Christians: A Faith under assault in Secular India
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Christians from all over India are gathering to protest against the Hindutva assault on their faiths in different parts of the country. On May 29th, 2007, when they all assemble at Jantar Mantar seeking government’s intervention to protect their institutions and people, it would remind all of us that in plural society, every one need to appreciate the contribution of linguistic and religious minorities in its development. The gathering of the Christians therefore should not be seen in isolation and must have support from all of us who believe that best bet for India’s survival is cohesiveness of different ethnic, religious, secular groups. In the past few months, the goons of the Hindutva have targeted the community and their faith leaders in various north Indian states particularly Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Gujarat. States like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh where Christian population is abysmally low are bringing out special laws to prohibit conversion. Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatishgarh, Jharkhand have already enacted laws prohibiting conversion. It is these states where extra constitutional groups of the Hindutva have taken it on themselves to do not only moral policing over people’s behavior but also convert the tribal and dalits back to brahmanical fold. With Hindutva devotees at the seats of power, the goons are having free day to kill any one at their will. The assaults on Christian institutions have wider implications. The freedom of the gangs of Hindutva has become agony for all peace loving people including the minorities. We must also understand that minorities suffer from certain dilemmas and such assault isolate them further and strengthen the theocratic leadership in the community. Moreover, the assault on Muslims and Christians is deliberate to suppress the internal contradictions with in the Varna system. With UP gone out of their hand, the Sangh Parivar would re-launch its assault on the Muslims and Christians so that the assertion of Dalits, adivasis and backward classes is diverted against the ‘enemies’ and Brahmins and brahmindom have an unchallenged supremacy in the broader Hindu Samaj.
In many of these states the Bharatiya Janata Party, the political wing of the Hindutva’s discriminating and destructive ideology, is in power. Much before they slaughtered Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, it was the Christians, their churches and their educational institutions, which were targeted by the Hindutva’s lumpen organizations. This unaccountability of the Hindutva and its various offshoots emerge from the open encouragement and support from the ruling parties in these states. It is not only outrageous but also unconstitutional that the state governments run by the Bharatiya Janata Party behave conspicuously and in double speak justifying these assaults in the name of intrusion of foreign culture and threat to India’s unity.
Look, what happened in Gujarat today where the Kolis are up in the street seeking justice. Narendra Modi never loses sight of targeting the Muslims and Christians, whom he fears, are proselytizing the tribal by throwing money at them. Absolutely farcical Mr. Modi, Gujarati Banias and Brahmins have enough money to buy equally great product as the evangelical groups, so please suggest them to go in the villages, sit with the Dalits and tribals, share their agonies and pains. But we know it well, that is impossible in brahmanical Gujarat who used the multiculturalism of the west for their benefits but became Hindu chauvinists when the issue of multiculturalism cropped up in their own state. In other way, Gujarat’s psyche has become totally brahmanised and a mere change of Narendra Modi would not work. An assertion of Dalits, Adivasis and backward communities (Gujarat’s backward are Hinduised), for their political rights in coalition with Muslims and Christians, would pave the way for throwing a challenge against the current Hindutva culture prevailing in the state.
One of the issues that John Dayal has raised in his book is the issue of right to profess the faith of your choice. The Hindutva groups obviously are not comfortable with it as they feel it as a threat. But conversion is a political tool and apolitical conversion has cost Dalits a lot. The first conversion that jolted the brahmanical structure was not in 1951 when Baba Saheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in 1951 but the 1982 conversion of hundreds of Dalits to Islam in Meenakhsipuram, in Tamilnadu. For Hindutva every body who is dissatisfied with their faith has been paid handsome amount of money to convert. Unfortunately, that is where the problem lies, as most of the converts are still much below the poverty line. If conversion had fetched good money and good life in monitory terms, I am sure the Brahmins, Banias and other upper caste Hindus would have been the first to grab the opportunity.
We also tend to ignore the fact that the government has itself divided various Dalit communities. It has knowingly done the biggest conversion in the history of India for including Dalits, tribal, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and all those who are not a Muslim or Christian, into a Hindu category. That has been the biggest blunder and conversion in the history of India and must be opposed with as all these communities have their distinct cultural identities. Opposition to Dalit converts come from that fact Dalits are considered as Hindus. So the government, the Hindu reformist want them to first face the untouchability and social oppression again to get the benefit of the reservation?
Despite my deep antipathy for Justice Rang Nath Mishra for the horrible and politically motivated report that he presented for the 1984 victims, the latest efforts by the Mishra Commission need our support, because it strengthen defend the right of an individual to profess any faith at the personal level without loosing his fundamental right. Asha Das’s objections must be rejected before it takes dangerous turn. Nevertheless, it is also essential for the Church and Christian leaders to introspect about their Dalit agenda. It is easier for them to ask from the government for the rights of the Dalit Christians but at the same point of time, let them come out categorically as what efforts have they made to empower Dalits with in their community. A Community which has in its possession India’s best known colleges, medical colleges, Engineering colleges, media institutions, academic institutions etc. What percentage of reservation has been given to Dalits and tribals in these institutions? If Christians were really willing to mobilize the Dalits on their side, empty slogans would not work. They have to be seen to be working for the Dalits. They cannot expect Dalits to follow their upper caste leadership.
Christians are not hated in power structure even when the Hindutva thugs target their priests. One of the reason for that is that the growing feeling that Christian own large educational institutions which actually strengthen the Hindutva. The bitterest critique of Christendom comes from those who were educated at these prestigious institutions. They will not targets prestigious institutions in Delhi, Mumbai or elsewhere because most of their family members come out from these colleges. We must understand the philosophy behind this as my friend Ram Puniyani often suggest. That the RSS and its Parivar have most of their ideologues coming from these institutions but when the church and its educational institutions goes in the villages and teach English and modern education to Adivasis and Dalits, that raises eyebrows. Education would open the mind of these people and will instigate them to challenge the racist philosophy of Hindutva. Tomorrow they will challenge the concept of merit of the upper castes? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Barring a few exceptions, things have not worked. Education is for profiteering and not much has been done at the village level. There have been compromises from the Christian leadership on this issue and their stand on the emancipation of Dalits and reservation.
Amid all this, one person who has unequivocally and uncompromisingly spoke against Hindutva and its fundamentalist ideology is, Dr John Dayal. For the past few years, he has been very active putting the political agenda of the community and taking a strong action line against the communal outfits though it is also a known fact that for his strong secular approach and convictions he is not the best person of the religious leadership.
‘A Matter of Equity: Freedom of Faith in Secular India’, is an outstanding work of John Dayal. Though a large number of articles have been compiled and updated for what were published in the Indian Currents yet bringing them all together with other important documents, this book serve a great purpose for all those who are interested to know about the Christian community and its work in India as well as the vitriolic campaign of the Sangh Parivar against the Christian Educational Institutions
John Dayal has not only been a critique of the Sangh Parivar and its goons but he has asked the Church also to look for its role. He had documented major violence against Christians in the last 10 years. May he get the strength to document and assist other secular groups also, those who may not like the evangelical groups very much like their disliking for the Muslim and Hindu radical groups. Yes, John Dayal is Christian community’s secular face who has stood against all kind of oppression, for the freedom of expression, which he has so wonderfully documented in his book with Ajoy Bose as well as his campaign against the fascist government of Narendra Modi in Gujarat. Therefore, it is not surprising that while many of the Church friends were not happy with this uncompromising man who has no interest of ‘protecting’ his prime location institutions. Hence those uncompromising men actually help the community more than those who pretend to help them in the name of ‘protecting’ their community identity. And these points reflect sharply in his analysis when he says that National Minorities Commission does not really care about the rights of the Christians.
Some of the chapters in the book are great essays and shows John Dayal’s grasp over the problem and his efforts to link the Christian community with the varied secular groups.
‘A Christian perspective to National Integration’ is one such excellent essay in the book where Dayal ask to create for awareness for Human Rights and developing civil society, which according to him ‘call for sacrifice’.
The article ‘ Ignorance, Bigotry and bloodshed: Perspective of confrontation, coexistence and Peace in India and South Asia,’ is simply superb and need to be read by all those who wish to know the birth of various ethnic-religious identities in India and South Asia. It also helps understand the culture of appreciation towards those who are not ‘like’ us and differ with one another on not only in outlook and perception but also language and religion.
Another important message was the ‘liberation theology’ of the Church which liberated the Shanar women in Travancore and Tirunalveli district of erstwhile Travancore state, where the Dalit women were prohibited from covering their breasts. The missionaries helped them a life of dignity and self-respect. An unknown story of Sophie James Joseph, who was a nurse in St. Stephen’s hospital and saved life of a Sikh family when they were butchered by the upper caste thugs of the Congress party in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
The Christian community needs to heed his advice to introspect its own work among the Dalits. He writes: ‘ How have we responded to the demands of Dalits. Not low cost schools for low caste people but high quality English schools which will allow the Dalit Children to find their place under the sun in modern age. The answer has to be given soon.’ This call was made by Dayal in September 2001 but seven years onwards he need to ask the church again and the catholic groups again whether their call for right to convert and rights of the Christian Dalit is confined to number games only? What substantial work has the church institutions done during the past 7 years to uplift the Dalits. The Christian Institutions have enormous powers and strength to help the Dalits. Two months back. Ambrose Pinto, principal of St Joseph’s College Banglore revealed to me how his college has reserved seats for Dalits, OBCs and minorities and that it still remain one of the best colleges of Banglore. And there is no dent to its meritocracy, perhaps a right answer for the principal of St Stephan’s College, which constructed the brahmanical think tank of India and officially went against the policy of reservation of the Dalits and OBCs in the Supreme Court, under the pretext of being a minority institution. The Church institutions must respond as how many seats are being reserved for the Dalits and tribal in its elite institutions and how much help is being offered for that.
Another superb piece from John Dayal comes in the form of ‘Hindutva’s Dollar Trail’, which exposes the funding mechanism of the hate campaigners of the Sangh Parivar. That India Development and Relief Fund ( IDRF) has been supplying the funds to Vikas Bharati and 9 other offshoots of the Sangh parivar is a shocking revelation. Between 1994-2000 it contributed 3.2 million USD to these hate mongers in India. The government of India must look into it and must find more details of such organizations which spread communal hatred in communities in India. Such funds must be treated as per the terrorist funding against which the US administration and UK are waging a decisive battle. Unfortunate part is that the Christian world is deeply divided today and still consider Islam as their enemy number one and hence other hate mongers get benefit of these things. Even in Britain, the right wing Hindu groups have got great protection from those in power. Interestingly, for the Sangh Zealots, there is another interesting revelation in the book. The 106 % growth of Indian population predominantly upper caste Hindus between 1990-2000. Sangh Parivar is too much disturbed with Christian growth rate while unable to understand that if conversion was taking place that strongly the population of the community would not have reduced during the past five years.
While the government is going strongly in providing data related to the condition of Muslims in India. Muslims have been discriminated in administration and political system with the ‘sin’ of creating Pakistan. It would be grossly wrong not to find out the problems of the Christian population in India, a majority of whom happens to be Dalits and tribal. The recent NSSO data have revealed that the poverty in Christian community is far below than that of the Muslims. While Muslim being the second majority of the country must get their due share in power structure, we must also ask the government to appoint a similar condition to study the condition of Christians as they are the main victims of the Sangh Parivar’s violence against them
The Christian community must introspect why it is unable to counter Sangh Parivar’s propaganda and assault on its churches and machinery. It must learn a lesson or two from its Muslim brethrens. Muslims are a politically mobile community in India particularly in Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar. Their political understanding is far superior to other communities. Muslims have depended on their own work and never on any government dole out and therefore can still live their life in greater dignity. Christians on the other hand remained highly apolitical community. People like John Dayal are in a minority in the community for they speak the truth without feeling guilty or apprehensive of the Sangh Parivar and its goons. Ofcourse, the price has been bigger in the form of target and attacks but they have remained uncompromising. The Christians by and large remain part of power structure particularly the upper caste elite of them and therefore do not hesitate even in compromising the interest of the community. John Dayal remain exception among its elite who we can find at every platform from those speaking against communalism to fight against unsustainable globalisation or assault on Dalits and tribal or special economic Zone.
It is therefore important for the religious groups to leave the space for the political people to lead the movement for the human rights of its people in India. A community under theocratic leadership cannot fight its battle of survival, which is essentially political. And hence John Dayal’s words need to be heard with great care.
Name of the Book: A matter of Equity: Freedom of Faith in Secular India
Author : John Dayal
Anamika Publishers & Distributors
Year of Publication : 2007
Price : Rs 800 ( Hard Cover)