No one has been arrested for the rape of a 72-year-old nun, the loot of a missionary school and the desecration of its chapel. The West Bengal Police, clearly quite inept and out of its depth in almost all major crimes, like its counterparts across India, has detained a few persons, but has been unable to break the case. This inefficiency is amazing by all standards, and thus feeds into the larger perception that the police is deliberately not doing its job in this case. It was interesting to note that the very first statement from the police, without any verification whatsoever, that the crime had been perpetrated by ‘dacoits’ and it was only after the missionaries made it clear that the school had been receiving threats for a while, that this line was dropped.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seems to be weighed down by her own paranoia and has slipped into her usual denial mode which is switched on whenever she is confronted with the reality of injustice and violence. When Suzette Jordan was raped—and is now dead—the woman chief minister of the state, instead of reaching out and ensuring justice, insisted that the young woman was lying. This time, she has not gone that far, but when her convoy was blocked by protesters while she was trying to visit the school, she insisted that they were all opposition (read CPI(M)) supporters. Her remarks only served to further incense the villagers but Banerjee refused to concede ground, with her paranoia taking over basic common sense. She has now opted out altogether, transferring the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation and thereby conceding that she presides over a police force that is unable to do its job.
The rape has shocked not just India, but the world. This comes in a climate where communalism is being preached as ‘nationalism’. And where major leaders are making statements that violate every tenet of the Indian constitution. One would like to know how statements like Mohan Bhagwat’s ‘India is a Hindu Rashtra’ or Subramaniam Swamy’s insistence that god resides only in temples, and not in churches and mosques, contribute to strengthening the secularism enshrined in our Constitution? And what is a government supposed to do when these tenets are violated in such a brazen manner, not just once, but repeatedly on an almost daily basis?
Christians, as a small minority, are absolutely terrified and traumatised. As are Muslims who are the largest minority and have faced the brunt of attacks on a continuous basis for a year now. There has been no relief from the vitriol, the targeting or the communal violence in some district or town or village or the other. Low-intensity violence, leading to large displacement, and targeted attacks such as this one on the school, designed to spread terror all across seems to be the strategy to create a division amongst the people of India.
Christian MPs have now announced that they, cutting across political party lines, will meet regularly to take stock of the situation and exert pressure as a group on the government to act against the perpetrators of violence and hate crimes. But this is really not the answer as it helps those whose purpose is to create divisions. By this logic, Muslim MPs, who are of course fewer in number, and Dalit MPs, representing another community under assault at different socio-economic levels, should all form separate groups within Parliament. And thereby formalise the divisions that are being created. It is imperative that the larger voice of unity be raised in Parliament, and all parties work to ensure that action is taken against all indulging in hate speech and hate crime. This voice will be far stronger than community voices, and hence can and should be the only voice that is encouraged within and outside Parliament.
The propagators of hate and divisiveness can only be fought by a united people. This defeats their game, and ensures that India responds to all efforts to weaken her as a united entity. This is imperative for allowing the country to breathe and stabilise democracy as never before. History has been witness to the rabid irreconciliation between communalism and democracy, both being poison for each other. In that the communalist cannot flourish in a democracy and works constantly to change the system. And democracy cannot survive without the oxygen of secularism, as the opposite based on hate and injustice chokes of the arteries and suffocates it to death.
All kinds of communalism have to be challenged. And it is here that the media becomes absolutely vital, as its task to monitor, report and communicate is extremely important to counter false propaganda that really has always been the tool used by imperialists, communalists, colonialists and what-have-you. Indoctrinated regimes working against democracy need powerful propaganda, and unfortunately in India, except for a few newspapers like The Statesman, many have compromised their positions under the weight of corporate control.
The responses to the dastardly crime against the nun and the Christian missionary school are telling examples of all that has been written above. The inability to enforce the law feeds into the impunity that then becomes the basis for encouraging such violence. And at the end, even if there are many who have blindfolded themselves against the dangers that hate poses to the social fabric of this country, it is necessary to ensure that this is not frayed further by communal forces using a distorted version of nationalism to justify their ends. Nationalism is not perpetrating violence in the name of religion, nationalism is bringing unity in this diversity and uphold the Constitution of India and the law with all that it takes.