After being in office in the State for almost a year and a half, the Congress Government has revived public interest in an inquiry commission report which was in deep freeze. A former judge of the Karnataka and later Andhra Pradesh High Courts, Justice Somashekara had submitted his final report in January 2011 to the then BJP government headed by BS Yeddyurappa.
The reasons for the rejection by a Congress Government swearing fealty to Sonia Gandhi are obvious. The Commission of Inquiry failed to blame the RSS and the BJP for the series of mysterious attacks on churches in various parts of the State. No doubt the role of Karnataka’s first ever Christian minister for Home Affairs, K.J.George is there for all to see. It has been said that nobody in the Congress Government has even glanced through the report much less studying it in depth. The main ground for rejection of the report by the Siddaramaiah Cabinet is that the interim and the final reports of the Commission are contradictory. The Government is under pressure from Christian organisations to appoint another commission of inquiry headed by the retired judge of the Bombay and later Karnataka high courts, MF Saldanha , who is well known for his “secular” credentials.
In its interim report, Justice Somashekara had not clearly identified the perpetrators of the attacks on churches spread across 13 districts in Karnataka and only wrote of his impressions. The Commission had only spoken of the impression created in its mind regarding the charges and was not categorical in holding anyone responsible. It in fact doubted the veracity of the allegation that all the churches in question were attacked by miscreants. “In some incidents there were indications of self-infliction or collusion or make believe methods to create evidence of attack on churches or places of worship ….” However at another part of the interim report, the Commission stated “A strong impression is created that members belonging to Bajrang Dal, Sri Ram Sene and Vishwa Hindu Parishad are mainly responsible in attacking the churches or places of worship in Mangalore and Dakshina Kannada, spreading to Udupi, Chikmagalur, Davangere, Bellary, Dharwad, Bangalore, Kolar and Chikkaballpur districts. The other so-called attacks were only making believe”.
But 11 months after the submission of the interim report and after studying the investigation conducted by the police in full and hearing all the witnesses, the Commission arrived at a different conclusion in its final report. It is not unusual for the interim and final reports of a commission of inquiry to differ. The Commission which took 28 months to complete its work went into a whopping 1500 petitions. Justice Somashekara held in his final report that the attack on some of the churches was the handiwork of “misguided fundamentalist miscreants of defined or undefined groups of organisations against Christians and Christianity ” .The Hndus had no role in any of the attacks directly or indirectly. Similarly there was no merit in the allegation that the police in the various districts colluded with the attackers on the churches. “There is no basis to the apprehension of the Christian petitioners that politicians of the BJP mainstream, Sangh Parivar and the State Government indirectly or directly are involved in the attacks”. In a clean chit to the then Yeddyurappa administration, the Commission held that there was no basis for the impression that the then Government was cold shouldering the interests of the Christian minority.
However Justice Somashekara has been categorical in holding that the action of sections of the Christians in circulating literature derogatory to Hindus and Hinduism and more than those attempts to convert Hindus into Christianity had triggered the attacks. There were clear indications of conversions in places like Bengaluru, Chikkaballapur, Davangere, Chikkamagaluru, and Udupi by certain organisations and self appointed pastors. It had also noted the interesting fact that many who called themselves Christians were continuing as Hindus by religion to avail themselves of all the benefits of law. Circumstances and inducements were being made use of to convert Hindus. Often unaccounted and foreign funds were being made use for the purpose. There was also a conversion through recourse to fraud and even coercion. The Commission has not indulged in blanket condemnation of the Christian denominations in the matter of proselytisation of Hindus. It has kept the Roman Catholics apart in that respect and said “But there appears to be no conversions at all by the Roman Catholic churches or its members except for routine purposes like marriage or voluntary instances. It has also blamed the Mangalore police for attacking the Christians protesting against the attacks on their places of worship. The police action at St Sebastian Church at Peramannur was volatile of expected norms and even women were not spared.
Even before the Somashekara Commission began its inquiry, extremist Christian groups led by wealthy persons in the community who are well connected with Christian organisations in the West had been lobbying at the international level to run down the secularism practised in the country. When reports of attacks on Christians came from Orissa’s Khandamal District, some of them approached the United Nations seeking refugee status for the community. They had done the same earlier when members of an obscure Muslim organisation had stoned some of the churches in Bangalore. SM Krishna was the chief minister at that time.
According to some who were connected with the Somashekara Commission, the report is today of only academic interest. Under the Commission of Inquiry Act the government has to table a report in the Legislature within six months of submission. In the case of the Somashekara report, even the BJP government failed to do so. It could have accepted the report, but failed to do so. The Congress Government is today clutching at the straw of the report for its anti-BJP propaganda.
It is like a party to a litigation meeting the judge which is a violation of judicial norms. But Justice Somashekara had obliged the Church leader on the insistence of a Doordarshan official, who is now functioning in New Delhi. Once the final report was submitted the Christians have formed a pressure group known as the All Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights with Bishop Moras as the President. The Christians in general are most unhappy with the recommendation of the Commission that the Government should adopt a law to control and regulate Christian religious bodies as in the case of Hindu and Muslim organisations. They have been saying that the Commission had relied only on material evidence and not conducted any independent investigation.
(The writer is a senior journalist)