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February 18, 1999


E-Mail this column to a friend Varsha Bhosle

God is in the details...

As I sit to write, the screaming, front-page headline of The Asian Age catches my eye: RABRI CASTE ASIDE BY BJP. I'm not surprised by the presentation or the pun; I know the paper's agenda. My attention has shifted to a tiny item: "Medical report says nun was not raped." I sneer...

In Orissa, a 35-year-old nun had alleged that she'd been gangraped by some men -- disguised as women -- on February 3. While waiting to catch a bus, she had accepted a lift from the "women", and after the vehicle left Baripada, they had gagged and blindfolded her and then raped her in the vehicle. The nun registered an FIR in which she also stated that her colleagues had convinced her to file charges. (I got these details from the masthead news of the same paper of February 6.)

I'm deliberately vague in my recounting. For instance, I say "vehicle" because the report by Our Correspondents In Bhubaneshwar And Baripada cited "their car," while today's PTI report says "a moving taxi." Ditto, "some men": ToI cited three men, TAA enumerated two, and PTI sets "a person." Then, ToI stated that *after* the rape, "She managed to escape from the car when it was nearing Baisinga..." Our Correspondents: "the miscreants gagged her mouth and tied her eyes with a piece of cloth and took her to Boisinga and raped her inside the car."

Short of travelling to the boonies (which this elitist wasn't about to do), I had no way of ascertaining the fine points. But the raggedness of the reports reeked -- as they say, God is in the details... Actually, ToI had oh-so-fairly devoted one line to a police officer: "Different sources have already testified that the nun travelled in a bus and not in a car on that evening." However, since the perpetually browbeaten were involved, that wasn't important...

Next thing we knew, the Church authorities had prohibited a fresh medical examination of the injured party. And the medics resolved that the rape hadn't occurred at all: Dr N K Mohanty of the SCB Medical College Hospital, Cuttack, has submitted that the injuries on the nun's person "might have been self-inflicted."

But this is all *after* the "rape" caused "widespread resentment." After Father Roy declared that he suspected the involvement of "communal forces." After the Catholic Church Association observed a protest day. After the local Christians appealed to the collector for protection. After the Congress' Girija Vyas toasted the Parivar for spreading "a feeling of insecurity among all women." And after the minorities felt suitably insecure and unsafe. Similar deceptions -- by perpetrators and by the Press -- have led to fatuous declarations from Hindus now ashamed of being Hindu...

Strange but true: On the day the nun was "raped" in Baripada, two nuns belonging to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity were threatened by unidentified men during their visit to the Kandivili-Lokhandwala complex in Mumbai. Stranger but truer: The good Archbishop waited eight whole days before demanding police protection and informing the Press about the attack...

The ToI of February 13 moaned: "The local people told the police that they could not understand why those men treated the nuns in that manner. The nuns came to Vile Parle every week and distributed free medicines to the people, they said." And so it took the opportunity to tabulate a series of Hindu atrocities -- in Calcutta, Hyderabad, Orissa -- and concluded by quoting Madhavrao Scindia: "the attacks on Christian missionaries across the country were part of 'grand designs of the fundamentalist forces' to divide the majority and the minority communities. He said that the BJP had always played the communal card to create a rift between the majority and the minorities..."

Having established the BJP's guilt on the front page, the hallowed newspaper -- lovingly tended to by Ms Dina Vakil -- carried another report inside: "While the three men who attacked the driver of a mobile dispensary run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity at a slum in Kandivili (East) on February 3 are still at large, the police suspect that the attack may have been organised by local doctors. [DCP] Shelar reiterated that the two nuns running the mobile dispensary were not attacked."

In case you're wondering why I'm splitting hairs, let me assure you that the impetus has zero to do with the dubious actions of missionaries. I was goaded by a report on a discourse by the former director of Intelligence Bureau, M K Narayanan ("who is considered an ace thinker in his field"), on the role of intelligence in national security. When a person of Mr Narayanan's stature talks on the subject, I bloody well should listen. And the first line that jumped out at me was: "a substantial proportion of a sleuth's daily input is based on newspaper reports..."

My insides crumbled. A neon light flashed. And technicoloured letters danced a mocking whirligig before assembling to spell: NOW YOU KNOW WHY THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS INDIAN INTELLIGENCE.

The newspaper -- ToI, of course -- continued self-congratulatingly: "[Narayanan] told a questionnaire [sic] that newspaper reports formed a good part of a raw material [sic] on which intelligence was based and developed. He recommended wider reading of newspapers not only by intelligence functionaries but other sections of officials as well." I quietly died.

So beat me up, but I believed, or at least prayed, that media reports would be the very last items to influence spooks. As has become embarrassingly obvious over the last five years, the purpose of the Press is as removed from factual reportage as Clinton is from regret. Adults who draw salaries for simply gathering data aren't able to establish even the details noted in an FIR! Did Our Correspondents and Our Bureau even go to the same police station to copy what the nun had charged? In my book, that's called haraam ki kamaai. And these are the worthies on whom India's Intelligence Bureau depends. Oh god.

OK, so you may say that the papers got some facts wrong but that their intentions were entirely noble. Then, how do you explain the case of the absent report on the American missionary who was neither an American nor a missionary? Bet you haven't heard this one...

On February 2, the Associated Press put out a report that an American missionary, Dr John Sylvester, had been forced to close down his Allahabad-based school and clinic and take sanctuary in the Baptist Seminary after being attacked by Hindu fundies. The item was naturally picked up by our Presswalas.

Unfortunately, Dr Sylvester instantly sent a protest letter to the news agency, declaring that he was a native Indian living in his ancestral home, that he was the executive director of Steward's Trust, that there exists no such seminary in Allahabad, that he never met any AP correspondent, that he never ran a clinic, and that he was not even a priest!

How do I know all this? I know because the hallowed ToI's man in UP checked (for more dirt, I presume). But that's not how *I* know. Meaning, I couldn't have read it if a pal flying in from Lucknow hadn't carried the city special. You see, reports of Hindu atrocities on minorities make headlines nationwide. But any repudiation of the same is merely local news -- leaving the rest of the country to nurture the fraud. Don't ask me why Bombay didn't publish the negation datelined Lucknow -- especially since half of the ToI has been datelined Dangs since about four months. I'm sure the editor's intentions were entirely noble.

On January 11, something called Tunku Varadarajan wrote about the Gujarat uproar in the New York Times op-ed: "On Christmas Day a school run by Christians was burned down by arsonists... This happened a month after a Roman Catholic priest was murdered and religious fanatics vowed to turn an entire district into a 'Christian-free zone.' In keeping with this promise, a chapel was set on fire. Elsewhere, armed men broke into a Catholic convent and assaulted two nuns inside, and another Catholic priest was shot dead."

Excellent! In light of United Christian Forum for Human Rights coordinator Father Cedric Prakash complaining that "It is a question of sentiments and hurt feelings, not just loss of property," and that "there is a section of people which felt that the incidents were not serious enough considering that NOBODY HAD DIED," from where did NYT's scuzzball get the murders of two padres...?

Which, of course, brings us to the murder of Graham Staines and his two young sons... The ToI carried a heart-wrenching piece quoting widow Gladys Staines: "I believe God allowed the incident to happen... Perhaps He has done it with a purpose. [Staines] never converted anybody; he only devoted his life to the service of the poor and downtrodden."

Which is bollocks. Rashtradeep, a vernacular paper of Cuttack, has written that Rev Staines did convert Santhals in and around Manoharpur. That during the third week of January, Staines, along with 10 other preachers, including Australian Gilbert Venj, and two lecturers from Cuttack, Subhankar Ghosh and Rajendra Swain, conducted village meetings, showed films on Christ -- all mobilised towards the conversion effort. That the "jungle camps" were used for betrothals, Bible-preaching and baptism. That 56 families were converted on January 22 -- the day he was killed.

The article raises several other issues: Despite Dara Singh's having several warrants against him, why hadn't he been apprehended? If he belonged to the Bajrang Dal, wouldn't the ruling party have terminated him? Who/what protected him in this traditional Congress stronghold? Why was there no police deployment during this year's camp? Why did the police reach the spot 9 hours after the incident? Why didn't the mob attack any other Christian? There are too many questions left unanswered. Details... details...

The ToI reported: "The police and district authorities said that according to available evidence, the killings were the handiwork of the Bajrang Dal. They identified the main culprit as one Dara Singh... who has been 'spreading hatred' in the area against people of other religions." I see. But do you see? The riots-related testimonies of Bombay's police are automatically garbage -- since they are lackeys of the BJP-Sena government. But Orissa's...

As things stand, not a politico, not a journo has a shred of evidence about where Dara Singh is, or which org he belonged to, or who had masterminded Staines' killing... All they have are: agenda, prejudice and theory.

Like I have mine: Staines wasn't a Roman Catholic. Non-RC evangelists, like those from the Bible Belt, are particularly ruthless about reaching their century-end conversion goals. It's known that in India, evangelists are swiftly converting RCs to Protestant denominations -- and the Church fears that. The Vatican has proved itself to be a scheming, political institution -- right up to Vietnam, and the murder of Pope John Paul I. Political institutions do what they must to keep their dominions intact. The ghastly murder of Staines kills four birds: It sets back competing proselytisation; it gains sympathy for Christianity; it damages the present government; and it discredits the Hindutva movement...

Perhaps, the president of the party which rules Orissa can shed Her Divine Light on the case. Or maybe Vincent George can. Or Oscar Fernandes. Or Margaret Alva. Or P J Kurien...

Tailpiece: On Sunday, a dispensary run by Catholics was ransacked by unidentified persons in Dakor, Gujarat. The police believe it to be a case of robbery. The Salesian Sisters insist it's an attempt to terrorise missionaries working for Dalits. Considering the Bombay incident, let's not rule out a new breed of terrorists -- Medics!

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