Open letter to Amit Shah: Nuns’ matter, no small matter

img1 A. J. Philip
29 Mar 2021

Dear Amit Shah Ji,

You are, arguably, the busiest person in the country. With elections happening in states like Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala, every minute of yours is invaluable. 

I read recently a graphic account of journalist Manoj Menon’s travel with you while you were on your campaign trail. I was amazed by the meticulousness with which your journeys are planned and executed.

Two days ago, I went to Jhajjar in Haryana and returned to the Capital the same day. I know how tired I felt after the journey. I do not know how you keep yourself fit while hopping from one constituency in one state to another constituency in another state.

Now, imagine for a moment a group of people intercepting you and disrupting your schedule by forcibly taking you to a place you had not planned to visit. Let me use a simpler word. Assume that you are kidnapped.

My readers will laugh at me for even suggesting that you could be intercepted or kidnapped. You are easily the most well-protected person in the country. There are millions of policemen, paramilitary forces, and armed forces to ensure that no harm is ever done to you. 

Yes, that is how you should always be, the most protected person in the country. However, as Union Home Minister, your job is also to ensure that every law-abiding person and his property is protected. Just as you have your busy schedule, every person has also her own schedule.

This week, two Catholic nuns in their habits were accompanying two girls from Odisha, who are being trained to become nuns in a three-tier air-conditioned compartment. They were postulants. 

Postulancy and Novitiates are periods of training and preparation that a prospective monastic, apostolic, or member of a religious order undergoes prior to taking vows in order to discern whether they are called to a vowed religious life. The nuns wanted the two postulants to be dropped at their homes in Odisha.

Alas, a group of the saffron brigade, who were travelling by the same train, created a hue and cry when the train reached Jhansi. Yes, it was the same place where a queen unleashed her sword against the British in what is known as the First War of Independence.

Of course, she died fighting but the wounds the Rani of Jhansi inflicted on the British were never healed. Her memory continued to haunt them, until they left packing when the Union Jack was lowered and the tricolour hoisted at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947.

I do not claim that the two incidents are similar. What happened is that the hoodlums accused the sisters of forcibly converting the postulants. I have seen the videos of the police also turning into their tormentors. They were forced to accompany the policemen to the police station, where they were questioned for hours.

They were released only after they received the documents from the congregation showing that the two postulants were born in Christian families and had received baptism as infants. They were advised not to wear their habit while continuing their journey, first to Odisha and then back to Delhi.

Since you do not travel by train, you may not be able to understand the agony they had when they were forced to break the journey. Come to think of it, the incident happened in a state ruled by a person who wears his religious dress.

And it is his policemen who harassed the nuns for wearing their habit. Perhaps, they would not have earned the attention of your young cadres, if they had not worn their religious garb. Does it imply that Catholic nuns and priests should not, hereafter, wear their cassocks and habits when they are in public?

I am sure that as Home Minister you are aware of the freedom Indians enjoy to travel anywhere in the country, wear any dress and even preach their religion. We are so liberal that even Digambar Jains are allowed to travel without any piece of cloth on them. As a Jain yourself, how will you feel if a Jain Muni is forced to cover his genitals?

I can’t even think of such an incident happening in the country when one such monk was invited to the Haryana Assembly and asked to address the MLAs, soon after your party came to power in the state. It was, perhaps, the first time that a naked person ever addressed a legislative House anywhere in the world.

I saw the video of your party MP, Shri KJ Alphons, meekly submitting a memorandum to you to demand action when you visited his constituency to campaign for him. Has the situation come to such a pass that a BJP MP has to ask the Union Home Minister to take action against the miscreants involved in the attack on the nuns?

Is not Shri Alphons’ memorandum clear proof that he does not have faith in the UP Police? If anyone takes the law into his own hands, the police have the power to arrest him and subject himself to the laws of the land. The MP knows this as he wielded the law against the encroachers on DDA land in Delhi. 

Alas, what we saw in Jhansi are the policemen dancing to the whimsical tunes of your young party workers. They are a bigger threat to the rule of law than the bigots who claim to be the defenders of the Hindu faith. If you have the guts, you should ensure that they are punished for harassing the nuns when their job should have been to fight the criminals.

Of course, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and your party have empowered them to harass anyone of their choice like the innocent nuns by enacting notorious laws like the anti-conversion law and the anti-love jihad law. 

Recently, a friend sent me a video that showed a group of hoodlums attacking a poor Christian pastor. He was ruthlessly handled. When he fell down as he could no longer withstand the kicking on his groins, I saw one of them jumping on his chest from a distance. They left him groaning.

I am sure his ribs would have broken and pierced vital organs like the liver and the lungs. I was in tears seeing this. No, it was not just because he was a pastor. When a Muslim boy was beaten up for entering a temple to drink water, I felt the same emotion. Which Hindu God will be unhappy if a poor Muslim boy quenches his thirst from the temple well or hydrant? Have you punished that RSScal?

The greatness of a Home Minister is not when he travels in style but when he ensures that even the weakest of the nation feels safe. His job is to ensure that nobody is harassed. Yes, I know that you have promised action against the harassers in Jhansi.

You desperately need Christian votes to win a few seats in Kerala. So you may do something in this particular case, but the fact of the matter is that Christians are scared of worshipping their God in many villages in the country. 

I used the word “scared”. Actually, who are scared of the Christians?

They constitute less than 3 per cent of the population. They are the most law-abiding in the country. If you have any doubt, please check the census figures. It is in fear of them that you enact laws like the anti-conversion law in state after state. Why is Yogi scared of Christians?

I can tell you a story I heard from the horse’s mouth. Soon after Yogi became Chief Minister, a group of Christian clergy led by a Saffron-wearing Christian scholar and former IAF officer called on him at his official residence. They had a cold reception there. To break the ice, one of them said that peace was the need of the hour.

Immediately, the CM retorted: “You should teach Christians and Muslims about peace and co-existence. We Hindus believe in Vasudaiva Kudumbakam (the world is one family). You can do whatever but if you convert even one person, I will break your legs”. Crudeness could not have been bolder. It is the same mindset that you have created which is responsible for what happened at Jhansi.

Are nuns treated like this everywhere? Once while travelling in Jharkhand, I visited a house of nuns. There was a nun who had just returned from war-torn Baghdad. I did not know that the Missionaries of Charity of Saint Teresa of Kolkata fame had a functioning nunnery at Baghdad when war was raging there.

She told me about the life there. Their job was to take care of infants, orphaned by the war. The Iraq Government did not have a facility to handle children below three. Such children were given to the nuns, who looked after them till they reached the age of three when they would be shifted to a government facility.

No, they did not get any government support. Instead, the common Iraqis would visit the centre with clothes, food, toiletries etc. On Fridays, a larger number of people visited the centre. The nuns did not have to buy anything. The people provided them with everything they wanted. 

What’s more, they respected the nuns, though they professed a faith different from theirs.

But in secular India, turning fast into a Hindu Rashtra, nuns are advised to hide their identity to save themselves. If you can spare a few minutes to understand the kind of work that nuns do, I would advise you to visit a Catholic facility near Bijnor in UP where the nuns take care of children born with deformities and are, therefore, abandoned by their parents.

Most of those children are unlikely to live long but they are given a dignified life till God calls them back. Taking care of such children is easier said than done. 

You have lakhs of policemen under your command but they will not be able to look after such children even for a day, forget day after day.

Once I visited the Principal of St. John’s Medical College, Bengaluru. It is a Catholic institution where some seats are reserved for nuns, not priests. I asked the principal whether it was proper to reserve seats for them.

Then he drew my attention to a large map of India on his office wall. He showed me the markings on the map. Those marks denoted the places where the nuns who did their MBBS from St. John’s worked. They were working in remote villages where no doctor likes to work.

Next time you visit Kashmir, which you have converted into a Union Territory, please visit the Catholic hospital at Baramulla. When I visited the hospital a decade ago, I found a large crowd at the Gynaecology department. It was headed by a nun, who has helped in the birth of thousands of babies. She was like a mother for the local people.

The nuns are persons who find solace in comforting the needy, feeding the hungry, treating the injured and helping those who need support to stand up. I asked a nun in Bijnor how she was able to do the seemingly dirty job of cleaning nearly 150 children who can’t get up from their beds. She said that even she would not be able to do the job if it was for money.

She saw in each child the little baby in the manger that the world saw nearly two thousand years. That is why she was able to keep them clean and adorable day after day. You and your ilk will see the service as an attempt to convert.

If you also believe so, you are totally mistaken. You should consider the nuns as a blessing to this nation. They are about a lakh and they serve millions of people as teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers and even lawyers. Theirs is a service in silence. 

Even if you and your party are not gracious enough to admire their service, at least don’t harass them when they travel. They do not crave for any public recognition of their service. At least let them enjoy the freedom the Constitution grants to every citizen. That is the minimum you should do. Lest you should invite the wrath of God, as had happened at the Kaurava court when Draupadi was disrobed.

Yours etc


 

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