Friday, 26 September 2008

More on anti-Christian violence in India

Anti-Christian violence continues in the Kandhamal district of Orissa, as reported by the Times of India, Hindustan Times, NDTV, and the BBC. It has also spread to the south-Indian province of Karnataka, report NDTV and the BBC. Even the top leadership of the pro-Hindu BJP are uncomfortable with the violence, which began when the murder of a Hindu leader (probably by Maoist insurgents) was blamed on Christians. This discomfort is interesting because the Bharatiya Janata Party ("BJP") have a policy of Hindu nationalism. They have no reason to protect Christians, and every reason to suppress conversion.
The Hindustan Times has two excellent editorials on the politics of the area. Here's some gems from Biswamoy Pati

[T]he activities of the [Hindu] VHP correspond to what they accuse the Christian missionaries of doing in western Orissa. Both work to attract and convert people to their respective faiths – something that is allowed under the Indian Constitution. Moreover, both have access to resources — internal and external — to be used towards the uplift of the poor. But then how does one explain the way in which the term ‘conversion’ appears to be synonymous with Christian missionaries?


It is indeed amazing that most of the reports on Kandhamal wrongly assume that tribals are Hindus. In fact, what the Sangh parivar has been attempting in Orissa — their post-Gujarat laboratory — is large-scale conversion of tribals to Hinduism. This is skilfully combined with terrorising sections of Dalits – who had opted to convert to Christianity after suffering social discrimination – to reconvert to Hinduism. This [...] makes the conversion of tribals appear as ‘re-conversion’. And this has been skilfully woven with terror directed against Dalit Christians over quite some time.

Then this, by Kolkata [Calcutta]-based writer Soumitro Das

Conversion [as the] individual repudiation of Hinduism [...] rattles the VHP beyond measure. It means that the tribal or the Dalit in question is no longer bound by any fate or destiny, but is, in fact, a free agent who can transform his life by changing his value and belief system.


The second dimension of conversion is that it is a political act. When, over a period of time, an entire community is converted, it has revolutionary implications.

What does it mean for a Dalit to convert to Christianity? To know that, one has to understand where the Dalit is coming from. He lives beyond the pale of ‘caste Hindu’ society — even his shadow is considered polluting in some regions of this country; the jobs that he does are considered the most filthy — dealing with animal hides
(chamars), disposing of the corpse after cremation (doms) and cleaning the night soil (bhangis). He does not have the right to use a mechanised transport, wear nice clothes, or jewellery. His house is frequently burned, his women are routinely raped. He lives in a night without end.

Then, he finds a God who, like him, suffered excruciating pain, who chose his disciples among the poor and the wretched and gave his own life so that others could find salvation through his suffering. The Dalit also understands that, in the light of Jesus’ story, the Hindus do not seem to have a moral order, that the only thing that counts for them is ritual purity and impurity. Instead of good and evil, Hinduism deals in the categories of ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness. The community, fortified by its realisation that the Hindu world view is only one among many others and not even of the most superior kind, gradually revolts and crosses over to Christianity.

Thus what began as a conversion of an individual ends as a collective revolt against the oppression, the brutality and the inhuman humiliations of caste society. That is what the VHP and the Sangh parivar do not want. They want to crush this revolt.

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