Church fire: Looking for the missing clues


By: Satyakam Bharti

An unusual eeriness seems to have veiled churches across Himachal Pradesh, that have otherwise been lying in eternal silence after Independence of the country. The occasional visitors, most of them tourists, find them haunted due to sheer magnificence of these imposing buildings, but these days a different spectre is looming over them. It has been more than one month since the British-built Baptist church in Kasauli caught fire, and also the initial forensic report that kerosene oil may have been used to light up the fire, and yet there has been no ‘official’ word on the incident. Not even candid talk in the media warning the consequences of trying to play with fire.

The popular Catholic Church on The Ridge, Shimla

It may have been yet another fire by the mountain-side, as is common in Himachal Pradesh, but the fact that someone alleged foul play should have been enough reason for the intelligentsia in the state to demand a fair enquiry. The police department was quick to rule out the possibility of sabotage or mischief in the incident, even though the pastor expressed doubts about “mischievous elements trying to disrupt the age-old cordial social fabric of the place”. Fanaticism is something nearly unknown to the state, but even Kandhamal might never have imagined the carnage of Hindu zealots.

Religious fanaticism has been showing up its face across the country in several ways, the latest incident being the Mangalore attack on girls at a pub. To say that all such incidents are happening in states where BJP is in power or shares power, would be too far-fetched a statement, leaving enough scope for endless political interpretations, but the fact remains that India has been a fertile ground for playing politics on minority sentiments. To an extent Himachal has remained untouched by any major incident of deliberately manipulation of sentiments on religious or sectarian lines that could have had catastrophic consequences, but the not-so-secret formula to score short-term gains seems to have become public all of a sudden, and that’s where the danger lies. The little-known Sriram Sene and its little-known satraps may already have achieved what they wanted, even though this time no major party came forward to support them. And it won’t be difficult to predict the possibility of their cousins in Himachal too.

Politics in Himachal is still going through a process of integration with the mainstream, and it is only natural that the vices gripping Indian politics may soon find their way into the hill state. The electorate in the state has been fair enough to both the two major parties in the state to give them equal and almost alternate opportunity to serve them, and even that leaves enough scope for trying out new ways to woo voters.

The fact that, besides media, even the opposition party, which otherwise claims to be holding secular India together,  failed to take up the matter despite the pastor finding voice in a section of the media, shows that politics in the state has not yet turned that opportunistic. It may also be true that to cry foul all the time also reeks of selfish motives, but the state government, be it one with the Hindutva agenda at hand, should be careful not to let any deadwood gather in the valleys and mountains that can trigger an uncontrollable forest fire.

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  1. My. Satyakam Bharti's piece deserves to be lauded on two levels. One, being sensitive to an incident which happened "a long time ago" (as public memory barely lasts more than the media memory, which sadly doesn't strech beyond a day). Two, being a citizen who thinks. I hope his fears are proved wrong as fundamentalism is the last thing our state can afford.

    I would also like to add here that, media in our country mirror our people — we look out before we look within. The international community has to get raving about our issue first before we get excited about it. I think our regional media too kept waiting for a clue from the outside and couldn't read the vitality and seriousness of the issue.

    Perhaps, we at Himvani too would have missed it, but for the aware and sensitive citizens like Satyakam Bharti. This is where the citizen journalism efforts like Himvani will take a lead and may be bring about a more informed and thinking citizenry.

  2. can't add anything to this. i completely agree with satyakam bharti and vikas dogra. this website is probably the only thing to have come out of HP that promises to make a difference – might take a while, but it will. at least to a certain extent.

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