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July 15, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ John Joseph

'The country is going to be shocked when it hears who is behind these attacks...'

The National Minorities Commission, the apex government body in charge of the welfare of minority communities in the country, has been drawing flak from church leaders for quite some days. Christian groups argue that the NMC's fact finding reports on the continuing attacks against missionaries and church institutions have been flawed and partial.

Recently, the NMC published an investigative report which said five cases of atrocities against Christians in north India were "isolated incidents." The report further said the Sangh Parivar groups could not be held responsible for these attacks.

Furious at the report, church leaders have demanded that the NMC be either reconstituted or some its members be sacked. Particularly, church leaders are up in arms against NMC member John Joseph, the representative of the Christian community in the apex body. Church leaders claim Joseph no longer works for the interests of the community.

But Joseph continues to be at loggerheads with the Christian hierarchy. He says Christian militancy exists in the country just like Hindu and Muslim militancy. He claims the attacks against Christians are not actually atrocities or systematic violence. He feels certain Christian quarters are torpedoing the NMC efforts to check the attacks on Christians. Upset by Joseph's remarks, church leaders last week called off an NMC proposal for a dialogue between Christian and Hindu religious leaders.

In an exclusive interview with Senior Associate Editor George Iype, the NMC member explains that some church leaders are deliberately vitiating the communal atmosphere in the country in the name of attacks on Christians.

Why do you think church leaders backed out of the NMC attempt to broker a peace dialogue between the Christian and Hindu leaders?

John Joseph

I really do not know why the Christian leaders suddenly backed out of the dialogue. The Hindu leaders have been preparing for the dialogue and at the last moment, Christian leaders rejected our proposal. This is indeed very unfortunate. We are still trying to convince Christian leaders to sit at the negotiating table to discuss and debate contentious issues with Hindu religious leaders.

But church leaders are blaming you for the fiasco.

Church leaders are blaming me for everything these days. I would say it is not the spiritual leaders of the church who are blaming me. Certain Christian quarters are carrying on a systematic and deliberate campaign against the Minorities Commission.

You have said that certain church leaders have torpedoed the Commission's attempt to broker a Hindu-Christian religious dialogue. Why have they done so?

I do not want to mention the names of the Christians who compelled the church leadership to call of the dialogue. I know the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, Archbishop Cyril Baselius very well. I am on good terms with him and other top church leaders. It is not they who are trying to create unnecessary hysteria over the so-called attacks on Christians. It is some lay Christian leaders who are advising the bishops to act against the interests of the community. They are trying to vitiate the communal atmosphere in the country.

Who are these lay Christian leaders?

Everybody in political circles and in the media knows who these Christian leaders are. John Dayal, who heads three Christian organisations, is the main leader. He is the president and secretary of the All India Catholic Union, the All India Christian Council and the United Christians Forum for Human Rights. Every day, these organisations come out with press statements from every nook and corner of the country.

Why do you think John Dayal and other Christian leaders are against you?

I think John Dayal wanted to be the member of the National Minorities Commission. When he could not become the member, he has turned against me.

But many bishops and other important church organisations have issued statements alleging that you have acted in a partisan manner in the NMC.

John Joseph

I do not think a section of church leaders are against the NMC. It is all concocted stories. Some people with vested interests have come out against me. I am sure no Christian spiritual leader has opposed the decisions and recommendations of the Minorities Commission. These lay leaders, who want the church to be in trouble, have now turned against the NMC. Their aim is not the welfare of the church or its missionary work.

You mean to say the church's agenda and missionary work are being taken for a ride by these people.

No. I do not think the so-called Christian leaders can take the church's work in India for a ride. The Church's missionary work will continue splendidly as it has in the past. But the problem is that Christian leaders with vested interests are now controlling the church leadership.

What is it that they want? Do you think these Christian leaders are playing politics and the church leadership is remaining a mute witness?

I sincerely feel that some of these Christian leaders want the attacks to continue so that they can be in the limelight. They are playing politics in the shadow of the attacks. Some of these leaders want the tension to increase in the country. They want to achieve so many other things in the name of the attacks against Christians in the country. In the name of violence and atrocities, I suspect some Christian organisations are trying to get foreign funds.

But some church leaders say you have become a Sangh Parivar supporter in your second term as the NMC member.

It is absolute nonsense. I do not have any political affiliations. I am the representative of the Christian community in the Commission. I will continue to serve the community. But we have a democracy in India and anybody can say anything.

You have often stated that the attacks on Christians are isolated incidents and these attacks are not atrocities. Can you explain?

I did not say that all the attacks on Christians in the country are isolated incidents. We, the Commission members, after studying five out of the 40, 50 incidents of attacks on Christians, came to the conclusion that these five incidents in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana were totally isolated cases. We mentioned just five cases. No Sangh Parivar group was behind the attacks on Christians in these cases. We stand by our report. But the problem is that Christian leaders want the NMC to portray all the incidents of attacks against Christians in the country as being the handiwork of the Sangh Parivar. Sorry, we are a responsible organisation. We are supposed to tell only the truth, according to the Constitution.

You do not believe that there was a pattern in the violence against Christians in the country.

I do not know. I do not want to comment. Let the truth come out. In a few days, you will hear who are behind these attacks. The country is gong to be shocked when it hears that the attacks against Christians have not been perpetuated by pro-Hindu organisations. Look at the church blast in Bangalore. The police arrested a Muslim fundamentalist. I do feel there is a definite link between the bomb blasts in churches in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Goa. But these blasts were surely not carried out by Sangh Parivar outfits.

So you mean to say that the Sangh Parivar groups or members have never been involved in any incidents of violence against Christians.

You know, unless we get information, we cannot comment as to who is really behind the attacks. For the past many months, Christian leaders have been attacking the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP leaders for the attacks. The entire country believed that the Sangh Parivar groups were behind the attacks. That is why we want a genuine dialogue to take place between the Hindu and Christian leaders so that the misunderstanding and mistrust can be resolved. In the light of the allegations of forced conversion and evangelization, let both sides discuss and debate.

Do you think the dialogue can help?

Surely, the dialogue can help. But now it will be very difficult for the dialogue to happen because the Christian leaders have backed out.

Do you think a hate campaign against Christians is on in the country?

I do not want to comment now. I have been watching the entire scenario since 1992. If I say something, it will affect the possibility of the Hindu-Christian dialogue.

Do you think the Minorities Commission has been partial and has not been working for the welfare of the various minority communities in the country?

The NMC's responsibility is to protect the interests of the minorities, which I suppose we are doing well. My responsibility is to protect the interests of the Christians, which I think I am fulfilling. I have been telling the Christian community leaders not to always blame minor incidents on Hindu groups without knowing the truth. But the problem with some Christian leaders is that as soon as an incident takes place, they come out with statements accusing the Hindu organisations of doing it. I think Christian leaders are against the NMC because the BJP government has appointed us. Because we were selected by the Vajpayee government, church leaders look at us as suspects. The day I assumed office as NMC member on January 24, I got a fax from some Christian organisation blaming the Prime Minister for appointing me.

Do you think the Minorities Commission is a toothless tiger?

I do not think it is a toothless tiger. But I do feel that the Minority Commission cannot do many things which we should be doing. We are under tremendous constraints because the NCM does not have any real powers. Governments have seldom considered and implemented many of our recommendations.

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