HOUNDING CHRISTIANS!

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HOUNDING CHRISTIANS!

‘The Quint’ (3 January 2022) has an article ‘Events on Christ will end with “Jai Sri Ram”: Behind Church Attacks in Haryana’. The article speaks about the slew of anti-Christian attacks in Haryana during the Christmas Season. It details a Christmas Celebration of some followers of Jesus in Kurukshetra which was disrupted by the goons of the local Bajrang Dal. The article goes on to quote the threat of the so-called convenor of the Bajrang Dal who says, “consider this Bajrang Dal’s warning in clear words, if something like this is attempted again, we will deal with you properly. This time, we didn’t say anything to you, but next time, we won’t spare you!” Strangely enough that in spite of the group disrupting the event, tearing down the decorations and terrorizing the people present (especially little children) the local police have nothing about the incident – conveniently stating that “no one has filed a complaint!”

Christians in India were looking forward to Christmas 2021 after being unable to do so in 2020 due to the pandemic! However, instead of being a Festival of love and peace, of joy and harmony – the Christmas festivities – both spiritual and other were disrupted in several places and particularly in BJP ruled states. The Christians of India have always been a ‘soft target’. In their ascent to power since the late 1990s the BJP and their ilk in the Sangh Parivar- have systematically hounded the community in different ways. Some media have now carried stories which include, the ‘bogey’ of forced conversion, Karnataka Legislative Assembly passing anti-conversion legislation with plenty of false allegations against the Christians, the desecration of sacred objects, the attacks on Christians and their places of worship and institutions, the myriad threats, intimidation and harassments, the spreading of the canard. All these are part of a wider game plan to polarize the majority community and put Christians in a bad light! This past month of December – just before, on and after Christmas – has seen a surge of this orchestrated campaign against the Christians.

The Year 2021 will certainly go down in the annals of Indian history on several counts. From the second wave of COVID-19 which took a toll on lives and the livelihood of the poor and the marginalized to the Omicron that is already creating havoc. From the world’s biggest and longest protest by the farmers (they were victorious in the end) to the skyrocketing prices on every front. From the incarceration of human rights defenders to the death of Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy. From the systematic pillaging of our fragile ecosystems to the wanton looting of our forests and other natural resources. From the mainstreaming of corruption to the exclusion of vast sections of the population. India has seen it all – plummeting to unbelievable depths in every global survey on the social, political and economic front!

The worst, however, was the way religion was abused and minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, were hounded throughout the year. The last two months saw an increase in the attacks on these two communities. Any thinking citizen of India would wince even at the thought of these attacks. India today figures in the ‘Hall of Shame’ in the international arena with some of the top international print and electronic media reporting the happenings. For a democracy wedded to secularism, for India the year 2021 is a painful reality with an uncaring and callous Government at the helm!

What is happening in India to Muslims and Christians is on face value, an attack on minorities. In reality, it is much more than that. It is primarily the polarization and the consolidation of majoritarianism. These attacks also defocus from the real problems which the country faces: abject poverty, rising prices, growing unemployment, suicides by farmers and casual labour, pollution, environmental degradation, an economy in the doldrums, lack of governance and much more! Falsehood, half-truths and ‘feku’isms are lapped up and propagated by the godified media, the crony capitalists and the ‘bhakts’ who have very little intelligence and objectivity. This however pays rich dividends at the polls. We have seen this happening in Gujarat and in several other states. In a typical Goebbelsian manner, “tell a lie a thousand times, and people will start believing in it!”. The perpetrators of these heinous acts always do so with impunity, knowing fully well that their mentors from the Prime Minister below will give them the immunity and security they need! In the end, the road is clear for the destruction of the Constitution and the total establishment of a fascist state!

A very convenient and effective strategy of fascists and dictators from time immemorial is to denigrate, demonize, divide and destroy the other! The targets are always the minorities and other vulnerable sections of society. These groups just do not have a place in their scheme of things. This is also true when the ‘others’ are those who dissent, those who do selfless work which they are unable to do or simply those they are unable to deal with! At times, they are ignored and at other times, they are made to feel as though they are a major burden in the country, they are incarcerated and even killed. The Muslims are regarded as “terrorists” and those who indulge in “love jihad”. The Christians “are out to convert you” -are the familiar false platitudes that are dished out. They are ‘anti-nationals’! It does not matter if there is no evidence to prove their point; their lies sell! Sadly, even so-called ‘intelligent people’ fall into this trap and of such ‘bogeys!’ It is exactly the way Hitler exterminated the Jews, the Catholics, the gypsies, the nomads, the homosexuals, the writers and the poets of his times.

The Missionaries of Charity (MCs- the sisters and Brothers Congregations founded by Mother Teresa) are high – up at the receiving end of this viciousness and vilification!

Mother Teresa is an icon today all over the world; an embodiment of charity, a Saint – revered today by millions all over. Her legacy which is continued selflessly today by her Missionaries of Charity is the highest of Christian Charity, reaching out to the dying destitute, the poorest of the poor, the orphan and widow, the unloved and rejected, the lost, the lonely, the last and least, irrespective of one’s religious belief! False cases are now foisted on the Sisters like that of ‘ forced conversion’. The latest has been the many twists and turns regarding the FCRA (Foreign) accounts of the MCs. Initial reports state that their accounts were frozen. However, an MHA communique states that their FCRA was ‘not renewed due to non- compliance’ (whatever that means). Both National and International media have given wide coverage to this.

The MCs care for thousands of the rejects of India: day in and day out without counting the cost. Stopping or even temporarily suspending the flow of funds to the MCs, in simple terms, means, depriving the poorest of the poor in India- humans whom no one cares for – the basic humanitarian needs of shelter and food- not to mention the acceptance, warmth and love which they desperately need and which the Sisters and Brothers give them so ungrudgingly. The Government needs to reconsider this inhuman decision and restore the good name and work of the MCs. There may certainly be some laxities or shortcomings (no one is contesting that). If so, the authorities must help the MCs to rectify/ address them; and above all, to ensure that those who are cared for in the MC institutions are not deprived of this basic humanitarian assistance! The good work of the MCs is there for all to see! It is an open fact. They make the nation proud!

Celebrated media personality Rajdeep Sardesai in an article (dtd. 31 December 2021) ‘In 2022, a prayer for a better year for India’ which is going viral says he prays for, “An India where no religious or political leader from any community is allowed to get away with hate speech or incitement to violence; where the atrocities of Aurangzeb in the 17th century should not determine the fate of the Indian Muslim in the 21st; where scars of past animosities can’t become the template for an India of the future; where the electoral battle shouldn’t be over who rebuilds how many places of worship, but who builds how many quality schools and hospitals; where mobs who break into church halls are seen as criminals who must be prosecuted; where the real battle is not between Hindu and Hindutvawadi but between constitutionalism and anti-constitutionalism; where the State stops intervening in personal freedoms; where what we eat and drink, who we marry, how we pray must remain a matter of fierce individual choice”.

Sardesai hits the nail on the head. What is happening in India today is not merely about Christians and Muslims but it is about the heart and soul of India: our Constitution. It is about our pluralistic fabric wedded to secularism. It is about justice, liberty, equality and fraternity! About the values and rights enshrined in our Constitution particularly in today’s context Articles 19 and 25! It is about democratic space which is shrinking day by day. Ordinary citizens are made to become reactionaries! Fear creeps in – as people wonder if they will be the next targets! This will not help in the long run: for the future of the country and for the next generation! We the people of India must come out: take a visible and vocal stand at all the rot happening in the country. We owe this to our children. Fascists thrive and succeed when the majority are silent!

The Catholic Church authorities in India (barring a few exceptions) have been ‘officially’ very silent on these recent attacks Which is very unfortunate. It is imperative that the Church shuns all ‘diplomacy’ and demonstrates the prophetic courage to speak out for the Constitution and for the people of India. In his message for the 55th World Day of Peace (1 January 2022) Pope Francis reminds us that, “As in the days of the prophets of old, so in our own day the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth constantly make themselves heard, pleading for justice and peace,” He also gives a directive, “To government leaders and to all those charged with political and social responsibilities, to priests and pastoral workers, and to all men and women of goodwill, I make this appeal: let us walk together with courage and creativity on the path of intergenerational dialogue, education, and work. May more and more men and women strive daily, with quiet humility and courage, to be artisans of peace. And may they be ever inspired and accompanied by the blessings of the God of peace!”

The words of the German Lutheran pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller come to us as a powerful reminder so often:

First, they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

But are we listening? Do we have that prophetic courage to act now?

The Author -Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/ writer.


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