A Jesuit friend tells the story of a frog. If some wicked scientist were to take a frog and put it in a cauldron of boiling water, the frog will, by reflex action, jump out of the pot. The water is hot enough to trigger all his survivor instincts and his sensitory and locomotor ganglions. Take another frog, put it in a pot full of comfortably, even pleasantly warm water. The frog will swirl merrily. Raise the flame ever so slowly. The frog will continue to swim with a smile on his face, till after a while it will turn belly up and become frog soup.
Millennia mean nothing to India. There is no cusp in time, no transition in history. Life coexists in diverse, even contradictory stages, and so it will continue. This is the first challenge, this diversity, this amorphousness, this lack of discrete identities that can be compartmentalised, tackled, docketed.
The bullock cart coexists with the satellite, not as a metaphor or even a statement, but as a fact. Starvation with surfeit, democracy with fascist intolerance, secularism and inter-faith dialogue with a monopolistic religion trying desperately also to be the State religion while keeping on the right side of the boundary of a theocratic state.
As we celebrate the advent of the third millennium, we also celebrate twenty centuries of Christianity in India. We also celebrate 200 years of William Carey and the birth of the most recent Indian renaissance, of the advent of types for some Indian languages, and scripts for most others. We celebrate the second century of the end of sati, the burning, as self-immolation or cold-blooded murder, of a living widow on the fiery pyre of her dead husband.
Why Christians are soft targets
. We have become dispensable in developmental reality.
. We are dangerously empowering human rights and marginalised segments of society.
. Absence of sustaining class, dependence on the dollar, and most important,
. Isolation from civil society movements, divided community, inadequate laity formation and empowerment, and an incorrect understanding of the nature of State and political processes.
The widow is a metaphor, too, for the nation. It is salutary to remember this as we look at what is happening to widows today. There are three tragic models that stand out. Please remember these are all exceptions and the vast middle stream of India is moving towards modernity, modernism, a new age. We have had a woman prime minister and chief ministers, governors and Supreme Court judges. We have women professors by the tens of thousands as also women scientists and economists, journalists and social activists.
And yet, as I said, three small stories stand out on the status of the widow — the widow of the Kargil war, or of some poor one-time untouchable in a distant village of Uttar Pradesh. Newspapers have spoken of a war widow forced to marry a dead husband’s brother because the family does not want government grants and compensation, made in land and money, to be taken out of the family’s possession. The brother in law may be six years old or 60, it does not matter. There also is the story of the widow who allegedly burnt herself when her 60-year-old husband died of tuberculosis. Perhaps she understood what it would mean to live as a burden on her sons, Dalits in a small village.
And India’s holy towns along the Ganges are crowded with other widows, their heads shaven, living in crowded holy inns or ashrams, the older ones begging and waiting to die, the younger ones sexually exploited. All these are stories written by Hindu-owned newspapers. They must be true. There are certain stipulations that must be made in responding to India. A Catholic church spokesman reportedly said the Church does not perceive it is being persecuted, and there have been only sporadic incidents.
There are indeed no rivers of blood flowing on the road, and yet the anti Christian violence was very real, with over 200 cases in two years, over two dozen big and small ones even in the few weeks that the National Democratic Alliance government has been in power, a distinct pattern to anyone who cared to see.
Even in the last 30 days from November 13 to December 13 1999 in the national capital New Delhi, a survey was ordered of Christian institutions in which nuns, priests and heads of institutions were asked not only where they got funds from and their political affiliation, but also if they had a beard, if they wore spectacles and if they had a limp. A Bible has been burnt in New Delhi, as 400 were burnt last year in Gujarat. Prayer meetings have been disrupted at Devals, the tribal Churches were demolished in the Dangs. And Father Arul Das was murdered in Orissa this summer as the Staines family had been murdered last winter.
They pale into insignificance perhaps when compared with the 3,500 Sikhs burnt alive in Delhi and other metropolitan cities in 1984, and certainly they are but a footnote in the history of the partition massacres. No estimates yet, but perhaps over half-a-million Hindus and Muslims were killed, at the hands of Muslims and Hindus. To a student of policy and the human right activist, masses of numbers do not matter. The pattern does, for the future lies in the pattern, the terror lies in the trend.
There are no rivers of blood, and we have a secular Constitution. Yet the Constitution has been repeatedly perverted, even communalised in operative portions when it came to the minorities.
Dalits had rights on the dawn of republican India’s Constitution, but within weeks these rights were taken away. State Governments in the name of freedom of religion enacted laws against freedom of religion (Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal) and Christian schools were told they could not keep all the seats for themselves. Indian Christians still cannot adopt a child; the marriage and divorce laws remained fixed since the early 19th century. Permissions for buildings takes years, and laws such as the visa regulations, meetings and the functions law are used against healing ministries.
Above all, the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) on donations and remittances is used as a deadly weapon to keep the Church in line, timid. Another State wants to ban all conversions.
For 50 years, Hindu fundamentalism has been kept in check by the Hindu middle class, the secular Hindu. Increasingly this group is being directly targeted by the Sangh Parivar in a mass formation, even proselytisation (which includes co-option of groups, castes and religions such as Sikhs and Buddhists to some measure).
Academics is being saffronised, the media is being penetrated, the police and the judiciary suborned.
The fear of the communalisation of the middle class by the BJP and Hindutva is very real. Most of us are faced with friends who were strong supporters till last year, and now their body language speaks of a modicum of doubt, a belief in the lies of the Parivar. I call it the dangling participle (nuns work very hard in forests and fields, but… missionaries run good schools, but…)
The conversion of this class has been systematic, built on an edifice of lies and half-truths, feeding on ignorance and slight, an entire edifice of suspicion has been built up and a theology of hate has been perpetrated.
There are accusations and rumours of forced or induced conversions. The hate builds up. Church institutions and personnel were demonised. The next layer of the pyramid of hate was the indictment of the Church itself as alien, as fostering violence and separatism… now the tenets of faith are under attack… healing ministry, virgin birth, resurrection…
Landmarks in independent India’s history
. Independence : 1947
. Emergency : 1975-77
. 1984 : Anti Sikh riots/Bhopal gas tragedy
. 1992 : Babri Masjid demolition
. 1988-99 : Anti Christian violence
The attacks are not from lumpen elements or urchins but the highest in the hierarchy of the Parivar… and civil society is not protesting or challenging it enough despite the plethora of evidence we have given proving there is no forced conversion, not even by an extreme Christian group, and that we get only 4 to 6 per cent of the foreign funds.
And yet this middle class, and the intellectual community that it fosters, will ensure the continuity of our secular Constitution.
We need to strengthen it, illuminate its horizons. Give it information, open up to it, collaborate and cooperate with it even as we must learnt to evolve cooperative Christianity to replace competitive Christianity we have seen in the last five decades.
The new spiritual, and social landscape has precipitated:
. Hardening of Hindutva, its penetration of middle class
. Introspection amongst Hindus, and the NDA
. Dalit identity assertion
. Introspection for unity amongst Christians
The post-Papal situation has seen the fence come down. The eclessia for Asia that the Pope pressed for in New Delhi, this winter, has changed the theological, even socio political landscape of this country.
The Pope knocked down the fence between so-called activists and the ‘sober Church’. Whatever the Pope may have intended, whatever apologists and scholars may say in diluting the Papal exhortation, the common people and the common Hindu have taken only one meaning of it, and there can be no beating about the bush on it.
Till as such time as we can convince the common man on the real meaning of conversion as an inner change, he will go away with only one meaning of the word. No longer can orthodox Catholics say that some right wing sects were indulging in conversions and they were just running institutions. Nor indeed can right wing groups say that the Catholic nuns were asking for it by working in the forests.
Christians have to come off the fence. The fence does not exist anymore. Our witnesses today are the burnt Bibles of Rajkot, the pauperised parents of martyr Fr Arul Doss and the widow Gladys Staines with her witness of forgiveness. The Pope’s call for evangelisation must be considered in all seriousness and in its full, and gentle, dimension. He has called for a pedagogy of conversion. He has called for a dialogue of life. This calls for the evolution of a new lexicon of giving witness.
This also calls for greater Christian unity, in action and in dialogue. The Church can no longer afford to remain fragmented within and without — bloody fights on rights, and on territories, on numbers and on figures.
Neither can the Church remain apathetic to or distant from civil society. Ours has been a history of lack of response to civil society in the Indian Emergency (1975-77, with suspension of civil rights) and other social tragedies.
. About 50 per cent of BJP seats in Lok Sabha are from SC and Tribal areas
. There is a BJP minister in every ministry, and Home, HRD, Finance, Forests, Tribals departments remain with BJP Cabinet ministers.
. As BJP groups peel off, they expose real agenda of Parivar
. Despite 1984, 1992 and 1998 violence, there is little cohesion in India’s minorities
. Orissa orphans suffer as governments play with adoption rules
The need is great for unity within and secular society making common clause with people. This can only come if we fully understand the tectonic socio-political movements. If we correctly appreciate what is ephemeral and transient in political fads and fashions and what is making a deep impact and changing the course of history. We must find out how SITE (satellite Instructional Television Experiment) and Doordarshan were used in the laity formation of the fundamentalist Hindu, and how the Information Technology revolution sharpens religious debate and mobilisations.
The Church needs to study what will be the long-term impact of Mandal on the Indian ethos and politics (and on religious trends), how the sub-castes factor in the Dalits is injuring Dalit solidarity and our work among the oppressed.
We need to understand government policy on forest produce and demography as much as on globalisation and communication. We must monitor Constitutional changes closely. And above all we must keep a close eye on all aspects of the extremely mobile education and literacy policies.
If we do so, we will understand what will be the future politics, six months ahead or six years from now, and take corrective instant action, short term remedial measures, and long term pro-active policy decisions. We will know then who are our natural allies and our real friends.If we do this, we will be seen as being alive to the reality of the day. We will be able to strengthen civil society, our safeguard and our strength, which in reality is the instrument that God uses to protect us.
Let them not see us easily pressurised people, let them not see us a cupiditous people eager to sacrifice principles to protect properties, let them not see us as currying favour with the State and those in power. Let other minorities see us as comrades in prayer and comrades in arms against all injustice, especially when it is not directed against us.
There of course is the overriding need to rejuvenate the Indian Christian community. The lack of a middle class is being noticed. We have a skin of rich, and a body of poor. How will an indigenous Church sustain itself.
What happens if the dollar is some day just the same as a rupee? Are we taking up measures for the social uplift of our community. We need an honest social audit of ourselves, our work, our mission. There is a crying need of social audit. Our per capita involvement in the country has reduced, and this has also made us very vulnerable to attacks. We are dispensable, it would seem. We need to increase our social commitment with the poor, and emerge into greenfield and sunrise areas to empower the poor and the marginalised, to be able to harness the possibilities of the future – the need is for an entrepreneurial and a middle class, a backbone.
We must again become indispensable as yeast and salt. It is then that the secular members of the majority committee will again come to us, will again bond with us.
Then we will have no fear.