Politics of hatred has left India bleeding (Comment)

December 30th, 2008 - 4:49 pm ICT by IANS  

The year 2008 can easily be marked as an unforgettable year in the annals of Indian christianity for the simple reason that the Christian community here faced its most trying and testing time in its 2,000 years of history. It is not the case that Christianity had not faced hostility and opposition earlier in India; it did right from the very start when St Thomas, an Apostle of Jesus, came to our shores in the first century to preach the good news: he was martyred by those who opposed to his presence and teachings. However, as in several other parts of the world, Christianity in India did not face an orchestrated and protracted persecution for the most part of the last two millennia. That is partly because Christianity for the first 15 centuries or so was mostly confined to the south western shores of India, the Malabar coast to be precise. It was only after the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries in the latter part of 15th century AD that Christianity began to make its presence felt in other parts of India.

Christian missionaries from other European countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, France and, of course, England followed them in the 18th and 19th centuries, and that helped in making Christianity an integral part of Indian society. Christianity hardly faced any serious challenge from the majority Hindu community, as the latter also enjoyed the benefits accruing from its education and health institutions and other service organisations.

The developments in India for the past two decades, however, have seriously challenged the sense of security of the Christian community; it has faced an unprecedented level of assault on its personnel and institutions across the country, even in those areas where for centuries the community was considered unassailable. A movement to undermine Christianity was begun in the last quarter of the 20th century: the conversion bogey was repeatedly raised in every conceivable platform, use of funds both indigenous and overseas for development by Christian organisations was suspected, minority rights granted to them by the constitution of India were challenged, scores of Christian personnel were subjected to both overt and covert persecution, places of worship destroyed, institutions vandalised and thousands of houses damaged or completed ruined.

The past year was the worst for Indian Christians, for the community faced repeated attacks not just in Orissa but also in different parts of the country, including the southern states where religious harmony was hardly disturbed in the past. In fact, religious harmony was always considered to be hallmark of the social fabric of some of the southern states, but that heritage was thrown into winds by forces that were inimical to the Christian community. One could hardly imagine that unruly mobs could just desecrate places of worship with near impunity as it happened in Karnataka, and even the state administration appeared to be colluding with the marauders as it did precious little to contain them until political and social pressure mounted on it. It was a sad spectacle for anyone with a modicum of conscience to see hapless religious women being dragged and caned mercilessly by the brutal police force, something that a civilised society cannot afford to accept much less endorse.

The story of Christian persecution in the tribal district of Kandhamal in Orissa was the worst tragedy in the contemporary history of Christianity in India. Two rounds of violence against the community erupted within a period of just one year which witnessed large scale violence, death of several people, destruction of houses, Churches and institutions across the district, forced conversion of Christians into Hinduism and threat to life to those who refuse to accept the diktat of the extremist organisations that are purported to safeguard the majority religion in India. Over 40,000 thousand people lost their homes and property, and they became refugees in their own homeland. And the reason: they were Christians.

There is something seriously amiss in India today. The politics of hatred and polarisation has moved from the margins to the centre in the last two decades, and it may have paid some political dividends to some parties. But it has left a nation bleeding, communities insecure and the very concept of a united India at stake. And yet, one can hear, unfortunately though, political rhetoric with insinuation against some religious communities of India which can only add fuel to the fire of disaffection.

While it is a crime to indulge in inflammatory speech, to incite violence against anyone and to denigrate anyone’s faith, one can find such things happening in India with no serious punitive action being taken against the offenders.

Such criminal negligence and leniency on the part of the law enforcing agencies in the country have led us to where we have arrived today. If the victims of social upheaval and violence are those belonging to the minority and socially and economically backward communities, then they have an uphill task to get justice. The implementation of law is often so tardy that the victims are left to fend for themselves.

There is an urgent need for a collaborative effort and cohesive response to the internal challenges that we as a nation face. A strong political will to take India forward with its rich heritage of cultural and religious plurality intact is the need of the hour.

Anything less than that would be tantamount to dissipating our energies and wasting our resources for a futile cause.

(30.12.2008-Rev Dr Babu Joseph is spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI). He can be contacted at bkjoss@gmail.com)

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