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A Private Faith Made Dangerously Public

By Tarun J Tejpal

Some stories come together like the throwing of a switch. A meeting, a person, a file, a moment, and a pool of light is cast. There are other stories which are like the slow accumulation of candles, little pinpricks of glow illumining nooks and crannies, bit by bit, and then one day there is an entire landscape revealed.

So it was with Shashikumar and Mayabhushan who spent more than three months working and traveling every day to piece together a very intricate and extraordinary story, whose tentacles spread not only across India but around the world. Their findings are startling, and very important, because the nineties have shown us the havoc that can be wreaked by religious fundamentalisms—both Islamic and Hindu.

What Shashi and Bhushan have now unearthed suggests strongly that a third fundamentalism, Christian, may be injected into our bloodstream, creating an ever more volatile cocktail. The fact that this strain of fundamentalism has its wellsprings in the United States, is orchestrated with enormous guile, secrecy, corporate skill, and is swishly funded, makes it yet more alarming. It doesn't help that the president of the world's most powerful nation leans into fundamentalism himself, propagating it, and building it into the state machinery.

To be fair, we had our share of qualms as the story progressed. The last thing we wanted was a stupid inflammation of the situation, and a targeting of missionaries. We didn't want the Dara Singhs and other Bajrang Dalis of the world to hijack the story—one fundamentalism feeding off another, helping both grow.

Yet the story had to be told. As journalists we had smelled something sinister, followed it and unearthed a phenomenon. So Shashi and Bhushan proceeded with care and wrote with caution, working hard to ensure a level tone and an objective eye.

There was the further tricky issue that much of the missionary activity appeared to be tied in with inspiring social work, a lot of it among the destitute and the wretched. Layer by layer, the reporters had to disentangle the motive and the deed, the apparent and the real, the present and the future. Then as they tracked it all back to its roots—in the US—it was disturbing to see the casual bigotry and colossal evangelical ambition that underlay so much of the altruism. At this point it became easy to appreciate the charitable conduct while being appalled by the overweening religious impulse and elaborate conversion machinery driving it.

Here were visible too the contours of a world-view that could not possibly do any good.

At Tehelka we are clear: we oppose all religious fundamentalisms. Faith is a private matter; it cannot become a corporate or political campaign. Shashi and Bhushan's superbly investigated story is very very important. It shows the seed of disastrous worlds.

For decades now, the institutions of constitutional democracy and the nation-state have done our moral thinking for us. ‘Trust in the majority,’ they seem to say. But many voters in Gujarat seemed to actually be rewarding Narendra Modi for his inaction during the anti-Muslim pogroms. Despite being presented with better choices, a majority of Israelis voted for a war criminal, Ariel Sharon.

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