Subj: India: RSS and VHP attack visiting American preacher.
The recent attack by militants belonging to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharanyia Janata Party (BJP)), upon a visiting American preacher in the southern Indian state of Kerala raises challenging issues. This was an extremely bold attack and even as the target victim, Joseph Cooper, recovers in hospital he is discovering that the battle is not over yet. The Kerala VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad – the religious / cultural arm of the BJP), wants Cooper arrested and prosecuted, contending that he has violated the Foreigners Act of 1956.
VIOLENT ASSAULT ON JOSEPH COOPER
Joseph Cooper (68) was visiting India from Pennsylvania USA at the invitation of ‘Protestant Friends of Bible Church’, to speak at a Protestant Convention. On the evening of Monday 13 January, Mr Cooper was walking home with his Indian companions, from a prayer meeting on the outskirts of the Kerala state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, when they were attacked by a group of around ten Hindu militants armed with swords / machetes, sticks and iron bars.
A local pastor, his wife and two children, and one other person received minor injuries. International Christian Concern reports that Cooper survived primarily because when the attack became fierce, this local pastor, Pastor Benson Sam, threw his body on top of Mr. Cooper to keep him from being killed. Only after other believers courageously rushed to assist, did the attackers flee. Cooper, beaten and sporting machete wounds and a deep knife wound to his right palm, was admitted to a local hospital.
Kerala state is located on the southwest tip of India. It is the state with the largest population of Christians and attacks against Christians are rare. The Coopers have been working with Indian Christians for 25 years.
What makes this attack so bold is that the target victim was a Westerner. Usually it is Indian Christian workers who are attacked because they can be beaten and even murdered with relative impunity. It can be almost impossible for Indian nationals to even manage to get a First Information Report (FIR) filed in a police station after an assault. If they do successfully file an FIR, the police often refuse to acknowledge the involvements of Hindu militants and the incident is written off as non-religious. Even these are only the tip of the iceberg. However, Western governments will not tolerate attacks upon their citizens and a response is demanded.
A dozen suspected activists from the RSS are accused of setting off a crude bomb before attacking Cooper and his companions. Nine RSS activists have so far been arested in relation to the assault. The RSS leadership denies any involvement.
LEGAL ASSAULT BY KERALA VHP
On 16 January , as Copper lay recovering in hospital, the Hindustan Times reported, “VHP’s Kerala unit today demanded the ‘arrest and prosecution’ of the American missionary Joseph Cooper, now under treatment in a hospital, for alleged violation of the Foreigners’ Act.
“In a statement, VHP state organising secretary Kummanam Rajasekharan asked the state government to initiate prosecution proceedings against Cooper for ‘carrying out religious propaganda after coming to the country on a visiting visa.’
“Cooper and his team of evangelists also ‘slandered’ the Hindu dharma and traditions and sought to convert the residents of a Scheduled Caste colony by allurement and compulsory means, he alleged.
“‘According to the Foreigners Act of 1956, foreigners visiting the country should not engage themselves in religious preachings. They are only supposed to do sight-seeing and visit relatives,’ he said
“The Kilimanur incident also pointed to the need to draw up a code of conduct for religious preachings in the state, he added.”
Others have of course condemned the attack and have called on the Kerala state government to reign in the RSS and VHP. (Full article – see link 1)
RSS ASSAULT ON CONVERSIONS
Another article published in the same edition says, “RSS leader KS Sudarshan has criticised the ‘conversion drive’ allegedly being carried out by some Christian missionaries in Kerala and called for steps among tribals to check conversions.
“‘These (conversions) should be immediately checked and necessary steps be taken to oppose the drive launched by some Christian missionaries in the state,’ he said at the delegates session of the two-day all-Kerala Vanavasi Sangamam (tribal meet) that concluded at Valliyurkavu near here on Wednesday.
“Accusing the British of sowing the seeds of division within the Hindu community and alienating the tribals, the RSS Sarsangchalak said it was unfortunate that certain political quarters were carrying on such attempts even now to keep the tribals away from Hinduism.” (Full article – see link 2)
On 19 January an RSS worker was arrested for threatening a witness in the assault case. “The arrested person, Vidyadharan, allegedly intimidated Kunjumon, organiser of the Bible convention attended by Mr. Cooper.” (The Hindu – Link 3)
HATE MOTIVATED BY RHETORIC OF HINDUTVA
All the while the rhetoric of Hindutva (the ideology that India should be a Hindu state – ‘one people, one nation, one culture’) continues to publicly pour forth from BJP politicians. On 13 January, The Hindu published an article entitled “Don’t be ashamed of Hindutva” by Mahesh Vijapurkar in Mumbai, which gave another example of Mr. Narendra Modi’s provocative rhetoric.
“The Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, today came here with a forthright message: ‘Do not be ashamed of Hindutva,’ regardless of what others said, but ‘fight its opponents through Hindutva,’ which, in itself, was ‘unconquerable’ and ‘immortal.’ Those who opposed Hindutva ‘have no future.’
“In an hour-long speech, Mr. Modi placed those who were against Hindutva on par with Pakistan and said fighting the former was as good as fighting the latter. ‘Use all means,’ he urged, because Hindu liberalism was being undermined under some pretext or another.”
Once again, a leading Indian political figure has equated non-Hindus with an alleged or perceived enemy, and with people that have sought and achieved separation. The BJP’s revised school social sciences and history texts were released in November 2002, so unless there is radical change, the next generation of Indians will grow up poisoned with both fear and hate from an early age.
– Elizabeth Kendal
1) VHP demands arrest of injured US missionary Press Trust of India, Thiruvananthapuram, 16 January 2003 http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_139711,0000.htm
2) RSS flays conversion drive by Christians in Kerala Press Trust of India, Kalpetta (Kerala), 16 January 2003 http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_139221,0008.htm
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