Why we didn’t turn the other cheek!

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The Mayhem in Mangalore began without warning.  The Mangaloreans here were all in different modes of relaxation.  After all September 14th 2008 was a Sunday, a day of rest, when most of us had attended mass and were making preparations for a leisurely family lunch.  But it was not to be.  On hindsight, we can say that the first attack which took place on the monastery at 10:15 am, was probably the worst one.  Christians were shocked to hear about the desecration of the sacrament and the holy cross, both symbols of everything that is most holy and sacred to the Christian community.  In the protests and continued attacks that followed in the next 48 hours, and the uneasy calm that enveloped the city on September 16th, there were a few lessons that Mangaloreans learnt for life – some good, some bad and others downright ugly. 


News and Views


People did try to get news from all channels.  While word-of-mouth news spread like wildfire, local TV channels started airing scenes of the attacked churches and the ensuing protests in less than three hours.  BUT, sadly and most disappointingly, it took some of our national media over 24 hours to decide if this news was worth giving a slot to.  Ironically, this is the same media that devotes precious time and resources to airing inane celebrity news that has 0% value to the common man.  Or is Mangalore too small a dot on the map of Karnataka that it warrants no attention from our media heavyweights up North?


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Kudos to the reporters and photographers of our Mangalorean websites, who literally got into the eye of the storm and did a commendable job in relaying news of this attack to the rest of the world.  What is even more commendable is that, they have taken care to maintain a secular view of the recent happenings, despite having a predominately catholic editorship.  Some of our local newspapers need to take a cue or two from that.


Christians Unite (at last?)


This time no Christian thought of turning the other cheek.  And pray, why should they?  Even as the attacks continued, people got out on the streets in sizeable groups ? men, women, children, the old and the young, the religious and the lay people.  They sat in protest in front of the Milagres hall and all the churches, showing their resentment and asking for only one thing – for the perpetuators of this crime to be brought to justice.  It was not the first time Mangaloreans had united for a common cause but this time, there was a noticeable difference.  What was visible was an underlying anger, a determination, and an uncontrollable urge to set things right.  Unchecked violence did not however, take the upper hand, mainly for one reason only – on the other scale of justice hung the concept of peace ? more an unshakable principle with the Christian community than a mere belief.  One proof of this was the Hindu Wedding reception that went on peacefully at the Bendur hall, side by side with the protest on the church premises.  Not a single Christian attempted to disrupt the wedding.  And the presence of the police had nothing to do with it.


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It was a touching sight to see hundreds of Mangalorean Christians in different places standing together, shoulder to shoulder ‘United in the face of Adversity’.  The Mangaloreans themselves found this a rarity.  Let’s face it.  As a community, we are not known for our prowess in fighting for our own rights, leave alone standing up for human rights issues that affect other communities.  We are the ones who have given the ‘crab mentality’ a permanent ranking in Mangalorean society, pulling our fellow Mangalorean Christians down when they have achieved more success than us, or have proved to be a threat to us.  Sure, we bristle in indignation and are affronted at any kind of allegations against us, but when it comes to reality, how supportive are we to our own Christian brothers and sisters?  Take for example the violence against Christians that took place in Orissa.  There have been a few public meetings in Mangalore to protest against this atrocity, but attendance at these meetings has been sparse to say the least.  The awakening has come now, only because the attacks this time were all too close for comfort.


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We needed this.  Call it a sign from God or a natural outcome of circumstances, but we needed this, to bring us out of our stupor and to impel us to stand up against oppression.   The bells have not just tolled from our church towers but they have rung incessantly inside our consciences.  It has brought all Christians together as one and hopefully this is the ‘good’ that will take precedence over all the bad and the ugly. There has also been tremendous support and encouragement pouring into Mangalorean households and parishes from overseas Mangaloreans, showing that unity has no barriers of distance.  In short, we have chosen not to turn the other cheek, instead we have opted to join hands, not just with our Christian brothers and sisters but with all peacemakers, who want to see our State and Country purged of all anti-social elements.


Christians – Were we ALL there?


No! In all honesty we cannot say we were ‘all’ there.  Visibility counts and how!  Especially when it comes to numbers.  The common man was out on the streets ‘first,’ led from the front by some conscientious and well known Christians (both lay and religious) who are known for their consistent supportive stand against human rights atrocities.  There is no need to name these people as their presence there has been seen, appreciated and felt by all the protestors.  


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But for the rest, the word on the street was – where are they?  our successful businessmen and entrepreneurs, our eminent lawyers, the topmost heads of our catholic institutions and hospitals, our media personalities, our politicians, our award winners in various fields, our famous doctors and engineers ? where are they? When there were Hindus and Muslims standing with the Christians and supporting their cause (God bless them), isn’t it expected that there would be more of us to increase our own strength?  Regrettably, only a small percentage of our high-ranking Christians were represented.  As someone rightly said, it would have helped to have some pep talks from these well known personalities, to boost the morale of the protesting crowds. 


The Men in Khaki!


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The police in Mangalore seemed to have lost all sense of justice as they brandished their lathis on men, women and even children.  The ones who got beaten up (some dragged out of the church specifically for this purpose) were completely traumatised as they were not involved in any stone pelting.  By no means were the police playing protectors of peace or the keepers of law and order.  Eye-witness reports, photographs taken at the protests and scenes flashed on TV channels speak for themselves.  The initial fracas at the Milagres hall was something that was initiated by the police in full view of the public.  It was as if they deliberately wanted the peace to be disrupted.  Stone pelting was carried out both by the protestors and the police.  It is to be noted that groups of youth with the lower portion of their faces covered were stationed at all the protest venues solely for the purpose of pelting stones.  The identity of these youth was never questioned by the police.  Were they all Christians?  Maybe and maybe not.  All we know is, what began as a peaceful protest in a few places, ended with lathi charge, tear gas and stone pelting. And oh yes, for the record, the only ‘arms’ that were inside the church were the ones that were attached to our bodies.


New Life for whom?


We, the Roman Catholics of Mangalore Diocese need the propaganda of the New Life (and all related sects), like we need a hole in our heads.  Most of us are fed up of self appointed saviours, who knock on our doors and tell us how horrible it is to be a Catholic.  No, we don’t want to know how we can ‘save our souls’ or how you can help us to reinterpret the Bible.  Please leave us alone and leave all other religions alone too.  We respect your beliefs. Respect ours in return.  God is probably telling you the same thing, but you’re too busy trying to find fault with other religions, to listen.


And Justice for all!


Famous last words, which will hold weight only when we see some justifiable arrests being made.  Members of the Catholic community are struggling to get the release of our catholic youth who are still in prison.  We are all too aware that a feeble judicial system that rests too comfortably on the dubious political agendas of our State leaders, does not bode well for any kind of impending justice.  However as humans, we continue to pray and hope for justice.


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At the end of the day, what keeps the ordinary Mangalorean Christian going, is that he still shares the same spirit of love and brotherhood he had with his Hindu neighbour or friend, before these attacks took place.  Clearly, both believe that the men who desecrated and attacked the churches had no religion, because there is no religion on this earth that condones such an act.  It is this spirit of unbiased reasoning and rational discussion that has to be kept alive by both Christians and Hindus.  As long as there are enough people in both communities willing to walk this path, and we believe there are, there will be hope for peace to prevail, in our much-loved Mangalore. 


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Author: Shaly Pereira- Team Mangalorean