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October - November 2007


Political News

Caste Wars - Return of the Empire?

by Anuja Prashar


As we become more aware of the rise of religiosity in the 21st Century, the terms fundamentalist or extremist have become associated with visible forms of violence or adherence to traditional forms of attire and behaviour patterns. However, the growth of Christian fundamentalism in the 21st Century is demonstrating a very different image, framed within concepts of benevolence and humanitarian aid, it is a force that is almost invisible within the structures of civil society today.

The recent CNN documentary report on “God’s Warriors” revealed an enormous growing movement of the Evangelical Church in the USA, which has gained significant influence within American politics and voters over the past two decades. The rise of the Christian Far Right in the UK however, does not appear to be founded upon popular votes or gaining public support.

In mid August of this year the Department of Communities and Local Government of UK issued a public questionnaire asking about ‘caste’ practise and it’s role in public life. A small marginal Hindu organisation called Hindu Council UK distributed this leaflet through e-mail distribution. This unexpected intervention shocked and surprised all other Hindu organisations, temples, and the larger Hindu society. The question everyone asked was WHY is this research was being undertaken in the 21st Century, inside the UK?

I asked Hindu Council UK, who sent out this questionnaire, to clarify the intention behind this questionnaire and to also provide an explanation for the reasons for initiating such a research project. There was no response. a series of events, in chronological order, that may give us greater insight into the ‘creative’ process behind the growth of ‘caste’ interests within the UK.

The issuance of this unexpected survey was a surprise for two reasons:

One – In early 2006 the UK Homeoffice commissioned the Runnymead Trust to conduct the first ever independent research on the Hindu community of the UK. A report called ‘Connecting British Hindus’ was produced from interviews with focus groups of up to 180 people, including women, youth and the elderly, across the country. The report also included results from an online survey of over 600 respondents.

In the section relating to ‘Caste’ the report makes it clear that Jati (family and kinship networks) still plays a part in some of the Hindu communities at the time of marriage or during key religious festivals. However, Caste (Varna - inherited occupational skill levels/qualities) plays a very minimal role within the 21st Century Hindu Samaj of the UK. Most of the UK’s leading Hindu organisations and Temples, who were not consulted about this questionnaire or it’s context, are now beginning to question why a specific survey on only ‘caste’ was deemed necessary by the UK government.

Second – The DCLG questionnaire is made up of a series of 10 questions all founded upon the assumption that ‘caste’ is clearly understood by everyone and prevails within the Hindu community. What can be the intention and the context for such a survey? What are the results hoped for by such a research project? The letter of introduction from DLGC does not clarify why this survey is being conducted today.

As an experiment I asked my four children (ages 12 – 21) to respond to the survey. They were all able to identify that they belong to a family with Brahmin roots, because they have been told their ancestors were teachers of the Vedas thousands of years ago. Of the four children, the two eldest children were sure that all their extended family relatives were also Brahmins. The younger ones said they didn’t understand the question. In both instances, they have given the wrong answer – there are several members with a different family ancestry, within both the immediate and extended family.

When asked what they understood by a ‘system of caste’ the three eldest children, who have all been to secondary school, explained what they had learned about Hinduism and the four castes, during their R.E. classes at their British secondary schools. The youngest, who is about to join secondary school, was unable to answer the question and was unaware that there are four different castes named within the Vedic/Hindu scriptures. All four children were unable to state to which ‘caste’ any of their Indian or Asian friends belonged to.

EVENTS TOWARDS CREATING CASTE WARS OF 21st CENTURY

April 2006 - 16 UK Members of parliament petition Indian High Commission in London, on behalf of the Christian evangelical organisations operating in India.

May 2006 – Independent Runnymead Trust report, sponsored by UK Homeoffice suggests ‘caste’ or Varna (inherited occupational skill levels/qualities) has minimal impact on UK society

August 2006 – Cadburys group sponsors a report that suggests caste discrimination is rife within UK Hindu community.

October 2006 - Hindu organisations meet officials from foreign office and Department of Communities & Local government to discuss Conversion & anti Conversion report in the context of caste issues. Agreed to have further dialogue with DCLG - No further response from DCLG.

November 2006 - Commission of Race Equality (CRE), funded by the government, issues a contradiction to Runnymead report on their website in article by Lila Rajiva

March 2007 - UK public presentation of report on Conversion in India, revealing how Evangelical’s Joshua Project uses ‘people groups’ or Jati (Family & kinship networks) for conversion practise and the links of UK MPs to Evangelical Christian aid organisations in India.

April 2007 - Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) presents Dalit’s as 21st Century slaves to Houses of parliament in the UK.

April 2007 - UK Hindu organisations issue joint statement condemning divisive action of coercive conversion practises and withdraws from National Hindu-Christian listening group.

August 2007 - UK’s Department of Communities & Local Government issues controversial ‘caste’ questionnaire through Hindu Council UK, without any consultation with Hindu organisations or community.

I first became aware of interest on issues related to ‘Caste’ in April 2006, when 16 UK Members of Parliament, lead by Andrew Reed (Conservative) petitioned the Indian High Commission in London. The group pf MPs suggested that India’s Anti Conversion Laws contraveened universal rights to religious freedom. This event triggered a 6 month investigation and global research project, I conducted in collaboration with several social analysts, which culminated in an 80 page report published in October 2006, called Conversion & Anti-Conversion in India today.

This report contains substantial evidence that demonstrates how India is being targeted by a globally co-ordinated Evangelical Christian movement called Joshua Project 2000 and beyond. The Joshua Project founded in 1995 in the USA, co-ordinates and organises all evangelical activities across the globe, to avoid duplication and increase efficiency for conversion work.

According to Joshua Project’s website India has the largest population of “unreached people” and is “prime for the harvest” by using a “church planting” methodology which only converts “whole family/ people groups” and consequently whole villages. According to one of their lead 7th Day Adventist activists, the target is India’s 600,000 villages for conversion to Christianity, along ‘caste’ lines, which would further reinforce the social and cultural divisions of Indian society.

The evidence of the Conversion report shows that since 2001 many Indian villages, particularly in the South, have one church ‘planted’ or built everyday. Records of the evangelical organisations show that thousands of people in “family groups” are being mass converted to Christianity annually. Ironically, these converts are called “Dalit Christians” and anecdotal evidence suggests that they still continue to practise Hindu rituals within the ‘planted’ churches.

The transnational networked operation of Joshua Project, under the guise of humanitarian aid, is carried out by ‘lay priests’ who monitor their recruitment efforts on “Crusade” work sheets, while working on tourist visas in India. Foreign funding reported by the Ministry of India, reveals that the greatest amount of Foreign funding for this type of activity is provided from the USA, UK & Germany. Effectively, we are witnessing a movement to RE-LABLE India’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Surprised that UK Members of parliament would be supporting this type of fraudulent and coersive conversion activity, my further investigation of the 16 MPs revealed very strong connections to UK’s Conservative party and some leading Christain organisations. The main organisations are CARE , Christian Aid, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Christian Democrats and the International Democratic Union. These reputable Christain organistions, who also receive funding from the European Parliament, United Nations and other National governments have paid for most of the 16 MPs to attend Christian Democratic Union conferences, or travel to India and in most cases have provided funds for salaries of their support staff in the UK.

The whole network of government officials, christian orgnaistions and humanitarin aid funding used for conversion purposes, raises questions about the secular role of humanitarian aid and in this instance of UK’s Department of Communities and Local Government.

There is also growing evidence that government funding from the USA, for Christian aid organizations, has tripled over the past five years. The UK government has also recently increased this form of funding. The Conversion & Anti-Conversion report brings into question, the use of the platform of ‘humanitarian aid’, to administer Christian evangelical practices, in the third world and in India in particular. These practices are constitutive of political interference that may have a social destabilizing effect by reinforcing social and cultural divisions. Some of the key UK political figures that feature in this developing political saga are:

Mr. Andrew Reed (MP) is a member of Board of T trustee of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) which leads the crusade against Hinduism by suggesting that Caste and Slavery are interlinked, during the Bicenntinary celebrations of the Abolish of slavery. The president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide is Mr. Jonathan Aitken who was Minister of State for Defence Procurement under John Major in 1992. Also Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1994. A Cabinet position he resigned in 1995, to defend himself against accusations that whilst serving as Minister of State for Defence Procurement he violated ministerial rules by allowing an Arab businessman to pay for his stay in the Paris Ritz. In 1999 he was convicted for 18months and went to prison for seven months, for perjury after he was revealed to have lied repeatedly. During his stay in prison, Mr. Aitken claimed to have rediscovered the Bible, learned Greek, and became a student of Christian theology at Oxford University.

The board of Trustees of Christian solidarity Worldwide is also made up of several clergy, Ex-Members of Parliament, Secretary’s of State and influential members of the House of Lords. Sir Andrew Green is the founder and president of “Migration Watch”, an organisation founded recently to monitor migration of ethnic and race groups from outside the European Union.

Another member of the group of 16 MPs is Mr. Andrew Selous (Conservative) who stated in a recent speech: “The caste system means that 90 per cent of those living below the official poverty line in India are the Dalits or, as we know them, the untouchables. There are some 260 million Dalits in South Asia.” It is not clear who are the “Dalits” or untouchables that Mr. Selos is referring to. Neither of these terms is used in Indian political discourse. Mr. Selous may be referring to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes together. However, according to the Indian Census 2001, The Scheduled Castes constitute about 16% of Indian population and Scheduled Tribes about 8%. They together constitute about 24% of the Indian population which tallies with the figure of 260 million population that he is citing. However, the 90% figure is a grave error and doesn’t take into account other social groupings, within the population which also exist below the poverty line - such as 11.8% Muslims and 9.6% upper caste Hindus in rural areas.

A UK report published in 2006 called, No Escape - Caste Discrimination in the UK,

erroneously suggests that many Indian communities in Britain are blighted by caste discrimination. The report ‘No Escape’ was sponsored by Barrows Corporation, who is owned by the Cadbury’s group. We now witness a business interest involved within the Christian and political machinations surrounding ‘caste’ issues of the UK.

The chronological order of the events and results of the various reports, combined with actions of DCLG, might suggest that the independent validation of the Runnymead report, of no significant ‘caste activity’ within the UK and the Hindu Samaj’s own protests, have been rejected by the UK government. Instead, it would seem that the highly influential UK Christian lobby group attached to national and internationally linked Christian political groups, is beginning to have an increasing influence upon the activity of the UK government departments.

Thus, a new set of questions come to the fore. Are we beginning to see the emergence of “God’s Warriors in the UK” and the use of ‘moral panics’ to guide government initiatives? If we are guided by the CNN report, on the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the USA, we can note a transatlantic difference in the emergence of this phenomenon. The increased political influence of the Christian lobby in the UK is not based upon increasing votes and popular support over time.

A second and equally important question to consider is why would the Christian Far Right of the USA, UK & Germany, supported by their national governments or political bodies seek to re-label the poorest and most vulnerable people of India? Why would the Government of the UK, and the department of Communities and Local Government in particular, choose to support this type of activity?

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