By George Thomas Onlineopinion.com.au , 23 October 2006
The Christian conversion issue
Amid the surge of Hindu nationalism in India since 1998, and especially among the Hindu diaspora in the United States who fund such activities, Christians in India now live in a difficult social and political atmosphere. Missionary conversions of Hindus to Christianity are being targetted by right-wing extremist Hindu politics in India. This is the main rationale for the Hindu nationalist oppression of Christians in India.
Four Indian states, Gujerat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh have passed anti-conversion laws or are in the process of passing such laws which makes it a criminal offence to convert to Christianity for both the converter and the converted. Other states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are getting ready to follow.
In most of these cases, the state governments are run by radical Hindus, and are where persecution of Christians take place. Although the secular, Congress party-led, coalition is in power in Delhi led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, a Christian, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a Sikh, the Hindu nationalist BJP government has already installed its men in key political positions.
The Indian constitution penalises Dalits who convert to Christianity. While India provides special rights and privileges for Dalits, even for those who convert to Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism, these are denied to Dalit Christians.
In Karnataka, the government has targeted Christian charities which are seen as covert fronts for conversions. Many Hindu law enforcement officials are sympathetic to the Hindu nationalist’s anti-Christian cause. They are unwilling to take action against those responsible for attacks on Christians, thereby encouraging further attacks. The anti-Christian Hindu agenda is exemplified in the various postings on some radical Hindu blogs and websites, such as Hindu Unity , Christian Aggression , and The Conversion Agenda .
The anti-Christian Hindu movement is led by the militant Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which has established a network of organisations to mobilise all classes and professions of Hindus. There has been a proliferation of its affiliates and fronts under different euphemisms and acronyms. They have mastered the art of international diplomacy using buzz words such as democracy, human rights and secularism, and found a lucrative source of income from like-minded wealthy Hindus in the American and European diasporas.
Hindus in US, Christians in India
Of the US population of 300 million, Christians constitute 230 million or 77 per cent, with another 20 per cent of Christian background identifying themselves as Atheists and Agnostics. Jews constitute 4 million or 1.3 per cent, Muslims 1.6 million or 0.5 per cent, Buddhists 1.5 million or 0.5 per cent, Hindus 1 million or 0.4 per cent.
Hindus are insignificant in numbers but they have prospered enormously in the open and tolerant American Christian atmosphere. About 1,000 Hindu temples have been built throughout the US, many of them highly visible, monstrous-size, constructions in Christian neighbourhoods. They are for the purpose of in-your-face Hindu power rather than for Hindu worship. Unlike Muslims and Buddhists in the US, Hindus are trying to change the physical Christian face and character of America. Indeed, these Hindus are resentful and contemptuous of Christians, Christianity and Jesus.
Now consider the treatment of Christians in India by Hindu nationalists. An increasing number of Christians in some of the states of India (Gujerat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in particular) are fearful of going to church, fearful of being discovered as Christians. Not only have they been attacked for being Christian, but when they try to hide their Christian identity, they have been arrested. Such Christians have started to change their Christian names to Hindu names for security.
According to the Indian census of 2001, the total population was 1.028 billion. Hindus (including Scheduled Castes and Tribals) numbered 827 million or 80.5 per cent, Muslims 138 million or 13.4 per cent, Christians 24 million or 2.3 per cent, Sikhs 19 million or 2 per cent, Buddhists 8 million or 0.8 per cent and Jains 4 million or 0.4 per cent. "Others" numbered 6.6 million or 0.6 per cent.
But the Hindu numbers and percentages are misleading. About 25 per cent, or 24 million, of those Hindus belong to Scheduled Castes and Tribes. About 40 per cent, or 400 million, are "Other Backward Castes”. About 20 per cent, or 200 million, are religious minorities leaving only 15 per cent belonging to the three upper castes. Consequently the anti-Christian Hindu nationalists come from the three upper castes who constitute about 10 per cent of the total Indian population of 1.1 billion.
Hindu persecution of Christians
Since the BJP came to power and their supporters in key positions of the Indian Government, Christians have been attacked and persecuted. Pastors are being intimidated and attacked, churches are being damaged or destroyed; Christians are made to feel unwanted and live in fear.
Hindus have made great contributions in business and technology in the US, but so have Christians made enormous contributions to India in the all levels of education and in social and humanitarian work among India's impoverished masses.
Christians and Christian institutions are violently attacked several hundred times each year. A landmark event was the case of the Australian Graham Staines and family. Graham Staines, 58, and his sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, were burnt alive when Hindu fascists doused their jeep in which they were sleeping with kerosene and set it ablaze. When the three terrified occupants tried to break out of the vehicle, the Hindu mob pushed them back into the burning inferno. Staines' crime was that he had devoted 34 years of his life to serving lepers in India.
Nuns have also been gang-raped.
These attacks occur in states where Hindu political parties are in power.
Hindu attacks on Christians in India have increased dramatically during and after the rule of the BJP Government in 1996. There were 109 attacks against Christians in Gujerat in 2001 alone and 155 attacks against Christians in the rest of India – a total of 264 attacks in 2001.
The role of the BJP is obvious. Implicitly or explicitly, the BJP which was in power at this time, provided the political and criminal atmosphere for these assailants to act against Christians with impunity and immunity. The following sample case provided by Compass Direct News, an American Christian watchdog, illustrates the problem:
When four tribal Christians in Toranpada village, Maharashtra state, asked for help following an attack by Hindu extremists last month, police responded by taunting and kicking the victims, then filing charges against them. The four converts filed a complaint at the local police station immediately after the attack. When they returned on June 15 to ask what action had been taken
, one police officer told them, “Ask Jesus to call me on my mobile phone”.
Three police officers then asked for a demonstration of prayer. When the four Christians knelt down, the officers kicked them and taunted them. The officers then filed charges against them for breaching the peace. (July 6, 2006)
Christian education in India
Compared to other religious groups, Christians are highly literate (men have a literacy rate of 80.5 per cent and females are 76.2 percent literate). They are mostly part of the educated middle class. The literacy rate for Hindus is 65.1 per cent with 53.2 per cent for women; Muslims 59.1 per cent and 50.1 per cent; and Sikhs 69.4 per cent and 63.1 per cent. (From the 2001 Census.)
Christians in turn have provided education at all levels to other religious groups without prosyletisation. By far the best schools and colleges in India are run by Christian institutions, either Catholic and Protestant, where the student populations are more than 90 per cent non-Christian. According to Tahir Mahmoud, an Indian Muslim journalist, “The 2.3 per cent Christians in the Indian population cater to 20 per cent of all primary education in India, 10 per cent of all the literacy and community health care, 25 per cent of all existing care of destitutes and orphans, 30 per cent of all the handicapped, lepers and AIDS patients etc”.
India’s parliamentary democracy and federal systems, its administrative, legal, financial, educational and railway and transport systems, and the fortuitous use of the, now international, English language, are the legacies of British rule. Indeed, India’s existence as a united country instead of a thousand splintered units is the legacy of the British.
Its technological advancement and prosperity today come from Western Europe, United States and Russia, all parts of the Christian world. Hindus have flocked to the tolerance and hospitality of the Christian world and prospered beyond imagination in their education and economic, social and political conditions. Thousands of Hindus have become millionaires and billionaires. Yet many of these overseas Hindus, especially in the US, are supporters and contributors to the Hindu nationalists in India engaged in the persecution of Indian Christians.
The Hindu nationalist threat to Christians
Untouchability (and even “Unseeability” in some parts of India where the sight of these people could pollute Brahmin purity) was a system of both extreme physical and mental enslavement from which there could be no escape in the Hindu social order. Much of this image was rejuvenated and atmosphere regenerated after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained power between 1996 and 2004.
Together with its ideological sponsor, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the growth of its radical paramilitary wing, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), and other radical Hindu organisations constitute a standing threat to the well-being of about 24 million Indian Christians, or just 2.3 percent of the Indian population of 1.1 billion as registered in the 2001 census.
While allegations of mass conversions to Christianity continue, the fact is that the Christian minority population of India has come down from 2.8 percent in the 1951 census, to 2.3 percent in the 2001 census.
The RSS is the most dangerous member of the Hindu nationalist group. They are anti-democratic, anti-secular and fascist in their ideology. The BJP may no longer be in power, but their followers in India and abroad continue to think and act as before. Hindu nationalists believe there is a conspiracy, especially by American evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church, to convert the impoverished and uneducated 300-million strong Dalits to Christianity, thereby transforming the Hindu character of India.
Their concern is not to alleviate the 4,000-year-old plight of Dalits under Hinduism, but only to prevent their conversion to Christianity by all possible means.
Raju G C Thomas is the Allis Chalmers distinguished professor of International Affairs at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His most recent book is as contributing editor of Yugoslavia Unraveled : Sovereignty, Self-Determination, Intervention, Lexington Books, 2004
Author's website: Raju Thomas' Marquette University Page