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Saffronization of Secularism

Julian S Das Julian S Das
20 Dec 2021

There has been a lot of talk and fanfare around the Prime Minister’s inauguration of Kashi Vishwanath corridor, flashing the event with unprecedented live coverage on national electronic media; some media outlets claimed this as one of the greatest achievements of the Prime Minister, who restored the dying Indian civilization to its pristine nature.

The legislators in some states of the subcontinent think that one of their greatest enemies is Christianity, and they would go to any extent to attack Christianity tooth and nail, bringing all allegations against the missionaries and their institutions.

The frantic attempt by the Karnataka Assembly to bring in anti-conversion Bill, so that those who convert people by offering favours could be brought to book. The sword-wielding man interrupting services, caught on the CCTV camera in the same state is not enough evidence for the state machinery to know and understand that passing such Bills, targeting a minority religious group, may only unleash unlawful activities given legal protection and amnesty.

But the picture is larger than we may have imagined. No wonder, the government had to spend Rs. 800 crore in order to complete the renovation of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, which the Prime Minister inaugurated on December 13, and took holy dip in the Ganges. There are several other “holy” projects lined up, in order to exorcise alien religions and establish the ‘sanatana dharma’.

The sporadic violence on Christians across the country is a disturbing phenomenon, and though they may appear to be isolated events, if looked at from a different perspective, we would realize that it is part of a well-calculated, minutely-manicured attempt to sabotage the emancipation of the voiceless, empowerment of those who begin to claim their rightful place in society. Behind the well-orchestrated slogans, selectively chosen from the Constitution of the nation, there is another persona hidden from the masses, behind the sacred curtains of secularism. 

Contradicting Secularism

Living in India makes one believe that we are not in a secular country, where the Constitution reigns supreme; though the Constitution proclaims that we live in a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, how much of secular strands do we observe around, especially when it comes to state and central government programs and functions?

The Prime Minister taking a “holy dip” in the Ganges before inaugurating the Kashi Vishwanath corridor implies that he is the one who is promoting a monotheistic and even monolithic religion and culture, which goes against the law of the land. Where is the image of the Prime Minister as a secular citizen, with no bias towards any particular religion? Would the Prime Minister express such respect and reverence towards the holy places of other religious groups in the country?

Sure, Narendra Modi as a citizen of the country has all the religious freedom, guaranteed in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, to profess, practice and propagate his religious fervour, and that is given to every Indian citizen, but when he is a public servant, he cannot indulge in such acts, which are contrary to the secular values of the country. But he would do anything to win the political support of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Looking at what is happening around, especially how the nation is governed by a handful of men and women, who are convinced that the country belongs to the majority religious group, and the minority groups have to either toe their line, or be gone, wherever they wish, we wonder where we are heading to. There are political leaders who shout the slogan, ‘India is for Hindus’, forgetting Article 25 of the Constitution. If the Hindus are the children of India, then whose children are the Christians and the Muslims, the Sikhs and the Parsis, the Jains and the Buddhists living in India for centuries?

Watering down Secularism

Though the Indian social and political leaders love to shout aloud the glories of the largest secular republic in the world, in reality they do not wish any other religious group to occupy any seat of power and therefore the easiest way they could prevent this happening is to throw mud at them. That is what is making a small group of people to target Christians and accuse them of forcible conversion of Hindus to Christianity.

We would have thought that at least the predominant opposition party in the country, the Indian National Congress, would remind the ruling party, which is working hand-in-glove with religious leaders about the secular fabrics, that keep the nation intact, and condemn any attempt on the part of the government to saffronize the life of people at large. 

Unfortunately that does not seem to happen, as a leader of the opposition party recently revealed. On December 12, while condemning the central government at a rally in Jaipur, Rahul Gandhi is said to have declared, “This is a country of Hindus and not Hindutvavadis.”

Sure, the heir apparent to Congress leadership wished to make a distinction between ordinary Hindus and fanatic, vociferous, men and women who have donned the mantle of the custodians of the Hindu tradition and religiosity, while subtly pushing through their hegemony and autocracy. But what is unsaid, but understood loud and clear, is that the country belongs only to Hindus, and the Hindutvavadis obviously fall under the bigger grouping of Hindus.

The chief of All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Asaduddin Owaisi, reacted saying, “India belongs to all Bharatiyas. Not Hindus alone. India belongs to people of all faiths and also those who have no faith.”

The Union government is happy to promote anything which is in line with the ideology of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their close associates. They would organize special trains to all the pilgrim centres of Hinduism, including the coveted Ayodhya, which came under the control of the Hindu sants, thanks to the parting judgement of the former Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi (who has been amply rewarded for it). There would be several innovative initiatives taken in order to paint all that Indian as Hindu.

There are two things undertaken by the foot-soldiers of the saffron band, demolition of Churches on the one hand and building of state-of-the-art temples, with generous offerings made by the government from the tax-payers’ sweat and blood.

On December 13 came the three-day foundation stone laying ceremony for Maa Umiyadham Temple in Sola area in Gujarat, the home state of both the Prime Mininister, Narendra Modi and the Home Minister, Amit Shah. The Prime Minister had virtually attended the ceremony on the last day, while the Home Minister was present in person to take part in the ceremony. The project is expected to cost Rs. 1,500 crore. Though it is said that the temple campus belongs to Umiya Matiji Sansthan of Unjha, Mehsana, it is understood where the money to build such a monumental campus is going to come from.

What about the Char Dham project, yet another ambitious project of the Prime Minister in order to woo the religious minded Hindus, who believe that visit to the four holy places in Uttarakhand (Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) would help them achieve moksha (salvation), in line with the Hajj pilgrimage of Muslims, and the Holy Land pilgrimage of Christians. The Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojana (Chardham Highway Development Project) was inaugurated by the Prime Minister on December 27, 2016, with a cost of Rs. 12,000 crores.

Malicious Fallacy

It does not require great mathematician or logician to state that the fears and assumptions of the right wing that the Christians are converting Hindus, and could one day overpower them, are unfounded and malicious. Over the past decades, the Christian population in the country has not increased, it continues to be 2.3%. If Christians were converting Hindus, then the population should have increased proportionately over the years.

Recently a WhatsApp message was going rounds and it read: “Must say that these Christians are very inefficient. After converting and converting and converting every Hindu who studied in a convent school, the Christian population of India stands at a measly 2%. Need to do better, guys!”

It is ridiculous that when the Christian population continues to be the same decade after decade, and yet there are serious allegations that Christians are converting Hindus, and therefore they would do anything to stop such forcible conversions.

Looking at the spate of violence on Christians and their institutions, one really wonders if the accusation and allegation of rightwing Hindu fanatics is on Christians converting Hindus; it appears that such a reasoning is only a lame excuse for them to camouflage the real reason, namely the empowerment of simple, ordinary and even illiterate men and women, providing them education and social awakening, which is too much for those on the other side of the fence to digest.

Unfortunately, the media mechanism in the country is such that everyone believes that Christians are trying to convert the whole of Hindu population, but the hidden agenda of those who claim to ‘own’ the country is something hard to unearth.

The latest accusation of the right wing Hindutvavadis in Gujarat tarnishing the image of the Missionaries of Charity in Vadodara of luring young women to embrace Christianity is part of the systemic attempt to spoil the good name that Christian institutions enjoy. It has been proved that even the government machinery is incapable of doing what the Missionaries of Charity sisters are doing in different parts of the country.

Crux of the Matter

It would be too naïve to imagine that the rightwing Hindutvavadis would soon stop all accusations and allegations against Christians about ‘converting’ gullible Hindus, and bring an end to forcible ‘ghar-vapsi’. The part of the strategy which seems to be operative is the establishment of a mono-culture, monotheism (everything centred round Hinduism), and monopolized by a handful of men and women, whose whims and fancies would determine the law and rule of the land. Anyone who thinks otherwise would be termed ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-people’.

Unfortunately, most of the reputed national institutions are being ‘bought’ by the right wing activists who would twist and turn the law to their advantage, to forcibly thrust upon the people the hegemony of the might, who alone can be right.

The spate of violence on Christians is only a ploy to claim superiority over the ‘alien’ religion, though the contribution of Christianity over the past two centuries in the fields of education and health-care is undisputed. We may need to ask this moot question: Did the reputed Christian schools and colleges fail to instill in their students, most of whom are at the helm in the affairs of the nation, a conscience which would go beyond the binaries of ‘we’ and ‘they’?

Ultimately those who call the shots are the ones who determine what is truth and what is untruth; the subordinate officers are to organize things in such a way that even truth would be twisted as untruth and innocent men and women brought to book, not to say the unnecessary harassment and bringing dishonor to those who have committed their lives for the dignity and welfare of the last, the lost and the least.

The words of Gamaliel in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles to the Sanhedrin is the hope which impels the Christians to daringly go ahead with their works of mercy and compassion, come what may: If our work is the work of God, then no power on earth can bring it to an end, not even the vile attempts of the high and mighty, not even the supreme dictators of our nation. 

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