BEHIND “WOES” OF INDIAN CHRISTIANS
An American friend wrote to me recently that I should tell him the “ground reality” in the wake of increasing media reports, both American and Indian, that the country is witnessing acute divisions along religious lines after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. But while pointing out the growing religious polarisations under the Modi government over the last one year, my friend is surprised that the “victims” generally have not been the Muslims, the biggest minority group in India constituting about 14 per cent of its population; they happen to be Christians, less than 2.5 per cent of India’s populace. He cited reports that Christians are being badly persecuted all over the country by the militant Hindu supporters of the Indian Prime Minister and his Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), with Churches being attacked, nuns sexually molested, converts forcibly reconverted to Hinduism and Christian festivals/holidays curtailed.
But then what is the reality? Let me cite two incidents, one old and the other new, to find out the answer. The old one relates to the gang rape of three Catholic nuns and an attack on a Christian missionary centre in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh on September 23, 1998, when the BJP was also the ruling party at the Centre (Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister). The state of Madhya Pradesh was then under the Congress-rule and the Chief Minister was Digvijay Singh, presently a Member of Parliament and the most vocal Congress leader against the “communal” BJP.
“On that fateful day, a group of persons turned up at Priti Sharan, a Catholic mission church-cum-dispensary in Nawapara village in the district. Claiming that a patient required urgent medical attention, they demanded admittance into the building. The only persons present in the church at that time were four nuns who hailed from Pondicherry and who knew little Hindi. They did not immediately open the door. Thereupon, the gang at the door forcibly gained entry. Over the next two hours, the gang looted cash and other valuables from the church and raped three of the nuns, whose cries for help went unheeded.
Chief Minister Digvijay Singh alleged that ever since a Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition assumed power at the Centre, there had been evidence of a plan to target Christian missionaries. The then Congress(I) MP Kantilal Bhuria, who represented Jhabua, alleged that intelligence reports had warned that some Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists from the neighbouring BJP-ruled States of Gujarat and Rajasthan had entered Madhya Pradesh to carry out atrocities so as to “defame” the Congress(I) regime. The secretary of the Madhya Pradesh State unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Shailendra Shaily declared that the culprits in the Jhabua incident were Hindu hardliners.
However, subsequent investigations revealed that the rapists were a group of 12 tribals, all Christians! But in the mean time, the damage had been done and the campaign to malign Hindus and the then BJP-government at Delhi to score some political goals had achieved a considerable success.
Similarly, and this is the new incident, the rape of a septuagenarian nun in Nadia district in the state of West Bengal in early hours of March 15 was widely condemned by the Church leaders and the non-BJP parties, the usual suspects being the Hindu extremists. But as Police investigations proceeded, it was found out that the incident was not exactly an anti-Christian ploy and that the plan was to rob nearly a million rupees from the church, which the nun concerned protested. And here the attackers, most of them are now apprehended, happened to be Muslims, allegedly illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. But then, as was the case 17 years ago in Madhya Pradesh, the damage has been done to the reputation of secular India, thanks to the hyper reactions of the “secular” journalists, activists, intellectuals and the political parties, mainly the Congress and Communists.
Of course, this is not the first time that the Hindu organisations have been accused of attacking Churches and Church leaders. In 2013, Hindu extremists were allegedly the killers of Bangalore—based priest KJ Thomas. But it turned out to be insiders’ job involving three other priests. Internal rivalry over control of the assets of seminary was the motive behind the killing of Father Thomas, the rector of the seminary. The plan to kill him stemmed from a bitter rivalry on linguistic lines within the church. Similarly, in 2014, the cross in a Vile Parle Church at Mumbai was desecrated. This one turned out to be the work of a Christian named Agnelo Pereira who did it in a drunken state.
All this is not to suggest that there have been no attacks on the minorities or Christians in India. Those acts, aberrations rather than the rules, have been condemned and there is always a national consensus to punish the guilty under Indian laws as administered by the judiciary, whose integrity and impartiality have been rarely questioned. But it is quite another when every criminal act is given a communal colour. The so-called secularists do not realise that they are not furthering the cause of secularism when they see the victim and the guilty through their religions. Now much has been made of attacks or vandalisation of churches over the last nine months of Modi regime. But then the Times of India (TOI) newspaper carried a report on April 7 which made it clear that such vandalisations happened earlier too but without any communal colour.
According to a secret report accessed by the TOI, there were 10 cases of so-called anti-Christian attacks between May 26, 2013 and March 31, 2014, when the Congress-led UPA was in power. While nine were instances of church vandalisation, one related to a pastor’s murder. Of these 10 cases reported from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, five remain undetected while in four cases, 16 persons were arrested. An unsound person was found to be responsible in one case.
“In comparison, between installation of the Modi government on May 26, 2014 and March 31, 2015, 11 cases were reported. Of these, six incidents relate to Delhi and one each to West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharasthra, Kerala and Haryana. In two separate cases of fire at a church in East Delhi and Rohini, a short-circuit was found be the cause. The Jasola church attack, in which a windowpane was damaged, has been blamed on an unintentional throwing of a stone by a boy. Four cases (relating to vandalisation of churches in Vikaspuri, Hisar, Jabalpur and Navi Mumbai) have been investigated, leading to arrest of 14 persons. Two of three cases have not yet been solved and are suspected to be that of burglary”, said the TOI.
Importantly, these vandalisations are not disproportionate to the standard norms. During the same period, there have been attacks on the Hindu temples and mosques as well. In fact, according to Delhi Police, 206 Hindu temples, 30 Sikh Gurdwaras, 14 mosques and 3 Churches were robbed in Delhi in 2014. Compare the figure of “3” Churches against “206” temples. But see how the media selectively highlights the attack on churches and creates a fever pitch of persecution of Christians in India.
The latest manifestation of this trend has been leading Christians of India such as a Supreme Court Judge, a retired Admiral and a retired top Police official falling victims to the hypes over alleged anti-Christianity mindset of the Modi government and questioning how the government observed the former Prime Minister Vajpayee’s birth day on December 25 by commencing an official function(even though participation in this programme was strictly voluntary) and how the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court organised a three-day conference of all the High Court Chief Justices , beginning on a Good Friday(an official holiday; but then the fact remains that the succeeding Saturday and Sunday were also holidays). The conclusion is that Modi is curtailing the holidays of the Christians. The secularists’ (including those of the aforementioned Christians) demand now is that the government must work on the dates coinciding with Hindu—holidays.
Personally speaking, I am all in favour of drastically bringing down the number of official holidays in India. But then it is sheer madness to do it in the name of secularism and thus arguing that the number of holidays significant for Hindus must be same as that for the Christians and Muslims. Because, it will backfire in a country where Hindus are nearly 80 per cent of the country’s population and whose ethos and culture are conditioned over centuries by Hindus. And once you accept the importance of culture, you cannot reduce things associated with it back in narrower religious terms. And it so happens that some festivals like Holi and Deepavali are no longer festivals of strictly Hindus. In other words, though religion influences the culture of a society, the culture encompasses far more things than just religion. It also includes attitudes, foods, and government holidays. It is basically the way a particular society is shaped by all aspects of its life.
Here, I am reminded of Pakistani author Azimusshan Haider, who still claims to be proud of his “India-origin”. He is certainly not a votary of the Hindutva, but he finds it difficult to agree with those who give a communal colour even to the sub-continent’s custom of coconut-breaking or lighting the traditional lamp on inaugural occasions. Believing that “the traditions and culture of the land and of the overwhelming majority of the people will inevitably be reflected in public life”, Haider has appealed to the Indian minorities not to be exploited by political parties as a vote bank for election purposes.
Likewise, I am of the considered view that the talks of persecution of the Christians in India are essentially political in nature, highlighted essentially by all those who have been never at ease with the BJP or Modi. Incidents have been blatantly over-exaggerated, proving right the adage that “the biggest gap in the world is the gap between the justice of a cause and the motives of the people pushing it”.
By Prakash Nanda