These are excerpts from newspapers from around the world with reports of the anti-Christian pogroms happening now in Orissa. It is incredible to see the responses of educated young Indian Hindus to these articles, many blaming forced conversions (which are alleged inducements given to the converts, such as food, education, healthcare, jobs and so on). Many of these comments justify the killings and the rapes as simply the only way to "reconvert" people to Hinduism.
To add perspective, I have included an astounding article from Shashi Tharoor, which while stating that the allegation of forced Christian conversions are supported only by anecdotal evidence (from dubious sources: addition mine), holds the killing and the killers unjustifiable even if those allegations were to be proved right.
In my view, a minority of Christian missionaries have indeed been aggressive and dismissive of Indian culture, Hindu deities and beliefs in their sharing the faith. None of that deserves such merciless treatment. Even if one were to claim that the killers were uneducated tribals and the trigger was the missionary denigration of their faith, India's shame is that the leaders, the cognoscenti, the politicians, the police, the courts, the people, the religious leaders, et al who have the power to change things... stood by and did NOTHING. What is their excuse?
Besides, unlike what Mr. Subhash Chauhan says (in the NYT article below), it is naiveté to assume that a sustained, month-long mass movement could arise out of spontaneous anger- especially when you consider that anti-Christian violence is nothing new in this region. As before in Gujarat and much before in 1984 when in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination, the anti-Sikh pogroms were aided and abetted by the Congress Party (leading to Rajiv Gandhi's infamous comment that when a large tree falls the earth trembles), a large scale pogrom like this could happen precisely because it was planned and executed by a statewide, powerful body which had a vested interest in killing Christians. If one could point to the swami Laxmanananda Saraswati's murder as having been carefully planned by a powerful body, how much more planned was an operation that rendered at least 100 people dead and 10000 displaced?
The Strange Case of Parikkit Nayak
I was told of a man named Parikkit Nayak, who escaped from the initial surge of violence. Two days later as he tried to flee from his village with his wife and two children, he was caught by a local mob.
They tied a rope around his neck and dragged him along the ground for 400m (1,312ft). Bruised and battered, he was then paraded through the village like an animal and asked if he would renounce Christianity. When he said no, he was cut to pieces with knives, while his young family had to look on.
Manoj, a Young Priest
I met a young priest named Manoj, now in temporary exile, who related the story of his father.
"They came to our house and held an axe to his neck. 'If you stay Christian', he was told, 'you will be killed.' He was taken to a local temple and forced to convert."
"To live in this world today," Manoj's father relates in a letter smuggled out of his village, "we have to live as Hindus."
The young Hindu woman
Even though she herself is a Hindu, she was gang-raped by her grandparents' neighbours because her uncle refused to renounce his Christian beliefs.
She says: "But we won't lie about it. Even if they throw money at our feet, we will continue to tell the truth."
A Victim's Testimony:
One victim's lip quivered uncontrollably as she told us how she watched her brother being burned alive by the Hindu mobs. They came in their hundreds and just ransacked our homes, setting them on fire. If you didn't run away, you were beaten. They told us we could only stay if we converted to Hinduism. Otherwise, they said they would kill us.
A BJP Leader responds:
Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, a BJP politician who runs the South Indian state, blames Christian groups for the violence.
"While Christians and Hindus have co-existed peacefully in the state, there have been unconstitutional and illegal efforts by some Christian organisations such as 'New Life' to forcibly convert or to induce conversion to Christianity," he says, according to The Times of India, adding: "Efforts of such organization include publishing booklets like 'Satya Darshini' in which Hindu gods and goddesses were denigrated. Our constitution provides for freedom of religion but does not permit forcible or induced conversion."
From the New York Times:
Solomon Digal's family:
The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.
They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.
“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”
A Nun's Brutal Rape
Two nights after his death, a Hindu mob in the village of Nuagaon dragged a Catholic priest and a nun from their residence, tore off much of their clothing and paraded them through the streets.
The nun told the police that she had been raped by four men, a charge the police say was borne out by a medical examination. Yet no one was arrested in the case until five weeks later, after a storm of media coverage. Today, five men are under arrest in connection with inciting the riots. The police say they are trying to find the nun and bring her back here to identify her attackers.
Subhash Chauhan:" Hindus By Birth"
Given a chance to explain the recent violence, Subash Chauhan, the state’s highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, described much of it as “a spontaneous reaction.” He said in an interview that the nun had not been raped but had had regular consensual sex.
On Sunday evening, as much of Kandhamal remained under curfew, Mr. Chauhan sat in the hall of a Hindu school in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, beneath a huge portrait of the swami. A state police officer was assigned to protect him round the clock. He cupped a trilling Blackberry in his hand.
Mr. Chauhan denied that his group was responsible for forced conversions and in turn accused Christian missionaries of luring villagers with incentives of schools and social services.
He was asked repeatedly whether Christians in Orissa should be left free to worship the god of their choice. “Why not?” he finally said, but he warned that it was unrealistic to expect the Kandhas to politely let their Pana enemies live among them as followers of Jesus.
“Who am I to give assurance?” he snapped. “Those who have exploited the Kandhas say they want to live together?”
Besides, he said, “they are Hindus by birth.”
Trembling with fear, Daud Nayak, 56, submitted to a shaving, a Hindu sign of sacrifice. He drank, as instructed, a tumbler of diluted cow dung, considered to be purifying.
In the eyes of his neighbors, he reckoned, he became a Hindu.
In his heart, he said, he could not bear it.
Solomon Digal's Final Insult:
Here in Borepanga, the family of Solomon Digal was not so lucky. Shortly after they recounted their Sept. 10 Hindu conversion story to a reporter in the dark of night, the Digals were again summoned by their neighbors. They were scolded and fined 501 rupees, or about $12, a pinching sum here.
The next morning, calmly clearing his cauliflower field, Lisura Paricha, one of the Hindu men who had summoned the Digals, confirmed that they had been penalized. Their crime, he said, was to talk to outsiders.
From the Huffigton Post (Originally Appearing in the Times of India)- by Shashi Tharoor:
Of course, it is easy enough to condemn anti-Christian violence because it is violence, and because it represents a threat to law and order as well as to that nebulous idea we call India's 'image'. But an argument that several readers have made needs to be faced squarely. In the words of one correspondent: could the violence ''be a reaction to provocations from those religions that believe that only their path is the right path and the rest of humanity are infidels?'' He went on to critique ''the aggressive strategy being pursued by some interests in the US to get people in India converted en masse to Christianity, not necessarily by means fair.''
In his view, ''aggressive evangelism directed against India by powerful church organisations in America enjoying enormous money power, has only one focused objective -- to get India into the Christian fold, as they have succeeded, to a considerable extent, in South Korea and are now in the process of conquering Mongolia.'' Arguing that ''mass conversions of illiterates and semi-literates -- and they also happen to be poor, extremely poor'' is exploitative, he concluded: ''powerful organisations from abroad with enormous money power indulging in mass conversion'' are ''a destabilising factor provoking retaliation''.
I have great respect for the reader in question, but on this issue I strongly disagree. I cannot accept any justification for the thugs' actions, nor am I prepared to see behind the violence an ''understandable'' Hindu resistance to Christian zealotry. Put simply, no non-violent activity, however provocative, can ever legitimise violence. We must reject and denounce assaults and killings, whatever they may claim to be reacting to. Our democracy will not survive if we condone people resorting to violence in pursuit of their ends, however genuine and heartfelt their grievances may be. The whole point of our system of governance is that it allows all Indians to resolve their concerns through legitimate means, including seeking legal redress or political change -- but not violence.
Let us assume, for the purposes of argument, that Christian missionaries are indeed using a variety of inducements (development assistance, healthcare, education, sanitation, even chicanery -- though there is only anecdotal evidence of missionary ''trickery'') to win converts for their faith. So what? If a citizen of India feels that his faith has not helped him to find peace of mind and material fulfillment, why should he not have the option of trying a different item on the spiritual menu? Surely freedom of belief is any Indian's fundamental right under our democratic Constitution, however ill-founded his belief might be.
And if Hindu zealots suspect that conversion was fraudulently obtained, why do they not offer counter-inducements rather than violence? Instead of destroying churches, perhaps a Hindu-financed sewage system or paathshala might reopen the blinkered eyes of the credulous. Better still, perhaps Christians and Hindus (and Muslims and Baha'is, for that matter) could all compete in our villages to offer material temptations for religious conversions. The development of our poor country might actually accelerate with this sort of spiritual competition.
What Belies These Articles
Tharoor's article above asks why it should matter if different religions compete in offering material incentives to people? The question, as does every question raised here, belies the fear within Hindu minds. This is not so much about forced conversions, missionaries denigrating their faith, Hindus being concerned about gullible people being fooled by Christian promises or the alleged hand of the CIA in these conversions. After all, if I were a Hindu leader, I would first try to dispel any perceived falsehood by spreading truth, creating grassroots level organizations to counteract ideological claims. I would try to combat any unjust prosyletizing through the legal and political system. Besides, I would also assume that those who claim to have converted into Christianity simply because of material incentives aren't really Christians after all! And if indeed they converted to Christianity due to such gifts, do I consider such fickle-minded folk to be really Hindus? They are simply indifferent to religion.
I'm sure you are shaking your head and thinking how foolish I am. Of course, you are right. This is not about whether these people are simpletons! What is the real reason for leaders dividing communities according to caste, religion, colour, ethnicity, regional allegiance and so on?
This is first and foremost about power. Just as the imperial power of Rome bowed before the babe in the manger in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, Christianity comes to destroy the power of those who seek it for unjust purposes- including those who use Christianity itself to further their own power. Why should we let the politicians have the benefit of doubt by letting them hide their fear of losing power behind their lies? The case of Solomon Digal lays it bare for all it is. Those who have things to hide hate the truth. They fined him for talking about his "forced reconversion." It is the Truth, of course, that sets us free. The smokescreen of lies that tries to hide this fact serves its purpose for the moment. It will soon be revealed for what it is.
As a Christian, I have hope in our God who is our saviour. He is the transcendant one who becams immanent for our salvation. I believe that his incarnation into humanity is the hope for Orissa and India. We too, being incarnational into the situations of those who were hurt and wounded in the cities and villages of India, serving Him, will certainly lead India to embracing Christ. History has proven invariably that violence against Christians will only serve to strengthen Christianity.
Not Done Yet
There is something else to be said loud and clear, and with no compromise. The Hindu nationalist organizations mock such display of sympathy from Christian organizations and individuals, but for the sake of truth and justice in the sight of our Lord, this must be said unequivocally. The saffron brigade claims that the murder of the swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was perpetrated by Christians. His organization claims that they received threatening letters from Christians before the murder. They had requested police protection from the State Government, but were given only 4 baton-wielding constables. As angry members of the Orissa assembly averred, this is clearly a ridiculous response from the Government in a state known for Maoist sympathies, and if the saffron brigade is to be believed, over half of this group in this particular state comprises Christians. The larger Maoist movement is not predominantly Christian, but Hindu- if at all those with such strong atheistic tenets could claim to have any religion. Maoism was described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a few years ago as India's biggest threat. This is after considering competitors to that title such as Islamic extremists, Pakistan, China and so on. If so, the State Government protection given to the swami was criminal. We do not have yet any definitive statements on who killed the swami, except the outbursts by the swami's lieutenants which are good guesses at best. Whoever they were, as Christians, we need to pray for justice to be accomplished, that the killers would be caught, judged and punished appropriately. We can pray for them to accept Christ's mercy, but let's pray for them to be judged by the Indian judiciary. We also need to be uncompromising in our sympathies for this fallen leader and his near and dear ones. The appropriate gesture is mourning. Raising grievances about the swami's activities that may have been provocative are as out of place as the saffron brigade pointing to Christian missions as the cause of the Hindu violence against themselves.
A Final Word on Charities: from the Blogosphere
The above is an article on front organizations of the RSS that collect money from overseas for ostensibly charitable purposes. It is not surprising that this organization accuses Christians of appropriating foreign funds for religious conversion. After all it is easier to accuse someone else and appear innocent when you are misappropriating charitable donations yourself.