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Nun rape and church vandalism: Hindutva idea or land-grabbing technique?

The Ranaghat incident raises crucial questions about the saffron brotherhood's clarity of purpose in their attacks on churches.

 |  Crossbar  |  5-minute read |   25-03-2015
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The rape of the septuagenarian Mother Superior at the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Ranaghat, a town 72km from Kolkata and close to Bangladesh border, followed by police inaction now typical of the state, and the accompanying chorus of voices, are symptomatic of the ambiguity and hidden agenda that mark political discourse in contemporary India. With the politician-police-mafia "triple entente" now complete across the country, the media is kept on a starvation diet as far as facts are concerned. It spawns a torrent of lies, some of which are vicious. Like the Ranaghat incident, which was promptly linked by Firhad Hakim, a member of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) cabinet, to "rising religious intolerance like the ghar wapsi campaign". And not to be trumped in the war of rhetoric, Surendra Jain, a functionary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, relying upon his doubtful knowledge of papal history, blamed it on "the Christian culture of exploitation of nuns".

The fact is, the miscreants who attacked the convent and outraged the prioress were hired thugs unleashed in the dead of night by land sharks who had an eye on a plot of eight acres of land the convent owns nearby, on NH 34. The expansion plan of the highway, for long frozen in dispute between the TMC-led state government and the centre, is now thawing, with the road-widening project under way. And that has drawn the Ranaghat land traders to the convent. In fact it would have been a surprise if it hadn't, as land prices along the highway in backward, and gangster-infested, Ranaghat, had begun soaring before the first backhoe arrived. According to Ananda Bazar Patrika, the Bengali newspaper, the price of land in that area, which was Rs 40,000 a "katha" (about 700sq) a couple of years back, is now hovering between Rs 3,00,000 and Rs 5,00,000. It seems the land sharks had a hand in the convent's sale of 80 kathas of land a few months back. According to the newspaper, it sold for one point two two crore rupees whereas the real price could be three times more.

It is likely that, after stomaching the 80 kathas, the land sharks were aiming at the remaining eight acres which could fetch a fortune as all clear on the road-widening project has been sounded after a "friendly" meeting between chief minister Banerjee and Union highways minister Nitin Gadkari. But Mother Superior refused to surrender to the mafia, many of whom are reportedly connected to the TMC. Her refusal could be because the plot houses quite a few poor Christian families, and she took it as her duty as a Catholic nun to prevent her fellow religionists from being without shelter. But the land sharks were waiting for an opportunity to strike. It came a fortnight ago, when a boy student at the co-ed was caught taking pictures of girls in the class. The boy is a repeat offender; he had earlier put some offensive pictures on the Facebook page of a female classmate. The Mother expelled the boy, which triggered a seemingly outraged mob, led by the boy's businessman father, protesting against her act. It is not known if the father of the expelled student, who had slipped out on a foreign trip a few days before the midnight attack on the convent, had a role in the regular threat calls that started coming in after the incident. But the expulsion incident, and the stage-managed protest, became the catalyst for the threats, and much worse things that were to follow. The attackers were hired hands, two of whom spoke Bengali with supposedly eastern accent. But those who hired them had a single objective: To intimidate the nuns by insulting their body. Probably the act for which they were paid by their engagers, in addition to the booty of cash and gold, was committed when one of the attackers took the 71-year-old Mother Superior to a room and left her in a pool of blood.

The nuns were complaining to the police from the day they had threatening calls. But the police in Bengal districts have little respect for the Supreme Court order making FIR mandatory for all complaints, specially if the accused persons are even remotely connected with the ruling party. Therefore the nuns' complaint went into a general diary. After the incident, the TMC and the VHP, a sibling of the BJP, began a slanging match between themselves. It gave the hirelings of the land grabbers plenty of time to merge in the crowd, leaving no trace except fuzzy profiles of the faces of three among them which were captured by the CCTV cameras. Maybe the CBI, which is taking over the investigation, will be able to catch the culprits, or some of them, as the bureau is blessed with an extensive collection on its rogues' gallery. But it is anything but an impartial agency. Its multi-state investigation of the Saradha chit fund scam has got sticky with gradual improvement in relations between the West Bengal CM and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the latest being the TMC's support to the government bills on mines and minerals in the Rajya Sabha, where BJP is in minority.

However, the Ranaghat incident raises crucial questions about the saffron brotherhood's clarity (not correctness) of purpose in their attacks on churches and Christian schools. They can't be worked up by the religion's "spread"; it is stuck at two point five per cent, 215 years after William Carey started his proselytising Baptist Mission. But the Christian churches in India are property-rich for historical reasons and also due to donations from the West. So what is driving the recent paranoia about the "junior minority" - like Modi wishing them an un-merry Christmas, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat calling Mother Teresa names decades after her death, and half a dozen churches being vandalised across the country? Is it a Hindutva idea, or a signal to supporters to grab the nearest "God's field", after putting a Hanuman image on the steeple?

Writer

Sumit Mitra Sumit Mitra @sumitmitr

The writer is is a political analyst and enthusiast in colonial studies.

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