4. Over the years there have been attempts to destroy the communal harmony and religious tolerance in India by religious fundamentalist groups. In the pre-Independence era there had been many communal clashes in India. The partition of India itself was based on the fear of the security and possibility of prosperity of the Muslim minority in the midst of a large majority of the Hindus. The communal violence that followed the partition of India sacrificed thousands of people belonging to Muslim and Hindu religious communities. In the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, 2800 members of the Sikh religious community were murdered. In the present Indian scenario the two religious minority groups that have become the target of Hindu right-wing groups are Muslims and Christians. There has been a series of atrocities against them, especially in the last twenty years. The Godhra communal violence of 2002 in Gujarat took the lives of 790 Muslims according to official report while other sources estimate it to be about 2500. The toll of Hindus in the violence was 254. The Godhra massacre of a large number of Muslims was the beginning of a new wave of communal clashes and polarisation of the citizens of the country in terms of their religious affiliation.
5. According to the report of the Human Rights Watch, incidents of anti-Christian violence rose in India following the victory of the Hindu Nationalist Party BJP in March 1998. The acts of violence include arson of churches, re-conversion of Christians to Hinduism by force and threats of physical violence, distribution of threatening literature, burning of Bibles, rape of women including religious sisters, murder of Christian pastors, vandalising Christian educational institutions and desecration of cemeteries. From 1964 to 1996 at least 38 incidents of violence against Christians were reported whereas in 1998 alone, 90 incidents of violence were reported. Graham Staines and his two sons were burnt alive by Hindu fundamentalists in 1999, while they were sleeping in a wagon in Odisha. In June 2000 four churches were bombed; in September 2008 about 20 churches were vandalised in Karnataka. In August 2008 anti-Christian violence that erupted in Kandhamal following the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda, leader of the anti-conversion movement by the Maoists. About 100 people lost their lives, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50000 people displaced. While the government machinery failed to protect the lives of the citizens, the Sangh affiliates went on a rampage, chanting praises to the Hindu gods! A nation that prided in religious harmony and peace showed its ugly face of bigotry, religious fanaticism and intolerance to the entire world. Since Kandhamal, sporadic incidents of violence against Christians have continued as they are seen as a soft target.
6. An analysis of the situation of anti-Christian violence would show that those using the slogans branding Christians as “agents of conversion,” “agents of foreign powers,” “outsiders,” “members of a foreign religion,” “beef-eaters,” etc. are not real votaries of genuine Sanatana Dharma but tools in the hands of those who manipulate Hindu religious sentiments in order to achieve political and economic power and to enslave the poor and marginalized as well as to discriminate the minorities and dehumanize the Dalits.
7. The pattern of violence against the minorities by the Sangh brigades and their affiliates shows that they unleash violence to consolidate their power and expand their base. They use two techniques to establish themselves. Before the election they instigate violence either in the name of conversion or in the name of cultural/moral policing and terrorize the secular and minority groups and galvanize the “Hindu” votes. Once their party is in power the Sangh brigades take law into their hands and let loose violence against secular groups and minority communities to send the message that the latter have to comply with whatever the former dictate.
8. Those who unleash violence against Christians and Muslims are interested in establishing a cultural nationalism which would reinforce caste-system of institutionalized inequality. The Christian commitment to the education and conscientization of the Dalits, tribals and other marginalized in the Indian society is a constant threat to the nefarious plans of the champions of Hindu cultural nationalism. Some of those who are discriminated and treated as untouchables in the Hindu society in spite of laws against such discrimination and dehumanization seek to free themselves from the shackles of oppression through conversion to minority religions. Unleashing violence against the minorities on the one hand and ghar wapsi (return home or re-conversion) project of the Hindu fundamentalist groups on the other are intended to stop the marginalized groups from asserting their inalienable right to live as dignified humans guaranteed by the Constitution.
9. The main challenges the secular groups, Christians, and other minorities – in fact, the Nation itself – face from the Hindu nationalists are the following: hate campaign against the minorities, efforts at creating enmity between majority and minority groups in view of vote banks, falsification of the history of India, saffronization of education, judiciary and politics, labelling the minorities as anti national, attempts to tamper with the secular character of the Constitution, co-opting of tribals and Dalits into the Hindutva stream, and projecting the idea of the Hindu Rashtra.
10. One of the factors that disturb the Hindutva organizations is that though Christians form only 2.3 per cent of the population according to the 2011 census, their institutions occupy the public space quite disproportionate to their number and so exert an uneven influence on society. The Sangh and its allies identify the institutions of minority religions as symbols of their power. Another factor that upsets them is the commitment of the Christians to the cause of Dalits and the marginalized. The educational services of Christians empower Dalits and tribals who in turn resist their subjugation by the so called high castes of Hindu society. The Sangh is afraid that they might lose the vote bank of Dalits, if they convert to minority religions. Christians are also blamed for the influx of Western culture – language, dress code, food-habits, etc. – into the country. Many do not see that several policies and practices of the nationalist BJP government are actually promoting western culture. In reality, the inflow of the MNCs has brought in more of western consumer values than Christianity might have done. While the Hindutva outfits condemn, on religious grounds, the poor for eating beef, the Indian state is the third largest exporter of beef in the world. This is a blatant contradiction.
11. The Hindutva organizations are, from a psychological analysis, reactionary movements. Their psyche seems to have been hurt by the indiscriminate condemnation of doctrines and practices of Hinduism by Christian missionaries and organisations in the past, which continues today in the practice of some Christian sects. Even though the missionaries had gone overboard in blaming some Hindu tenets and practices, it has to be admitted that many such practices had been dehumanizing and life–negating, particularly for women and Dalits.
12. In the present multicultural and multi-religious scenario, we need to uphold the minority rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India in order to safeguard our religious identity. The minority rights are needed in order to ensure peace, freedom, equality and justice in a pluralistic society. If the founding fathers and mothers of the Indian Constitution had not thought of minority rights, our schools and institutions, which have served the community and the country at large, would have been seen as an unnecessary tumour to be cut off. These rights are to be sought not merely in the religious sphere but also in the cultural and social spheres. Having said this, we need also to fight for the right to reservation for Christians and Muslims of scheduled caste origin. We need also to retrospectively examine whether we have misused the minority rights in not promoting effectively the marginalized Christians in our institutions.
13. However we should not look at the minority rights as an excuse to live with a ghetto mentality. The minority rights are envisaged by the Constitution so that the richness of ethnic, linguistic, cultural and social groups is maintained for the wellbeing of the whole nation. Hence in the exercise of their rights the minorities must take care to reach out to the other communities as well. Christians need also to join with other minority communities in their fight for economic and social justice. It is good to remember that our identity and existence are inseparably linked to the reality of the majority community. Hence our exercise of minority rights should not be detrimental to the interest of the nation but must be in line with the common good.
14. The present Church response towards the Hindutva forces can be described as mixed. Some Christians and Christian communities live with a feeling of fear, helplessness and anxiety about the future. It prevents them to be pro-active and get involved in common social and political issues. Since Christians in general lack in social analysis, they are not aware of the hidden political agenda of the Sangh affiliates. Some because they are too naive or for ulterior motives show a readiness to be a part of the Sangh agenda. For instance, in Goa and Kerala, where Christians form a sizable section of the population, some Christians have allied with the BJP in the name of maintaining peace and political stability.
15. The positive side of the story is that, in spite of opposition and persecution from some quarters, the Church has continued with her mission of service to the nation in various fields such as education, health care, socio-economic development and also empowerment of weaker sections. In addition, the Church agencies have been prompt in extending immediate relief and providing long-term rehabilitation to the affected during natural calamities like floods, droughts and earthquakes. In its humanitarian services, the church does not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or race.
16. We have to assert our identity as Indian Christians but always in dialogue with other religions. The present challenges may also be seen as an invitation for introspection. Our lifestyle, theologies and worship may be brought closer to our Indian culture and ethos.