture of silence. Small incidents of communal violence are often overlooked." According to Colin Gonsalves, editor of the magazine, 'Combat Law' and senior Supreme Court advocate, who was also a member on the advisory board of the Tribunal, the situation is grim not only in Orissa but also in other states. "We are slowly moving towards fascism and the common man needs to speak out against the spread of communal forces in the country."
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