Preaching Gauneeti at Foreign Land
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted 200 cows to poor villagers in Rwanda to mark his visit to the country on July 24. These locally sourced cows will add to the Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s Girinka programme initiated in 2006. Mr Kagame’s dream project of giving cows to poor families that does not have one is intended to provide both nutritional and financial security to the poor. Of course such agrarian projects will alleviate poverty, tackle childhood malnutrition, and improve agricultural productivity.
Mr. Modi who knows the value of cow more than anyone must have carefully chosen this gesture presumably to avail an opportunity to preach gauneeti (cow politics) to Indians from a foreign land. The PM said that India would be pleasantly surprised to see the cow being given great importance in Rwanda as a means of economic empowerment in villages. Mr. Modi might not be as much unaware that beef provides Rwandans with health security as well. But for Rwandan neighbourhoods which were drastically torn by the notorious genocide, gifting cows to neighbours has a different political and spiritual significance: reconciliation of communities.
I came to know about Rwanda while reading a book named Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. The book was written by Immaculee Ilibagiza, a young woman who survived the horrific Rwandan holocaust. In 1994 when she was hardly 22 years old her idyllic nation was ripped apart and fell into a bloody genocide. Rwandan genocide is one of the worst modern massacres that even outdid Nazi Holocaust. The world remained mute spectators as the majority government run by Hutu ethnic group cleansed almost a million Tutsi people within three months. That amounted to almost 70% of the Tutsi population.
Though Ilibagiza lost her family during the killing spree, she incredibly survived the slaughter. For 90 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor, while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them. The tonic of her survival was faith in God and the regular praying of rosary. In Left to Tell Ilibagiza describes her personal experience of how walking by Christian faith she could forgive the murderers of her family and those who wiped off Tutsis.
Rwanda is the modern day stain of ethnic clashes instigated by spread of hate and fake information. On 6 April 1994, an airplane carrying the autocratic Hutu president Mr. Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali, the Rwandan capital. The Hutu had spread the false propaganda that the Tutsi have perpetrated the plane tragedy and set to slaughter almost a million people. The ethnic cleansing marooned thousands of widows and orphan children.
Claiming Lives by Casting Hate
The day before Mr. Modi visited the Rwandan Genocide Memorial Centre, the final resting place of over 250,000 victims, back in India a mob attacked Akbar, a young Muslim man, just because he was leading a cow he purchased to his home. Contrary to Akbar’s dream of securing his family by selling milk, the cow caused his own death. He was the sole breadwinner for a large family which includes wife and seven children. The police took more than half-an-hour to reach the spot, but they first ferried the cows to a shelter before taking the victim to the hospital just 4 km away from the spot. Then they picked up Akbar, washed him, stopped to have tea, got his clothes changed at the police station and then took him to the hospital, where he was declared brought dead. The post mortem report suggested that he died of “shock as a result of ante-mortem (before death) injuries sustained over body.” Of course, Akbar who reared a dream around the newly purchased cow, must have dreaded the indifferent spectators and inactive police than the violent mob!
Incidents of violent deaths triggered by hate speech and social exclusion are increasing in India particularly after 2014. Fake news about cow smuggling and child lifting has already claimed many lives and left their families unsettled. An atmosphere of mutual distrust and fear is growing which many people fear as an ill-omen before the 2019 election. Cow politics is resurging with its ugly horns threatening the peace and life of minorities and other social classes.
PM Modi, who showed much concern about Rwandan social security, however does not seem to be interested in soothing the very fragile social situation in his home country. Shashi Tharoor’s accusation of Modi’s deafening silence on mobocracy and extermination of intellectuals and activists unravels the Government’s complacency. The BJP takes a defensive stand on mob lynching while the police is left unbridled whose inaction has claimed lives in most lynching cases. The subsequent comments by politicos vindicates that BJP is least concerned about ending mobocracy. Yogi Adityanath reportedly said that mob lynching cases are given unnecessary importance and cows are as important as human beings. The Wire reports that the Alwar act was done with the support of VHP and BJP, while The Print claims these mob attacks are the result of manufactured Hindu fury.
Art of Forgiving and Forgetting
It was forgiveness and reconciliation that helped Ilibagiza as well as Rwanda to emerge from grudge and despair to find new horizons of peace and development. After the genocide many programmes were initiated for social harmony and national development. One of the great initiatives is the monthly day of service known as Umuganda. Every able-bodied Rwandan citizen between the ages of 18 and 65 must take part in community service for three hours once a month to tackle some public works problem. This compulsory work is emblematic of a broader culture of reconciliation, development and social control asserted by the government.
Indians cannot leave themselves to be plunged into manufactured destiny of social disharmony. Discipline and patriotism cannot be taught in military style but is learned in atmospheres where people from different sections are allowed to work in congruence and mutual trust. A fragmented nation cannot advance unless they are ready to reconcile themselves and fix its democracy. Government should think of a National Unity and Reconciliation Commission to coordinate peace mission between communities. A peace curriculum shall be followed in schools and universities. Let peace and harmony be discussed at our coffee tables and in training sessions of public and private human resource training. MPs and MLAs shall be educated for peace building. Otherwise India would gradually be digging its own graveyard just as Rwanda did two decades ago.
(Published on 30th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 31)
Time to Turn Swords into Ploughshares
Catholic Church apparently had its own role in the horrendous killings of Tutsi people in predominantly Christian Rwanda. Obviously priests, bishops and lay people belonged to either Hutu or Tutsi. During the holocaust the ethnic identity prevailed over the Christian morality. Some presbyters took part in atrocities against their opposing faction on their own personal account causing to kill many priests and faithful of both factions. On the other hand many priests used their churches to rescue vulnerable people of both the sides. Though the genocide was not sponsored by the church, the face of the Rwandan Church was marred as it did not do anything positive to stop the slaughter. Pope Francis asked pardon for Catholic priests who succumbed to hatred and violence.
Culture of hate, exclusion and othering is becoming a hallmark of Indian polity. Christians also are not immune to this terrible tendency. Recently some churches in India are found to be divided on financial, material and moral irregularities of their pastors. The communities are alienated on these real life issues and favour their preferred factions.
The groups use social media to maximise the spread of hate and false propaganda even hindering a fair investigation and evaluation of the reality. The uncritical laity immediately take partisan stand and take part in vilifying campaigns against their opponents. The language and public actions of those defending the church have touched a new low, contrary to Christian charity and effective witness. The pastors who are supposed to guide the faithful themselves create destructive messages in their eagerness to defend their side. Ilibagiza and Rwanda have much to teach them to emerge from internal and external divisions.
Christians and other minorities also need to be very alert about the planned agenda of propagating hate by communal forces for which they take any treacherous means. Many messages that seemingly align with minority’s positions are also cleverly created by the communal forces with an intention to precipitate polarised opinions. Peace lovers have to be aware of the big lobby strenuously working to sway public opinion for which they either appease or provoke their delicate religious sentiments. They shall not bite the baited hook.
The vocation of the Church and its faithful is to make this world a better place for themselves and others. Christian witness involves a righteousness that surpasses that of the non-believers. It is imperative for Christians to work for social justice and stand by the oppressed and the excluded. While working to improve social inequalities and harmony, communal and fascist forces may target the Christian institutions as was the case with the Missionaries of Charity recently. However even in their fight against social inequalities Christians shall be guided by Christ who said, “love those who hate you,” “pray for those who persecute you” and “you shall not curse your brother.” Christians are to work for a kingdom where its citizens “shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). They pray for a nation without war and sword.
(Published on 30th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 31)