In the past few years, there have been a series of attacks on Christian missionaries and institutions by some Hindu groups who consider themselves nationalists. The latest one is St. Mary’s College, Vidisha, where Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members forcefully attempted to perform worship (‘aarti’ to Bharat Mata and other goddesses) in the college premises. Thanks to the government for making all the arrangements for blocking the group, but the aarti to Bharat Mata was still performed in the college campus. The deployment of heavy police personnel ensured that the rights of the college take precedence in such situations. But, the question is how long can we go on depending on police protection? Of course, the government should ensure safety of each individual no matter what caste and religion one belongs to. But, at the same time, we as Christians also need to rethink with regard to some of our priorities and policies, and reform according to the ‘signs of the times’.
We are passing through very crucial times. Minorities in India are struggling to make their presence felt. Due to religious fundamentalism in our country, minorities are attacked on various grounds. I am not saying that the whole country is fundamentalist, but there are some groups that consider themselves custodians of religious tenets, culture and nationalism. Fundamentalism excludes others from a particular ideology or religion. It is an attempt of a religion to go back to its fundamental tenets and adapt the attitude of self-righteousness and hatred. Since religious fundamentalism believes in separation and encourages terrorism and violence, the minorities in our country are finding it very difficult to practice and propagate their own ideology and faith. Fundamentalism, in fact, is the exploitation of religion for selfish interests. In this case, the religion Hinduism is being equated with India the country.
Fundamentalism has grown out of fear. Presently, Christianity and Islam, two main religions, along with the Dalit communities, are under attack. Hindus are being instigated against these Christianity and Islam on the grounds that the latter are considered foreign religions. The Hindu fundamentalists consider Christian evangelism as a foreign threat to the nation’s security and integrity. It is alleged that by pushing the western style of market economy and by converting people of other faiths to Christianity, the West is continuing its designs of controlling our nation. But, ultimately, what is in question in India today is the right to believe in any other religion or ideology other than ‘Hindu’. That’s the reason violence in the name of religion is so rampant. Violence against religious minorities is a matter of serious challenge.
Fundamentalism takes its root in Hindutva ideology. V. D. Savarkar in his ideological pamphlet, “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu”, written in 1923, gives birth to this connotation and ideology. Even though not all Hindus agree with this ideology, Hindutva is dangerous and is a great challenge to the democratic framework and secularism of India. This ideology divides our nation not only on the basis of religion but also nationalism. The purpose of this ideology is to gather all Hindus under one nation of political militarisation and evolve social, geographical and cultural unity. It also aims at creating Ekrashtra, Ekajathi and Eka sanskriti. In other words, establishing a Hindu rashtra. According to this ideology, Hindu culture is Indian culture and Hinduism is equated with nationalism. Hindu fundamentalists are trying to establish “Ramarajya” through violence, cultural nationalism, communalism, religious fundamentalism and pluralism. Further, Hindu is the one whose Pitrubhumi and Punyabhumi is India. For those who have embraced other religions, their Pitrubhumi is India but Puniyabhumi is either in Palestine/Israel or in Mecca/Medina. That is why the loyalty of Christians along with Muslims towards India is in great doubt. And this is apparently the reason why Ghar Wapsi is required.
Another book to give birth to cultural nationalism was Guru Golwalkar’s “A Bunch of Thoughts”, written in 1968. This book advanced the idea that all those who are born in India are not necessarily nationalists. Jews and Parsees are thought of as guests in India, but Christians and Muslims are considered invaders. Since Hindus have been kept away from ideology of Hindu Rashtra and positive and inspirational nationalism, there arose the need of purification. In fact, it is a battle with history. This ideology further gave birth to polarisation in the country. Hindutva is currently seeing its high tide as the present government is seen favourable with regard to this ideology.
The purpose of religion is to unite, promote peace and harmony, show the right direction to people, instil religious qualities, and preach oneness of God and humanity. But our experience is different as every kind of violence is either in the name of religion or from a religious perspective. The bridges of interrelation among religions are on the verge of breaking. We Christians need to be either nationalists by joining our hands with the people of above-discussed ideology or we are to show our compassion and dedication towards those who are deprived of their rights. The choice is ours. The path of truth and Gospel values is very difficult in this situation, but we cannot sell our Christian values and be called nationalists by joining our hands with religious fundamentalists and subsequently oppressors.
We have been very successful in the field of education, health and social development. We have reached out to the oppressed and suffering, deprived Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes having preferential option for the poor and needy based on Gospel values. Here are some steps we can take to tackle religious fundamentalism and uphold Christian faith in the present scenario.
a. We need to create a national community along with the people of other religions though it is a very sensitive issue and is connected to politics. Our reactions should be prudent and not offensive.
b. Let us not respond to fundamentalism with fundamentalism. Jesus also was against religious fundamentalism. His works and words flew from His compassion and deep understanding of the given culture and surroundings.
c. What is required of us is adaptation and inculturation. We should do things in a manner that is culturally acceptable. Otherwise, others will go on considering us foreigners. We need to learn the language, idioms, customs and culture of the people among whom we work.
d. Let us join hands with like-minded people in promoting common programmes and values, and raise questions and challenges that are beneficial and of common good. These could be anything that socially and politically affects our nation.
e. We need to develop positive attitude towards other religions and organise more and more interfaith meetings in order to promote communal harmony and brotherhood. We should also refrain from attacking other religions with words and respect pluralism and diversity of cultures. I think there is no harm in participating in common festivals.
f. We should avoid and refrain from propagating cultural imperialism, imposition of our own religion upon others and manipulation of any kind. Let us not use our institutions for any kind of religious propagation through any type of hidden methodology. If anyone wants to join our religion of their own accord, they are most welcome.
g. We Christians should introspect and become self-critical. Then only we can be truly in the service of our nation.
h. We also need to work towards Christian unity. For instance, organising and participating in Ecumenical gatherings will help us in improving our inter-ecclesial relations.
i. There is a great need to pray intensely at home, in the Church, in the neighbourhood, etc. for various needs of our families, nation and the Church.
Whenever there was persecution, Christianity always grew. We need to have firm faith and hold fast to our roots and become life-giving by upholding and promoting unity in diversity. This can only happen when we rethink and review our priorities and policies, and reform for building a new India, a new Nation.
(Published on 15th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 03)