Christians of Delhi and National Capital Region organised a mammoth rally in the Capital on October 2 to protest against ongoing anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka, and demand justice and ban on Bajrang Dal and VHP. Supported by All India Christian Council, the rally in fact marked the culmination of the 7-day dharna, which started on September 26, at 7 Jantar Mantar, the protest centre near Parliament.
It was a rally with a difference as the organisers submitted the memorandum to Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation instead of Prime Minister or Union Home Minister – indeed a novel idea that the Father of the Nation might inspire President, Prime Minister and other concerned authorities to act for their redress, deliver justice and pay heed to their demands.
The rally day, October 2, marked the 139th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi as well as the UN Non-Violence Day. The organisers exploited this coincidence to the hilt.
The rally took one hour and a half to march from Jantar Mantar to Raj Ghat. About 200 motorcyclists, organised in two queues, were piloting the rally while the marchers were lined up in four queues.
A number of priests and nuns, easily identifiable with their respective robes, along with over 15,000 Christian males and females, boys and girls left no stone unturned to make their voice heard, loud and clear.
The marchers were holding banners and placards. Some of the placards read: “Burn hatred, not churches,” “We want peace and harmony in Orissa,” “Let there be peace and harmony,” “Ban Terrorist Bajrang Dal,” “Mr. Prime Minister, Enact Article 355 Immediately.”
They also raised slogans like “We want justice,” “Stop police brutality,” “Stop Orissa violence,” “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai, Aapas mein hain bhai, bhai,” “Hinduon se nahin ladayee hai, annayay ke khilaf aawaaz uthai hai,” “Hindustan hamara aap ka, na kisi ke baap ka.”
When the rally was approaching Gandhi Samadhi, they raised slogans in favour of other minorities especially Muslims also: “Stop killing innocents” with veiled reference to the so-called Batla House encounter killings, “Stop violence against Muslims,” “Stop bloodshed.”
One important feature of the event was that the representatives of the various faiths like Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism participated in the rally.
At Gandhi Samadhi, they held a prayer meeting and recitation of the memorandum.
Swami Agnivesh, representative of Hindus, after reciting some verse from the Vedas, said, “Everybody knows who killed Gandhiji; it was the same force who is now killing Christians in Orissa today.”
Then he invoked Bapu, as Gandhiji was lovingly called: “Gandhi, aaj hum sharminda hain, tere qatil aaj bhi Orissa mein zinda hain.”
Dr. SQR Ilyas, Editor Urdu monthly Afkar-e-Milli and member Central Advisory Council Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, recited Surah Al Fatiha and explained its meaning before extending solidarity to the Christians and assuring them to fight the battle together.
A Sikh Granthi besides a Christian priest also prayed in their respective ways.
At the end of the meeting two children of the community – Praful and Ashrita – in the presence of the leaders of civil society submitted the memorandum on the Samadhi of Gandhiji.
The memorandum, addressed to “Our dear beloved Bapuji,” narrates the continuing violence in Orissa which has so far made 50,000 Christians internally displaced, burned 4,300 houses and seen ethnic cleansing in over 300 villages of Kandhamal. Women, including a nun, have been raped and burnt. The toll is now 57 and mounting. Christians have also faced violence in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and some other parts of India.
Before presenting the 6-point demands, the memorandum explains why it is addressed to Bapu instead of Prime Minister or Union Home Minister: “Now we appeal to you, Bapu, because we believe your moral force can confront and defeat untruth, that 60 years later, your sacrifice can help restore Freedom, Secularism, Democracy and Human Rights, values for which you lived and died, and which we, the affected Indian citizens belonging to the Christian tradition, now seek. We have no FREEDOM to move about. Our LIFE is in grievous danger. Discriminatory treatment by the people and the State of Orissa has destroyed the EQUALITY guaranteed in our Constitution. Taking into consideration that the Rule of Law is inoperative and ANARCHY is prevalent in the affected Districts of Orissa, and Karnataka, we the Christians of Delhi and NCR urge you, Bapu.” (stress ingrained)
The demands include immediate dismissal of Orissa and Karnataka governments and imposing President rule in the two States, deploying army there, opening all the ways in the violence-hit areas for relief work and starting of distribution of relief articles; imposing ban on Bajrang Dal and VHP, whose direct hand in the Orissa violence has been found by the National Commission for Minorities as well, initiating CBI investigation into the murder of Swami Laxmanand Saraswati and immediate release of compensation for the relations of those killed and for those rendered homeless.
Earlier in the day, Lalu Prasad, Shiela Dikshit, Sitaram Yetchury, Oscar Fernandez and many other political leaders addressed the gathering of a large number of people at Jantar Mantar. Lalu Prasad lambasted the Sangh Parivar for indulging in divisive politics and spreading hate just to get to power at the Centre. Appreciating the selfless services rendered by Mother Teresa and many other missionaries in the field of education, health and social development, he said that we must rather follow their example in our lives and be grateful to them. He said, “We will not let the enemies of the country break the unity and harmony of India.” He also appealed to everyone to join hands in fighting the menace of communalism.