We are told that “a true Hindu can never be intolerant or be tempted by power” (Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Indian Express, 16 December 2021, p.14). It is also true that good and bad coexist in the same person. And this is true for people of all religious traditions. Every religion has shining examples of sincerity, moral credibility and adherents who follow a grammar of constructive action. The problem is when collective narcissism comes in the way of basic human decencies and violates the terms of social contract that honors the basic dignity of the individual.
One can be perfectly free to speak about a country’s population in terms of minority or majority. But by that the country, especially a country with democratic system, does not belong either to minority or to majority. I have had to often correct people who, unconsciously, speak about “a Christian country”, “a Muslim country” or “a Hindu country” when they actually wish to point out the country’s majority population which belongs to a particular religion; following that erring logic, human rights are said to belong to or considered prerogative of only the majority or the minority. India is a nation which has people of many religions. Thus, India is also the nation of Christians or Muslims or Hindus or others.
Attack on one individual is necessarily attack on all people. Arbitrary, capricious and unrestrained attacks on Christians need urgent attention of all citizens of India. “Heart, Head and Hands” need to be put together by all bona fide citizens of this great nation in order to resolve the increasingly bitter plight of Christians in India.
The reports of attacks on Christians are widely circulated and to say that the Christians are sad about this news is an understatement. The increasing incidents of attacks have been reported to have taken place just before and during the festivities of Christmas. While the main stream media has not completely avoided covering the attacks, they have rather fallen short in giving a thorough investigation of the attacks. This is intriguing and disturbing to say the least. Moreover, attacks have been reported mostly in areas where Christians are in tiny minority and their material and social conditions seem to be poor and they are vulnerable and defenseless.
In some cases, we read that the police do register the complaints but often nothing much happens afterwards. In other cases, those attacked are reported to be at the mercy of the attackers. This situation is frustrating and is causing anxiety, anger and even, a sense of helplessness. To add to it, the fear of covid-19 keeps threatening the lives of people who have also suffered brutal attacks. Laws in the name of ‘freedom of religion’ are being imposed during the pandemic in some more States.
How are the Christians to respond to this crisis? Those living in big cities or towns with sizable number of Christians do not seem to be aware of the news of violence against Christians. Even those aware of it do not know how they should respond, especially in this precarious situation of covid-19 as it has brought movement to a standstill; people find it almost impossible to move in order to provide help to those who have been attacked. In a number of cases, the reports fail to give details of who are attacked, for what reasons, by whom, etc. Those concerned wanting to do something feel helpless.
The attacks, harassment and violence against Christians should certainly not pass before our eyes as a newsreel on TV; it should not be ignored by our passive and impersonal observation as if to just watch and wait. However, seeing the complex situation, one asks what exactly needs to be done to bring this insanity under control. Who is to do that?
Peace and reconciliation are the key words and historical context in which God’s story of love unfolds and it is popularly celebrated as Christmas. But how do we celebrate peace and reconciliation with those who attack us? Even the Vedas and the Upanishads speak of Peace and Reconciliation: “Never a brother may hate brother or a sister hate sister, united in heart and in purpose commune sweetly together” (AV III, 30, 4); the Sanatana Dharma emphatically teaches that “there can be no earthly peace if there is discord in Man’s inner being” (AV XIX,9).
Is there no way other than to counter attack those who attack? Or is one to just naively yield to every attack? What appeal can be made to the consciences of those who attack the innocent by referring to the Constitution of our country? There are voices that speak and write about the attacks in protest but are they eye witnesses to the plea of those who have been attacked? May be there are some who have been discreetly and, for the good of the victims, active in representing the plight of the victims in order to protect them by making efforts to bring peace and reconciliation in the tensed situations but have they to shout about it from the housetops?
Naming the enemy would not only need courage and bravery but also enough guarantee to establish facts, not only of attacks but also for legitimate reasons the victims were attacked (granted that no justification can be made for attacking anyone). Together with this, one cannot simply pose to be clean, guiltless and innocent, to stand in the court of law. As Christians we cannot ignore to self-examine and search for our motives in doing acts against which the attacks have been made. It is difficult to present attacks as hatred of one religion against another; however, we all tend to use, even unconsciously, ideological framework to perpetuate hate.
Instead of getting hooked to the worst kind of politics which provokes indiscriminate attacks on Christians or other vulnerable groups, is it not possible to be enlightened by the “Better Kind of Politics” which Pope Francis suggests in Fratelli Tutti, pp. 73-82? Otherwise, one hating the other can create a never-ending chain of hatred which will eventually lead to “a tooth for tooth and an eye for eye” situation. Are we closing the doors to dialogue altogether (to which the Church is irreversibly committed) with innumerable Hindus of good will when we get trapped into a game of hatred?
But the question remains: How to come out of this intolerable situation? What is the solution? Use of power for us Christians is ruled out for external and internal logic of our faith. Submissive attitude does not resolve the situation. Perhaps, it may be time to do a deeper reflection on our own understanding of our faith, history and right approach to freedom of propagating the Gospel. True Religiosity is a quest for Truth, “Who” might have found us, but to pretend to own the Truth ourselves could be a hypocritical assumption and a provocation for trouble. In the absence of an authentic Religiosity, we would merely debate intellectually and argue endlessly. One of the ways out of this situation is to take the like-minded people of good will with us and carry out the “dialogue of collaboration” together, for the real issue is not the symptoms but the root, the heart that needs metanoia.
Beginning with us Christians, we must admit, that the term “Christians” is not a clear, analogous and precise term. I do not wish to say that it is ambiguous. But the term has been taking different nuances especially in our times. Do we really know all those who call themselves Christians and exactly what they believe by that claim? A good bit of my life has been dedicated to Ecumenism (A small book of mine on this topic has just been published a few days ago by ATC, Bangalore). Presently, a priest who left the Catholic Church a few months ago, has founded a Church of his own and has installed himself in the territory of our local Church, making alluring propositions to the Catholic flock. Obviously, we all possess right to freedom; but let us not ignore the unethical methods of spreading the Gospel by some of us (Cf. “Christian Witness in a Multi-religious World”, jointly signed by Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, World Council of Churches and World Evangelical Alliance, 2011). There appears to be also a “market-driven” preaching of religion. My point is that no human person should be attacked; however, no human person should indulge in activities which impinge the freedom of others, especially those who are emotionally vulnerable.
The language of “them” versus “us” can be not only risky but it can also be unbecoming of us Christians. Those who use such language often end up demonizing the “other”. If we wish to solve the problem, we cannot speak in these judgmental and excluding concepts and terminology.
India is a Secular Democratic country and as Christians we must be law abiding citizens who should seek ways to concretely prove that our legitimate rights are respected. When we are denied our rights, how do we prove that? The problem might have been aggravated and accelerated during several governments, but the accusation of “forced conversion” is not new only to one government, is it? How can we represent our case to the judiciary at its highest national level?
Obviously, distorted reading of history of India is another topic to be carefully studied and reflected upon by Christians. One thing is clear that the attacks are not sporadic but the predictable regularity appears to be systematic, planned and executed with minute precision. There have been representations made and responses are given from both sides. However, this has been more an argumentation, charged with anger and aggressiveness in most cases.
In contemporary India the miniscule 2.3% Christian population has undeniably been stigmatized or typed as the ‘other’. Public intellectuals must counter regime-sponsored historians’ compromise to ensure that revenge and domination DO NOT become the guiding path.
I wish to conclude this reflection by citing once again a cry of a powerful King (of Brhadratha): “I am like a frog in a dry well. Lord, you alone are our refuge, you alone are our refuge” (Maitri Upanishad 1,4 (# V 18).