Christians in India: Persecution or political posturing?

Last Updated: Thu, Apr 30, 2015 11:44 hrs

Before the Lok Sabha polls last year, Father Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of St Xavier's College, published a letter on the college website in which he criticised the Gujarat model of development and cautioned students, "The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy."

Apparently, he was terming BJP as a threat to secularism. Although most considered the principal's act to be grossly inappropriate, they were not surprised.



Hundreds of Christians, led by the church leaders, marched in protest on the roads of Delhi against the alleged vandalisation of churches and a theft in a Christian school. Timing being of essence, the protest was launched when the campaigning for Delhi polls was close to its feverish pitch. Suggesting an anti-minority conspiracy, they blamed the BJP government for their anxiety.

Apparently, the church leaders were highlighting sensitive issues to defeat BJP as per their pre-determined agenda. They ensured extensive coverage of their protests by the foreign and Indian media, thereby damaging India's secular image. Channels like BBC are only too eager to shame India. Unwisely, even Obama got carried away with his uncalled for advice, losing considerable goodwill in India.

The pattern was similar to what the Vajpayee government faced. Somehow, BJP governments raise the heckles of the church leaders and they concoct reasons to denigrate it. Whereas all have a right to vote for the party of their choice, playing divisive politics and fanning of fissiparous tendencies should be avoided.


The Alleged Sense of Insecurity

rebeiro

Most disconcertedly, a letter written by Julio Ribeiro has caused immense pain to his admirers. Ribeiro is an iconic figure and is treated with due deference. Affectionately called a Super Cop, the nation honoured him with the award of Padma Bhushan.

How can a man on whom the nation has bestowed so much of adulation, love and honour feel insecure in his own country? Why does he feel 'threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country'? Most unfortunately, he goes on to add, "I am not an Indian anymore, at least in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra." How has he reached such an astonishing conclusion? Which Hindu organisation has conveyed such a message to him?

I had the privilege of meeting Ribeiro at a seminar at the Nehru Centre at Mumbai a few months ago. We had a long conversation. He is as impressive and alert as ever.I have always been his admirer. I became his devotee that day. Therefore, his letter came as a rude shock. Either Ribeiro was coerced to write the said letter or it was a case of an emotional outburst (the proverbial human weakness). Whatever be the reason, no one expected a man of his stature to fall prey to the misinformation campaign and pen those lines.

In his letter, Ribeiro cites four issues that he claims have added to his sense of insecurity. One, 'Ghar Wapsi' call of some Hindu organisations. Ribeiro is not being reasonable in objecting to 'Ghar Wapsi'? If conversion of Hindus to Christianity is fair and 'secular', why should a call to Christians to return to the Hindu-fold be termed 'communal' and a threat to the minority community? Either conversions should be totally banned or there should be a level playing field. It cannot be a one way movement.

Two, Ribeiro faults the government for declaring Christmas as 'Good Governance Day'. One fails to understand as to why Christians are opposing it. The most auspicious occasion of Christmas is considered synonymous with goodness in all spheres of life. Good governance is one such sphere. Christians have every reason to be proud of it.

Three, any word uttered against Mother Teresa is considered to be an affront to the Christian community. Mother Teresa belonged to the whole humanity and it is unfair to identify her exclusively with one community. Her righteousness and compassion for the poor were beyond comparison. No criticism can lower the status of such saintly souls. Hindu gods and goddesses are commonly made the butt of crude jokes, especially in films.

The fourth issue raised by Ribeiro is about the alleged attacks on the churches in Delhi. This needs examination. Two cases of fire were due to short circuiting. In Jasola, a glass pane broken by the kids playing close by was termed as vandalisation of the church by the church leaders. A drunken brawl was the cause of damage to a church in Vikaspuri. Having being caught on CCTV, the miscreants have already confessed their guilt. Similarly, it is unfair to term theft of money from a school as an attack on the Christians. Money is irresistible and thieves do not hesitate to steal, even from temples and other religious places.

As per the Delhi police statistics, crimes against religious places are routine and have been occurring every year. In 2014, the incidents of theft numbered 206 against temples, 30 against gurdwaras, 14 against mosques and 3 against churches. Yet, the church leaders were most vociferous in tarnishing the secular image of the country. Expectedly, the church leaders declined to accept the police findings that there was no communal angle to the incidents. The church leaders knew the truth but wanted to paint BJP in communal terms and generate fear psychosis amongst the minorities, deliberately during the elections.


The heinous crime of the gang rape of a 71-year old nun in Ranaghat town of West Bengal last month shook the conscience of the nation. In addition, a sum of Rs 12 lakh in cash was looted. Sadly, attempts were made to convert such an abominable offence into an anti-Christian plank. All efforts were made to term it as a handiwork of Hindu religious fanatics. 

A West Bengal Minister blamed 'religious intolerance in the name of Ghar Wapsi' for the crime. The world media covered it extensively.Eventually, the culprits were identified to be Bangladeshi Muslims. Most have been arrested and have confessed to the crime. As expected, having dented India's reputation, the media chose to ignore the true facts as they emerged.

Recently, desecration of the St. Mary's Church on 16 April in Agra evoked wide-spread protests by Christians. In no time, the incident was communalized. Blaming Hindu organisations, the displayed placards read 'stop atrocities, against Christians' and 'we have a right to worship and practise our faith'. Once again, they complained of threat to the minorities.

It must have come as a rude shock (and disappointment) to the protestors when they learnt that a jilted lover, rickshaw-puller Haider Ali was responsible for the offence. On being spurned by a Christian girl, he had committed the crime out of 'pure frustration', done under the influence of liquor. He is under arrest and has confessed. Yet, many priests and leaders of the Christian community decline to believe the police version and demand 'a fair probe'.

In view of the facts that have emerged after the investigation of all church related incidents, one is sure that Ribeiro must be regretting his gullibility. He got carried away with the falsehood spread by the church leaders. Being a man of character, he must be seeking ways to make amends for having hurt the sentiments of millions of his admirers. For most Indians, he is a national hero and a role model; and will always remain one.

Et tu Admiral


What has shocked the soldiers most is the statement made by Admiral Sushil Kumar Isaac that 'fear among Christians could percolate into the armed forces'. It was a most brazen, appalling and detestable comment. It was an act of the worst kind of blasphemy and amounted to injecting the virus of communalism in the armed forces.Many consider it to be akin to an act of high treason.

For military leaders, communalism is an anathema. It is a manifestation of selfish nature, unprofessional character and unethical disposition. It poses a grave threat to the cohesion of the services. Needless to say, the Admiral has let the services down with his nauseating comments. A man with such prejudiced, narrow and communal mindset should have never been selected for the coveted post. Sorry, Admiral, you have proved yourself to be unworthy of the appointment you held. You owe an unconditional apology to the entire soldiering community.

We, in the services, never think in terms of religion of our colleagues. We are a cohesive whole and do not want even to talk of our religious identities. Like other communities, Christians have done India proud and made supreme sacrifices for its defence. Their commitment to nationalism is beyond reproach. For Christ's sake, leave the services alone. You have already done enough harm.

Finally


Secularism is an article of faith and a commitment for all Indians. No community needs to feel threatened. The conviction of co-existence is strongly embedded in the Indian psyche. While it is incumbent on the majority community to dispel all misapprehensions of the minorities, leaders of the minorities should shun crying wolf to arouse communal emotions for narrow political gains. In any case, use of religion as a political instrument amounts to its sacrilege.

History stands testimony that a nation infested with the virus of parochialism has always been an easy prey for subjugation. No one knows this bitter truth better than India, whose centuries-long suffering under foreign rule was the direct fallout of the malaise of parochialism. And, communalism is the worst and most destructive type of parochialism. It has the potential to split the country on communal lines – a dreadful scenario indeed.

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Major General Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD, commanded an Engineer Regiment on the Siachen Glacier, the most hostile battlefield in the world. A highly qualified officer (B Tech, MA (Public Administration), MSc (Defence Studies) and a Doctorate in Public Administration) he was also the Task Force Commander at Pokhran and was responsible for designing and sinking shafts for the nuclear tests of May 1998.

Note:The views expressed in the article are of the author’s and not of Sify.com.