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Arundhati Roy on Taslima Nasreen and Nandigram: Interview with Karan Thapar on IBNlive.com

December 2, 2007

As we have been discussing both Nandigram and the situation that Taslima Nasreen has found herself over the last few weeks, I thought that it might be interesting to listen in on a conversation that Karan Thapar has had with the writer Arundhati Roy that takes on both these questions. This interview was broadcast today on CNN IBN.


Transcript of Arundhati Roy interviewed on the treatment of Taslima Nasreen by Karan Thapar on ‘Devil’s Advocate’, broadcast this evening on CNN-IBN

The transcript was published on Sun, Dec 02, 2007 at 20:32, on the IBNlive.com website

A video of the interview is also available on the website.

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Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. How do India’s leading authors respond to the treatment given to Taslima Nasreen over the last 14 days? That’s the key issue I shall explore today with Booker Prize- winning novelist Arundhati Roy.

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, let me start with that question. How do you respond to the way Taslima Nasreen has been treated for almost 14 days now?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it is actually almost 14 years but right now it is only 14 days and I respond with dismay but not surprise because I see it as a part of a larger script where everybody is saying their lines and exchanging parts.

Karan Thapar: She, I believe, has been in touch with you . What has she told you about the experience that she has been through?

Arundhati Roy:Well I have to say that I was devastated listening to what she said because here’s this woman in exile and all alone. Since August she’s been under pressure, she says, from the West Bengal police who visit her everyday saying, “Get out of here. Go to Kerala, go to Europe or go to Rajasthan. Do anything but get out of here. People are trying to kill you,” not offering to protect her but saying get out. On 15th November when there was this huge march in Calcutta against Nandigram, they said, “Now you’re going to be killed so we’re going to move you from your flat to some other place” and they did it but they withdrew most of her security which is paradoxical because on the day when she was supposedly the most under the threat, she had no protection. A few days later they gave her a ticket and pushed her out of the state.

Karan Thapar: Listening to the story she told you about herself, do you believe that the West Bengal government’s behaviour has been unacceptable?

Arundhati Roy: Well it has been utterly, ridiculously unacceptable. I mean, what can I say? Here you have a situation where you’re really threatening and coercing a person.

Karan Thapar: Far from protecting her, they were threatening her?

Arundhati Roy: Absolutely.

Karan Thapar: What about Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee? He is a poet, he is an author; how does he emerge from this story?

Arundhati Roy: He emerges from the story, as far as I am concerned, as the principal scriptwriter who managed quite cleverly to shift all the attention from Nandigram to Taslima and Taslima is not the person who is displacing the poor peasants of Nandigram. She is not the person who is robbing people of their daily.

Karan Thapar: So he used her as a pawn to take the pressure off himself in terms of Nandigram?

Arundhati Roy: I think very successfully because we are discussing her and not Nandigram right now.

Karan Thapar: So he’s failed to stand by any of the constitutional duties that as a Chief Minister he should have upheld?

Arundhati Roy: I should say at this point that we do not have the constitutional right to free speech. We have many caveats between us and free speech so maybe he has upheld the constitutional rights to us not having free speech.

Karan Thapar: On Friday, Taslima announced that three pages from her autobiography Dwikhandito, which allegedly had given offence to critics, are to be withdrawn. Do you see that as a sensible compromise or a mistake?

Arundhati Roy: Well, neither. She does not have any choices. She is just like a person who has now got the protection of the mafia which is the state in some way. She has nowhere to go. She has no protection. She just has to blunder her way through this kind of humiliation and I really feel for her.

Karan Thapar: You used an interesting phrase. You said she has to blunder her way through this humiliation. Was withdrawing those three pages, admittedly under pressure, a blunder?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t know. Honestly, we can all be very brave in the security of our lives but she has nobody to turn to and nowhere to go. I don’t know what I would have done in that situation.

Karan Thapar: She had no other choice, perhaps.

Arundhati Roy:She really is in a mess. I think it is a reflection on all of us.

Karan Thapar: Let’s come to the issues and the principle that underlie what I call the Taslima Nasreen story. To begin with, do you view freedom of speech as an absolute freedom, without any limitations or would you accept that there are certain specific constraints that we all have to accept?

Arundhati Roy: It is a complicated question and has been debated often. I personally, do view it as something that should have no caveats for this simple reason that in a place where there are so many contending beliefs, so many conflicting things, only the powerful will then decide what those caveats should be and those caveats will always be used by the powerful.

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying that given the fact that many people are vulnerable, freedom of speech for them should have no caveats, it should be absolute and that’s their only protection?

Arundhati Roy: I think so because if you look at the facts, you have outfits like VHP or the Bajrang Dal or the CD that the BJP produced during the UP elections, you see that they do what they want to do. The powerful always do what they want to do. It is the powerless and the vulnerable that need free speech.

Karan Thapar: Let’s explore the position that you’re taking – free speech is an absolute freedom and there should be no limitations on it. What about the view that by criticising Islam, Taslima has offended beliefs which for tens of millions of Indians, maybe for hundreds of millions are sacred? These are beliefs that underlie their dignity and their sense of identity. Should freedom of speech extend that far as to threaten people’s sense of themselves?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t believe that a write like Taslima Nasreen can undermine the dignity of ten million people. Who is she? She is not a scholar of Islam. She does not even claim that Islam is her subject. She might have said extremely stupid things about Islam. I have no problem with the quotations that I have heard from her book. Dwikhandito has not been translated into English but let’s just assume that what she said was stupid and insulting to Islam but you have to be prepared to be insulted by something that insignificant.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you some of the things that she said, not from Dwikhandito, but from an interview she gave to Anthony McIntyre, The Blanket in 2006. She says, “It’s not true that Islam is good for humanity. It’s not at all good. Islam completely denies human rights.” Elsewhere she talks about what she calls the venomous snake of Islam. To me that sounds as if it goes perhaps beyond a simple critique and into deliberate provocation.

Arundhati Roy: It sounds like Donald Rumsfeld or some Christian fundamentalist.

Karan Thapar: And you would rile at him so why not rile at her?

Arundhati Roy: Yeah, but I wouldn’t say ban him or kill him. I would say what a ridiculous person. What a ridiculous thing. How can you start reacting to everything like that? We have an infinite number of stupidities in the world. How can you start having your foundations rocked by every half-wit?

Karan Thapar: Let’s put it like this, does freedom of speech necessarily include the right to offend?

Arundhati Roy: Obviously it includes the right to offend otherwise it wouldn’t be the freedom of speech.

Karan Thapar: But is that an acceptable right in India?

Arundhati Roy: One person’s offence is another person’s freedom.

Karan Thapar: That maybe so in England and America where Western levels of education have allowed people to hear something offensive without reacting violently. In India, where the education levels are so disparate, where religion is so emotionally and passionately held, then if you have the freedom of speech merging into the right to offend, you end up provoking people often to violence, sometimes to death.

Arundhati Roy: First of all, I think we have to understand that education is a very loaded term because modernity is what is creating some of this kind of radical fundamentalism. And it’s not like traditional India anymore. In fact, if you look at any studies that have been done, actually communal riots have increased.

Karan Thapar: Aren’t you evading my point? You’re questioning what is meant by modernity and education but you and I know that the levels of sophistication in terms of being able to handle offence to your religion or criticism of your God vary hugely.

Arundhati Roy: What I am saying is that level of sophistication is far better in rural areas than urban areas.

Karan Thapar: You mean that rural Indians are better able to take criticism of Ram or Allah?

Arundhati Roy: If you look at the kind of riots in rural and urban areas, you’ll see that, historically.

Karan Thapar: Let me give you a specific example. If criticism of Islam by Taslima Nasreen leads to a situation where people come out and riot on the streets and there is a real genuine threat that innocent people could end up killed, what in that circumstance should be the government’s priority — to defend freedom of speech or prevent the loss of human lives?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t think that’s a choice. I think they have to protect freedom of speech and do everything that they can to prevent the loss of human life because here what is happening is that this kind of right to offend or ‘my sentiments have been hurt’ have become a business in democratic politics. Let’s say the political parties are engineering these situations which lead to a loss of life otherwise why should it be that Dwikhandito has been on the bestseller list for four years in West Bengal and nothing has happened and suddenly when there’s a massive march and a massive mobilisation against the CPM, the book suddenly reappears as insulting people’s faith?

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying mischief makers, manipulators whipped up sentiments four or five years after the book was published, to deliberately try and corner Taslima and to create an atmosphere that perhaps worked in some peculiar way to the advantage of the West Bengal government?

Arundhati Roy: Look at who’s benefiting from it. All the anger about Nandigram has now suddenly turned to us asking the same state that criminally killed people in Nandigram to now protect Taslima Nasreen.

Karan Thapar: Are you trying to suggest that perhaps that the West Bengal government was in some way involved in engineering this incident to deflect attention from Nandigram to Taslima?

Arundhati Roy: I would say that it would have had a lot to do with it and I am saying that it is so easy to do these things.

Karan Thapar: When the situation happened, it would have perhaps been judged as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s dilemma. Perhaps as a poet and author he felt a need to defend or desire to protect the freedom of speech. As a Chief Minister, undoubtedly he knew that he had the duty to stop and prevent the loss of human life. If therefore, by putting pressure on Taslima Nasreen to leave the state for a while, he was able to save ten or fifteen lives that would have otherwise been lost on the streets of Calcutta, did he not do the right thing?

Arundhati Roy: No, I don’t think so. I think that’s the game that they would like us to play. ‘I did it in order to defend innocent lives.’ But I think there’s a deeper script in the understanding of what is known as the deep state. I think that this was a provocation that actually could have ended up creating a loss of lives because, I want to go back to it, why should it be that for four years that book was on the market and no lives were lost. Everything is in the timing.

Karan Thapar: So you really do believe, when you use phrases like the deep state that there was a conspiracy, even though we don’t fully understand it, to deflect attention from Nandigram to Taslima and to perhaps put her in a position where under pressure she was forced to leave and the government didn’t actually have to physically throw her out?

Arundhati Roy: I wouldn’t use the word conspiracy because that sounds like an intelligence operation and I don’t think that something like this needs to go as far as a conspiracy but I would certainly say that you need to examine the timing of this because that’s all we are ever left in India. No one ever gets to the bottom of anything. It is always like, who benefits, why did this happen now. I would like to know, why it happened now.

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying something that’s pretty fundamental. You’re saying that far more simple —as you did at the beginning— that the West Bengal government behaved unacceptably. Now you’re saying that there was almost Machiavellian intent, not a conspiracy but a Machiavellian intent behind the way they have played this game out?

Arundhati Roy: You are making it sound like I have a very deep insight.

Karan Thapar: No, you have a deep distrust and a huge suspicion.

Arundhati Roy: That’s true but I also know that this is the word on the street. You don’t need a rocket scientist to figure this out. It is something that we have seen happening over and over again. It is nothing new or amazing that’s happening.

Karan Thapar: Let’s turn to the Central Government’s response to Taslima Nasreen. Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Pranab Mukherjee said that India would continue extend protection and sanctuary to Taslima Nasreen and then he added that it is also expected that guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people. How do you respond to that?

Arundhati Roy: It is like being sentenced to good behaviour for the rest of your life which is a death sentence for a writer. If I had to live somewhere in those conditions, I would become a yoga instructor or something. I would give up writing because this is such a nasty thing to do. Here is a woman who is a Bengali writer. She can’t function outside. It’s a question of principle anyway. It is not about her, it is about us. What kind of society are we creating? Sure it’s tough to take the kind of things she said about Islam but she should be put in her place, intellectually and otherwise. Not like this where she will become a martyr to somebody else.

Karan Thapar: When Pranab Mukherjee says that it is expected that guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people, is he in a very real sense giving Muslim fundamentalists a veto, both over what Taslima can write and say and therefore whether she can stay in Calcutta?

Arundhati Roy:Who does he mean when he says ‘our people’? Am I included for example? Because by saying this he certainly hurt my sentiments. You can’t really match people’s sentiments.

Karan Thapar: You are quite right. ‘Our people’ includes the whole range of people but I suspect that when he says our people he had those who we were protesting against Taslima on the streets of Calcutta in mind. Has he, therefore, given them a veto over what she can write and say, and therefore a veto over whether she can continue to live in Calcutta?

Arundhati Roy:It is not her. He has taken a veto over all of us. I mean I have also been told by the Supreme Court that you will behave yourself and you will write how we ask you to write. I will not. I hope that is extended to everybody here.

Karan Thapar: Given that Taslima’s case is not a unique case, you’ve suffered as you said at the hands of the Supreme Court, M F Hussain has suffered, art students in Baroda have suffered, even people doing cartoons and satires of Gandhi on YouTube have suffered, are we an intolerant people?

Arundhati Roy: We’re just messy people. Either we have the principle of free speech or you have caveats that will fill up this whole room and we will all just be silenced. There will be no art, there will be no music and there will be no cinema.

Karan Thapar: Are you moving in that direction where caveats to free speech are becoming so many that there is no freedom to be artistic?

Arundhati Roy: What I am saying here does not matter. I might believe in this but I know that tomorrow I have to deal with the thugs of the government, courts of the fundamentalist and everybody else. In order to live here you have to think that you are living in the midst of a gang war. So what I believe in or don’t believe in is only theoretical. However, how I practice is a separate matter. How I survive here is like surviving amongst thugs.

Karan Thapar: But then the corollary to what you’re saying is very important. You’re saying that artists, particularly those who see things differently, particularly those who are stretching out and wanting to be new and avant-garde, have to contend with the thugs, as you call them, with the government and the majority that’s trying to push them back.

Arundhati Roy: We do and we will. The thing is that I also don’t expect to be mollycoddled. I know that we have a fight on our hands and how do we survive in this gang war. The state is just another gang, as far as I am concerned.

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying that it is not easy to be different in India?

Arundhati Roy:Well, it’s challenging and we accept that challenge.

Karan Thapar: What’s your advice to Taslima Nasreen?

Arundhati Roy: I really don’t have any advice. I feel very bad for her because, let me say this, her’s is actually the tragedy of displacement. Once, she has been displaced from her home. She has no rights. She is a guest and she is being treated very badly. She is being humiliated.

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, it was a pleasure talking to you on Devil’s Advocate.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. audity falguni permalink
    December 7, 2007 7:46 AM

    I do agree with Arundhati that the whole game has been designed by West Bengal government to evade the Nandigram issue. Some days ago fundamentalists in Bangladesh raised a huge hue and cries on a silly cartoon issue illustrated by a Muslim cartoonist. All the cartoonist wanted to make some merriments for children but he has been put in the jail. Taslima has spoken for too many women in Bangladesh and also for the minority Hindu community of Bangladesh. It’s true that most of the religions of the world or even all the religions of world, in their strict sense of words, deny human rights and women’s rights. So, if Taslima has ever told that her religion denies human rights, probably she has not told something very unreasonable. So, why her citations should be termed as “stupid?” Manu Sanghita advises sutees to be burnt alive and Islamic scriptures stipulate that if rape is not proved (who commits a rape with witnesses other in collaboration with the abettors?), the woman would rather be whipped or stoned for adultery. Do they resemble anyhow with human rights? Keeping four wives for a single man or the half value paid to women’s statement in judicial trial, cutting somebody’s arm for stealing…are they human rights clauses? Surely such medieval elements are also present in other religions of world too. So, I do rather support Taslima if she has ever mentioned that religions at large and in particular her familial faith does not go well with human rights.

    I found Karan Thapar trying to protect fundamentalists in his questions to Arundhati. As a Bangladeshi woman and belonging to minority community here I know the xenophobia of the fundamentalists…how it affects severely women’s rights and rights of people with different names than an Arabic or Farsi name. Just yesterday I resigned from my job in a donor agency whose Country Director of the Bangladesh chapter belongs to the rightist BNP-Jamaat forces ideologically and since her joining in last six months, everyday I had the feeling that I can survive here just as a slave for my religious denomination and the illogical, harsh behaviors I had to undergo every moment from her.

    Salute to Taslima!!

  2. basudev permalink
    December 8, 2007 6:25 AM

    Reading these all I am too much confused what “Islam” is, and what “religion” is after all.

  3. January 8, 2008 10:05 PM

    I am a believing muslim women from India and I am Software Engineer working in IT company. I can proudly say that I have got all the rights and respect that I can get in Islam and I dont have to fear anyone. Not just me, there are many muslim women who study, go to work and get all rights. Taslima Nasrin speaks of her own problems (may be her stories are true or lie). That is her family and personal problem (may be one or two persons story). She cannot generalise that and blame Islam for that. Islam has given every right to Women. Not every claiming muslim practises Islam. For instance Taslima Nasrin is a muslim name but she doesnt practice Islam in reality. As Arundhati said she is not a scholar in Islam to give her statement on Quran and Islam. She is mere a writer and writer can make “rai ka pahad”. Writer can make truth as fantasy and fantasy as truth. Authors should use their pen for constructive and not destructive purposes. If Taslima Nasrin is true to herself (confident about her statements) then why is she hiding. A person who speaks truth should have no fear. She is a coward because she writes the books in her private premises but doesnt dare to face the same public for whom she is writing.
    If she is so true and has mastered the Womens right in Islam then let her debate with the Sholars of Islam. I am sure she wouldnt do that.
    I must tell you Islam is a great religion. Islam means Submission to the will of God Almighty. Everyone submits to God. It is just that some realize and some don’t realize it.

    Thanks,
    Sana

    • Jaspal Rana permalink
      March 9, 2014 11:16 AM

      ‘Submission to the will of God Almighty’-somehow I find that a very depraved concept. Is God Almighty some sort of hegemonic ruler? That sort of statement negates the very idea of freewill. It turns us from a society of evolved, educated humans to a cult of unthinking, mindless creatures.
      PS: By the way, Ms Nasreen is hiding not because she isn’t true to herself but because some religious fanatics are trying to kill her. There is a distinction between bravery and foolishness.

  4. FRANCIS R.L. permalink
    January 31, 2008 6:03 AM

    POOR CHRISTIAN LIBERATION MOVEMENT
    III A/ 145, Rachana, Vashali – 201010 (NCR)
    Email: francispclm@yahoo.com website: dalitchristian.org
    ————————————————————————-

    January 18, 2008

    An Open Letter of the Dalit Christians to Hon’ble Prime Minister of India,
    Indian Parliamentarians and Indian Church Authorities

    The Hon’ble Prime Minister,
    152, South Block,
    New Delhi -110 011

    Wish you Happy Christmas and New Year.

    For the last several decades, the Indian Church Authorities and its Leaders at National and International level have been subtly pressurizing the Indian Government to make suitable amendments in the Constitution to include converted Dalit Christians in the list of Schedule Castes. Our Constitution founders and framers had seen the validity of assuring equality and respect to Dalit Hindus in their Hindu fold, while they were not clear as to the implications of the same with Dalit Christians. Hence they formulated the provision for Hindu Dalit reservation for Schedule Caste in the Constitution. The Hindu community as a majority of peoples accepted reservations as a just and fair provision. Thus the Indian constitution gave equal right to the Dalit Hindus because they suffered ill treatment and were oppressed in the society over the centuries. It was a fair and just compensation to the Dalit Hindus for the exploitation done to them.

    While Dalit Hindus- who were converted to Christianity- lost their privilege of reservation policy and thus they were not included in the list of Schedule Caste. The Converted Dalit Christians had ‘an historic option’ to decide whether to accept their original religion-Hinduism and return to their community and thus avail the facility of Schedule Caste but most of the Dalit Christians forsook the reservation policy and they decided to remain Dalit Christians (DC) mainly because DCs fondly recalled the words of Jesus Christ: “Come to me, all of you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt Ch. 11:28)

    Over the decades, the Church Authorities and Leaders belittled the faith of DCs., Besides, the Lords of Christendom- the Bishops, had already condescendingly accepted and treated the DCs as low grade Christians- reminiscent of their ‘original stigma’-untouchables. This subtly implied that DCs should never forget who they were and that it is thanks to valiant, foreign missionaries efforts that they still can be treated as second class followers of Christianity. Thus Church Authorities maintained a clear distinction between ‘those of the earlier accepted the Christian faith and thus possessed a superior grade/class and a superior faith’ and those traits should be preserved till reward day of the Master. Keeping this as a background check, the Indian Church Authorities deemed it fit that Dalit Christians remain uneducated lot, and they were not given proper and equal right for gainful employment least they be filled with a false pride of being true Christians. Notice the subtle distinction and statements of Church authorities when it comes to the game of numbers. DCs who form over 70% of the Christians population should be a’ feather in the cap’ of the numerous foreign missionaries who descended in hordes triumphantly dreaming that one day the whole of India would be Christianized.

    Further, the line of thinking of Church Authorities can be described thus: DCs ought to get proper compensation in lieu of governmental benefits they lost is ‘an unchristian consideration’- this would spoil ‘their Christian motivation’. Thus, it was clear to the Bishops and Church Authorities that any such talk of compensation made to DCs is unheard of biblical remedy. Hence DCs should remain poor and despicable to as proof of their newly accepted ‘superior faith’. Moreover, the secular Indian Government should be taught a lesson or two -especially the lesson that it is the ‘duty and responsibility’ of the Indian Government to make appropriate provisions for DCs? And that ‘we the Bishops’ if needed, are ready to fight tooth and nail to see that the Indian Government implements and practices what is enshrined in the Constitution of India. The Government should be blamed squarely because they care two hoots for the plight of the DC while they are pampering the other Dalits with innumerable concessions all for political gain. And why should Church Authorities and leaders make suitable provisions for their own least brethren was beyond the comprehension of the great Lords of Christendom.

    In just four hundred years the Christian population grew in leaps and bounds, the Indian Church’s with the selfless efforts of foreign missionaries added millions to the zero percentage of Christians in India. But no Church Authority ever even noticed that the plight of those numerous DCs remained the same. Nay over the decades it worsened. Hence what was and is the primary intention of the pious missionaries becomes clear. Indian Church Authorities and Leaders merely used DCs in a game of numbers and scarcely gave a passing thought to improve the living conditions of DC. The DCs were never or rather deliberately kept out mainstream Christianity and thus they were unable to experience progress and growth in their Christian living even though they had full membership in the various Churches.

    Notice this fact, when it came to the ‘battle of equal rights for all Dalits’ the Indian Church Authorities deemed it fit to wage a battle with the mind of Constitution founders and framers. And the battle did begin as early as or as soon as India gained independence. In their heart of hearts the Church Authorities and Leaders wanted that DCs to be loyal Christians and remain faithful members of their respective Churches and yet when it came to the matter of improvement in the standard of living, all their sound reasoning and superior faith failed them. Even an ‘ordinary statements of the assets’ of the Indian Churches- like enumerating the thousands of Christians Schools , Colleges and large compounds, and thousands of other allied majestic institutions like Hospitals and other social work Institutes will show the might of Indian Church wealth. It is well known that Indian Church Authorities have wealth ‘second to none’ in terms of immovable assets and finances. And note – this second to none is in comparison with the Government of India.

    Besides, in the name of DCs and poor, the Church gets flooded with funds both from within country and from abroad. And most ironical- the condition of DCs remains as poor as the proverbial Church mouse. Do all these the funds instantaneously disappear into the incredible mouth of Bishop Pip? (Please view the Documentary-‘In search of self respect’, produced by PSBT and Prasar Bharti. http://www.syncline films.com). The Mighty Indian Churches have conveniently divided India and with the magical wand of the Pope and other Church Authorities, have created around 250 to 300 dioceses in the country in order to smoothly run and manage their vast properties and institutions. A diocese may have average around fifty thousand followers. Based on their own methods of mission management: aren’t the Indian Church Authorities and Leaders responsible for the sorry state of affair of DCs? Why is the Indian Church constantly harping on the same old tune that Indian secularism is at stake when they themselves like Pilate constantly wash off their hands regarding a sound and just policy of justice for their least brethren- the Dalit Christians( DC)?.

    Why are the Church Authorities forcing our Parliamentarians to debate on the scheduled caste status of DCs? It is for all to see who has a hidden agenda. It is for the Church Authorities to honestly provide a ‘white paper’ on their fabulous wealth and what have they done to alleviate the sufferings of the least of their brethren- the Dalit Christians.

    To all Indian Bishops

    The open letter is now addressed to the Presidents of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India, of the National Council for Churches in India, Church of South India, Anglicans, Methodists, CNI, and all Bishops of all Christian Denominations.

    Most Rt. Rev. Bishops,

    Happy Christmas and New Year,

    Over the last several decades, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, National Council for Churches in India, all the Protestant Churches and all the Christian foreign funding agencies were and are trying their best to amend the legislation of inclusion in Scheduled Caste status for Dalit Christians. You had several ‘ high level meetings and conferences at National and International level; and you were seen frantically appointing the best legal luminaries to see that DC are included in the list of scheduled caste thus securing a new heaven and a new earth for DCs.

    It was reported in the newspapers that your Grace and Lordship have graciously come down to the earth in New Delhi- the National Capital on November 29th 2007. You staged a Dharna for inclusion of DCs into Scheduled Caste status. When your Grace and Lordship, and predecessors converted Dalits from the Hindu society, the main attractions offered to them was that there was no caste discrimination in the Christian society and that they would be treated equally as brothers in Christ. It was with this hope of an ‘egalitarian status’ within the Christian community that the poor Dalits converted themselves to Christianity. If they are still Dalits the question is who has been oppressing them of late, it is true that when they were in the Hindu society they were oppressed by caste system that existed in that society. But was it not a solemn pledge before God and man that these converted Christians would be looked after without any discrimination and with Christian love and sharing?

    There is an answer to this question. Obviously, it is the Church Authorities and Leaders who are exploiting the DCs. If only the Church Authorities can spend twenty five per cent of the Church income for the welfare of DCs, surely there will be a great change in the lives of DCs. If only the Church Authorities can give fifty percent of employment in their institutions to the DCs we believe that within ten years, all the DCs will have employment. But alas- the Church Authorities only gives all employment to and give important posts to the priests, nuns etc. Notice that you are creating fatted calves and bestowing on them privileges upon privileges to merely a small class of clergy and superior Christians.

    You are seeing the speck in the eyes of Constitution founders and framers but fail to see the mote in your own eyes? For centuries the Church Authorities are merely filling up the barns for a minuscular clergy and pampering them into a parasitical life, while you ignore the cries and agonies of the discriminated DCs. For these very poor, Jesus has said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captive’s recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the year of remission, reward and restoration. Confer, Luke Chapter 4; 16-19.”

    Poor Christian Liberation Movement appeals to the Church Authorities and solemnly asks these questions. Why after converting DCs into the Christian fold you have constantly denied and deprived them of proper education facilities, of just employment, and generous financial support? And why do you not give proper Christian respect for DCs? Why do you not offer equal rights to DCs in the Church life? Why are you constantly using DCs as pawns to show the might of your own Empire and missionary prowess? Why hasn’t the Christian sense of giving compensation to DCs never even once crossed the minds of the all powerful and wealthy Church Authorities? Why are you playing the role of going around the devils ring by leaving DCs to the mercy of Indian Government? Why are you not fulfilling your responsibility toward DCs? You must remember the solemn words spoken to Peter Simon. Jesus said to Peter Simon: “If you love me then take care of my lambs and sheep (St John 21:15-17) .And even St. Paul emphatically said this of himself: that he was imprisoned, that he was beaten many times, faced difficulties, was in odd situations, worked hard, spent sleepless nights, many times without food and water, and besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the congregations. Who is weak and I am not weak? (2 Corinthians Ch 11: 23-29). Can all the Bishops honestly say that they have fulfilled their responsibility towards Dalit Christians?

    May the all the respected Bishop dare to say- YES. Amen.

    Thank you.

    Yours in Christ,
    R.L. Francis
    National President
    And all Executive Members of PCLM
    Email: francispclm@yahoo.com

  5. July 11, 2008 11:32 AM

    New Delhi, India., July 2008 – When the Dalits, a socially backward community that bore the brunt of the Hindu caste system, embraced Christianity, many thought that their bad days were over as they would, henceforth, be treated as equals and not be discriminated against.

    But recently when a Christian body representing Dalits or the socially underprivileged questioned the church leadership for demanding special treatment for them and accused it of exploiting their economic and social backwardness, it appeared that their dream of liberation from the rigid caste system was far from coming true.

    Stating that Dalit Christians accounted for 70 percent of India’s Christian population, the Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM), a Christian organization based in Delhi, accused high caste Christians of exploiting them.

    The church leadership wanted to exploit the poverty and unemployment among the Dalit Christians to demand reservation of government jobs for them by getting them classified as scheduled castes, PCLM president R.L. Francis said in a press statement.

    People belonging to the scheduled castes benefit from reservations in educational institutions and government jobs.

    “It is worth mentioning here that when they (Dalit Christians) were in Hindu society, they were the victims of the caste system. The foremost reason for their coming to the fold of Christianity was that there would be no discrimination and they would be treated as equals,” the PCLM president continued.

    “But despite a wide network of (Christian) missionary schools and colleges, most children of Dalit Christians have not been able to rise above the literacy level because these convent schools are busy catering to the educational needs of upper and high caste people. The neglect of Dalit Christian children by these institutions is at the root of the problem,” he lamented.

    “Same is the case with job opportunities and entrepreneurship development. Dalit Christians are being denied all these facilities while the church leadership continues to flourish by usurping vast foreign funding and real estate resources,” Francis charged.

    Demanding a Dalit Christian Development Board, he said that in the coming parliamentary elections, members of the community would only vote for parties which supported this.

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