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January 19, 1999


E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

A Gandhian Speaks Out From Dangs

Ghelubhai Nayak is 75 years old and a Master of Social Welfare from the renowned Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. Along with his late older brother, Chottubhai, he was persuaded in 1948 by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to commence tribal welfare activities in Gujarat's Dangs district. He has been there ever since, and now runs the Dang Swaraj Ashram.

On January 7, Ghelubhai Nayak sent a fax in English to the Special Bench of the National Minorities Commission stationed in Ahmedabad that day. And although this is a by-line column, this writer has no qualms of conscience in reproducing most of that faxed memorandum; this is being done for no other reason than that what Ghelubhai has to say is (i) the voice of a Gandhian (ii) the expression of an apolitical person who has been an integral part of Dangs district for half a century and (iii) something which has not yet found to be worth recording by the "secular" press or to be commented upon by any investigative journalist.

Below then is what Ghelubhai put down in black and white on January 7 in his address to the National Minorities Commission:

'Sirs, myself and many of my Gandhian colleagues condemn the violence being perpetrated in south Gujarat, particularly the attacks on churches, in the name of religion. However, we are anguished to bring to your notice the ground realities behind the recent violent incidents in Dangs which haven't come to the fore or have been deliberately ignored by large sections of the media, which in turn has led to a one-sided reporting and press statements thus vitiating the atmosphere further.

The fact is that there is no dearth of evidence to prove that the violence is a reaction of the organised conversion activities of the Christian missionaries in the area with means that are clearly questionable and even illegal. The single point programme of the missionaries is to convert the tribals and in doing so they are often using means that go far beyond the realm of social service and can even be called illegal. They have been using a curious mix of blind faith and allurements to entice the innocent tribals into the Christian fold. There have been quite a few incidents which support the charge but this is not the time to go deeply into it. The population of converted tribals which was just around 500 when we came to Dangs in 1948 today reportedly stands around 35,000 to 40,000 which is over 30 per cent of the total tribal population of around 1.35 lakh in Dangs.

The following facts are for your perusal in order to convince you and the entire country that the recent religious violence which began in Dangs on the Christmas day is clearly a reaction to the slow poisoning of the tribals by the Christian Missionaries after converting them and then inculcating a spirit in them which clearly goes against true secularism.

1. The violence in Dangs began on the Christmas day after some Christian youths pelted stones on the rally of the Hindu Jagran Manch and burnt the jeep of a tribal participant in the rally. If the participants in the rally had raised filthy slogans against the Christians as alleged by them, then they should have lodged complaint with the police instead of triggering violence.

2. The ire against the Christians in the area has been rising for the past few years and has reached a boil now because of the provocative activities of the Christians under the influence of their preachers. There have been at least 15 instances in the past three years in Dangs wherein the Christians, under the influence of their preachers, have desecrated the idols of Lord Hanuman, who is worshipped in this area by large section of tribals for ages. In one incident in Gaadhvi village three years ago, they urinated on an idol of Hanuman and later in Jharsod village they crushed Hanuman's idol to pieces and threw it away in the river.

Then there have been several instances where tension has gripped a village on account of the Christians publicly calling Hindu Gods as shaitans, again under the influence of their preachers. Besides, one of the causes of the increasing tension is the refusal of the Christian tribals to contribute to the traditional tribal festivals under the influence of the preachers who poison them with anti-idolatry sermons. This can be quickly verified by holding an independent inquiry.

3. Social conflicts in tribal families have greatly increased on account of the terror tactics of the converted tribal at the behest of the preachers. In many cases a tribal who accepts Christian faith starts pressurising his brother into accepting the faith and this often results in bloody fights over the issue. In one case recently when a person, who had not converted, went to live with his converted son and died in his house, he was buried by his Christian son in the graveyard without even telling his other brothers (who were all non-Christians).

In another case in October last I had warned the district collector about some Christian attempt to disturb peace when they twice beat no less than the nephew of former Bhil Raja of Kinga (in Dangs) when he refused to marry his son to the daughter of a Christian who was forcing him to enter into the matrimonial alliance. The Christians of Linga have also been opposing the construction of a Hanuman temple on a piece of land which is owned by the Raja of Linga, Bhavar Singh, and on which they have no right.

The press release issued by the Chairman of the Minorities Commission appearing in the newspapers say that "the Commission owes a special responsibility to the holy land of the Father of the Nation." Let me remind the honourable Chairman that the Father of the Nation had also denounced the conversion activity by Christian missionaries as a blot on humanity in the name of social service. Even Vinobha Bhave… denounced conversion activity and called for a legal ban on any kind of conversion. This can be clearly gleaned from the writings of these two great sons of India.

I have been a close witness to the entire episode on Dangs and I stand by whatever I have mentioned in this communication, which I hope the honourable bench will place on record. I also hope that this will prove useful to you in arriving at the right conclusions. I am sending this communication through fax, as I am unable to reach Ahmedabad on such a short notice. In case you need any clarification kindly call me up on phone.'

Now what, pray, has come out of that vital fax of January 7? Like the "secular" press, the Minority Commission did not even acknowledge it, leave alone discussing or arguing its contents with the sender. Instead, the Commission submitted its interim report on the Dangs and other previous episodes on January 12, recommending that the Centre take "immediate appropriate action under Articles 256 and 355 of the Constitution" against the Gujarat government for failing to check violence against minorities. The home ministry is "studying" that report.

Meanwhile, the Dang Swaraj Ashram in Ahwa has, on the night of Sankrant (January 14), confirmed by phone to me in Mumbai that only one jeep had been burnt on X-mas day and that it belonged to a retired Hindu teacher, Wagle by name.. And on the morning of January 15, Mrs Ghelubhai Nayak (a post-graduate who was a civil servant until superannuating) told me on the phone that, with a retired ex-officer of the Gujarat government now given special charge of Dangs district, the joyous day of Sankrant had witnessed the traditional sweetmeats being exchanged by members of both the communities in Dangs in a spirit of forget and forgive; they also resolved on the auspicious day, she said, to ensure that the ugly episodes of the past are not repeated in the future. Tatasthu and Amen to that.

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