|All Saints Church, Srinagar|
Reverend Chander Mani Khanna of All Saints’ Church in Srinagar was arrested following protests in the city against trying to convert a few Kashmiris. While he should be fully represented in court, it is a bit hasty to use this episode to flash liberal credentials just yet. The people have protested for various ills committed by the Establishment. At such times, we are ready to give these same protestors the benefit of doubt. So, where is the need to score secular brownie points now?
How many Christians are there in Jammu and Kashmir? How many Kashmiri pandits or Sikhs have been converted to Islam? Had there been such conversions, there would have been the standard outcry against Islamisation. There is brainwashing of people in the state by other groups as well. It would not be unusual for some missionaries to use this opportunity; it has been done in other parts of the country and there have been protests, and people have even been killed for it.
Rev Khanna had stated:
“The Kashmiri youths were coming to the Church since past one year. They wanted to participate in the Holy Communion like rest of the Christians. I explained they are not allowed to do without undergoing water baptism. They insisted me to baptise them. I am a priest and I cannot deny them this right. Someone later recorded the baptism ritual through a mobile and published it on the YouTube. This was done with a provocative intention to create religious violence.”
If such conversions happen willingly and the pastor has been with the church for seven years, then in a state that is already riddled with violence why would there be a need for such provocation? Had these people been planted? Why did it take them one year to participate in the Holy Communion?
The head of the Amritsar Diocese, Bishop PK Samantaroy, said:
“The law and order situation can change any time in the Valley. The Sharia Court has no locus standi practically, but they are the ones who rule. We have to be very careful. The issue has also put at risk the lives of other local Christians in the state.”
This is an alarmist comment. What other verdicts have been pronounced by these courts? Why make it seem as though they are mandated by the State government or even many separatist outfits? They are not. So, why did the bishop appear before Mufti Mohammed Bashiruddin of the Sharia court that has no locus standi? Why did he and the church authorities not approach the government before things got out of hand? Is the government acting at the behest of the Mufti or to circumvent the situation?
Javed Anand, in his Indian Express piece that begins with the sentence “Eating your cake and having it too may be a tempting thought,” asks, “What’s Islamic law and a sharia court doing in a secular democratic polity?”
Let us jog Mr. Anand’s memory. He was an agreeable party to a fatwa, even if it was ‘secular’, that made a huge song and dance about fighting terrorism. Here is the snapshot:
“Mehmood Asad Madni, the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind’s general secretary and prime mover behind the ongoing nationwide campaign against terrorism thought it fit to engage with Javed Anand general secretary MSD (Muslims for Secular Democracy) and his friend and communications expert Alyque Padamsee in strategizing for the May 31 rally of the Jamiat in New Delhi. The New Delhi-based Maulana Madni made three trips to Mumbai in early May where, together with Alyque Padamsee and Javed Anand, the key elements of the proposed rally were finalized: an unambiguous Fatwa from Deoband, an ‘Oath of Allegiance’ to be taken at the rally, the only two slogans to be used on all placards and banners, design of the stage backdrop, the key points of Maulana Madni’s own speech.”
Why was a religious body involved in what is a law-and-order and social issue? Since it came from an organisation, Mr. Anand was quoted as saying, “In the theological universe, it is the equivalent of a verdict of a full constitutional bench of a Supreme Court.”
So, why was this theological world involved then and why can it not be involved now? Only because it suits a certain kind of limited secular perspective in a state that is not viewed as ‘cosmopolitan’?
Since J&K does not have a law against conversions, Rev. Khanna has been charged under different sections. From Mr. Anand’s column:
“Section 153A pertains to ‘promoting enmity between different groups... and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.’ Section 295A has to do with ‘deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. Why should conversion of a few Muslims to Christianity be deemed a malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings? Why should it be tantamount to promoting enmity between different groups? These might be questions for you and me. But Omar Abdullah and his police may well be wondering whether the FIR and the arrest are enough to douse the flames.”
In a tinderbox environment, everything hurts religious sentiments. If we are concerned about secularism then he should be happy that instead of the mullahs, the state has acted. Having said this, it becomes imperative for the government to ensure that due legal process is followed. The Kashmir Bar Association has refused to represent the pastor, but there are lawyers from outside who are willing to do so. Omar Abdulla should step in and see to it that the State he heads does not fall prey to other sorts of outside elements.
Besides the screeching mullahs and the angry Christians, there are also the liberals who will use Islam when it suits them. It is unfortunate that Javed Anand has quoted some anonymous punks from websites to justify his theory:
“The responses to the video clip have apparently been venomous. ‘We promise to kill all Christian missionaries and burn their buildings, schools and churches!’ pronounces one commenter, while another proclaims, ‘we should burn this priest to death!’ Echoes of Pakistan’s obnoxious blasphemy laws?”
This is so mischievous. Does he know that our very own Vishwa Hindu Parishad has jumped in to protest the killing of three Hindus in the Sindh province of Pakistan? Here is what VHP president Ramakant Dubey said:
“We demand protection of minority Hindus in Pakistan where they have been subjected to repeated attacks. Human rights organisations across the world and the Indian government should seek an explanation from the Pakistan premier about the repeated killings, massacres and conversions of minority Hindus.”
A rightwing Hindu organisation in India can interfere not only in Pakistan’s internal matter – however despicable the crime – but also applaud the US for raising the issue. If anyone from Pakistan even mentions the plight of Indian Muslims, the whole community is branded jihadi or accused of owing allegiance across the border.
It is, therefore, a dangerous argument that what people are saying on social networking sites works as law, whereas when a legitimate law is used it is questioned. This is double standard, too. One does not expect the Ummah to stay quiet, just as the Christian organisations are planning their own counter-protests. Incidentally, the ummah is not a universal body that can work on remote. Jammu and Kashmir does not have any blasphemy laws. If anything, more Muslims are arrested and killed in prisons there.
The sophistry of quoting nice little verses from the Quran does not work in a democratic polity, does it? Besides, it does not alter the soft belligerence of vocational secularists.
(c) Farzana Versey
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Here is the video: