Bhopal (AsiaNews) - With a final volley of verbal attacks against Christians, the Narmada Samajik Kumbh closed yesterday. Commissioned by a group of associations that includes armed Hindu militants, the gathering involved two million people in Madhya Pradesh, and has pushed Christians and other religious minorities to urgently seek government protection for fear of clashes or violence. (02/09/2011 Fear of violence at a 2 million-strong Hindu gathering in Madhya Pradesh).
Father George Thomas, a Catholic priest in charge of mission Mandala, visited, the Kumbh Mela every day. On the, third and final day, he told AsiaNews: on the last day, one of the speakers launched an anti Christian tirade terming Christians as Bed Bugs’”. But he also noted that many people were not interested in political manipulation.
Father George said that most of the anti-Christian speeches at the Kumbh were directed against the Christian missionaries, and their generous work towards the poorest of the poor. In particular, the last speaker said that Christians are here primarily to carry out conversions. He continued comparing Christians to bugs. He said that "Christians are like bed bugs, who hide under the guise of so called missionary work, and drink the blood of the innocent vulnerable people and bed bugs should be killed or else they will continue drinking blood."
Father George points out that, however, that an interesting thing happened: some of the "sadhu (ascetics), and in particular sadhu Asaramji Babuji stood up and criticized the tone and content of the speech. Babuji said the Kumbh was not the place from which to launch attacks against Christian missionaries. If we have problems with them, he said, we must invite them to discussion, and there is no need to insult Christians. Some other sadhus joined Babuji.
The priest says, however, that in general, participants' seemed to be pilgrims, only interested in bathing themselves in the Narmada, seeing the crowd and illumination of the place. There were no clear political connotation and the "attacks on Christians and propaganda did not seem to have affected their mood”.
"The people - says Fr George - seemed quite uninterested in these talks. The principal location from which they were launched remained empty for most of the time. Yesterday, during one of these speeches, the helicopter Ramansingh, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh appeared, and everyone left the room and came out to watch the helicopter. And even after repeated calls no one came back inside. "
The Kumbh gathering concluded without any major incident. Father George, however, expressed concern "about the impact this Kumbh may have on Christian missionaries. Too many speakers raised anti-Christian sentiments and excited the public. Also this term, 'bugs', is extremely dangerous. I remember that in Rwanda the Tutsi were referred to as 'cockroaches'. These speakers delivered a message of suspicion and hatred and division against Christian missionaries, and our work for human dignity. "
Father George explains to AsiaNews that there are specific reasons behind the attempts to poison minds against Christians and the work they perform. It all comes down to the commitment of Christians for the development of tribals. 'A little while ago - says the priest - some termed Mandala as a place to plunder the tribals: the Tribal looting Center. In the past, a large sum of money has been allocated to help this district. But perhaps not even a quarter of that sum came to the tribals. They however remained quiet and subdued, because they are poor, illiterate, and without organization. "
"The Church has always been at the forefront in education instead of the people, formally and informally, to help them grow in economic and organizational terms, with self-help groups and cooperatives. We tried to create opportunities for women in society, in various ways. As a result, the tribals of the Mandala have become a 'voice' that can not be ignored, and have even to give birth to a party, the Gondvana Gantantra Party. We have not done this to convert everyone to Christianity, but only from the standpoint of human rights and social justice. As a result, some have accepted Christianity, and today most of the tribals, including Hindus, like Christians and their activities"
"The radical Hindu militants (such as RSS, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, one of the organizers of Khumb) see this as a potential threat, because they say that all the tribals are Hindus. But the tradition, the original language and customs first prove that the tribals are not Hindu. The tribal families are matriarchal, Hindu ones patriarchal, the original tribal language Dravidian, the Hindu Aryan. The tribal did not originally cremate their dead, but the Hindus did. The tribal did not accept dowries, but paid a price for the bride to her parents, the Hindus have the dowry system. Now, under the Hindu influence, some customs have changed. Sangh [the Hindu organizations - ed] try to turn the tribals against us with false propaganda and threats" .
Fr. George also tells of the exploitation and humiliation suffered by tribals at the Khumb: "The people of Mandala, and particularly the tribals, have lived for years without the essential services: clean water to drink, roads, electricity. The government is not concerned. But for the Kumbh, the government found the will and means to supply electricity without interruption to the Kumbh and the surrounding areas. A lot of money has been spent on the rally, with the clear and sole intent to say that Christians are not good. The people of Mandala were totally ignored in the organization, and only a few tribes have been involved in the supply of food. All contracts were given to people from outside, profits have gone elsewhere, and Mandala has been left alone to pick up the garbage left from the crowd. Mandala is a tribal district, which means that the land, water and forests are tribal. But all laws were set aside for the Kumbh, the compensation given to the tribals has been minimal. The tribals were made understand that even in their own district they count for nothing. "