Mr. Julio Ribeiro, Retired IPS officer, former DGP of Mumbai and Gujarat recently said: ‘As a Christian, suddenly, I am a stranger in my own country’. He was merely reflecting on the recent dilemma of the Christian community in India since the ascendance of Mr. Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India. It is indeed the anguish of a distinguished public servant who has served the country with great zeal and dedication to protect and preserve its territorial integrity.
Today, scores of Indian Christians who have contributed in so many ways towards the development of India especially in the social and educational sectors are pained to feel the same way as Mr. Ribeiro does!As a Christian and a member of the Diaspora, I truly share the sentiment of Mr. Ribeiro and salute him for his forthrightness in speaking out.
What exactly has happened to bring about such anxiety and insecurity to such a small community that poses no harm to its fellow citizens? The latest reports from India point to two more attacks targeting the Christian religious places of worship, one at St. George Church in Navi, Maharashtra and the other at St.Peter and Paul Church at Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, along with two schools that are managed by the churches. Incidentally, both Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh states are governed by Prime Minister Modi’s party-BJP.
These may have happened at the heel of another incident in Nadia district in West Bengal where a 72 year old Nun was gang raped by six individuals at the Jesus and Mary convent school. Reacting to the gang rape of the Nun, Surendra Jain, Joint Secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) blamed the ‘Christian Culture’ for the incident. He also justified the vandalizing of a Church in Haryana and stated that these attacks would continue if conversions do not stop.
Several Churches in Delhi were vandalized and desecrated by religious extremists in the past months including St. Sebastian Church in Dilshad Garden which was reduced to ashes with its altar charred and Bibles strewn all over the ground. Archbishop Anil Couto said that the arson in St. Sebastian Church was condemnable not just because it was act of sacrilege and hate against the community and its faith, but because it could happen in the national capital which is recovering from a series of communal incidents. Also distressing to him is the sense of police impunity that long hours were lost, and possible evidence destroyed, before police finally came. Most of the culprits still remain at large and the law enforcement officials seem to show very little urgency in bringing them to justice.
These incidents are not just limited to certain parts of India but happening across the country. The recent incident in a village in Chattisgarh reveals the fear and insecurity of those who have embraced Christianity as their faith. Sukhram Kashyap, a Christian from Chattisgarh, has not only seen his church vandalized but was denied food rations from the Hindu dominated village council and several of his friends were beaten up when they protested. Some of his fellow worshippers were reconverted in an aggressive campaign called ‘Ghar Wapasi’ by Hindu fundamentalists who have also banned any Christian clergy from entering the village.
Breaking a long silence on this continuing onslaught by the Hindutva brigade on Christians and their Institutions around the country Prime Minister Modi said the following; ‘the tradition of welcoming, respecting and honoring all faiths is as old as India itself’. One wonders whether his ardent followers in BJP and RSS are listening!
The President of Catholic Bishops Conference of India Cardinal Baselios Cleemis said that the recent attacks on churches and Christians in India have made many ‘feel that their Christian identity is being questioned and it gives a sense of sadness. It showed that not everybody had taken seriously the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to minorities’. ‘Irrespective of their faiths, anybody being attacked was an Indian citizen and it was the government’s duty to protect them’ Cardinal added.
In an interview to Karan Thapar on Headlines Today, Cardianal Cleemis also described as “very painful and sad” the comments of RSS head Mohan Bhagwat that Mother Teresa’s humanitarian works were driven by her motive to convert those she served. “It was very painful and very sad to hear about Mother Teresa whom the nation honored with Bharat Ratna,” he said.
There is no doubt that that Cardinal Cleemis spoke on behalf of all Christians in India that may very well include many of the faithful in the Diaspora. Although he did not single out any organization over many of these incidents but went on to criticize the Modi government for observing Christmas as Good Governance Day, saying good governance should be done everyday and the Christian festival should be respected.
One of the most astounding observations that can be made about these attacks on minorities in India is that there is a deafening silence on the part of the Diaspora in the US. Hindu American Foundation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, and GOPIO along with many other organizations have decided to look the other way. Though relatively new as immigrants to this great country, Indians continue to demand our rightful place, justifiably so, at the table in sharing the riches and defending our values and traditions while not tolerating any injustice that offends our sensibilities. A huge segment of the community has indeed made tremendous strides in this short period realizing the American dream and integrating itself into the mainstream.
However, Christians in India who have lived there for almost two Millennia are made to feel as if they are strangers in their own land. How a personal choice of faith that is guaranteed under the article 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India could make or break the ‘Indian ness’ of its citizenry is beyond the comprehension of any rational mind!
Undoubtedly, the forces of polarization and divisions have come out of the woodwork and kept themselves busy transforming India at the expense of the values and principles of inclusiveness and tolerance that brought the nation together. The current Government’s dual-track policy of providing good optics for the consumption of the global community while unleashing the extremist forces to undo the social progress of the last 65 years, mostly under the Congress rule, is troublesome and disheartening to most of its citizens!
President Obama in his Siri Fort speech prodded the new Government ‘India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith, as long as it is not splintered along any lines and it is unified as a nation’. It sounds prophetic and to plainly put it, unless the Prime Minister reins in these extremist elements that run amok now, his dream of ‘modern India’ could be in increasing peril!