Groups of people taking law into their hands do not augur well for any society or country. It will only lead to lawlessness.
The leniency shown by the BJP governments towards the vigilante groups, particularly the cow vigilantes, has encouraged other groups to resort to the same method to express their anger. Mob lynching suspected child lifters in Jharkhand while the police remaining helpless, is the result of the failure of the governments to deal sternly with the vigilante groups.
This pernicious tendency appears to be spreading to the South Indian states. A mob of 100 villagers vandalized a newly built church, Our Lady of Fatima Church, Kundappally village near Hyderabad on May 21. It is heartening to note that the police took action and arrested 22 persons in connection with the case.
According to Archbishop Tumma Bala, who had blessed the church on May 13, the attack could be a reaction to the aggressive preaching by the leaders of the Pentecostal groups in the area. “The Pentecostal preachers are going around villages condemning other faiths, telling people that they are not saved except in Christ and converting them. It is creating trouble for the Catholic Church,” said the bishop as reported by UCAN India on May 24.
An analysis of the incident brings to the fore that the Church authorities are equally responsible for the disharmony and the bitterness created among the people of the village. According to Anantha Chary, the investigating police officer of the case, George Reddy, the lone Catholic of the village, had donated land to the Church authorities for church construction. He applied for permission to construct a church, but never was given ‘go ahead’. According to the report published in Matters India, George Reddy had taken permission from the authorities to build a mini-function hall but later started to construct a church, which irked the villagers. The villagers had objected to the construction of the Church two or three times. That is why about 100 villagers under the leadership of the Gram Panchayat Sarpanch attacked the church and vandalized it.
It seems that many bishops and priests are not aware of the socio-political changes that are sweeping the country under the BJP regime. Conversion has been an issue that is profusely used by the Sangh Parivar and the BJP to polarize the Hindus. After the BJP came to power at the centre, within one year many attacks took place on Christian institutions and churches in the North and Central India. The BJP is trying its best to expand its footprints on the Southern states and naturally allegation of ‘conversion’ is one of the tactics to be used by it in order to achieve its goal. Against this backdrop the authorities in the Church are to be cautious not to alienate the people so that they might not be used by the BJP.
First of all there is no need of a church building in a village where there is only one Catholic family. Secondly, shortcut was used to construct a church in the village. If the report is true, permission was given for constructing a hall, but a church was built in spite of the opposition from the villagers and it was inaugurated solemnly by the bishop. Hence the construction is illegal. According to the Gram Panchayat Act any construction in the village requires permission and approval from the Gram Panchayat and Gram Panchayat has the authority to remove any illegal construction, following the due process of law. It appears that the Church authorities have erred in constructing the church building without getting proper permission.
The Church authorities should have entered into a dialogue with the people of the village and waited till they got the consent and even support of the villagers. What was the hurry to construct a church in a place where there is only one Catholic family? There are many villages in the North India where Mass is celebrated in the families in the absence of a church building.
Obsession with building churches and erecting statues is causing a great harm to the Church in India. Church is primarily an assembly of those who follow Jesus and hence a community. It is not necessary to construct a building for the community to meet. The community can meet at any place and strengthen the communion. What is important is building communion both within the Christian community and between the Christian communities and communities of other Faiths. It is an anachronism that expensive churches are built with foreign aid for the poor Christians, many of whom do not have a pucca house. Often such church buildings become causes of alienation of other communities from the Christian community.
My first appointment as a priest in 1978 was in an interior village in Sagar diocese in Madhya Pradesh. There was no Catholic family in that village, but my predecessor had built a church of 60 feet long and 30 feet wide with the contribution received from abroad. Four sisters and I were the only people to make use of the church and it was used only one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. I found it a huge underutilization of a building. I put a partition in the church and used a portion of it for conducting adult education class for the youth of the village. In fact, at many places where the Christian communities are small only multi-purpose halls are needed. The same building could be used on Sundays for worship and on other days for organizing various programmes for the benefit of the people of different faiths. Thus the building can become a means for fostering harmony and unity among people of different faiths.
It seems that the Church in India has not learned any lesson from history. The missionary approach of the Churches in India before and after independence focused mainly on creating Christian communities among the tribals and dalits. Thus the village communities were divided into Christians who often became the minority and non-Christians the majority. The Christian families often got from the church financial and educational benefits, which created envy among the non-Christians and this discontentment among the non-Christian dalits and tribals were exploited by Sangh Privar groups. As a result the BJP has swept the elections in almost all tribal areas in India. The tribal majority states like Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, which have a significant presence of Christians, have also come under the BJP rule.
All charitable and development activities of the Church institutions and organizations are branded as inducements for conversion. Construction of church buildings in predominantly non-Christian areas often leads to disharmony among the different faith communities. If the Church is to be relevant and influence the wider society it has to liberate itself from its obsession with building churches and erecting statues. It has to focus on continuing the mission of Jesus for bringing about transformation in the society by becoming salt and light. Preaching about Jesus without living his values is counterproductive. The words Mahatma Gandhi is very pertinent in this context: “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today”. “A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon…the fragrance of religious and spiritual life is much finer and subtler than that of the rose.”
By following the advice of Mahatma Gandhi the Church in India can become an agent of Harmony. The obsession to preach about Jesus is to be replaced with the determination to live the values and principles of Jesus. Preaching without witnessing has done enough damage to the church in India.
#(Published on 05th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 23)