September 14, 2009
It has been a year since the traumatic events of attacks on places of worship that sent shock waves in the entire Christian community in Karnataka especially in the coastal districts of Udupi and Mangalore. A year has passed but the sad memories of that Black Sunday and the vandalism and mayhem that followed lingers on in the minds of all Christians. The fear psychosis particularly the brutality of the police force still haunts the Christians, who are unable to come out of the terror inflicted on them. Just when everyone thought all is well the desecration of the St Francis De Sal church this week in Bangalore has once again opened the wounds of the past creating panic, fear, uncertainty and confusion among the Christians. The latest attack on the church has occurred just a day after the churches across Karnataka came together to form the Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights with the sole objective of promoting unity among churches and to protect and promote human rights and peace in the community.
On analyzing the sequence of the events of the past one year and the latest incident it is not out of place to presume the recent attack was timed to co-inside with the 1st anniversary of the dreadful days of September last. Whoever may be behind such attacks it is certain that these miscreants are bent upon creating havoc and communal disharmony much against the wishes of the majority peace loving people of this state who love nothing but peace and to live in harmony.
A year has passed but one cannot help recalling the painful events of Black Sunday of Setpember 14 and the subsequent days of violence that gripped Karnataka particularly the coastal belt Mangalore and Udupi Districts. The peace-loving Christian community was jolted by the sudden and uncalled for attack on the places of worship that began on Sunday 14th September, 2008. The community was hurt seeing the desecration of several places of worship in the state. According to media reports more than 30 prayer halls were ransacked and about 12 people including four pastors were grievously hurt.
Recalling the Trauma
With such unprovoked attack on their faith for the first time the history of Mangalore diocese Catholics in the city took to streets to protest against the attack. The situation soon turned violent as police tried to disperse people who had gathered in large numbers. In the following days it took an ugly turn as police forcibly entered Permannur and Kulshekar church premises and vented their frustration and anger on hapless women and nuns who bore the brunt of their lathi charge and teargas shells. Utter chaos prevailed when the so called protectors became predators to unleash unprecedented violence and brutality.
Sr Selma of Sacred Heart Convent School, Kulshekar one of the victims of this brutality recalls her trauma, having gone through the worst kind of experience. “I was standing in the school premises when the tear gas shells were burst and had to run to the tap to splash water on my burning eyes when police came and began hitting all who had gathered black and blue. One young girl came pleading to me to rescue her from the police. I pushed her and told her to run. I even risked my life and opened the door of the toilet where some youngsters were hiding and shifted an unconscious boy to the hospital. I was hit just below the waist and being diabetic doctors advised me to get admitted in the hospital for 6 days”, she recalls.
Demitries D Souza, a studio owner belonging to St Sebastian Church Permannur where many catholic youth became victims of police madness also recounts similar experience. “We had gathered in the church premises and soon we witnessed stone pelting inside the church premises. Our youth could not digest the insult and reacted by pelting stones to the opposite camp. Police wanted this pretext to charge us and what followed was nothing but violence at its worst. The situation could have been avoided if we were a little prudent knowing well that police outnumbered us. But when it comes to attack on places of worship prudence takes a back seat”.
Another lady aged 52, who do not want to be named recalls how she used to get jolts in her sleep as she had suffered the worst wound on her back as a result of the lathi charge. “The initial months following the attack gave me nightmares of worst kind. When I recall that incident I cannot help crying. I was hit by the lathi and don’t know what happened as I found myself in hospital”. “The wound has healed but the ruffled feelings and the wounded psyche has not. I wonder whether I will ever be able to forget it”, she says in tearful eyes. Nothing can compensate the trauma and the nightmares that still haunt her, she says.
Godfrey Ronald D Souza of Permannur was hit on the head by the back of the police gun and was taken to jail without being treated for the wound. “I was bleeding and though I pleaded the police to treat my wound they did not care. Finally in Madikeri I was taken to the hospital and the wound was stitched”, he explains. Godfrey bears no remorse for what he has undergone. Rather he feels proud for being in the forefront of trying to spearhead the protest against the attack on the Christian faith.
He however hastens to add that “the incident should not have happened. There might be mistakes from both the sides. However, we felt the vacuum of strong catholic leaders to guide us. If we had good leaders to provide good political support the situation would have different”. Initially about 270 people were arrested in different places. Some more people were detained but were left without any charges.
However, 25 year old Rohan D Silva of Kulshekar sounds crestfallen talking about the incident. Though he did not mind being a part of the protest group he now feels all the sufferings he has undergone was not worth considering the lack of empathy from the community and religious leaders for those who suffered. “I was wounded on the head and was jailed for 9 days and hospitalized for 7 days. I don’t regret my involvement. But considering the way the religious leaders behave and act I feel it was not worth the trouble of taking all those blows. Only some sycophants rule the roost and there is widespread corruption within the church which is disgusting.” he says recalling his involvement in the incident. Rohan also feels that if the community leaders had strived the cases against them could have been dropped freeing them from the drudgery of attending the court regularly.
There are many more Rohans who had braved the blows of lathi charge but are now disappointed over the developments of post September 14 echoing similar sentiments. It is trifle sad that instead of uniting the community the cleavage is widening. The much needed unity looks like a mirage and would be detrimental to the community in future.
Fighting for Justice
According to Fr William Menezes, PRO of the Diocese of Mangalore “the police have registered cases against 145 Catholics following the unsavory incidents in Mangalore and Udupi on various charges of rioting, attack on police, preventing police from discharging their duty, damage to public property and looting. The diocese has come forward to bear the legal expenses of these cases and help those against cases are registered. They are required to attend the case regularly once a month”.
While the incident itself is a nightmare it is the obligation of attending the court cases that is proving to be a head ache especially to college going youngsters who are greatly affected. Following the widespread attack of Catholic places of worship the BJP government ordered a one-man-commission headed by Justice B K Somashekar to conduct an inquiry into the incidents of attacks.
The commission has been conducting sittings in many districts of the state and it is said that nearly 1000 affidavits, 230 documents and CD’s from across the state have been submitted allover the state. Fr William Menezes, Diocesan PRO says “chief examination and cross examination of the Catholics has been done. Whereas the cross examination of the opposite party and that of the police is not done. Justice Somashekar now says he is going to submit his interim report by the end of this month (September). That leaves a big question mark because to submit an interim report at least 50% of the inquiry should be completed which Justice Somashekar has not.
Lawyer M P Noronha one of the lawyers representing these cases says “there are about 145 criminal cases against our people and we are fighting them. These criminal cases come for hearing in the magisterial court and we had two cases ruled in our favour. It is true some youngsters feel dejected as their future is in doldrums especially those who were all set to go abroad but cannot due to the criminal cases against them. But we will do our best to ensure we get justice”.
The latest incident of attack in Bangalore has once again opened the wounds of last September, keeping the community on the edge of a deadly precipice. State President of BJP and MP from Udupi-Chickmagalur D V Sadananda Gowda when asked to comment on these repeated incidents says “all these incidents are politically motivated. The recent statement of the Prime Minister on Karnataka and Maharashtra gives an inclination of the things to come in future. It is an indirect hint that on the pretext of failure of law and order something drastic is going to happen. Our party is fully committed to accord equal respect to all religions. The government has issued shoot at sight orders which, we would not have done if our people are involved. We will deal with the perpetrators with a heavy hand”.
Looking back at the events one cannot deny the motivations of political parties who have an axe to grind and go to any extent to implement their political machinations. But that does not absolve the ruling party in power from its responsibility of providing safety to people, their places of worship and institutions. It has been found wanting time and again in dealing ruthlessly against the perpetrators of crime.
Rational thinking need of the hour
Entrepreneur and educationist Nitte Vinaya Hegde says “this kind of incidents do not augur well for the future of a country like India which has a long history of people living in perfect harmony. I personally feel that religion is a personal matter and every individual or community has the right to practice the religion of his/their choice. What has happened a year back is tragic and highly regrettable and should not recur. Whoever is responsible for this has done a cowardly act. It is the duty of every citizen to defeat the nefarious activities of such miscreants”.
The right thinking people of the state and the intelligent citizens of the coastal districts need to think rationally rather than emotionally to safeguard their own interests and that of the community. It is better to think ahead keeping in mind the tragic events of the past. It is high time the community deliberates over the events of the past considering our own lacunae and act accordingly keeping in mind the future.