The Great Controversy between Faith and Fear
As I write this article today, the Christians celebrate Palm Sunday, the Muslims observe the night of Forgiveness or Shab-e-baraat, the Jews begin the Feast of the Passover and the Hindus are celebrating the victory of good over evil as they ignite the Holika Dahaan.
With Palm Sunday being observed today by millions of Christians across the world in commemoration of the commencement of the Holy Easter Week, what is meant to be a day of quiet reflection and prayer, is for India and Indian Christians in particular, the cause for uncalled strife, as with the election frenzy catching up, almost everyone has brushed the cause of the Christians under the carpet.
Last week, two Christian nuns from the southern state of Kerala travelling by train were forcibly disembarked at Jhansi. Their crime was to have two young postulates along with them. It was initially alleged that they had coerced these young women to convert. They were escorted to the police station by rightwing hoodlums. As the cops quizzed the young women it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that they were in fact practising Christians and not converts at all. In the meantime, the 150 who accompanied the nuns and their postulates continued to shout nationalist slogans. Once the matter was “settled” given that there was no clear case for conversion, it is believed that the nuns were forced to switch their habit for normal civilian clothes lest they face a second wave of hate and bigotry. In another incident, a pastor leading a prayer service in a hall in Bangalore, was thrown out for conducting a prayer there.
As a practising Christian and one who has been outspoken on matters that have afflicted my community, I have a few serious concerns at the outset. Firstly, how did the right-wing mob realise that two nuns would be travelling that day on that train and at that time to arrive so well prepared with not 10 or 20 but (if reports are to be believed) around 150 hate-mongers? Secondly, under what law, ordinance or decree is one member of the Indian Republic allowed to stop another from travel? Are the movements of the Christians on a tracker? Most importantly, has the Rightwinger who started this chaos, been arrested?
The underlying question to all these so-called defenders of Hindutva: Is your faith so fragile that you or members of your religion are so easily manipulated? Instead of persecuting the well-meaning Christians trying to rise above the caste to help others, why can you not with the brute majority you command, scrap the caste system and stop ostracizing your own? Stephen Neill in his “A History of Christianity in India,” writes, “The unchanging factor in all the manifold forms of Hinduism was the basic principle of caste — that some human beings by their birth are inferior to others and cannot ever be anything else.” This is true of Hinduism even today. The multiple factions that have undermined its beauty stem from the fact that discrimination has been a deep and intolerable factor that did in fact inspire a conversion in the distant past. Conflict in caste became a core cause for conversion.
It is at this time we ask, What is the locus standi of the ABVP to question a citizen’s Constitutionally protected rights sanctioned in toto, by the basic structure of the law of the land to practise, preach and propagate his/her faith sans fear or favour in India? This incident takes me back in time to 2007, when as a young collegian, I saw my professor dismissed from his own class by a group of ABVPians. They handed a tiny paper to each student, asking them to go ahead and write details that included, Name, Email id, Home Address and Phone number. I took the paper in my hand from a boisterous fellow standing at the door with a larrikin attitude and waited for him to move away from it. A few minutes later, I tore the form and threw it into the nearest dustbin before walking out of the class. The look of horror on the faces of my batchmates was a tell-all on the state of affairs. It is fear and fear alone that reinforces their belief that they will get away unquestioned. And yet it’s 15 plus years even as I write this and Nothing seems to have changed.
Back then when crimes against young women were not as pronounced (yet ever existent), I did try in my own small way to stand up for myself, but what about the young women of today who may immediately recoil into their shell when faced with this kind of hate and bigotry? Is Article 21 now the privilege of a special majority?
As I write this post I am simultaneously participating in a webinar on Minority Rights, and the webinar has been interrupted by a participant hacking the speaker’s computer, writing two words, “F*ck India.” If this is how a webinar is hacked, imagine how easily they are infiltrating the mindset of the young?
Post a tweet in favour of liberalism or secularism and the kind of filth that fills your timeline is revolting enough for anyone to log off for at least 48 hours. In a recent post, a woman on Twitter stated albeit with some un-Indian pride that she was a Hindu and would never step into a masjid. As a rejoinder, I posted four images of four different places of worship I had visited despite what is in their eyes, the world’s most “exclusive” faith. In a matter of minutes at 5.30 in the morning I found myself duelling with the uninformed, the misinformed and the radically over-informed, who went ahead and began calling me a Rice-bag convert, (an allegation which in itself is a fallacy) telling me in no uncertain terms to shut up because I had no business calling out some “pious abuser of the constitution” for a very secular principle embedded within the framework of this country’s polity.
While I may have given it back in the same vein, I am not surprised that those who were abusing me were not Hindus at all! They are just anti-secular propagandists who neither have a religion nor a conscience that holds them back from their verbal diarrhoea. One wonders if this is the “saffron effect” for none of them show an iota of the calm and inclusive Hinduism that I have grown to admire and cherish. Civilised discourse be damned!
To label incidents such as these, both online and offline, as stray incidents of violence would be criminal on every level. “Persecution” is not just about crucifying a person’s being, it is about defiling the very essence of one’s soul in lieu of physical damage, that seeks to rip the very fabric of one’s ideas of Indianness into shreds-unrecognizable and unrelatable.
It is the duty of every conscience-driven citizen to ask, Why is the Head of State who is so belligerent in countries abroad, fundamentally failing in securing the rights of 2% of this country’s population? Will we be receiving Ration cards on the basis of our religion? Or is the Aadhar card also going to include which Caste and Religion we belong to?
What standards of extremist ridiculousness is this country left to witness?
I belong to a community that practices, preaches and propagates a peaceful co-existence with all, but I am neither Christ nor do I have Alzheimers, to forgive and forget the relentless attacks on Christians like me, who are being hounded online and offline by besmirching our reputation, maligning our faith and attacking our churches and places of worship.
It is at this time I must acknowledge the wolf on the fold. The internal denominational divide amongst the Christians must be replaced with the kind of unity and oneness required to battle the darker forces of unilateral religious propagation and imposition. Else we will be waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel, while snuffing off the candles of hope ourselves.
We Indian Christians deserve better.
We Indians deserve better.
A FINAL NOTE FOR ALL ABUSERS:
Every Good Christian is a Missionary, though he never seeks to proselytise, except by his holy example.
-John William Kaye