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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Violence, Islam And The Islamic Movement: Can Terrorism Be At All Justified In Islam? -Part 2

Violence, Islam And The Islamic Movement: Can Terrorism Be At All Justified In Islam? -Part 2

By Dr. Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui
(Translated from Urdu by New Age Islam Edit Desk)
October 3, 2014
Surah Ash-Shura was revealed in Makkah. The time of its revelation has been fixed as after Hazrat Hamza embracing Islam and before Hazrat Umar converting to Islam. During that period, Muslims were being severely persecuted and tortured. Despite this, they had not got the permission for retaliatory violence as we have indicated above. They got permission for retaliatory violence or war when Muslims had attained the status of a powerful entity. Retaliatory violence cannot remain confined to the human and ethical limits Islam wants it to.
Violence and Terrorism
When some people or some group that is not in power and lives under the rule of a powerful entity resorts to retaliatory violence, the violence will sooner or later assume the form that we call terrorism today. Killing opponents without distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants, not sparing even women, children, the old people, destroying property, resorting to inhuman methods of killing like burning, slashing organs etc has been summarily prohibited by Islam as we will discuss later.
Now take a look at the present situation. On the one hand, there are nation states that have big armies thanks to the national resources, are equipped with the latest weapons for warfare and possess all the resources for causing large scale violence and bloodshed. On the other hand, there are individuals or groups that do not have the authority without the permission of their governments to keep even ordinary arms, leave aside acquiring latest weapons of warfare. It is not possible for these individuals and groups to keep an army. They cannot even organize a volunteer militia.
So whenever they decide to use violence against their own country or against any other country while living in their own country, they will have to adopt secret modes of operation. As a result, they will not be able to adhere to the norms Islam makes mandatory while attacking their opponents because they can neither choose their own battlefield nor the time for war. They are compelled to make secret preparations and use whatever opportunity they get to strike at the enemy. They cannot reach the fighter planes. Therefore, they target passenger planes.   Soldiers and uniformed combatants are out of their reach, so they kill ordinary citizens. They cannot reach the military installations of their enemies, so they attack commercial centres and so on.
The ‘organisation’ that resorts to such retaliatory violence is much different from and smaller than the ‘organisation’ that comes into operation under the leadership of states in power because powerless groups are destined to possess a limited organization. The history of secret organizations in the world tells us that they do not operate under one leadership for long, nor is the grip of any leadership on their activities in the field as strong as is that of organized state armies of the opponents. Every task has its limitations and compulsions. The compulsion on the retaliatory violence of individuals or groups (in retaliation to the state violence and terrorism) is that it finally takes the shape of terrorism. This issue is important that if these groups or individuals shun violence, what should they do? How should they defend themselves and achieve their objectives?
But before that we should come to the conclusion that terrorism is not permissible. As we have mentioned earlier, Islam regulates retaliatory violence under its lofty human and ethical objectives that are presented along with certified documentation as under:
“when Hazrat Abu Bakr dispatched army towards Syria, he said to the commander of the troops, Yazid Bin Abi Sufyan:
“I command you to follow ten instructions: 
Do not kill any woman, child or old person;
do not cut any fruit giving tree;
do not ruin any populated land;
do not cut any goat or camel except for necessary consumption;
do not burn beehives or disturb them;
do not be dishonest with war booty
and do not show your back in the battlefield.”
---- (Mouta Imam Malik)
Destroying property, buildings and crops comes under the category of causing mischief on earth which has been strictly prohibited.
Quran says:
“And to [the people of] Madyan [We sent] their brother Shu'ayb. He said, "O my people, worship Allah ; you have no deity other than Him. There has come to you clear evidence from your Lord. So fulfil the measure and weight and do not deprive people of their due and cause not corruption upon the earth after its reformation. That is better for you, if you should be believers.”(Al Araf: 85)
“And when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption. “(Al Baqarah: 2: 205)
During the last 20 years, the policy of aggression against the US, Russia, Britain, France or any foreign power in different regions of the world or the violence resorted to in retaliation to their policies against Islam or Muslims or the violence resorted to by them against their open violence has also passed through the same thorny ways from which Islam has prohibited Muslims to tread. Particularly, during the last few years, many innocent lives have been lost and urban installations have been destroyed due to the violence perpetrated against the US in Indonesia, Philippines, Yemen, Africa, Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia and in the US itself.
 On a comparatively low scale and in a small number in our own country, this retaliatory violence has taken the form of terrorism. These actions were a transgression against the limits set by Islam about the use of violence. This violence that is perpetrated can neither be defined as defensive nor as a means to remove mischief. It can also not be claimed that this violence is done as a punishment that any authority gives to any criminal. Moreover, the retaliatory violence committed by the Muslims in present times has practically taken the shape that transgresses the Islamic limits of use of violence.
Attacks on embassies, kidnapping of airplanes, attacks on tourist buses were carried out and women, children and the old people were killed. A huge number of properties were destroyed. This in itself is sufficient reason for these activities to be called unacceptable. Whether these activities have produced any results will be discussed later but definitely the image of Islam in the eyes of the world has taken a beating. All kinds of acts based on transgressions of ethical limits, ruthlessness and cruelty are being carried out in the name of Islam that is a religion of reformation, compassion, kindness and fraternity. These acts are highlighted by the media creating hatred and fear of Muslims in the minds of people. For a community that asserts that its mission is to be the guide of the humanity, there cannot be a greater loss or setback.
Violence in the Present Situation
 After stating the principled stance of Islam on violence and defensive or retaliatory violence, we would like to ascertain with reference to special situations if violence can be resorted to or not. There are four special situations before us. In Muslim majority countries, torture and persecution meted out to Islamic circles by the government; those independent Muslim areas that have been annexed by any non-Muslim country by use of force and is being controlled with the help of violence; Muslim minority in non-Muslim majority democratic countries where they are subjected to aggression; and the last, the latest violence by the US and its allies against Muslim countries, groups and individuals.
1-       A prominent example of the first situation is Egypt. The persecution of Muslim Brotherhood that started in 1954 continued in one or the other form. Much has happened during this period, an analysis of which is not possible here. The history of Egypt was repeated in many Arab countries.  The right opinion is that the state violence against Islamic groups should not be retaliated by the Islamic circles in Muslim countries, rather peaceful struggle should be made for the restoration of human rights and for the establishment of justice. Since arguments have been put forward in favour of this stance, we will avoid going into its details in this article which aims to focus on the fourth situation.
2-       Second problem is with the independent Muslim countries which have annexed by some non-Muslim power forcefully in a one sided operation and does not withdraw its forces from there despite the pressure from the world public opinion and the UN. A prominent example of this situation is Palestine. The battle of the Palestinians against Israel comes under the category of defensive war which we have termed as the appropriate use of violence as is evident from the related verses of the Quran. In this situation, every method and strategy should be adopted that brings an end to this aggression and the Muslims get back their territory. Now this has to be decided by the people concerned as to when and to what extent armed jihad can be adopted and to what extent other possible methods can be depended on. This is not a disputed issue calling for a debate.
 Dr Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui is a leading Indian Islamic scholar, whose specialisation is Islamic Economics. Recipient of the King Faisal Award for Islamic Studies, he has taught at the Aligarh Muslim University and the King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah. He can be reached at
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Violence, Islam And The Islamic Movement: Can Terrorism Be At All Justified In Islam? - Part 1

Violence, Islam And The Islamic Movement: Can Terrorism Be At All Justified In Islam? - Part 1

By Dr. Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui
Translated from Urdu by New Age Islam Edit Desk
What role does violence play in human life? In what conditions Islam permits violence to take the form of a full-fledged war? In that case, what norms has Islam set for war? When is violence considered terrorism? Does Islam permit terrorism in any specific conditions?
 This article has been written with these questions in mind? However, it will not be possible for us to fulfil all the requirements of an academic discussion on any of these questions. The reason for making terrorism and violence the topic of discussion is the present circumstance. In many places Muslims are being made the target of violence and terrorism and many other places even Muslims are adopting the ways of violence and terrorism. Is it permissible for Muslims to indulge in all this? Have they achieved any good by doing so? Will the counter violence by the Muslims be able to stop the violence being perpetrated against them?
Presently, the aggression of the US and the UK against Iraq on the international level and the aggressive wave of Hindutva on national level has created deep anxiety in Islamic circles. People are apprehensive about the future. Under these circumstances what should be done to improve the future of the Muslims and Islam? This article has been written keeping in mind all these questions.
Violence and Ethics
 In principle, violence is an unethical act. Violence can be permitted in a civilized society only as a punishment for crime (so that crime is rooted out) and for defence (so that one can protect oneself against the violence of others). Barring this, violence is not fare under any circumstances. The way to achieve any objective is discourse, proselytisation and encouragement rather than violence. The use of violence for religious purposes is altogether inappropriate because violence is a tool for repression whereas in Deen, there is no scope for compulsion or repression.
 “There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in Satan and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing”. (Surah Baqra 2: 256)
Islam is based on compassion, affection, tolerance and forgiveness. Strife, vandalism, rudeness and rigidity do not conform to its spirit. God says:
“Keep to forgiveness (O Muhammad), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant”. (Al Araf: 199)
 The Prophet pbuh stressed on soft heartedness and also said that effrontery and extremism do not produce results.
“Hazrat Aisha r.a narrates that the holy Prophet pbuh said, ‘God is gracious and likes graciousness. He gives what he does not give on harshness nor does He give on any other method.’ This Hadith has been narrated by Muslim. He has also narrated another hadith that says, “Hadhrat Aisha said, Observe compassion and abstain from violence and vulgar acts. Compassion makes a place magnificent while a place devoid of care becomes disgraced.”
This is why counter violence has also been discouraged along with prohibiting violent ways as an offensive as Quran has stated:
“The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a bosom friend”  (Ha Meem Sajdah: 34-35)
There is no denying the fact that in religion violence also has a place as is in the case of defence and punishment but we should try to use violence as less as possible and the real picture of Islam which is based  on love, compassion, grace and forgiveness,  is presented before the common man. That is why, the holy Quran has presented before us precedents when counter violence could have been resorted to but was not.
“But recite unto them with truth the tale of the two sons of Adam, how they offered each a sacrifice, and it was accepted from the one of them and it was not accepted from the other. (The one) said: I will surely kill thee. (The other) answered: Allah accepteth only from those who ward off (evil). (5: 27)
Even if thou stretch out thy hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against thee to kill thee, lo! I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. (5: 28)
Lo! I would rather thou shouldst bear the punishment of the sin against me and thine own sin and become one of the owners of the fire. That is the reward of evil-doers. (5: 29)
But (the other’s) mind imposed on him the killing of his brother, so he slew him and became one of the losers. (5: 30)
Then Allah sent a raven scratching up the ground, to show him how to hide his brother’s naked corpse. He said: Woe unto me! Am I not able to be as this raven and so hide my brother’s naked corpse? And he became repentant. (5: 31)
For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah’s Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! many of them became prodigals in the earth” (5:32). 
In these verses, it has been stated that the noble son of Adam could have raised his hands for murder in self defence but he did not; and that when it is permissible to kill someone as punishment. They also say what a grave crime it is killing someone who is not guilty of the crime of murder and causing mischief on earth. The verse is immediately followed by the verse in which severe punishment has been prescribed for those who cause mischief on earth and violate the laws and wage war against God and his Prophet pbuh.
Permission for physical war
It has become evident that violence that causes the loss of life is permissible only in circumstances that have been specified. Now we will try to know when and under what circumstances Quran has permitted such violence that claims human life.
 As long as Muslims remained in Makkah, they were not permitted to use such violence though they were constantly being tortured. In some conditions, the violence perpetrated against them had taken very inhuman forms, even causing the loss of lives as happened with Hazrat Sumaiyah. It can be opined that during the initial years, the number of Muslims was less and they were weak. How could they reply to violence with violence? But  in about the 6th year of Prophethood when powerful and influential people like Umar Farooq  and Hamzah bin Abdul Muttalib had professed faith  and were seeking permission to confront the oppressors, Muslims did not get the permission to use violence in retaliation of violence. On the contrary, they were advised to migrate to Habsha to escape growing violence and torture. Therefore, more than hundred Muslims migrated to Habsha.
Muslims got the permission to use violence and kill the attackers after they came to Madinah when a state had come into existence under the leadership of the holy prophet which was governed by the directives of God and His prophet pbuh. When even there they were not allowed to live in peace and were attacked and the Muslims who could not migrate from Makkah due to some compulsion or weakness were constantly tortured, God permitted them to kill those who were killing them in the following words:
“Sanction (to fight) is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and Allah is indeed Able to give them victory. Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah” (22:39-40). 
“Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors” (2:190). 
The war the Muslims were permitted was not an offensive one, only to attack other territories to annex them in their own state. It was a defensive war started with the purpose of defeating the aggressors and deterring them against further attacks. The aggressors had not only besieged the safe sanctuary of Muslims, the Islamic state of Madina, but were also hell-bent on depriving people of their fundamental human rights of accepting the invitation to embrace Islam by using force and violence. That’s why, one objective of the war of the Muslims was also to root out the mischief (fitnah) and the obedience of God becomes possible for whoever wanted to accept the Deen of God.
“And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers” (2:193)
“How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: Our Lord! Bring us forth from out of this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender!” (4:75)
As has been explained in the Quran, by unleashing the chain of life and death, God wanted to put human beings on trial to see who adopted the noble ways and who adopted the evil ways.
[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed - and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving - (Al Mulk: 2)
‘Mischief’ alters this atmosphere in which this trial takes place as some oppressors start preventing people from adopting their chosen ways forcefully. On the one hand the purpose of the Islamic jihad is to protect the life and property of the Muslims and to protect the areas under their rule, on the other, it is to remove the use of force from above the people who have been deprived of their fundamental rights mentioned in the verse quoted above. One objective of Islamic jihad is the restoration of the freedom of choice of the human beings.
The use of violence whether it is for punishment for crime, for the survival and protection of Islam and Muslims or for the restoration of the human right for freedom of choice, violence and fighting is permitted only to the extent it is necessary for a task otherwise it will come under the category of transgression and atrocity which has been strictly prohibited.
The use of violence, especially the violence that claims life is not permissible except the defensive war and punishment for crime which includes the harshest punishment for the harshest crime of Mahariba (rebellion).
“And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed] except by [legal] right. This has He instructed you that you may use reason." (Al Anam: 151)
“And do not wrongfully kill any living being which Allah has forbidden; and for whoever is slain wrongfully, We have given the authority to his heir, so he should not cross limits in slaying; he will surely be helped” (17:33).
The last verse quoted above has opened the doors for violence in retaliation to violence, but it has neither been made mandatory nor has anyone been authorized to take the law into his own hands as can be ascertained from the ordainments of qisas (revenge) and which the verse (Bani Israel:33) hints at. In the case of intentional murder, it is the duty of the Islamic government to administer punishment to the killer as Qisas. The heir or the guardians of the victim cannot take the offensive. As a general principle, it is not the way of Islam to encourage violence in retaliation to violence. Rather Islam considers it a better alternative to find ways to root out violence and adopt a policy of forgiveness towards what has happened.
“And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation - his reward is [due] from Allah. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers. And whoever avenges himself after having been wronged - those have not upon them any cause [for blame]. The cause is only against the ones who wrong the people and tyrannize upon the earth without right. Those will have a painful punishment. And whoever is patient and forgives - indeed, that is of the matters [requiring] determination. “(Ash-Shura: 40:43)
Here the attitude of the virtuous son of Adam ought to be kept in mind which has come before us through the verses 28 to 34 of Surah Baqarah.
Though the pious, God-fearing believers (momineen) are permitted to use violence in retaliation to violence, Islam also has some lofty objectives in sight which have some other expectations. This is the point that needs to be pondered over. The issue is not that it is permissible for us to use violence in retaliation to the violence perpetrated against us, we should also keep in mind whether doing so will promote the work of propagating the Deen or will cause a setback to the mission of being witness to humanity.

(This article first appeared on 9  March 2004 in Urdu monthly magazine Zindagi. Now it is also included in the author's Urdu book "ikkeeswwin sadi mein Islam, Muslaman aur tehreek-e-Islami" [Islam, Muslims and Islamic Movement in the 21st century].) 

(Dr Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui is a leading Indian Islamic scholar, whose specialisation is Islamic Economics. Recipient of the King Faisal Award for Islamic Studies, he has taught at the Aligarh Muslim University and the King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah. He can be reached

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Monday, 3 November 2014

ISIS Desire To Take 2-Year Old Christian Girl For Sex, And Tell Her Parents, “Give Her To Us. We Will Raise Her.” Her Parents Beg For Mercy, They Then Force Her Father To Kiss Their Shoes In Humiliation

ISIS Desire To Take 2-Year Old Christian Girl For Sex, And Tell Her Parents, “Give Her To Us. We Will Raise Her.” Her Parents Beg For Mercy, They Then Force Her Father To Kiss Their Shoes In Humiliation
by Ted on August 15, 2014 in Featured,General
By Theodore Shoebat

Muslims, all part of ISIS, stole a two year old Christian girl from her parents. When they approached them the ISIS Muslims said, “Give her to us. We will raise her.” Her parents parents begged them, but instead of showing mercy, the ISIS jihadists had the father kiss their shoes in humiliation. Their neighbor, Mariam, who has since fled the violence, shared the heart-shattering story:

My neighbour in Erbil has a two-year-old daughter. They said, ‘Give her to us. We will raise her.’ My neighbour cried and pleaded for half an hour. Then they forced the baby’s father to kiss their shoes, to humiliate him.

There is also the fact that countless Yezidi women are being raped in masse, as one report tells us:

Members of the Yazidi community who met French foreign minister Laurent Fabius in Erbil at the weekend told him some 500 Yazidi women have been kidnapped and 50 were taken to Mosul to be sold as slaves. The Yazidis are Kurdish-speaking people from a Zoroastrian religion, considered infidels by the Islamic State. “They have fared worse than the Christians,” says Mariam. “They are massacring Yazidis and raping their women.”

Displaced Yazidis are believed to number 400,000.
Some 120,000 Christians have fled Mosul and surrounding Christian villages. “A few days ago, Da’esh were 20km from Erbil,” Mariam says. “The Peshmerga (Kurdish militia) were running from them. Because of the American air strikes, they’ve pulled back a little.”

Some commentators say Obama is reinforcing the Muslim perception that the “crusader” west has intervened only because Christians are in danger. “All the other communities in Iraq have militias,” Mariam says. “Christ opposed violence. We have no guns. We need protection.”

Mariam was cheered by Mr Fabius’s vague promise to arm the Peshmerga. “But the Peshmerga alone are not strong enough to face such a challenge,” she says. “When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, 32 countries joined a coalition to drive the Iraqi army out. Why isn’t there a coalition of 32 countries now, to liberate northern Iraq?”

After the Islamic State seized Mosul, France, the traditional protector of Arab Christians, promised them political asylum. The consulate in Erbil was deluged with applications. When Mariam went to apply, the building was closed. “A notice says all immigration has stopped until further notice,” she says.
France appears to be having second thoughts. “Organising the departure of Christians from Iraq is tantamount to accepting the victory of the jihadists,” Mr Fabius said in Erbil on Sunday. “It’s like saying the Christians have no future in their own country.”

Most of Mariam’s family have already moved to Europe or Jordan. “I love Iraq and I love Mosul,” she says, her voice breaking. “We have been here for 2,000 years. Our churches, our history are here. When you take the Christians out of Mosul, you cut the last roots of our existence.”
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A BJP MP in Bastar is washing people's feet and stirring resentment against Christians

A BJP MP in Bastar is washing people's feet and stirring resentment against
, when thousands participated in the Run for Unity in New Delhi, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the residents of Madhota village in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district ran around the courts in Jagdalpur to deal with the fallout of the social divide deepened by the visit of the local Bharatiya Janta Party MP.

On October 9, on the invitation of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Dinesh Kashyap, the BJP MP from Bastar, came to the village, washed the feet of 35 people and announced their return to the Hindu fold.

“We were given a shawl, a sari, a gamcha,” says Sona Lekham, one of the villagers whose feet were washed. “We were told that we are now Hindus.”

The ceremony, called ghar wapasi, was devised in the 1990s by a former princely ruler in north Chhattisgarh, BJP leader Dilip Singh Judeo, who claimed that by washing the feet of tribal people, he had purged them of Christian influences and reconverted them to Hinduism. Hindutva groups have maintained that tribal people are Hindus, even though their religious beliefs and practices differ greatly from mainstream Hinduism.

Confined to the north, Judeo’s reconversion drive petered out in the last decade. So it made news when it resurfaced last month in the south of the state in a village where the VHP had established presence by recruiting workers.

A few weeks before the ghar wapasiprogramme, a Sunday congregation in Madhota village had been disrupted. “We were praying,” said Mangal, the young man who built the mud hut where people gather on Sundays to pray, “when some villagers entered the church and started beating us.”

The church-goers took the complaint to the police but the local officer fobbed them off. After the ghar wapasi programme, they wrote to the district superintendent. The local officer finally agreed to come to the village to settle the dispute. On October 25, the kotwar, or village warden, beat the drums and asked villagers to gather for a meeting with him. The Christians waited in the church and its compound, while other villagers gathered under a tent near the school. People from nearby villages also showed up. By afternoon, with no sign of the officer, the crowd grew restive. Around two p.m, a scuffle began, which swiftly turned into a full-fledged riot. According to Mangal, “a large crowd came to the church and started beating us up". However, the village sarpanch, Dhaniram Baghel, a BJP worker claims the fight was started by the Christians. “They abused the kotwar,” he said.

Outnumbered, the Christians sustained more injuries. Twelve people were admitted to the district hospital. Seven villagers were arrested – two of them were Christians, who were released on bail the next day, while five others spent a week in jail.

On Friday, when I visited the village, a large posse of police personnel was on vigil outside the church. The corner shop was closed. Few people had stepped out for work even though the crisp paddy crop stood waiting to be harvested.

Policemen posted out the church in Madhota.  Picture: Supriya Sharma.

The build up

A few kilometres short of Jagdalpur, the first signs of a Hindutva campaign appear on the highway in the form of a quick succession of newly painted saffron coloured boards which say, "Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal welcome you to Bastar.”

Often called the last homeland of the tribes in mainland India, Bastar is no stranger to conflict. For three decades, armed guerillas of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) have been waging an insurgency here against the Indian state. But the region has been largely free of religious strife, despite the long presence of both Christian and Hindu missionaries.

The first Christian missionary arrived in Jagdalpur in 1892, bringing the Methodist Church to Bastar. The Catholic Mission arrived in the 1960s and established a network of educational institutions in the region.

Later, the Ramakrishna Mission, an order of Hindu monks based in Kolkata, came to Bastar and set up schools, as did the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an organisation set up by the Sangh Parivaar with the express purpose of working among indigenous people to create in them a sense of belonging towards Hinduism .

In addition to these established organisations, the region has seen a string of individual preachers. Drawn to the teachings of a Hindu reformer called Kanthi Waale Baba, a large number of adivasis became Bhagats, giving up the consumption of meat and alcohol. Now, many are flocking to a bewildering array of small, evangelical churches, which promise to heal through faith.

Hoardings with messages from preachers. Picture: Supriya Sharma.

Decades of religious cross-currents have produced a syncreticism where it is not uncommon to find young adivasi people worshipping village deities at community festivals, bringing home the image of a mainstream Hindu god, while also attending the prayer meetings of Christian preachers.

But such fluidity in matters of faith does not altogether rule out social friction – villagers are known to take unkindly to those who decline to participate in community festivals and ceremonies after they start going to church. But it needed the intervention of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to make such village matters worthy of newspaper headlines.

The bottomline of an official text

“More than 35 villages ban the entry of outside religions,” the Hindi newspaperPatrika reported in June. But the story cited the case of just one village. “The panchayat of Sirisguda has taken an unsual decision to protect adivasi culture and traditions. It has decided to ban the entry of all other religions except Hinduism.”

The news came as a shock to Shibu Ram Mandavi, a resident of the village and the pastor at the Sirisguda church. “We did not know any such gram sabha meeting had been held,” he said.

Tension had been building up in the village after the visits of VHP and Bajrang Dal workers became frequent this year, he claimed. The church had existed in the village for eight years, but this summer, a dispute arose over donations to the village jatra, and for two months, 52 church-goers were denied food rations. “We were told that we would get our rations only after we paid Rs 100 as donation to the jatra,” said Mandavi. When they complained to the administration, two officials of the food department visited the village on 16 June. As soon as the officers left, the church-goers were beaten up.

“No point lying. We did beat them up,” said Mahadev, a young man who stood as part of the group of villagers to whom I asked if the allegations made by the church-goers were true. “We had told them you can pray in the church if you want to, but you should also continue to join the community festivals. It should be 50-50.”

On the intervention of the district collector, the food rations have been restored, and the Sunday prayers continue, but the Christians in the village are scared. They chose not to meet me in Sirisguda, gathering instead in the church of a nearby village. “We don’t know what they will do next,” said a middle-aged man.

Sirisguda people at a church in a nearby village.

Meanwhile, the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum has filed a writ petition in the High Court, challenging the Sirisguda resolution and Section 129 C of the Chhattisgarh Panchayati Act under which it has been passed. The section empowers villages to take measures to protect their traditional culture and practices, but district collector Ankit Anand said the mandate of village bodies was limited to protecting burial grounds, commons, markets – powers devolved to panchayats – not policing entry to the village, which was a matter of law and order, and hence, the power of the state administration. He also denied that 35 villages had passed such resolutions, as had been reported in the press.

But as a local journalist explained. it does not matter how many villages have passed such orders, or whether or not such orders are legal. “All that matters is the message that has gone out to Christian groups,” this person said.

What is most striking is the text at the bottom of the resolution.

Along with the collector, the tehsildar and the police in-charge, the gram sabha resolution has been officially copied to “Honorable President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad”.

A resurgent VHP

Suresh Yadav, a native of Haryana, now in his fifties, claims he first came to Jagdalpur in 1992. Two years ago, he rose to the rank of president of the VHP in Bastar. He claimed VHP activists were not "encouraging" villagers to ban Christian missionaries but simply "guiding" them how to. “If you have cold, I can tell you which medicine to take. But it is upto you whether to take it or not,” he said. “All that we are doing is jan jagran" or social awakening.

The chief problem with Christian missionaries, according to him, is that they work in secrecy.

“Two days ago, we attended the peace committee meeting called by the district collector,” he said. “We asked him how many Christian families are there in Madhota village. He did not have an answer. Even the Christian groups sat in silence. But we insisted, 'Tell us, how many people have you converted in Madhota.’ They finally said, ‘We only change people’s hearts, hum sirf matantran karaate hai’.' Now, that can’t be an answer. After all, I can change my heart five times a day.”

But what is the VHP upset if religious conversions have not taken place?

“If all you have done is change people’s hearts,” said Yadav, “how can you claim the status of minorities for them?”

“On every government document, even the marksheets of their children, they claim they are Hindu,” his colleague Shashank Srivastava chimed in. “But when there is a dispute, they become minorities, start crying loudly, and mobilise support all the way till Delhi.”

The question of faith

It is true that those flocking to the churches in the villages have neither formally converted to Christianity, nor do they identify themselves as Christians. But they are keenly aware that their change in faith sets them apart from other villagers, and to describe it, they use terms like prathana mein aana (coming to prayer) , prabhu mein aana, (coming to god) and vishwaas aana (coming into belief).

Bhuvaneshwar Nag “came to prayer” as a child. His father used to drink a lot and his mother heard that prayer might help. Paru More’s son was blind and his daughter lame. A pastor offered to pray for them, as well as helped find them admission in schools for the disabled in Jagdalpur. In a region with poor health and social services, it is not surprising that a change of faith is often a mechanism for coping with illness and addiction.

Educated till the tenth standard, Laxman Kashyap works as an agent for lawyers, bringing to them villagers who need legal aid. “My mother-in-law was cured of leprosy after joining prayer, and the pastor asked me if I wanted to quit my drinking habit,” he said. “I had earlier taken vows of the Navkhand Mahabharata, of Budha baba, of a kalash. Each time I failed to quit alcohol, nothing happened. But after I took the vow of Prabhu, when I went out drinking with a friend, my stomach started to churn. I immediately realised I had made a mistake. I was finally in the midst of a powerful god.”

Since then, Kashyap has been regularly going to church on Sundays but he does not identify himself as “Masih”, or Christian.

“We are Madias,” says his wife. Madia is the name of a tribe, one of the largest in Bastar. “We cannot leave what we have inherited from our parents, grandparents, our ancestors.” And so they participate in all community festivals, give donations to jatras, even attend the Ganesh and Durga festivities, the recent additions to the village calendar. The only thing they refrain from is partaking in the offerings made during the animal sacrifice.

It isn’t just that they have reservations, even the other villagers don’t want them to touch their gods. Every Dussehra, like other villages, Madhota sends its god on a palanquin to Jagdalpur. This year, it was the turn of Paru and his relatives to bear the palanquin. The old man was willing to perform his duty, but the villagers said it was better he abstained, instead he could contribute by making a double donation to the festival fund.

When Kashyap went to admit his children to school, the teacher asked him their religion. He ended up saying, “Hindu”. Why so, I asked. “I am born in Hindustan. What else can I be?” he said. “Though sometimes I wonder if Madias are Hindus, then why don’t they [the non-tribal people] sit and eat with us?”

Law versus practice

Chhattisgarh inherited a law from Madhya Pradesh that mandates that the priests presiding over a conversion ceremony must inform the district collector within a month of the event. An amendment in 2006 sought to make it mandatory to seek the collector’s permission before conversions. But Ankit Anand, the district collector of Bastar, said, “Not a single case of conversion has been brought to either my attention, or that of my predecessor, or even his predecessor.”

In the villages, the pastors – who happen to be locals, not outsiders – told me that they were no longer converting people formally since most who joined the services of the church did not stay long. When Shibu Ram Mandavi, now the pastor in Sirisguda, joined the church in 2000, inspired by a priest from Kerala, he signed a formal affidavit as per the conversion law. But today, he said it was not worth taking the trouble to sign up others because “they come and go, depending on their will”.

In Madhota village, Dashrath, who lives opposite the church, told me he attended the prayers for a few years, but no longer does. He left of his own will, when the prayer stopped working for him.

But his neighbour, Sona Lekham, said he was forced to quit, pressurised by a man called Sukhdev. “He said if you don’t quit, we will take away your land.” Lekham was one of those whose feet was washed by the BJP MP in the ghar wapasi ceremony earlier this month.

Sukhdev turned out to be a newly recruitedkaryakarta of the VHP. He told me that he had joined the organisation last year, after a friend took him to one of its meeting in Jagdalpur, attended among others by senior leaders of the BJP. Educated till 12th, Sukhdev said he was 32. What did he do, I asked. “Nothing much,” he said. “I am unemployed. I hope I can get a government job.”

The politics of religion

The increased activity of the VHP in Bastar, said Navneet Chand of the Bastar Masih Mahasangh, is directly linked to electoral politics. In 2003, BJP won 11 of the 12 assembly seats in Bastar. A decade later, even though it won the state election for a third time, its tally in Bastar declined to just four seats. “The villages where the trouble is erupting lie in the areas where the BJP lost to the Congress,” says Chand. “They are trying to polarise voters and regain lost ground.”

Dinesh Kashyap, the BJP MP, rubbished these allegations. Speaking with Scroll on phone, he claimed there was nothing wrong in participating in a ghar wapasi programme. “The programme was peaceful,” he said. “The atmosphere heated up later. We are not responsible for that.” Asked if he would attend such programmes in the future, he said, “Why not? Hindu hai hum. Our people are being weaned away from their culture. Hindus were being made a minority.”

Suresh Yadav, the garrulous, talkative president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, is not sure whether or not to take credit for the resurgence of the VHP in Bastar. “Even my predeccessors worked hard,” he said. “But everyone has a different working style, kissi ki dhar kam, kissi ki tez,” said his lieutenant Shrivastava. “Now, look at Modi ji,” Yadav picked up the thread. “Earlier, when our ministers went to America, they were stripped and searched. But Modi ji got such a wonderful reception.”

“Has Modi ji’s victory in the election galvanised VHP cadre?” I asked.

“No, no, don’t connect this to Modi ji,” said Yadav.

But Laxman Kashyap, the court agent, the church-going man who still identifies himself as Hindu, believes there is a connection. “After elections, the same people have come to power in both the centre and in the state,” he said, when I asked him what he thought had led to the recent violence. “Unka power ab badh gaya hai. Naturally, they have become more powerful.”

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