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ATTACK ON NUNS

Recent attacks on nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity at Olavanna in northern Kerala reveal deliberate attempts by the sangh parivar to revive communal tension in the state.
BY KA SHAJI

The attack on seven sanyasins of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity by Hindu extremists with the active backing of the BJP-RSS in the poor Dalit hamlet of Olavanna in north Kerala on September 25 was clearly an offshoot of the ruling Congress-led UDF government’s appeasement policy towards sangh parivar forces. Once more the bogey of conversions was used to justify the attack.
At the time of writing, six days have passed since the heinous incident and Kerala, a state known for its high literacy and human development index, is forced to hang its head in shame. The police are yet to nab even a single person responsible for the heinous incident. Though the chief minister and senior police officials maintain that they have stepped up investigations, the so-called ‘miscreants’ and ‘anti-socials’ responsible for the attack, continue to remain at large. The authorities are reluctant to identify it, directly, as an RSS-BJP attack.
The police first nabbed some youths, including DYFI workers, and let them off after questioning. Though they had ‘identified 13 persons responsible for the incident’, the police are still using the services of artists to make sketches of the accused for identification by the victims. Such a situation is unprecedented in the state. The responsibility of the government is not just limited to nabbing the criminals involved in the attack; it must also expose the deep-seated conspiracy behind it. The police have registered cases for attempt to murder, outraging modesty of women, disrupting communal harmony under sections 307, section 153(A) and section 148 of the Indian Penal Code against unidentified assailants. Charges for related offenses under sections 143,147,354 read with section 149 have also been filed.
Apart from the seven members of the Missionaries of Charity, which included four nuns and three brothers, their two drivers also came under attack at the Mampuzhakkad Meethal Dalit Colony. The injured include Mother Superior Sr. Kusumam and Br. Bernad, a Kenyan citizen, who was permitted by the Indian government to work with the congregation for one year. The untoward incidents began on Saturday morning when two nuns, Sr. Cyrilina and Rose Merlin with driver Saji went to Mampuzhakkad Meethal Colony for relief work.
The congregation had been helping an impoverished family for the last one-and-a-half years. On this family’s request, they had gone to distribute cards to avail relief to some more families. A group of five men barged in when the nuns were about to enter the third house at 10.45 a.m. They shouted slogans against conversion in the area. The assailants kicked the driver and slapped the nun. The women in the colony then surrounded the sisters and the driver and led them to a hut. The Nallalam police, who were informed of the incident, then reached the spot and escorted the sisters out.
On hearing of the attack, a team from the Puthiyangadi office of the congregation, including Sr. Kusumam, Sr. Shaliet, two brothers (Varghese and Bernad) and driver Anto arrived there. They were also attacked by members of the BJP-RSS. About 25 persons attacked them with steel ‘kankans’ (metal rings) and tried to drag the nuns out of the vehicle. The windshields and windows of their vehicle were also broken. Locals who tried to stop the miscreants were also beaten up. ‘‘They pulled my sari and holy cross shouting all the while that they would not allow our activities in the area. Some threw mud on us,’’ Sr. Kusumam recalled the incident. ‘‘They shouted at us that they will burn the jeep,’’ Sr. Rose Merlin added.
V. Raveendran, the only male member of the colony who was near the spot when the first attack took place, said he had not seen any conversion activities. ‘‘As far as I know, they did only good things for the families.’’
There are about 107 families in the poor colony. The nuns had actually asked some of them to come to their office at Puthiyangadi on September 29 to collect five kg rice and half kg green gram, the assistance given to each penniless family every month.
‘‘We have no complaint against those who attacked us. But we want to know why they did this to us,’’ said Kusumam. ‘‘Our driver is a Hindu. He has been with us for the past six years. We could have converted him. At our centre, we have around 50 inmates belonging to all communities: Hindus, Christians and Muslims,’’ she added.
However, the district unit of the RSS justified the act even as it distanced itself from it: ‘‘It is the forced and induced mass conversions carried out by Christian missionaries that have resulted in such an untoward incident.’’ The claim by the Hindu Aikya Vedi, an umbrella organisation of Hindu outfits, that a group of missionaries including a Kenyan who had arrived here on a tourist visa had spoken in a derogatory manner about Hindu gods at the colony inviting the wrath of locals, also turned out to be a black rumour.
The local community, in one voice, told the police that the nuns had never indulged in any kind of conversion in the area. The nuns also run a home for those forgotten and forsaken by society. As many as 48 people, most of them chronic TB patients and mentally challenged, have found solace there. ‘‘We tend their wounds and sickness. We only help make their last days a little peaceful. We do not force any religion upon them. When they die, the last rites are performed as per their faith,’’ explained Sr. Kusumam. The tailoring shop and mobile dispensary run by the congregation are also open to all.
The attack on nuns at Olavanna must be viewed as a typical if cowardly act of communal provocation, all under the guise of fighting religious conversion. The targets were nuns belonging to Mother Teresa’s order, Missionaries of Charity, who are known nationwide to be docile and quiet workers with no agenda of conversion. It also points to the deliberate attempts of the sangh parivar to revive communal tension in a village located close to Maradu, where Hindu and Muslim extremists orchestrated two bouts of communal carnage over the past three years, killing about 13 people (see CC, November 2003).
In Olavanna, the state police has been accused of gross negligence and insensitivity in its handling of the attack and subsequent developments. Although the police were informed about the attack instantly, there was no quick response. The assailants could get away after the attack only because the police failed to intervene immediately.
For the last three-and-a-half years, the state government is said to have been utilising its police force to serve the political designs of the RSS. The soft-Hindutva stand of former chief minister AK Antony and his successor Oommen Chandy, contrary to Congress national policy, have helped the RSS-BJP to regroup in the state, in keeping with the decision of the BJP national executive to reclaim its extreme Hindutva stance, especially in states where it does not have a strong base.
In an earlier instance, the police hushed up cases against RSS workers involved in the murder of the priest, Job Chittilapally, at Chalakudy in Thrissur district in August this year.
Both the murder of the priest and the attack on the nuns are clear indications that Uma Bharati’s disciples have, with the blessings of certain Congressmen who prefer to avoid a direct clash with communal forces, once again started flexing their muscles in Kerala.
(Communalism Combat, September 2004)

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