Hounding Christians — Father Cedric Prakash

Date:

Images of incidents against Christians in India in 2019 collected by the EFI Religious Liberty Comission report. / EFI

Fr Cedric Prakash SJ

‘The Quint’ carried an article ‘Events on Christ will end with “Jai Sri Ram”: Behind Church Attacks in Haryana’ on January 3. The article dwells deep into the slew of anti-Christian attacks in Haryana during the Christmas Season. It gives a detailed account of how a Christmas celebration by some followers of Jesus in Kurukshetra was disrupted by the goons of the local Bajrang Dal.

The article quoted a so-called convenor of the Bajrang Dal issuing a threat to the Christian community: “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 wont spare you!”

Despite the fact that some Hindutva goons reportedly forced their way into church premises in Haryana’s Pataudi disrupting Christmas festivities, tearing down the decorations made for the occasion, and terrorising the people present (especially little children) the local police did nothing to restore confidence of the aggrieved community in the police force. They simply tried to cloak their inaction with a standard excuse, “no one has filed a complaint!”

Christians in India were eagerly looking forward to celebrate Christmas 2021 after missing out on the 2020 celebrations due to the pandemic. They had not anticipated that a festival of love and peace, of joy and harmony could be disrupted in such a cavalier manner. The Christmas festivities were disrupted with vengeance at several places, particularly in BJP-ruled states.

Perpetrators of these heinous acts would always have a sense of impunity for they know full well that their mentors from the Prime Minister below will give them the immunity they need. In the end the road is clear for the destruction of the Constitution and the establishment of a fascist state.

Christian community has been a ‘soft target’ for the Hindu right for quite some time now. Ever since their ascent to power in late 1990s, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are systematically targeting the Christians in some way or the other. Of late, a section of the media is making a common cause with the Hindu right by raising the bogey of forced conversion without substance.

Recently, while Karnataka Legislative Assembly passed an anti-conversion legislation, innumerable allegations were heaped on Christians without any evidence. Attacks on Christians and their places of worship, institutions and sacred objects, intimidation and harassments have all a direct correlation with the canards being spread against the community. All these are part of a wider game plan, to polarise the majority community. Thanks to the malicious propaganda, the Christmas season has seen a surge in this orchestrated campaign against the Christians.

The Year 2021 will certainly go down in the history of India as a bad omen on several counts. From the second wave of COVID-19 that took a heavy toll on the lives and livelihood of an average Indian to the outbreak of Omicron which is already wreaking havoc on the country, from the world’s biggest and longest protest by the farmers to the skyrocketing prices of essentials, from the incarceration of human rights defenders to the death of Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy, from the systematic pillaging of our fragile eco-systems 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 with the country is plummeting to unbelievable depths in every global survey on 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 increased 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. As a democracy wedded to secularism, the year 2021 is a painful reality for India with an callous government at the helm.

On the face of it, what is happening to Muslims and Christians in India can be explained away as mere attacks on minorities. But in reality, they are much more than that. The primary objective of the attacks is consolidation of majoritarianism. Such attacks are also carried out with an objective to deflect the public attention from the real issues the country is facing, be it abject poverty, inflation, growing unemployment, farmer suicides and pollution, environmental degradation, economic crisis of the worst kind, lack of governance and much more.

Lies and half-truth are not only lapped up by the bhakts (blind followers of the incumbent prime minister and his style of governance) but also the mainstream media which is of late referred to with contempt as godi (lap) media. The false propaganda of typical Goebbelsian manner, “tell a lie a thousand times, and people will start believing in it”, is not without reason, it, in fact, serves a purpose. It pays rich dividends to the saffron party at the time of elections. We have seen in Gujarat and in several other states.

A very convenient and effective strategy of fascists is to denigrate, demonise, divide and destroy the other. Their targets are always minorities and other vulnerable sections of the society who do not count in their scheme of things. This group of ‘others’ swells oftentimes with those who dissent. At times, they are ignored and at others they are made to feel as though they are a burden in the country. They are incarcerated and even killed.

Muslims are labelled as terrorists whose only objective in life is to indulge in “love jihad”. Christians always “are out to convert you”. These are the familiar platitudes that are dished out to vulnerable minds. People are summarily declared anti-national, no proof needed as their lies sell. Even the intelligent class falls prey to such propaganda.

The Missionaries of Charity are high up at the receiving end of this viciousness and vilification campaign. A legacy of which Mother Teresa who is a revered saint, has false cases foisted on it. Their selfless service 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 is not being considered.

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 has given wide coverage to this.

Celebrated media personality Rajdeep Sardesai wrote an article (dated December 31, 2021) ‘In 2022, a prayer for a better year for India’ which has gone viral. He writes: 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 has hit the nail on the head. What is happening in India today is not merely about Christians and Muslims, but 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 by the 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 generation next.  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’ silent on these recent attacks. This is unfortunate. It is imperative that the Church shuns all ‘diplomacy’ and demonstrates the prophetic courage to speak up for the Constitution and for the people of India.

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 courage to act now?

_______________

Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. He can be contacted at:  [email protected]

theclarionindia
theclarionindiahttps://clarionindia.net
Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.

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