Why cristians are persecuted in India?

In the last few years we hear from the Medias through out the world there is an increased attack on the Christian communities in all over the sub-continent of India.  And often we think why it happens in India because India is a democratic, secular country which was well known for its religious diversity and tolerance. The constitution of the country respects all faiths even if vast majority of its population practice Hinduism. But, Islamism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Parsees, etc had been there in India since centuries. For example, Christianity in south Malabar cost had its inception from the time of Saint Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly, India had a history of religious plurality and harmony.

Therefore, religious intolerance in its present form is obviously a recent development. Well, historically probably the evolution of Buddhism and Jainism might be also a reaction against strict priestly class domination over Hindu society. And may be, for the conflict between Muslims and Hindus, the root goes to the Persian invasion and consequent Mogul rule over age old Hindu kingdoms in India. But an open conflict between Hindus and Muslim societies erupted during the partition of the country into India and Pakistan in 1947 and consequent independence of India from the British colonial rule. The late Father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, through his heroic hunger strikes and principle of non-violence succeeded in dissuading the people from this open conflict. Over the years, the Hindu society always considered the Christian society as friends and a society always stood for great educational values and prominent contributors of educational, health and development of the country. The Christian managed educational institutions and Hospitals services all over the country were acclaimed by everyone irrespective of cast and creed. Christian societies were largely progressive in nature and almost free from the evils of caste systems. Many of the acclaimed Indian personalities had some affiliation to a Christian institution during his formation which kept them bonded to Christianity. More over Christian communities were a peace loving community with a good spirit of patriotism.   

If so, why there is a change of attitude now? Well, the same sentiments are still in the conscious of the majority of the population. It is neither that Christian values in India are changed nor the majority population enjoys any form of religious violence. There is absolutely no change in the peace loving mentality and nature of the Indian majority. Objectively seeing the reasons may be political, religious, social and educational.

Politically, in the democratic process India has a multiparty system but the ‘India National Congress’ was a major party because, most of the veteran freedom fighters fought for the independence of the country under the banner of this party.  But in the nineteen eighties some of the dissidents from this party and a few others together formed another party called ‘Indian People’s Party’ (BJP) with the support of the Hindu fundamentalist groups. The party assured to protect the Hindu culture and nature of the country. We know that Indian people are very religious minded and the major vote banks are the Hindu population and if they can awoke this religious sentiments it is easy to capture the political power. In order to awake these religious sentiments they began to claim some religious temples and shrines of other religions as Hindu property. The worst of it was the destruction of a Mosque in Ayodhya which hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslim community very deeply. And Ayodhya is a holy place to both the communities. The then Central government and the federal government had the full knowledge of the tragedy that would happen but remained silent blaming each other of their responsibilities of protection. The wounded Muslim community began to attack the Hindu communities and the attack and counter attacks are still on. Probably these incidents brought a lot of Muslim fundamentalism also to India supported by neighboring Islamic countries. The above mentioned party with the malicious intention of capturing Hindu votes and coming to power indirectly and indirectly causes troubles for other religious communities and it is obvious that all the attacks on the Christian communities were with the silent support of this political party. And they take advantage of the ignorance, illiteracy, poverty of the vast Hindu majority.

Religiously speaking Hindu society is a society of various casts and class systems where the upper classes are a privileged group in comparison to the lower casts. The lower class most of the time were denied of their human rights and dignity which would even oblige them to work for the upper class with little wages. And certain works considered to be mean were reserved to lower class alone. The status of class and casts were mainly determined by birth alone. The upper class horded the landed properties and remained often very rich also. Initially right to education was only a privilege of the upper caste. They enjoyed every social status and privileges whereas the lower cast remained in utter poverty and most of the time in inhuman conditions. The Christian missionaries began working among the lower castes, began giving them education, making them aware of their rights and socially uplifting them. The missionary schools where a school not only for the upper class but a school for common man. Naturally when people are educated and be aware of their rights they began to question the evil practices of the caste system, demand adequate wages for their labor and raise their voice against exploitation and oppression.  So this awareness in the lowest strata of the society is something irksome to the upper class. Large numbers of people converted to Christianity are from the lower classes, because they find it a religion devoid of caste systems in which their human dignity is better respected and find better scope for education and development.  So this conversion to Christianity is a cause of concern for Hindu religion as such.  

Social situations also are rapidly changing as more people are getting educated. Cheap and bonded labor is no more that easy as earlier times. Many of the educated young men and women began to migrate to cities in search of better work and opportunities. They bring money to the rural areas and began to educate their own children. The traditional rich and powerful began to loose their age old grip of the society. Many times now the lower class began to win the local elections in the local self government, which give way to the traditional governing system where the high castes were the only rulers and judges.  The contributions of the Christian missionaries to this development process are significant.

A part of the Government jobs and job opportunities are reserved for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and even this reservations are extended to other backward castes and women. But these reservations were not awarded very often to these beneficiaries as there were no qualified beneficiaries in these communities. Therefore, these quotas of job oppertunities were also enjoyed by the upper class initially. But time have changed, as the missionary educational institutions began to send out many qualified persons from the lower class, the upper classes are now loosing a lot of job opportunities. Therefore, the only remedy to prevent this situation may be to put obstructions to the growing Christian and missionary influences in the society. A feeling of unnecessary insecurity has also crept in to the mind of the rich and upper class that they are slowly loosing their ground as the untouchables are coming up to the limelight of the society. Probably they have a panic of a possible revolt, a repetition of history.

The Christian educational institutions are most sought after for their quality, dedication, discipline and commitment to the moral values. Often admissions to these institutions are difficult for being very transparent, and when money becomes not the criteria to pass in the quality tests, create problems by the disappointed ones. Most of the time, the authorities of such institutions do not concede to unlawful incentives or pressure. Recently, especially in the central Indian states there is an increased number of attack and vandalism on Christian institutions, mostly educational institutions, for the reason of jealousy and competition. The missionaries from the very beginning know that education is the best means to get into the mind of people and especially educating the children can solve most of the future problems of the society from its manifold evils. And thousands have made a decent living by them. And these institutions are loved by everyone. In the same path, now the fundamentalists also have initiated many educational institutions but the well known old Christian institutions are a block to the survival of them. So the vested interested groups instigate people, or they take advantage of certain situations either to destroy or to malign Christian institutions.  The sad part of the game is that many a times the government is controlled by these fundamentalists and the government remains a mute spectator or indirectly supports them. The accusations often made against Christian institutions are they are used for conversion to Christianity.

Most of the time, Christians are accused of converting other religious people in to Christianity. It is true over the centuries many have been converted to Christianity, but this conversion was not  forced or by incentives as the fundamentalist claim. Because, if any person changes his religion by force or incentives, it is not a true conversion of heart. And without a change of heart there can not be a change of religion. A true conversion of religion requires a conversion of heart and convictions based on personal experiences. The recent survey revealed an increased number in the Christian population which perhaps alarmed the fundamentalists groups. They made it an excuse to make aware the innocent Hindu population as Christianity as a threat to Hinduism in India. But the fact is that this increased number of Christian population is not an individual phenomenon to Christian community alone. There is a growth in the overall population of the country; none of the religious population has decreased either. Therefore, Christians or Christianity can never be threat to any other religious communities in India. 

India is a country fast progressing especially in the field of information technology and the vision of the government is to bring India in the forefront with the developed nations by 2020. People are getting educated and education brings knowledge which is the realization of truth. When people realize the truth they would appreciate what is good in every religion, people, society and culture. May be Indians need a little more knowledge to realize the truth! The forces of evils can not last for ever, and there would be an end to all these present troubles when people become conscious of the absurdities they do out of ignorance. The present suffering definitely is a sign of better future. The glory of India was always its diversity in its rich culture, religious plurality, and social harmony.

Este artículo del P. George Olickal, CM (Parroquia San Vicente de Paúl) se publicó originalmente en la edición nº128 de Mater Purissima (diciembre 2010).

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