February 10, 2006

Reduction of faith

The Christians in the Dangs district of Gujarat are indistinguishable from the non-Christians. They live in the same kinds of homes, they are the same kind of small farmers, they look as wiry and lean. Some of their houses have a picture of Christ, or a cross, hanging outside. Other than that, there's no way to tell them apart from their neighbours.

But if you read the propaganda that's circulating about them, you'll find that they are likely to be "separatists and terrorists". Or, at least, it's couched like this: "Conversion to Christianity is invariably associated with separatism and terrorism."

The simple-mindedness of this would be almost funny; in any case, that debate can happen another time. Here in the Dangs, you see the state of these tribals in the Dangs and the propaganda is not funny in the least. It's perverse and nearly obscene. How does anyone accuse these utterly forgotten Indians -- Indians -- of being separatists and terrorists?

And what's more, what place does such an accusation have in the midst of what should be a massive celebration of a warm story? In the Ramayan, Shabari hosted Ram and Lakshman in her home and fed them. Leave aside any possible controversy about precisely where in the country she might have done that; let's accept that, as a matter of faith, she did it right here on a hilltop in the Dangs. So there's ample reason to have a huge Kumbh Mela here, and over this weekend (Feb 11-13) that's what's going to happen.

So why the hostility towards Christians? Which other religious festival is as steeped in rhetoric directed at another religion? At the Mela office in the Dangs, some friendly men will gladly sell you a CD titled "Shabari Kumbh 2006". It has a 15 minute film about the Mela. Repeatedly, the voiceover tells you about the sly doings of the "foreign" religion, complete with pictures of crosses and churches. On the Kumbh Mela's website, you'll find plenty more hostile rhetoric, including the statement about separatism and terrorism quoted above.

What is the reason for a Kumbh Mela: celebrating a beautiful story? Or frightening a few thousand Christians?

"Few thousand", yes. That very CD tells us that Christians number 0.5 per cent of Gujarat's population -- about 300,000 people. But in the Dangs, the CD says and you're supposed to feel alarmed, they are about 5 per cent of the population of 200,000.

That is, by the Shabari Mela's own accusation, there are about 10,000 Christians in the Dangs. 10,000 Indians who look and live no differently from every other Indian there.

This is the danger of separatism and terrorism they are talking about.

Go to the Dangs, feel that fear; these days, you are also likely to see paramilitary forces all over the place. And wonder, as I do, what it means to reduce a great celebration of faith to this much: fear, hostility, men in uniform.


Puru said...

Ram Puniyani reports on the same issue and I think atleast the first one is based on a visit to Dangs,


The bigger question though is, how to counter this kind/level of religious rhetoric?

Anonymous said...

india and indians can never improve their thinking.. i'd better not generalize my accusation but i can always narrow it down to few 'select' hindus and hindustanis..

i fail to understand what wrong have sikhs, muslims or christians do to these so called hindustanis that the "minority" [based on percentages] always has to suffer.

zap said...

Oh for a world where Pooja is a hot chick, Holy Communion is that fun thing we all like to do, and Mullah is vernacular for lottery money !

Anonymous said...

Missionaries booked for conversion: Cops
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Posted online: Thursday, February 09, 2006 at 0146 hours IST

SRINAGAR, FEBRUARY 8: The J-K Police today swooped down on a Christian missionary group for using ‘‘earthquake relief as a means to convert people in far-flung villages along the LoC’’ and seized cassettes, Urdu-translations of the New Testament and other materials from the group. A case has also been registered against the Bible Society of India.

‘‘Under the garb of relief, they (missionaries) were trying to convert people, promising them money and houses in Srinagar city in exchange for the change of faith,’’ IGP, Kashmir, K Rajendra said.

‘‘We will not allow it to happen. Instead of coming to the help of quake victims, they are making relief a bait for conversion.’’

The police said a group of missionaries from the Kashmir chapter of the Bible Society of India had been visiting Madian village in Uri sector. ‘‘On January 25, they had distributed gas cylinders, three water bottles, audio cassettes and a copy of the New Testament in Urdu besides other material to each of the 230 families of the village,’’ Deputy Inspector General of Police, Baramulla-Kupwara, Mohammad Subhan Lone said.

Lone said the police had ordered a probe after the locals protested against the missionaries. ‘‘This could turn into a law and order problem. We have filed a case and are investigating the matter,’’ he said.

It is learnt that Lone has submitted a report about the missionaries’ activities in quake-hit areas. The Police said their probe has revealed that the group operates from Nishat, Srinagar, and that a local resident Mukhtar—who runs an educational institution—had been acting as their guide in the area.’’

Anonymous said...

Spare the sob story and crocodile tears Dilip. People live in fear in many places. Check with a hindu family in Kashmir or Assam or Marad or in your own Mumbai's Mohammed Ali Road or Bheharam bagh.

You can't close your eyes to fear and bigotry of one kind and ignore it in another.

Pareshaan said...

Anonymous may have a point, but that in now way makes this acceptable. It is wrong for people to live in fear. And it is worse when they have to live in fear because of their faith. One's Faith should be a personal choice that each one of us should be allowed to make.
It's high time that all of us started using the power of our own faith to make oursleves nobler and India more livable.
And though it is not my place to say, but I thought Prasoon's comment was very silly. Firstly Hindus and Hindustanis are not the same thing. Hindus are Hindustanis, as are Sikhs, Christians and Muslims. There may be some people who have trouble digesting this fact, but the majority of us are comfortable with it. This is the realization that remains the foundation of the Indian state.
It can never be otherwise. May be today some people need to be reminded of that, but that in no way means that Sikhs, Christians and Muslims are being wronged by Hindus and Hindustanis "always".
That is a really terrible way of putting it.

Anonymous said...

There is no "fear", just rabble-rousing in the name of an "oppressed" minority. Anti-Hindu prejudice almost always cloaks itself in the garb of speaking for some "victim".

Leftist or rightist, a propagandist is a propagandist.

Anonymous said...

The problem is with Hinduism and the way it treats certain castes. The Hindu right has no clue about how to integrate the oppressed and poor into their brand of Hinduiam.

They have only one emotion: Anger. And when one is angry, there's no hope.

Anonymous said...

I have no issues with Slogan Murugan's fantasies of being a spokesperson for the "oppressed and poor" of Hinduism, but the question is what "fear" are we talking about here? The "fear" of an "oppressed" minority, or the fear of their proselytizing ring-leaders that bags of rice may not hold the flock's resolve to stay Chrstian in the face of a show of unity by Hindus?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Puru, thanks for pointing readers to Ram Puniyani's writings: I'm a great admirer of Ram's dogged forthrightness on these issues.

How to counter the rhetoric? That's always the issue, isn't it? I think you've just got to keep at it, that's all.

Prasoon, like Pareshaan I'm appalled by your comment. There is plenty of injustice in India, and Hindus have suffered from it every bit as much as anyone else. The challenge is to make justice mean something.

Zap, if you find that world, buy me a plane ticket there too.

Anonymous said...

Wakey wakey Dilip or you ignoring the elephant in your living room?

Read what's happening in Belgaum and Kittur or Bhatkal - all nice little towns in our own Karnataka.

Dilip's utter silence on the issue is puzzling. Or is it?

Paareshan: Nice thoughts and agree 100%. But mind you, you are preaching to choir here.

Anonymous said...

Hello y'all!
I thought India was the largest democracy in the world and people were free to practice their religion. So.. why are Christians persecuted for their beliefs?
No one gets converted if they do not desire the conversion, so quit the blame game here. EVERYONE has the right to practice their religion in a civilized country.

Anonymous said...

Christians are not persecuted for their beliefs, rather it is a reaction against the missionary activities of christians. They mostly convert the uneducated by blackmail and brainwashing them, by playing on their innocence and naivety. Worse, many-a-times they only manage to convert a part of a family, and the converted members go against the rest by stating that they do not want to live with someone who worships a false god. Countless families have broken apart and this conversion activity has caused enormous rifts in many villages. No wonder the missionaries are so hated!

Puru said...

Does anybody have statistics about forceful conversions from any religion to any other religion? I am interested in knowning this, as without an idea of any such statistics (which in my opinion are hard to obtain) any statements about forecful conversion are merely part of the propoganda or outlier cases. Read on some post that the census of India does not show an increase in the Christian population, which seems to indicate that there numbers are not growing ... but this is separate from the issue of forceful conversions.

Transmogrifier said...

They mostly convert the uneducated by blackmail and brainwashing them, by playing on their innocence and naivety.

So bajrang dal monkeys want to keep the right of blackmailing and brainwashing the uneducated only to themselves. It's like one goon telling another one, "Ain't want no one messin with my territory dawg!"

I remember a dailogue from the movie "The American President" (Michael Douglas Annette Benning.) which went like "And whatever your particular problem is, friend, I promise you, Bob Rumson {the opposing presidential candidate} is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: Making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

It is one of the few aphorisms from Hollywood movies that I relish for their aptness. That one sentence summarizes the tactics used by all fundamentalist goons. From Hitler to Osama to Modi all have used the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Give me one instance where the Bajrang Dal has resorted to those tactics.

Transmogrifier said...

HERE. Many more can be easily found. Similar incidences have been reported nationwide. These pamphlets, CDs, Video cassettes typically don't have an iota of truth. Their sole motive is to create fear about Muslims/Christians. All Bajrang Dal does is tell people that the cause of your problems is the minorities. The single, most important and most prevalent cause of all problems in India is poverty. They talk of number of minorities and number of hindus like kids talking about marbles they have. Each one of those numbers is a person and when that person is hungry and poort it matters not whether he is a hindu or a christian or a zulu.