A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF)
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APPENDIX O

ATTACK ON HOLY FAMILY CHURCH IN MYSORE

REPORT OF THE BIRD-RSS FACT FINDING TEAM THAT VISITED MYSORE ON 19 February, 2002

PREAMBLE

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. 

MEETING WITH RSS/VHP LEADERS

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 religious.)

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 authorities’ over-reaction.  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 Christians”.  According 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. 

DIALOGUE WITH CATHOLIC BISHOP AND OTHER LEADERS

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 meeting. 

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 church. 

MEETING WITH ADVOCATES

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. 

VISIT TO HOLY FAMILY CHURCH

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 ruckus.  (Father 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 Mysore. 

FINDINGS OF THE RSS-BIRD TEAM

1.      What happened at the Holy Family Church, Hinkal was a minor local incident and it should have been localized and contained. 

2.      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 incident too. 

3.      We are of the opinion that the incident was not pre-planned.  We agree with Father William in this context. 

4.      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 missionaries.  They 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 persons alike. 

5.      We are convinced that the Catholic Church does not encourage conversions to Christianity. 

6.      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. 

7.      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 and disunity. 

8.      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. 

THE ROAD AHEAD

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 emergencies also. 

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 misunderstanding. 

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 traditions. 

CONCLUSION

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. 

REPORT PREPARED BY:

P. N. BENJAMIN, Co-ordinator
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
Tel. 080 5486880 
E-mail: benjaminpn@hotmail.com

IN CONSULTATION WITH

CHANDRASHEKHAR BHANDARY                   V. A. GOPALA
RSS Prachar Vibhag Pramukh                         RSS, Prachar Vibhag Pramukh
Karnatak Uttara and Dakshina                         Bangalore, Tumkur and Mysore

& Dr. Thomas George

 

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