The last issue of Indian Currents carried a story about the raid on a Catholic girls' hostel in Sagar diocese in Madhya Pradesh conducted by a team headed by the chairman of National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. In a letter addressed to the District Collector, the chairman asked him to take action against the nuns who are running the hostel and send the inmates back home. The nuns were accused of indulging in conversion through the hostel. As explained in the write-up by Manoj Varghese, the allegations made against the nuns are baseless and flimsy. The raid appears to be a well-planned strategy to discredit the welfare activities undertaken by the Christian community to empower the underprivileged groups.
Prior to this incident, in the month of September, a false case of religious conversion was filed against a group of CMC sisters who were running home for the children of HIV patients in Sagar diocese. The administration forced the sisters to send back the children and discontinue the home. As in many cases, the bail application of sisters was rejected at the lower court. Fortunately, they got bail from the High Court.
The Indian Currents in its October 18, 2021 issue highlighted the increasing attacks on Christians. According to a report published in that issue, attacks on Christians increased from 330 incidents in 2016 to 527 in 2019.
The increasing attacks on Christians and filing false cases of conversion against the sisters and priests running homes/hostels for the underprivileged children is the implementation of a meticulously planned strategy by the Sangh Parivar.
It was reported in the Daink Bhaskar that from July 9 to 12, a high-level, but highly confidential, meeting of RSS was held at Chitrakoot to plan for the coming Assembly elections. As Ram Mandir at Ayodhya has already exhausted its vote catching value, the RSS has planned a new strategy and coined a new slogan, “Chadar Mukt, Father Mukt Bharat” (An India liberated from Muslims and Christians). Conversion is the main issue that the Sangh Parivar is going to focus on. The news about the Chitrakoot meeting went unreported in the mainstream media except in Daink Bhaskar. The newspaper was punished for reporting the news by a series of raids on its offices by the Income Tax Department.
Sabrangindia had published on July 23, 2021 a write-up on the new strategy of the Sangh Parivar under the title, ‘Is Chadar aur Father Mukt Bharat’ the next anti-minority plot? According to this write up, RSS conclave also addressed the possibility of suggesting that the Narendra Modi-led government “bring a nationwide anti-conversion law.
About a year ago, a friend who works for the empowerment of differently-abled persons told me that the long term plan of the Sangh Privar is apparently to take over all Christian welfare institutions like orphanages, old age homes, homes for the children of HIV infected, homes for children with disability, hostels for the underprivileged children etc. The strategy planned is to find loopholes in the administration of these institutions through surprise inspections and checks and withdraw permission to run such institutions. Later the inmates of such institutions will be transferred to institutions run by the organizations attached to the Sangh Parivar. These institutions easily get government grants as they are part of the Sangh Parivar groups.
Therefore, many more attacks, surprise inspections and filing false cases against Christian institutions can take place in different parts of the country in the days to come. After branding Muslims as terrorists and anti-nationals, the next target seems to be Christians in view of discrediting all charitable and welfare activities undertaken by them as fraudulent means for conversion. Against this backdrop, we cannot be satisfied with our routine activities. The strategy of the Sangh Parivar has been “pehele kasai, bad me Isai” (First Muslims, then Christians).
Jesus had told his disciples to be ‘innocent like doves and cunning like serpents’. Time has come for the Christian community, dioceses and religious congregations to wake up from their slumber and prepare a strategy to deal with the danger at the doorstep. The following are some practical suggestions.
Traditional type Hostels
Hostel or boarding houses were started at a time when there were no schools in many villages and government hostels were not many. Today the scenario has changed. Almost all villages have schools up to Class 8 except in some villages of north-eastern states. Roads are improved and children can have easy access to high schools at the cluster centres, and girls are given cycles by the government. The number of government hostels for tribal boys and girls has also increased exponentially.
Against this backdrop, there is no relevance in running traditional types of boarding houses. Students of most of the hostels run by the dioceses and religious congregations are sent either to government or private Hindi medium schools. Only a few are sent to English medium schools.
However, hostels of good quality can be started attached to English Medium Schools with all needed permissions. The objectives of running hostels have to change. What the dalits and tribals lack most today is genuine leaders who are committed to the well-being and development of their communities. The present leaders are often bought by the mainline political parties, especially the BJP. Hence the main focus of hostels for the underprivileged groups should be developing leaders with character, competence and commitment to their own communities. In order to enhance quality the number could be reduced.
If the dioceses and religious congregations are genuinely interested in the development of Dalits and tribals, let them start good quality English medium residential schools. Each diocese in the mission area may start at least one English medium residential school for the socially and economically backward sections of society. The students could be a mix of dalits, tribals, backward castes and economically poor from the forward castes. For example, the proportion of students could be dalits and tribals 35% each, backward castes 20% and economically poor of the forward castes could be 10%. In a highly polarized political context of India the residential schools should be inclusive.
A New Approach
The traditional way of running these institutions will not be able to cope with the future challenges. The following aspects could be paid special attention.
a) Leadership building with special focus on paying back to the society, especially to the groups they represent (tribals, dalits, street children, persons with disability etc) should be given top priority. Irrespective of the nature of the institution the ultimate goal of running these institutions should be individual and community empowerment. The inmates should never feel that they are the objects of charity.
b) Inculcating in the inmates the Constitutional values; and the core values of Jesus should be an equally important priority. The core values the students of all child development institutions have to imbibe are: 1) Forgiveness and reconciliation as an anti-dote to ever increasing hatred and revenge 2) Equality that transcends all kinds of discriminations based on caste, religion, ethnicity, gender etc. 3) Sensitivity and compassion through sharing one’s resources and talents with others, especially the less privileged and avoiding all kinds of extravaganza 4) Justice that avoids all kinds of exploitation and oppression and giving just wages to workers 5) Respect for human beings, especially for women, workers, the poor and the marginalized, seeing God in them and 6) Concern for environment by protecting and preserving all kinds of natural resource and developing a zero waste culture.
c) A family atmosphere is to be created in all our child development institutions. Children should feel that the institution is their family. Priests and sisters serving the institution and their team members should have the same meals with the inmates in the same dining room. If the inmates belong to different religions with different food habits, vegetarian meals are to be served to all. Of course, due to health reasons sick inmates should be given special food. Our members who are working in these institutions should be ready for this small sacrifice. It is the touch-stone of their commitment to their unique mission. No mission will be sincere and successful without sacrifice. The team of staff members of these institutions should have a mix of persons belonging to different faiths. Otherwise the accusation of conversion will become easy.
I have evaluated 32 Catholic hostels in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and 28 protestant hostels jointly supported by Holistic Child Development India, (HCDI) Pune and KNH Germany. One of the important findings of the evaluations is that most of the children are dissatisfied with the quality of food given to them. Secondly, they do not experience love and affection because in most of the hostels a disciplinarian approach is followed. That is why it is extremely important to maintain a family atmosphere in all child development institutions.
d) Taking into account the anti-minority sentiments among the people, stringent provisions of anti-conversion laws and the spy work by the Sangh Parivar organizations, those who are in charge of child care/development institutions and the staff members shall desist from taking non-Christian children for Christian prayers, Holy Mass, devotions, adoration, Bible classes, etc. The greetings by children should not be “Jay Yesu” but the commonly accepted Indian way of greeting, Namaste. In the light of the new provisions of anti-conversion laws, the above mentioned activities can be easily interpreted as conversion activities and the in-charges could be in deep trouble.
Above all, we have to bear in mind what Jesus has taught us. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Do we want the Catholic Children studying in a Hindu hostel being taken to temples and made to participate in all kinds of Hindu prayers and rituals?
It is a totally wrong assumption that the tribals do not have their religion. They do have their religious beliefs and practices, although they do not have organized religion. We have to respect their religious beliefs while sharing with them the core values of Jesus. Many Catholic leaders in the North Eastern states are easily purchased by the BJP whose ideology is diametrically opposed to the teachings and values of Jesus.
e) Use interfaith prayer in all our institutions where the majority of the beneficiaries are non-Christians. The prayer could consist of common bhajans or songs, short readings from different scriptures related to universal values of love, forgiveness, compassion, etc and silent prayer.
f) Yoga should be part of the daily time-table of all our residential child development institutions. Besides providing exercise, it helps the children to concentrate. Children should be taught how to pray silently and contemplate or meditate.
g) The walls of all our child development institutions shall be decorated with inspirational quotes from different religious scriptures and quotes of great leaders and of motivation. For example, the following quote is very motivating: “Compete with yourself, not with others. Don’t aim to be the first, aim to do your best”.
h) One of the weaknesses of many Catholic institutions in the mission areas is poor public relations. Those who are in charge of child development institutions have to build very good relations with the local leaders, especially the Panchayat President, prominent political and religious leaders and officials.
Christophe Jaffrelot, a French political scientist who specializes on Indian issues, in his latest article dated 10th November titled “This government is of Ram bhaktas, and Gita is above the Constitution -- inside Modi’s India” argues that more than changing the Constitution, by replacing the democratic practices with Hindu practices, allowing the Sangh Parivar to have control over the administration and appointing hardcore RSS men to key administrative and constitutional posts the BJP is converting India into a Hindu Rashtra.
According to the ideology of the Sangh Parivar, as explicitly mentioned in Golwalker’s “We or Our Nationhood Defined”, Muslims, Christians and Communists are the internal enemies of the nation and in a Hindu Rashtra Muslims and Christians will be treated as second class citizens without any privileges and rights, not even ‘citizenship rights’.
Through various legislations like stringent anti-conversion laws, love jihad laws and state supported attack on Muslims and Christians by the Right wing groups of the Sangh Parivar they are making Muslims and Christians second class citizens. Filing of false cases against Christian welfare institutions and increasing attacks on Christians are to be viewed from the perspective of the core ideology of the Sangh Parivar.
Hence the Christian community has to be prepared to face any harassment or false case at any time. As a means for crisis management each diocese has to constitute an expert committee consisting of lawyers, journalists and Christian lay-leaders. Any attack or false case against Christian institutions is to be reported to this committee and this committee has to make an immediate on the spot study and swing into action.
There should be an expert committee at the regional or state level to which the diocesan level expert committee can turn for help and guidance. The Regional Bishops’ Councils have to take immediate steps to form regional level expert committees, taking into account the danger at the doorstep.