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It is time to debate and decry hard-line religious fundamentalism in Hinduism & Christianity

Dr Nitin Pandey
Attacks on Churches in South India, tribal tensions in Orissa, controversy over school prayers in Gujarat are recent events which make most of us ask one simple question: “Why?”

To an average Indian Hindu Price rise, Corruption and the daily grind of life matter more than the Bajrang Dal’s cry of “Hinduism in Danger”. We are not really worried if a few people here and there become Christians or if someone does not allow Hanuman pooja in a school. Bajrang Dal to a lot of people represents a nuisance value, breaking shops on Valentine’s Day, beating up couples sitting in parks and spending a lot of energy on similar things which seem so very inconsequential.

Hindus and Christians have been living together, peacefully and as friends for centuries. Christian missionaries do wonderful selfless work in the society for which they are greatly admired and respected. Many Indian Christians have been Defense Chiefs, Police Chiefs, Politicians, Doctors, and Engineers and has contributed to the Nation, with the hallmark of selfless dedication. Educational Institutes and Hospitals of International repute are run selflessly by Christian Organizations. A number of us have been educated in missionary schools and are proud of it. So what has happened in recent years that in certain parts of India, this relationship is under strain? Are all these recent events in a way issues between fanatic Hindus and secular Christians or can there more to it?

Is it that Bajrang Dal people just want to go around vandalizing Churches and bashing up people just for the heck of it, or do they have a problem which we must address? We all talk of alienation of Muslims from the National Mainstream and the need to integrate them in it, yet we do not want to talk about the feelings which the so-called “Hindu hardliners” have and the need to address their concerns. We merely condemn them. Why?

Damaging property, disrespecting religious symbols and causing harm to individuals is wrong and must be condemned unequivocally. People indulging in it must be punished. But to condemn them as terrorists and to demand they be banned, without talking to them, understanding them or trying to address their concerns is not fair.

The biggest planned genocide of people in free India was carried out by Congress in 1984, should we brand Congress as a terrorist organization? Can we forget how hundred’s of people were burnt alive on the streets of Delhi? Shiv Sena and MNS in Maharastra indulge in public violence at the slightest pretext, yet no one talks of banning them. The truth is mob violence, however despicable, is not terrorism. Therefore equating Bajrang Dal with SIMI or Indian Mujahideen is not only ridiculous, but grossly anti-national as it elevates the status of these terrorist organizations.

I’m reminded of a story of two neighbors, both having a large flock of sheep. They were friends, used to dine and wine together. One of them would however occasionally go to the others pen, show the sheep there some “good green grass” and then merrily walk back bringing an odd sheep to his pasture. Seeing this from her bedroom’s window, the other friend’s wife would get agitated, but not wanting to spoil the good relationship with his friend, the good natured pot bellied husband would laugh it off, citing the huge number of sheep they anyway had. Do you feel that probably a day will come when the good natured husband will get worried?

Beware of the Politicians
  • On 22nd September 2008 a 60yr Catholic priest and a woman helper were murdered in a village near Dehra Dun.
  • On 24th September, the State Congress party went in a delegation to the State Governor to protest “attacks on Christians”. Without waiting for the police to complete its investigations the Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly Mr. Harak Singh Rawat accused the BJP and RSS affiliated organizations of indulging in attacks on the Christian Community. The State Congress President stressed that the “Christians in the state felt insecure”. Congress spokesperson Mr. Surendra Kumar alleged the BJP government was out to unleash a “reign of terror” in Uttarakhand and demanded imposition of Presidents rule in the State.
  • Two days later the Police confirmed that is was a case of theft and murder, probably committed by their servant, who went missing after the incident.
  • On 26th September the Archbishop of Meerut Diocese, under which Dehra Dun comes, agreed that it was purely a case of dacoity and no religious connotations should be given to it.
  • When will our so-called “secular” politicians learn not to exploit religion for political purposes?
  • Politicians create and then exploit divisions in society based on religion. All of us must see through them and prevent them from acting as self appointed spokesman for us.
See Photograph of Congress leaders protesting in front of Governor

Seems more like a photo-op to me!
This story reflects the interaction between Christianity and other religions around the World. According to the Christian faith, Jesus commanded all good Christians to spread His word around the world and to bring all souls into the Kingdom of God. This has resulted in Christianity being a missionary religion and has led to situations as in Russia where the Russian Orthodox Church is upset at the Catholic Church poaching upon its domain, in China where the communist party feels threatened by it and in Islamic countries where missionary work is not allowed.

India is a secular country, where while it is legal to propagate one’s religion, it is not legal to seek to converts anyone’s religion by coercion or by offering inducements or by denouncing any religion. A large majority of Hindus and Christians live and work together happily, with the former not really upset at the latter’s showing the “good green grass” to some of their sheep. The “wife” in the story represents the staunch Hindus who get upset but are held in control by the vast majority of tolerant Hindus. However, what would happen when the pot bellied husband realizes that a significant percentage of his sheep are grazing in his neighbors pasture or if instead of bringing small amounts of “good green grass”, his neighbor brought a wagon load of grass or ridiculed the grass of his own house?

While this article in no way condones violence of any kind in any part of the country, we must look at the underlying causes of tension in society. Converting religion of people results in a change of their lifestyle and results in friction in Society if (1) it is done aggressively and blatantly (bringing wagon loads of grass) (2) done by belittling the original religion or (3) if it leads to a significant and dramatic shift in the ethnic composition of society.

Few would contradict the perception that the so-called “fringe” churches do indulge in aggressive, blatant and induced conversions, often portraying Hinduism as a fraud. Self righteous condemnation is not something Christ taught his followers. While we may debate the percentage of such proselytizing churches, because no data has ever been compiled about such activities, we cannot deny their existence and the fact that this leads to social tension.

Writing under the heading “What is happening in Orissa” on the website of Council for World Vision, which is a Global Council for Churches , on the 19th September Rev Dr Joshva Raja says:

“Having said that I will also highlight a few problems that we face within Christian circle. We are also struggling with these television evangelists who keep on attacking other religions and display converts from Hinduism as if they have moved from satanic regime to God's. There are four or five cable channels in India running 24 hours - trying to bring in all these kinds of junk material as Christian message.
There are many radical Christians who create problems and then disappear and then the local Christians become the target of such attacks. Specially nowadays many South Korean missionaries are working in Karnataka - some are very charismatic - claiming to convert India for Christ and so on. Many crusaders are also there to get to their maximum.
Of course we do have many Christian missionaries working among Dalits, Tribal communities and others for more than 20 to 40 years sometimes with a few conversions or without any conversions. But still their care, education and support are provided without any hesitations."

The extent of aggressive nature of some of the fringe churches can be judged by the fact that one such organization, see here has put up a list of all villages of Orissa on internet, with their longitudes and latitudes and the name of Christian organization working in each village. An invitation for “Church Planting” in Orissa can be seen on the website of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ can be seen here, on page 11. The annual foreign donations received by some such organizations are mind boggling: 4.4 crores for Joypore Evangelical Lutheran Church, 2.73 crore for Indian Evangelical Association, 2.3 crores to Orissa Fellowship Ministry etc. For a complete list see this Orissa Government Website.

This can also help explain why there has never been such inter religion tensions in other states which are or have been ruled by BJP, say Uttarakhand, Himachal and Delhi. Bajrang Dal is very active in most of North Indian states yet it has never been involved in violence against the Christian community. The most probable reason is that majority of the Churches in India are Mainline Churches, with excellent relationship with all sections of the society and the aggressive proselytism is absent here.

The role of House Churches, which have been multiplying in North India, needs to be looked into by leaders of the Christian faith. House Churches are a recent phenomenon in India and to a large extent controlled by aggressive foreign donors. The concept of House Churches came up when preaching of the Christian faith was banned in the erstwhile Soviet Union and China. Since in India there is no restriction on establishment of Churches, does opening of such House Churches not portray a prosecution syndrome to the rest of the world? The impression that such House Churches indulge in aggressive proselytism thus resulting in increased tension in the Society needs to be looked into.

Hindus and Christians have been living together, peacefully and as friends for centuries. The recent discord in parts of India is worrying and needs to be checked. The Mainstream of both religions needs to assert itself and check the elements in their own religions which bring them a bad name. Instead of taking a negative stand and indulging in violence, the Bajrang Dal should match the missionary spirit of the Christian religion and do selfless social work in backward parts of India. Violence has no place in India for any cause, however just the cause may seem to anyone. Bajrang Dal must renounce the use of violence and seek legal intervention in cases it thinks money or inducements have played part in conversions. While Bajrang Dal may not be under the direct control of BJP, yet all its deeds and misdeeds will undoubtedly affect the image of BJP among the common people. Similarly, the Mainline Churches of India cannot look the other side when people proselytize aggressively or attempt to vilify Hindu religion. Aggressive proselytism must be reigned in while preaching the Gospel and teachings of Christ.

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From: Thanks for intndoucirg a little rationality into this debate.
Thanks for intndoucirg a little rationality into this debate.

From: Well Regina as you know we stopped doing Halloween when you were young. We didn't stop haivng parties, or even masquerade parties; we just made an effort to change who and what we were celebrating and why.Traditions are hard to let go, unless you have a
Well Regina as you know we stopped doing Halloween when you were young. We didn't stop haivng parties, or even masquerade parties; we just made an effort to change who and what we were celebrating and why.Traditions are hard to let go, unless you have a concret reason for doing so; and when you take something away, what do you add to take it's place? These are questions that each person must answer in their own heart. I just say that whatever you do, know why you do it; and whatever you stop doing, know why you are stopping. I mean really know why. Know the true story behind the tradition so you can explain to your children with knowledge and clarity. Let them know what you are putting in it's place and its signifigance. As you know we made our own family traditons, and we made so many and have so much fun that no one actually misses Halloween.So remember the woman with the turkey in the small pan. Don't just do things because you've always done it that way. Buy a larger pan. LOL My pan is called Jesus.

From: puneet
Do me a favor,search any state of india or nepal with 'gospel' 'mission' like keywords and you will find missionaries creeping up even in very remote location. They hav not yet changed their name but soon they will. This is called cultural invasion. Why is it the duty of bajrangis only to counter it,are u not an hindu? Spread the message to protect the dharma,ur act of balancing will not work anymore. We hav seen more than enough 'neutral' its time to be a hindu.

From: Megha
Hindu - Christian Bhai Bhai!