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Under Threat: Right to Eat, Dress

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
22 Apr 2024

Early this week, the logos of Doordarshan Hindi and English news channels underwent a change. The Ruby Red colour was replaced with saffron. Those familiar with computer applications know that this is an easy job that can be done in a few minutes. Yet, it was presented as if a cataclysmic event had occurred.

On Ramanavami Day, a "celestial" event occurred. A ray of sunlight was directed to fall on the forehead of the Ram Lalla idol at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. A government agency based in Bengaluru used mirrors and lenses to achieve this. As a child, I had done something similar but mischievous by directing sunlight onto the elders using just a mirror, for which I received a thrashing.

It was fascinating to direct light onto a piece of paper until it burned. Many years later, I saw a similar system at the Konark Sun Temple in Odisha, one of the most remarkable man-made structures of its time (13th century AD), without any mirrors, of course.

The temple, built on 12 pairs of wheels representing the 12 months of the year, has an inbuilt system whereby sunlight is directed at the idol at a specific time of day. No worship takes place at the temple as it is now under the Archaeological Department. What was accomplished at Ayodhya was, in comparison, not an incredible feat!

It was just a coincidence that last week's column was on how the nation was becoming saffronised. In fact, soon after Shri Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre, I noticed the colour scheme of the road divider on Bhai Vir Singh Marg in New Delhi being changed. I took a photograph and published a post on my Facebook wall.

I am sure Modi would not have known about this little change, which may have originated from an over-zealous official. My objection was that the previous colour scheme was chosen for visibility at night. No wonder specific colours are used for road signages worldwide. The colours serve a functional purpose.

No, I am not against the colour saffron. It signifies courage, sacrifice, valour, wisdom, and action. That is why sages throughout history have worn this colour. When the Italian Jesuit Robert de Nobili arrived in India in the 17th century, he chose to wear saffron cloth. He even wore a three-stringed thread across his chest, representing the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.

The bishops of the church to which I belong have traditionally worn saffron clothes. Yet, when a Catholic bishop in the South wore saffron cloth, there was a protest from some Hindutva elements. Here, I have an anecdote to share.

I accompanied the then Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church, the late Dr. Alexander Marthoma, from Patna Junction to my flat. As he entered the apartment building, someone fell at his feet, seeking his blessing. After receiving it, the person asked me if he was a Tantrik. I didn't have time to tell him that he had obtained a PhD long before I was born, and the title of his thesis was "Viśvarūpa Darśana: A Study of the Vision of God in the Bhagavadgītā". As luck would have it, I have a copy of the original manuscript he submitted for his PhD.

Henry Ford once said that all colours were good as long as they were black. He had a reason for saying so. He wanted to sell his cars at the lowest price. The cost of production would increase if more colours were introduced, affecting sales. That's why he only sold black vehicles. It's no wonder that even today, the preferred colour for the US Presidential limousine is black.

The day Doordarshan changed its logo, we saw saffron in action in a Christian school in Telangana. In the school where I studied, we were taught that the three colours in the national flag represented three religions — saffron for Hindus, green for Muslims, and white for Christians. The wheel of Dharma represented Buddhism. This may not be true, for the flag leaves out many religions practised in the country, like Sikhism and Jainism.

Saint Mother Teresa English Medium School in Kannepally village, Mancherial district, Telangana, is managed by the Kerala-based Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. On April 16, a group of students arrived at the school without wearing the school uniform, opting instead for saffron attire. The school management responded as any school management would under similar circumstances.

They asked the students to bring their parents to discuss their attendance at academic activities. Instead of complying with the principal's request, they posted on social media suggesting that Hindus were not allowed to practice their religion. They also incited about 100 people.

They all wore saffron and stormed the school. They shouted slogans, assaulted the principal and the manager, and vandalised the office, furniture and glass panes. They even disregarded the police who arrived to restore order. One need only recall what happened in Karnataka when the BJP was in power.

Some Muslim students attended a school wearing headscarves to cover their hair. Despite wearing the school uniform, they were not allowed to enter the school premises. The BJP government issued an order making it mandatory for every student to wear the uniform. Even the High Court upheld the government's decision. The poor girls suffered, as they did not want to compromise their right to cover their hair.

In many cultures in Asia and Africa, it is customary for women to cover their hair. I had a relative who is a Christian from Africa. When she visited us in Delhi, I noticed that she always covered her hair. When I asked her why, she said it was the custom there.

In India, even Hindu women in Haryana, for instance, cover their faces and hair, especially when speaking to unrelated men. In any case, the school's action was simply to remind students of their obligation to wear the school uniform. Nevertheless, the police have registered a case against the school for creating religious tension.

Now, imagine what would have happened in an RSS-run school if some students tried to attend class without wearing the uniform, claiming that it was their religious custom to wear white or green. Of course, such a scenario would never occur. The RSS authorities would have used their lathi against them and expelled them from the school.

As the video of the attack appeared on social media, the police were forced to register a case against the attackers. What happened has become a standard practice in India these days. Whenever a Christian institution is attacked, cases are registered against the management, not against the perpetrators, who are allowed to go scot-free. The rule of law is increasingly becoming the rule of the unlawful.

It is apparent that the intention was to create a situation that would be difficult for the police to handle. Telangana is now ruled by the Congress. In the last Assembly elections, it was the only state that was won by Congress. It lost its own Rajasthan and failed to make an impact in Madhya Pradesh, which the BJP retained. It is in the BJP's interest to show the Telangana government in a poor light.

If the police go after all the 100 or so people who destroyed school property and assaulted staff, it will antagonise many people, their relatives, and friends. Also, the BJP wants to prove that only a BJP government can prevent riots in their states. It's a different matter that the worst riots happened in Gujarat when the BJP was in power there. The anti-Christian pogrom in Manipur is yet another example.

Today, I received a video showing some Catholic nuns leaving the nunnery for the school where they taught. They were surrounded by saffron-wearing hoodlums who shouted slogans and told them not to wear their religious dress. Finally, the nuns reached the school, but the men who followed them caused a ruckus, forcing them to return to the nunnery. They couldn't teach. It did not matter to them that the students were deprived of teaching for the day.

I don't know where this incident occurred, but it was in Assam that a demand was first raised that Christian priests and nuns should not wear their religious dress while taking classes. The Constitution of India grants the freedom to wear any dress of one's choice.

There is no special dress for a state chief minister. That's why Yogi Adityanath wears the same attire he did as head of the religious mutt in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. His counterpart in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, wears the traditional Kerala dhoti and shirt. However, they are expected to wear formal dress for official functions.

I have never seen Yogi Adityanath wearing anything else. Christian priests and nuns have their religious attire. When a priest appears as an advocate in court, he must wear a black gown and other paraphernalia. The same goes for nuns.

Since they don't join the Army or police, there is no question of abandoning their religious attire. There are many schools and colleges run by religious organisations like Rama Krishna Mission, Vidya Bharati, Chinmaya Mission, and Mata Amritanandamayi. They have religious individuals holding teaching and administrative positions. And they wear their religious dress. Why are Christian schools singled out?

"Render unto Caesar" is the beginning of a phrase attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, which reads in full, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." What it means is that there is no problem for a Christian to accept the law of the land while expecting to live an eternal life on the other shore.

Modi found fault with a Bihar political leader for eating fish during the Ramanavami season. He may only eat dhokla and other exotic Gujarati vegetarian dishes, but for the people of Bihar, fish is as good as a vegetable. In fact, a Bengali friend and journalist defined fish as the "fruit of water" and, therefore, edible. Maithili Brahmins consider themselves at the top of the caste hierarchy but are voracious fish eaters. This only exposed Modi's ignorance. Food is a personal choice. If Modi, or for that matter, I was born in China, we would be eating "everything that moves".

Christians have no problem obeying laws. If they are told not to enforce discipline like wearing a uniform and to listen to what a gang of saffron-wearers say, they will have little problem. There are millions of people, mostly Hindus, who send their children to these schools because they instil not only discipline but also values cherished by the nation. If their institutions can be wrecked by these anti-social elements, one can only lament what is in store for the country.

These people have time for all this because they are not gainfully employed. Give them jobs, and they will look after themselves and their families. Otherwise, they will expend their energy attacking minority institutions in the mistaken belief that they are promoting Hindutva!

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