With the gang-rape of a 71 year old nun in West Bengal, Christians in India certainly have a reason to feel vulnerable as the decorated former super-cop Julius Ribeiro felt on Monday. The rape, apparently a pre-determined act by the criminals who robbed a missionary run school, was the latest in a series of attacks against the Christians reported from different parts of the country.
Three days ago, a Church was vandalised in Hisar in Haryana and a Hindu idol was placed inside its premises. Earlier in the month, there were attacks against Christians by Hindu groups in Madhya Pradesh.
In February, a Christian school in Delhi was attacked, followed by vandalisation on a church a week earlier, and later in the same month, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat heaped the worst possible insult on Mother Teresa by by attributing conversion as the motive for her charity. Hard to miss, all this while, was the vitiating call for “Ghar Wapsi” renting the air across India, including in Kerala where the numbers of Christians are significant.
The vulnerability of Christian institutions in India now is reminiscent of a 1999 Human Rights Watch report titled Politics by Other Means: Attacks Against Christians in India. “Attacks against Christians throughout the country have increased significantly since the BJP began its rule at the center in March 1998. They include the killings of priests, the raping of nuns, and the physical destruction of Christian institutions, schools, churches, colleges, and cemeteries. Thousands of Christians have also been forced to convert to Hinduism. The report concludes that as with attacks against Muslims in 1992 and 1993, attacks against Christians are part of a concerted campaign of right-wing Hindu organizations, collectively called the sangh parivar, to promote and exploit communal clashes to increase their political power-base. The movement is supported at the local level by militant groups who operate with impunity,” the HRW said. It’s in the same year that Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burned alive in their car.
“Is it coincidence or a well-thought-out plan that the systematic targeting of a small and peaceful community should begin only after the BJP government of Narendra Modi came to power last May?” asks Ribeiro, who was once hand-picked by Rajiv Gandhi to be the top cop in Punjab to reassure the Hindus of their safety from Sikh terrorists. He goes on to add: “Ghar wapsi”, the declaration of Christmas as “Good Governance Day”, the attack on Christian churches and schools in Delhi, all added to a sense of siege that now afflicts these peaceful people.”
The author of the 1999 HRW report had said that Christians were the new political scapegoat in India. Unfortunately, they still are. What was required was only a change of political climate. The Hindu rightwing organisations were mostly lying in wait. Now they look menacing and emboldened.
One cannot ignore the fact that BJP is in power at the Centre and in many states. Is it part of a pathological phobia for other religious beliefs than one’s own, a threatening message to other minorities, or simply a political ploy to polarise people? From the air of hatred and mistrust spread by the right wing organisations, it appears to be a combination of all the three.
Christians account for only less than 2.5 per cent of the population and most of them are either in four north eastern states or in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and parts of southern India. In most of India, they lay scattered and have no organisational or political support.
Except in their pockets of influence such as the north East and south India, they are the least organised minority. Even if some convert, to escape their caste-based subjugation, the numbers hardly matter. What does one gain by their persecution? Is there an indirect message for the bigger minority, the Muslims, who constitute more than 10 per cent of the population, who are a political constituency and are better organised? A warning shot?
By participating in a Church function in Delhi last month and announcing that his government will ensure that there is complete freedom to choose one’s faith, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to have restored some confidence among the Christians. However, his words had done precious little to abate the hate campaign of the Parivar organisations.
What’s unmissable is the impression that the agenda of the Sangh Parivar organisations is being silently endorsed by the BJP governments in the states and the centre. In return, the Sangh seems to have compromised on their Swaraj principles of economics.
This air of permissibility and impunity threatens India. With the governments not doing enough, the responsibility finally falls on people. The way Ribeiro reassures himself should make Indians introspect: “It makes me hope that ordinary Hindu men and women will not be swayed by an ideology that seeks to spread distrust and hate with consequences that must be avoided at all cost.”
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