Secular issues seem to be the flavor of the year. After the Amarnath case having been in the limelight for a while and every aspect of it being over-analysed, dissected and chewed upon in every living room, the stage seems to be set for yet another problem. With the recent protests in Orissa, one wonders when our differences will ever be ironed out.

The fatal attack on Swami Laxmananda Saraswatiji triggered off protests in Orissa which lead to the burning of churches despite lack of evidence and the fact that Maoist rebels may have been behind it. The protests were VHP led. The region of Kandhmal where the incidents took place has been volatile for a couple of years due to the Hindu-Christian conversions that have been taking place. No religious institution supports its own people converting into other religions. However going on open protests against people acting out of their own free will is ludicrous.

This issue has hues of a few other issues imbibed in it. The recent demand for SC and ST status that has feverishly gripped the country is a major factor in the backdrop. Hindus of ST status who have converted (Pano Christians) are made to relinquish their ST status on conversion. Pano Christians have been demanding their ST status back, while the VHP has been almost vindictively opposing it.

The obsession with SC and ST status is definitely getting out of control. There was a case of an educational institution recently where ST seats went vacant as they could not be filled. The fight for being deprived in our country is taking on an almost comical side.

This situation is particularly complicated. A person from a scheduled caste would remain from a scheduled caste even if he converts. However with conversion to a minority status, other doors open up. They are definitely not as wide open as the advantages one receives under the ST status though. Should conversion imply a reduction in opportunities available? However enabling these people to have access to both their caste status as well as minority status would give them unfair dual advantage. These factors have to be considered.

The concept of India being a secular state was to sort out the mess our country was in during the partition and the freedom struggle. We do pretty well most of the time and clashes are bound to happen. It’s been a long journey since independence and sometimes instead of looking ahead, it is important to look at how far we have come.

Vandana Sebastian

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