Monday, October 13, 2008

Hindu Threat To Christians: Convert or Flee

Today, the New York Times front page brought the horrifying story of a religious clash happening in the Orissa state of India. Hindus in that region are forcing the Christian minority to convert to their religion with threats of destruction and violence. The reporter, Somini Sengupta, reports that the result is that more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed.

Sengupta says early in the article that most people know India as– the sticker label that this country has, if you will– "the world's most populous democracy and officially a secular nation." She then contrasts that label by painting the actions of the angry villagers to their Christian neighbors. However, not much later in the piece, Ms. Sengupta says, "India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians... But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years."

The missing link in this very beautifully-written article is contained within that sentence. Ms. Sengupta is very thoughtful in explaining the catalyst that set off the religious turmoil six weeks ago. She not only paints the religious aspects of it, but also the social and economic factors that fueled the unrest. However, she does not tell the readers if there were any previous notable skirmishes between the Hindus and Christians. I felt that it was necessary because it would certainly add as a foundation of the present conflict as well.

Also, another problem is that we, as international readers, do not know about this contentious clash between Hindus and Christians. In fact, the most common thought is that the nation of India is made entirely of Hindus, and Christians probably reside peacefully as the minority because we think of India as a successful democracy. But Ms. Sengupta reported it like the previous conflicts are not news to readers, when it would just really enrich our overall picture if she would just give a couple sentences as examples in the past.

That aside, I thought that this article was quite good, in terms of story/plot. It really read like a drama. However, it was also heavy with the writer's opinions. For some reason, reporters who write about religion tend to show people in a very one-dimensional light. And with this article, there was indeed a danger of that, especially with this bully-victim, he-said-she-said narrative.

At one point, Subash Chauhan, the state's highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, was shown as thoughtless regarding the actions of the Hindus. According to Ms. Sengupta: "Who am I to give assurance?" he snapped. "Those who have exploited the Khandas say they want to live together?' Besides, he said, 'they are Hindus by birth.'"

I don't deny that Mr. Chauhan said such things, nor am I convinced that he is completely blame-free when it comes to the violence. My little problem is with the fact that Ms. Sengupta used the word "snapped" with his delivery. As writers, we are supposed to stick to neutral terms (even if the comment/statement/question was not intoned neutrally) like "said" or "replied" or "responded." By using the word "snapped," Ms. Sengupta has already judged Mr. Chauhan and has rendered useless his claims before that he is in support of Christians being free to worship their religion. Not only that, she follows Mr. Chauhan's remarks with a very detailed description of a Christian man, Daud Nayak, being compromised for his beliefs.

Or perhaps what she did there was right? Perhaps there really is not neutral his point of view/her point of view to this?

Despite what I said, I really like this article. I thought it was informative and incredibly moving. Ms. Sengupta, though very vocal in her opinions, is gifted in showing human plight in a format that is both affecting, and also appropriate for newspaper.

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