C Umashankar, a 1990 batch Indian Administrative Service office of the Tamil Nadu cadre, has courted controversy for his evangelical work and the Tamil Nadu government has ordered him to stop "preaching and propagating activities" saying action would be taken against him if he did not.
The IAS officer has remained defiant and said he will challenge the state government's directive saying it infringes on his right of freedom of speech and expression as well as to practice and preach a religion of his choice.
In an interview to the Hindustan Times he clarifies that he does not use his office to further his beliefs. He told HT that Kanyakumari's superintendent of police is partisan, the Hindu Munnani tried to kill him on different occasions and after this controversy he feels that more people will be interested in listening to him.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: One of the allegations against you is that you have misused your office?
No. That is not true. I have used my time, on a Saturday. It was my vehicle.
Q: The Tamil Nadu government has said that it does not want a law and order situation and thus has asked you not to "preach and propagate" your faith…
The question I want to ask is: Is it a violation of the Indian Penal Code to invite an IAS officer to somebody's house? I went to someone's house upon an invitation. And he invited some 100 more people to listen to me speak. It was supposed to be an internal affair, a private gathering. Whose rights are affected by this?
Q: So how did it become a problem?
The problem was caused by the local police. The person from whom Selvaraj [the owner of the house to which Umashankar went to] did not hire an audio system called the police and made sure that the function was stalled.
Q: So the police overreacted to the situation?
The police did not overreact to the situation, they created a situation. The Kanyakumari SP is partisan and he created the situation.
Q: Why do you think an SP would create such a situation?
Because he is partisan. He is not an IPS officer, he is a local [police] officer. You should ask him why he behaved in such a manner.
Q: Can you elaborate what happened on January 16?
I was going to the house of Selvaraj. Selvaraj is an ex-serviceman who has been running a house church for 20 years now. On the way I got to know that there was some tension there. Some people gathered outside the house and said they would stop me from entering the house.
I called the ASP and he escorted me to the venue and cleared the crowd outside the house. But the SP prevented the ASP from letting me inside the house. I spoke to the DIG who then called the SP. In the meantime, the SP sent his policemen inside the house who used lathis to disperse the Christians congregated there.
So it is the SP who has caused the problem, not the local people and not me.
Q: And you were attacked on your way back?
Later, on my way back from Selvaraj's house six people chased my car and attacked it. They damaged my car but fortunately nothing happened to me or the others in the car. I was sent back from the venue without an escort and the SP knew that I would be attacked.
Q: Have you lodged a complaint?
My driver lodged a complaint that evening. Four of the attackers have been identified by the local people but no arrests have been made till now. Instead, a case has been filed against Selvaraj and his wife for not taking permission for conducting this meeting. What is happening? Are we in India or in Pakistan!
Q: Do you think you are targeted because you are an influential preacher?
I am not sure about that. I preach from the Bible and my talks are available on the internet.
Q: Do you think there is a religious institution behind these attacks?
Yes. The Hindu Munnani. They have attempted to kill me on two earlier occasions and were caught red-handed. On August 10, in Tirunelveli three Hindu Munanni men stopped my convoy and threw boulders at my car. It smashed the car windshield and hurt one person. The police caught them on the spot. Prior to this, I was attacked on September 8, 2012 in Sithamalli in Nagapattinam.
Q: On all banners of programmes that you attend, it is highlighted that you are an IAS officer. Do you think this is compromising the institution you represent or influencing the public?
It is not compromising anything. It might influence Christians in the region. They might get interested in knowing what an IAS officer has to say. But now, after this controversy I am certain that if I were to give a talk, a very big crowd will come. Earlier very less people used to come. Mainly women. But now even men will be interested to hear to what I have to say.
What Hindu Munnani and Kanyakumari SP have to say
In response to the charges levelled by Umashankar, AT Elangovan, the Chennai city general secretary of the Hindu Munnani, said, “We do not want anyone to take the law into their hands. The attack Umashankar is referring to was the reaction of some Hindus who were angry with the IAS officer’s inflammatory speeches and the inaction from the police.
“A lot of the local people, especially Hindus, in Kanyakumari, Thuthukudi and Tirunelveli take objection to the way in which Umashankar ridicules other faiths. They have approached the police on several occasions and but the police refuse to take action against an IAS officer.”
In response to Umashankar’s changes against him of being partisan, Kanyakumari superintendent of police N Manivannan said, “If the police were partisan, how would have Umashankar got police protection? The case filed by the IAS officer’s driver is false.”