REPORT OF THE BIRD-RSS FACT FINDING TEAM
THAT VISITED MYSORE ON 19 February,
THE dictum – “Let our words be matched
by deed” – made full sense when the leaders of Rashtriya
Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) in Karnataka and the Bangalore Initiative
for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) decided to send a joint fact finding
team to Mysore for gathering first-hand information on the violent
incident on 17th February 2002 (Sunday) at the Holy Family
Catholic Church. It
was also to reassure the Christian community that the RSS and BIRD
share their anxieties, concerns, and fears and stand by them in
this hour of crisis.
The RSS was thus honouring its commitment,
in letter and spirit, it made to the Christian community at the
first meeting between RSS and BIRD in November at the Bible
Society of India in Bangalore.
The commitment was that in the event of future violence
against Christian community anywhere in Karnataka, the RSS leaders
would rush the trouble spot along with representatives of the BIRD
to defuse the tension and restore peace and normalcy in the area.
The team led by Dr. Upendra Shenoy,
included Mr. V. A. Gopala and Mr. Chandrashekar Bhandary of the
RSS and Dr. Thomas George of Asian Council for Communal Harmony,
and P. N.
Benjamin of the BIRD.
They reached Mysore by 11.30 a.m.
They could not meet the Catholic Bishop Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph
Roy immediately as planned because he was leading the protest
march of Christians at that time.
So, they first met Dr. V. V.
Bapat. He is a
well-known pediatrician and the Mysore District president of RSS.
According to him the root cause for such communal tension
and hatred is the issue of conversion.
He agreed that there should be a mechanism to defuse
communal tension and prevent violent incidents in the future.
Later the team went to the residence of Mr.
V. Vittala Rao, a prominent merchant and an activist of the RSS in
Mysore. There they
met Mr. Sadashiva, Pracharak Pramukh of RSS (South Karnataka) and
Mrs. Veena Bapat, social worker and VHP activist.
Mr. Sudhakar Shetty, President, Hotel Owners’
Association, Mysore, also took part in the discussion.
(The association has over a thousand members.
Mr. Shetty does not belong to any groups – political or
While all of them condemned the attack on
the church, they wondered why so much of media hype is given to
such a minor incident of violence and questioned the
They expressed their dissatisfaction at the double
standards followed by the media and the government in the light of
the unabated violent incidents in the neighbouring Madhikere where
the Hindu temples were ransacked and desecrated a few weeks back.
They also expressed their disapproval of
the activities of certain Christian groups distributing pamphlets
ridiculing Hindus and urging poor and lower strata of the Hindu
community to convert them to Christianity.
Whatever had happened at Hinakal Church, “ is nothing but
an out-burst of some accumulated anger against the conversion
activities systematically carried out in and around Mysore by
to them the root cause was the distribution of the pamphlets and
the attack was only its effect”. Of course, one may claim that
there is nothing wrong in distributing pamphlets and may justify
it as within one’s constitutional right, but if the contents of
the pamphlets are outrageous to the sentiments of the majority
community it is natural that they react violently.
No doubt violence is unjust but unfortunately in an
emotionally surcharged situation, discretion becomes the
casualty”, they averred.
The fact finding team and the participants
in the discussion were unanimous in their opinion that every
citizen of this country has the right to preach, practise and
propagate his/her own religion but that should not cross the
limits of decency and should not hurt the sensitivities of
adherents of other faiths.
While strongly condemning the violence in
the church, Dr. Upendra Shenoy impressed upon them the urgent need
to enter into an open-hearted discussion and dialogue with the
Christian community to diffuse the prevailing tension and to
dispel mutual fears and misunderstandings.
To achieve this goal and to prevent recurrence of such
incidents of violence in future, he added, they must find
permanent machinery - a platform for joint meetings of
representatives of the two communities.
Dr. Bapat, who later joined the group, agreed, as per Dr.
Upendra Shenoy’s suggestion, to coordinate the proposed peace
initiative (an initiative similar to BIRD) comprising of both
Hindu and Christian representatives.
In the afternoon (2.15 p.m.) the team met
Bishop Dr. Joseph Roy at the Bishop’s House.
Bishop Roy warmly welcomed the fact-finding team.
Father Noronha and Father Leslie Morris were too joined the
discussion. Dr. Bapat
and Mr. Vittal, as representatives of RSS/VHP also participated.
Bishop Roy, Fr. Noronha, and Fr. Leslie
spoke in detail about the attack on the Holy Family Church.
They expressed their sorrow, anxieties, and fears about the
recurring violence against the Christians.
Bishop told the team that one youth, by name, Kumar, was
the main culprit behind the violent incident at the church.
He further told that the same youth had created a scene
during December 2001. At
that time when members of the Holy Family Church were visiting
Catholic homes, singing carols, as is the custom among Christians
everywhere in the world during Christmas season, some youngsters
from nearby village led by Kumar, threatened them and damaged the
musical instruments. The
incident was reported to the police authorities, but no action has
been taken till today on the complaint.
According to the Bishop, on Sunday, 17
February, at about 10 a.m., Kumar intruded in to the room where
Father William, parish priest of the Holy Family Church was
talking to four VHP leaders.
He used some abusive language against the priest.
The parishioners present there objected to it.
This led to a commotion.
Kumar went out to return immediately, accompanied by about
fifty emotionally charged youths.
They were at nobody’s control.
They ransacked the priest’s room, entered the church and
damaged some furniture and broke window glasses.
In the melee a few parishioners sustained minor injuries.
They included women and children.
Bishop Roy also spoke highly appreciatively
about the timely intervention of Mr. Pappaya, a village leader of
Hinkal, who rushed to the spot and chased the unruly mob away.
It was this man, a Hindu, who prevented the situation being
turned into a bloody battleground that would have resulted in
unimaginable loss of property, limbs, and even innocent lives.
The Catholic priests who were present at
the dialogue emphatically told RSS-BIRD team that the Catholic
Church does not indulge in any conversion activities and wondered
why they are being accused of these activities and why the
Catholic priests and nuns and their institutions are always the
targets of violent attacks and vandalism.
Mr. Benjamin shared the priests’ concern.
He said that among the Christian community, only Catholic
priests and nuns are murdered and raped mainly because they are
easily identified as Christians by the dress they wear.
They are the visible Christian missionaries in the eyes of
ordinary people. They
are always dressed in cassocks and robes.
Most of the Hindus and other religionists, including the
enlightened media persons, do not know that Christians are divided
into hundreds of denominations whose priests, preachers, and
pastors rarely put on their cassocks and move around.
(It is said that there are about 37 Christian denominations
operating in Mysore itself.)
“Although my analysis may sound too simplistic, I firmly
believe that it is this mistaken identity that makes the Catholic
priests and nuns always the victims of vicious attacks, brutal
murder and rape, while the fanatic and fundamentalist fringe of
Christian denominations who provoke, ridicule and belittle the
Hindu way of life go scot free”, Benjamin added.
Mr. Sadashiva, Pracharak Pramukh of RSS
South Karnataka, produced two pamphlets distributed allegedly by
the Holy Family Church members.
On close scrutiny it was found these were printed,
published and distributed by some revivalist Christian
organization in Bangalore.
Dr. Upendra Shenoy appealed to the Bishop
and the priests to set up a peace committee consisting of
representatives of Christian and Hindu communities, which would
have regular meetings and interactions so that violent incidents
could be nipped in the bud itself in future.
He informed the gathering that he has named four RSS/VHP
leaders in Mysore to be part of the committee.
They are: Dr. Srinivasa Murthy (Sanghachalak, Mysore
Division of RSS), Dr. V. V. Bapat (Sanghachalak, Mysore District),
Mr. Madappa, Mr. Shyam Bhat and Mr. Keshava Murthy (Advocates).
Dr. Shenoy requested the Bishop to nominate Christian
representatives to the committee.
The Bishop agreed to consider the suggestion and would
inform Dr. Bapat about it soon.
“Should there be any sign of tension
building up between Hindus and Christians and possibility of
recurrence of violence, please get in touch with Dr. Bapat who
would in turn rush to the spot along with RSS/VHP members and help
iron out differences and bring peace”, assured Dr. Shenoy on
behalf of the RSS and VHP to the Church leaders present at the
Dr. Thomas George of Asian Council for
Communal Harmony informed the gathering that he came with the RSS-BIRD
team because the Archbishop of Bangalore, Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius
Pinto, had asked him to do everything possible to bring peace
between the Church and the Hindu community in Mysore.
He also said that the Archbishop had informed Bishop Roy
previous day itself about the team’s visit.
Mr. Vasukhi of ANI, Mr. Bhanutej of The
Week, Father Melvin, and Mr. Sajan K. George, who
‘dramatically’ appeared on the scene in the midst of the
talks, were present until the end of the dialogue.
Immediately after the meeting with the
bishop and others, in an interview to ANI- a TV channel- Dr
Upendra Shenoy condemned in strong words vandalism at worshiping
places, including the violent incident occurred at the Hinkal
Later the team met a few advocates at the
District Court. Advocate
Shyam Bhat whose clientele list includes local churches,
questioned why the Christian missionaries are partial towards
poorer section of Hindus while rendering services.
He wanted to know why slums dominated by Muslim population
are ignored for service activities.
He also spoke about the simmering anger in the Hindu minds
for various other reasons, for example, commercialisation of the
Church property donated by the former Maharaja of Mysore for
charitable and educational purposes. Advocate
Mr. Medappa too expressed similar opinions.
According to them, there is no mention in the FIR of the
involvement of any advocate in the Hinkal vandalism.
The team also met Advocate Keshava Murthy
who has been implicated in the case.
To a blunt question by Mr. Benjamin about his reported
connection with Bajarang Dal, he replied: “I am too old to be a
member of Bajarang Dal. That
says it all, Mr. Benjamin”.
Our enquiries revealed that Mr. Keshava Murthy is a highly
respected and well-known senior advocate in the Mysore Bar.
He is a former principal of Hassan Law College.
He is involved in various social service activities,
including orphanages in slums in and around Mysore City.
The RSS-BIRD delegation visited the Holy
Family Church and met the parish priest Father William at about 6
p.m. We had a long
and cordial talk with him at his residence.
Dr. Upendra Shenoy and Dr. Thomas George spoke to him on
behalf of the fact-finding team.
They said that the team was visiting him and members of his
parish to get the first hand information on the violent incident
in his church and also to express their regret over it.
They also assured them that they stand by the Catholic
Church now and would continue to do so in the future too.
They also told Father William and the parishioners that
dialogue alone would be the only antidote to violence in future.
Father William told the team that when he
was engaged in cordial talks with VHP leaders on Sunday morning
after the Holy Mass, Kumar who had threatened the members of the
parish in December, suddenly appeared on the scene and created a
William’s version of the incident is exactly the same as that of
the Bishop and others told us earlier.
So, there’s no need for its repetition).
Fr. William emphatically denied the charge that pamphlets
encouraging conversion to Christianity originated from his church.
They were distributed by some other Christian
denominations. He too
made it clear that the Catholic Church does not believe in
conversion. He said:
“Catholics at Hinkal live in peace with neighbours of other
faiths. There has
been nor quarrel or misunderstanding between them so far.
Those who are involved in the incident are outsiders… It
was the village leader Mr. Pappanna’s timely intervention that
prevented further violence”.
He also agreed that inter-religious dialogue is necessary
for defusing tension among different communities.
Father William said that the attack was an unexpected one.
He had no knowledge of any violence brewing or erupting
around his church. It
looked as though it were not pre-planned, he said.
The team’s visit to the church ended in a very cordial
and friendly note.
Father Malcolm Bogadi, a former priest of
the Holy Family Church, and Messrs. A. James, Jayakumar, Wilfred,
Deepak and Ambrose (all members of the parish) were present at the
meeting. The team
rounded off the visit after calling on Dr. Srinivasa Murthy,
Sanghachalak of RSS, Mysore Division, and listening to his version
on the Church incident, which too tallied with the facts we had
already gathered. He
readily agreed to be on the proposed peace committee/initiative in
What happened at the Holy Family Church,
Hinkal was a minor local incident and it should have been
localized and contained.
There was no need for blowing it out of
proportion and flashing it on national and international media.
It was a classic example of making a mountain out of a
molehill. On the
other hand, when eight innocent Hindus, including three children
were brutally massacred in J&K on the same day there was not a
a word of condemnation from the so-called defenders of minorities
from the secular and human rights warriors and even the
media. A Hindu temple
at Coorg too was under attack a couple of weeks back allegedly by
a group belonging to a minority community.
But why were these incidents of brutality not given wide
publicity by the press. The
media should have followed a similar attitude towards the Hinkal
We are of the opinion that the incident was
not pre-planned. We
agree with Father William in this context.
We believe that the violent incident took
place due to “mistaken identity” as explained by Mr. Benjamin
during the talks with Bishop Roy and others.
In the eyes of the Hindus and even to the media persons,
the Catholic priests and nuns are the “visible” Christian
move around in their official dress (cassocks and robes) and are
mistaken for preachers, priests, and pastors of Christian groups
who use doubtful methods and words that are derogatory to
neighbours of other faiths “to gain converts”.
There are hundreds of varieties of Christian sects in
India- a fact seems to be unknown to non-Christians and media
We are convinced that the Catholic Church
does not encourage conversions to Christianity.
We are, again, convinced that the pamphlets
urging conversions were NOT distributed by or originated from the
Holy Family Church. They
were printed, published, and distributed by some fundamentalist
Christian groups unconnected with mainline churches.
The mainline churches are Catholic, CSI, CNI, Mar Thoma,
Syrian Orthodox, and Jacobite.
Self-styled leaders of Christian community
and unscrupulous politicians are using ordinary Christians as
cannon fodder for their narrow and selfish ends.
This seems to have happened in the Hinkal incident also.
Those who claim to be spokesmen and defenders of the
Christian Faith and the Indian Christian community spread distress
and division and to all appearances, enjoy the grace and favour of
the State Government. This
encouragement helps the growth of powerful elements of separatism
Whenever two communities are at loggerheads,
emotions should not be allowed to take its own free course.
Facts should be bared and emotions should be contained.
Regular meetings among various communities will be a
bulwark against the recurrence of communal tensions and passions
and also ‘a guarantor of peace and amity between different
religious communities. ’
1. We have underlined the importance of
establishing friendly relations and collaboration on issues of
common interest and in pursuit of amity and peace between Hindus
and Christians in Mysore.
2. Our experience is that inter-religious
communities often spring up in response to crises and public
3. We are aware of the vital need of
forming inter-faith communities in rural areas.
4. Every person and institution, especially
places of worship, should take the initiative in forming
inter-religious communities in cities and rural areas.
5. Dialogue is a necessary tool for
overcoming alienation and halting the march of hatred and
6. Engaging in dialogue will enable us to
graduate from coercion to the art of persuasion and the resources
of civilized world
7. Our mission to Mysore has renewed our
conviction that to be religious is to grow in openness to other
Conscious of our limitations in facing
challenges posed by the prevailing tension and misunderstandings
between Christians and Hindus in Mysore, consequent to the recent
incident of violence at the Holy Family Church, we fellow pilgrims
of inter-faith pilgrimage, affirm our faith in one another, and
our hope for a society where divisions will cease and people will
live together in harmony, respect, love and compassion.
Our hearts are full of gratitude for the leaders of the
Catholic Church and Hindu community in Mysore who extended their
full support and co-operation in our humble initiative to iron out
differences between the two communities through free, frank and
openhearted talks and promised to establish a permanent peace
initiative to continue the dialogue process in Mysore.
We are confident that these leaders will be channels of
peaces in that city and its surroundings so that in the days to
come they will be able to prevent recurrence of communal violence.
The road ahead of the peace-makers is long,
narrow, and arduous. The
coming together of RSS and BIRD amounts to no more than, as it
were, striking a match in a dark immense cavern, to dispel the
surrounding gloom. We
hope and pray such initiatives for peace and communal harmony will
soon spring up in various parts of Karnataka.
We returned home on the night of 19th
February confirmed in our resolve to work more effectively with
added vigour and spirit for a harmonious family of faiths.
P. N. BENJAMIN,
Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
Tel. 080 5486880
V. A. GOPALA
Prachar Vibhag Pramukh
RSS, Prachar Vibhag Pramukh
Uttara and Dakshina
Bangalore, Tumkur and Mysore
Dr. Thomas George