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Friday, April 3, 2015

Christians are being used, not persecuted

By Swapan Dasgupta 

The most comic fallout of Jagdish Bhagwati’s interview to NDTV about the spuriousness of the brouhaha over persecution of Christians in India may yet happen if his great economist rival Amartya Sen decides to publicly assert the opposite. So far the outgoing chancellor of the controversy-gripped Nalanda University has chosen to remain silent. But I am sure that the pressure on him to stand up and repeat Pastor Martin Niemoller’s “First they came for the Jews…” must, presumably, be intense.

Let’s be clear on one point: the opponents of Narendra Modi have smelt blood and seem determined to pursue their single-minded campaign to suggest that a majoritarian madness has gripped India. Earlier, and particularly during the 2014 general election, this campaign had seen the outpourings of anguish on the part of intellectuals and a small section of the media. On his part, 

Mr Modi had (and has) provided absolutely no ammunition to substantiate the fear that the multi-religious character of India would be jeopardised by the exit of a Congress-led government. True, there was a pre-existing Hindu-Muslim faultline that manifested itself in the minority community staying away from the BJP. However, in the first 11 months of the Modi government, the concerns have been on the relative inadequacy of Muslim political representation rather than the security of the community. Even on this count, there was consternation among professional secularists that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the People’s Democratic Party managed to forge a coalition in Jammu and Kashmir.

Under the circumstances, the so-called fear that is said to have gripped the Christian community following some small incidents has come as a surprise. What is even more unexpected is that these have become the occasion for a number of prominent Indian Christians to agonise over the community’s future in India. First there was the retired police officer Julio Rebeiro who asked whether he had become an alien in his own country. Subsequently, former Navy Chief 

Adm. Sushil Kumar (Retd.) expressed a fear that the “communal virus” could affect the camaraderie of the armed forces — a grave concern in view of the fact that the armed forces have always been well and truly insulated from all political schisms. Finally, various functionaries of reputed Christian education institutions have added their voices to the campaign over Christian persecution. Indeed, there is now every possibility that international Christian voices could be added to the list of those who question the ability of the Modi government to maintain religious harmony.

I don’t think it will be exaggeration to suggest that the charge of Christian vulnerability has been greeted with a sense of disbelief in most of India. While the BJP’s political opponents may delight over any discomfiture felt by the government, particularly anything that shifts attention from the main agenda of economic reconstruction, the use of the tiny Christian community as a vanguard of any anti-Modi movement has been greeted with a measure of exasperation. Was Mr Rebeiro, it is being asked, ever rewarded or discriminated on the strength of his religious faith? On what basis has Adm. Kumar suggested that the “communal virus” could also affect the well-being of the armed forces? Did he ever face discrimination because he was a Christian?

The fact that neither Mr Rebeiro nor Adm. Kumar have been able to give satisfactory explanations as to why they have suddenly gone public with their fears over the citizenship rights of Christians has, in turn, prompted a number of conspiracy theories. There are accusations flying all over social media that the churches have taken a conscious decision to target the Modi government politically, first by attributing political motives to every incident involving a church building or individual Christians and, second, by enlarging its significance to suggest that an entire community is under attack. If this understanding of the “church agenda” is correct, it would follow that the third phase of the campaign would lie in making common cause with all the anti-Modi forces in the country. 

We saw a small trailer of the third phase in the last day of campaigning for the Delhi Assembly poll when a small (but lavishly reported) demonstration of Christians became the signal for all members of the community to come out and vote against the BJP two days later.

Whatever the real motivations of the clergy of various Christian denominations, there is no doubt that it has succeeded in putting Christians at the centre of a previously non-existent political divide. The political storm has served to resurrect subterranean schisms over religious conversions and the global links of the churches. Whether unwittingly or otherwise, Christian activism may even have prompted a large measure of countervailing reaction, much to the delight of a cynical media that seems intent on keeping the cauldron of communal politics boiling. Making Christians more aware of their religious self-identity may be a legitimate exercise on the part of community leaders. But when this results in non-Christians seeing Christians as being removed from the mainstream, the results can be self-defeating. Unless, of course, the avowed aim is to sharpen the sense of differences.

A very dangerous game is being played by a handful whose idea of harmony is at variance with the consensual view of composite Indian citizenship. In the short term, and thanks in no small measure to this unwarranted desire to cry wolf, we are likely to see a sharp focus on the entire issue of religious conversions — an issue that has been troubling Hindu communities in southern India. The government may feel that the emerging truth of the Ranaghat nun rape will cool passions. Unfortunately, I get an uncomfortable feeling that in the battle between propaganda and truth, the latter may become a casualty. We are not witnessing a religious conflict. These are just the opening shots of a political battle, using Christians as a human shield.

Asian Age/ Deccan Chronicle, April 3, 2015


Jitendra Desai said...

Agenda could be wider and even more sinister.Could Christian world be genuinely afraid of 100 crore Hindus of resurgent India? They appear more fanatic than militant Muslims when it comes to conversions.They must realise it is no longer possible for them to convert Hindus so easily as it happened in 19th or 20th centuries.
This organised opposition to a government mainly voted in by Hindus may not take these "agitators" very far.More they agitate more Hindus will oppose conversions and more Hindus will be determined to vote BJP - again! This happened in Gujarat, where stringent opposition to Modi in national TV studios and English press [ both national & international] turned Gujarati voters to Modi.Amit Shah and his team must be chuckling.

Anonymous said...

The UPA dispensation has pampered the minorities with appeasement politics and thry feel orphaned now when Modi explicitly states he will not indulge in it. Next they find their source of funds drying up as NGOs tap is tightened and a fall out of that being conversions slowed down. We Indians had enough of this nonsense and time its put to an end!

Anonymous said...

Christians are not persecuted, but like to think that they are. This is true all over the world - even in the US where they are the dominant majority. It is not difficult to figure out why. All church sermons repeatedly tell Christians just that. That is the way the church exercises political power. By corralling the herd and telling them how they are being targeted for persecution. The church like the populace to be poor, fearful and beholden to it. They're easier to control that way.

In a recent interview, comedian Bill Maher asked presidential candidate and former pastor Mike Huckabee why he repeatedly tells his flock that they are persecuted. Huckabee's reply was stunning. He said he thought so because no Christian was shown in a good light in Hollywood films. So that's persecution for you - failure on the part of Hollywood to stroke the christian ego!

This is not a new phenomenon. I remember a conversation with a Chinese christian immigrant in California more than 20 years ago. She asked me a blunt question "Why are Christians in India discriminated against? Why do people lose their pension benefits when they convert to Christianity?". I asked her where she had acquired these pearls of wisdom and she told me that the American missionaries who converted her (and then moved her up in the immigration queue) told her many stories about how Christians were treated in India.

Anonymous said...

Our friend from USA, who was confronted by the Chinese, may not be aware that in India, when a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe, converts to Christianity, they lose all state support. This include wide range of reservation benefits for jobs, promotions etc. Even they lose protection in front of law, which otherwise protects SC/ST strictly against someone even passing a teasing comment about their community. It is the height of injustice, blaming Chinese may not help. All because they have converted to Christinity. These are facts, not pearls of wisdom plucked from thin air. There is a wonderful offical explanation for this too. If you promise not to literally ROFL, can tell you that too. The official explanation is that,only Hindu religion is known for such ill treatment of back ward communities and once they got converted to Christianity, they are freed from such ill treatment and therefore, they become non-eligible for any state support or protection, which otherwise all backward communities are entitled to. Since you have reached USA, we presume you have some brains, and hence we wont be shocked if you ask a very pertinent question here, that "how it will help that person who converted to Christianity, when he/she still have to live with 82% Hindus & 1.75% Christians". At least we have no confirmed news yet of upper class Hindus inviting scheduled castes & scheduled tribes to their dining table, just because they are Christians. Why blame upper class Hindus. Even Christians with good social standing will not entertain them. But sure the high society Hindu and high society Christian will have no issues in dining (and even sleepign also together). Cmmon. You promised not to ROFL. To me the saddest part is that you had to hear it from a Chinese. But dont worry, soon our Ayurvedic medicines also will come from China.

Anonymous said...

Sonia, Oscar, Mararet Alva, Chacko, Thomas, Anthony, George, Alexander... th COngress has more than its proportion of minorities leading from the front. Out of power and no immediate means of getting back and very few issues to beat the Govt with, this must seem like a cheap and easy shot. Paint all Hindus bad, occupy the space as the MAIN minority and get global funding. Wjat with Modi Govt hitting NGOs, it must hurt the missionaries a lot. Hence this campaign

Kalyani Kurup said...

Yes, Christians are definitely being used as a human shield by the government's detractors. No one is persecuting Christians. They are as prosperous and free as they always have been.

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