Christmas Carols in the Time of Divisive Politics – Ram Puniyani

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Currently we seem to be witnessing a phase where the cultural aspect of the festival is being attacked to eliminate the syncretism and inter community relations. More than Christmas Carols and Christmas festivities, what is under attack is the pluralism of Indian society!  

PROF RAM PUNIYANI | Caravan Daily

THE month of December not only has the major festival of Christmas but it is also a season of festivities. It is  about bidding goodbye to the past year and looking forward to a prospectively happy new year. The trend however seems to be changing;  those planning festivities related to Christmas and those participating in the cultural practices of this festival are under attack and there is an atmosphere of intimidation around the issue of celebrating Christmas.

In Maharashtra, the Chief Minister’s wife and a BJP MLA was trolled fom promoting an event with the Christmas theme. The carol singers in Aligarh were detained on the charges of forced conversions, while Hindutva groups, the affiliates of RSS spoke against  Christmas celebrations in schools.

Not one to be left behind VHP members in Rajasthan barged in during a Christmas function and disrupted it alleging forced conversions. In Satna (MP), Hindutva group attacked carol singers and burned the priest’s car. These are just a few instances from the list of attacks on the Christmas celebrations all over the country. In all these attacks the offenders are related to groups which are Hindutva right wing in nature.

While anti-Christian activities, many of them violent; have shown an emerging pattern over last many years, 2017 marks a new low. Open Doors the global charity which monitors the treatment of Christians worldwide  produces an annual World Watch List of the 50 most difficult countries for them to live. According to Open Doors, India at number 15 reached its highest ever ranking in 2016. If the current trend continues it looks set to rank higher in 2018. Also, the incidents against Christians in the first half of 2017 are equal to such  incidents in the entire 2016.

Anti-Christian violence has picked up from last two decades in particular. One of the most initial acts in this direction was hacking to death of Rani Maria in Indore (MP) in 1995. The most horrific of this of course has been the burning alive of Pastor Graham Stains along with his two innocent sons by Bajrang Dals’ Dara Singh in 1999, and the Kandhamal violence of August 2008. One recalls that even earlier the observation was that anti Christian violence picks up during the month of December. This trend was perceptible in the violence in Dangs, Phulbani, Jhabua and Phulbani so far. Come December and the atmosphere is rife with scattered attacks against Christians.

The main spread of this violence has been in the Adivasi belt spread fromDangs in the West (Gujarat) to Kandhamal in the East (Orissa). In between it passes through the tribal areas of MP, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. At the same time, the urban organizations have been relatively spared. In these remote areas, Swamis associated with VHP etc. had made their Ashrams or had been active in spreading hate against Christians. A few examples are Swami Aseemanand in Dangs, followers of Asaram Bapu in Jhabua and Lakshmananand in Orissa.

These are the areas where anti-Christian violence has been to the fore and the slogan, ‘Hindu Jago Kristi bhago’ (Wake up Hindus-Go away Christians) has been popularized. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, along with VHP and RSS associates has stepped up the activities and propaganda in these areas during last over two decades. While on one hand the sporadic anti-Christian violence picked up, on the other hand programs like Shabri Kumbhs (Dangs) and Hindu Sangams were organized to mobilize Adivasis’s around the icons of Shabari and Hanuman.

The murder of Swami Lakshamanand and aftermath in the form of Kandhamal showed a pattern of violence. While the Maoists claimed that they had killed Swami, many Christian youths were arrested. The remains of Swami were taken in a procession in the Adivasi areas, and precisely in these areas the violence followed. Incidentally, the anti-Christian violence so far has been more in BJP ruled states. When Kandhamal took place BJP was the ally of BJD in Orissa. This year, all the violence has been observed in BJP ruled states.

The deeper anatomy of violence seems that since the ruling party appears espouse Hindu nationalism, the so called Hindu fringe groups feel emboldened. The attitude of police is generally hostile to the Christians and  Christian missionaries, as the propaganda that the Christians are converting by force, fraud or allurement seem to have percolated far and deep. Many priests engaged in prayer service have been arrested or apprehended on the charges of conversion.

Violence is generally the after-effect of hate, constructed around the propaganda against Christian missionaries. As such taking the law in their hands is the norm for Hindutva groups. What is important is to note that most of this violence is in the Adivasi areas. These are the areas where Christian missionaries have been working for education and health thus empowering these downtrodden sections.

While in the cities many of the Hindutva right-wing followers have been sending their children to Christian mission schools as a matter of choice, the fellow travelers of the same ideology in Adivasi-Dalit areas are up in the arms against missionaries, alleging them with conversions.

As per the census figures of Government of India, the population of Christians has slightly declined during last five decades (1971-2.60, 1981-2.44, 1991-2.34, 2001-2.30, 2011 -2.30). Even Wadhva Commission report which was set up in the aftermath of Pastor Stains murder by NDA Government with Advani as the Home minister pointed out that Pastor Stains was not involved in the work of conversions and Keonjhar, Manoharpur in Orissa where the Pastor had been working did not show any statistical increase in Christian population.

Currently we seem to be witnessing a phase where the cultural aspect of the festival is being attacked, to eliminate the syncretism and inter community relations, further intimidating the Christians in general in Christian missionaries in particular. More than Christmas Carols and Christmas festivities, what is under attack is the pluralism of Indian society!

 ___________________________________________________________

Ram Puniyani is an author and activist and former professor of IIT Bombay. The views are personal.

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