As far as I know, the ‘original’ Fascists in Italy were Catholics Christians. Are those who’re termed as ‘Fascists’ in India or in Gujarat by the pseudo secularists too Catholics and Christians? Will someone clarify, please?

In the meantime, I am attaching the report of the fact-finding team of the Bangalore-based NGO, Citizens for Harmony, whixch enquired into the recent Mangalore violence. I was part of the team.

Dr.P.N. BENJAMIN, Bangalore, THE CITIZENS FOR HARMONY


REPORT OF THE FACT-FINDING TEAM ON MANGALORE VIOLENCE

The Citizens for Harmony, a Bangalore-based voluntary organisation, sent a team to Mangalore and Udupi on 29th September to ascertain the facts about the recent Hindu-Christian clashes in coastal Karnataka.

The team consisted of Mr. Y R Patil (IPS Retd) and Director of Academy of Career Counseling and Coaching, Bangalore), Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, (Social worker and Creative Director, Varnila Designs, Bangalore) and P N Benjamin (founder and coordinator, Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue-BIRD).

The members of the team assert that their findings are based on hard facts (See the annexures) that were brought before them as well as from their visits to the sites of unrest and interactions with and close questioning of the aggrieved parties.

The team visited Mangalore and Udupi on September 30 and October 1st respectively and received several complaints and representations from Hindu and Christian organizations and from individuals who did not represent any institutions. Many affected persons deposed before the team and submitted memorandums with documentary evidences at the open hearing held at Circuit House, Mangalore and Travelers Bungalow at Udupi. The team also visited some of the trouble spots and sought to know from the local communities, their responses to the incidents of
violence.

The representations and documents received by the team are annexed to this report separately with index. The team has also received videos/photographs which are a part of the evidences and are also annexed to this report.

The places of worship which were attacked in DK included the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration Monastery (Mangalore), Christ Church at Kodikal near Mangalore, Believers Church of India at Puttur, Mahima Prathanalaya and Indian Pentecostal both at Madanthyar and Bethesda Aradanalaya at Sullia. In Chikumagalur, miscreants attacked Yavana Swami church at Magodu village, and Time and Paul Gospel Harvest
prayer hall at Koppa. In  Udupi district, New Life prayer hall located behind KSRTC bus stand was attacked apart from two other prayer halls at Shiroor and Kollur.

CAUSES FOR VIOLENCE:

Based of the depositions placed before the team by the aggrieved
parties and citizens the following seem to be the causes for the said violence:

1.   The murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati in Kandmal district of Orissa, led to violent clashes between Hindus and Christians which slowly spread to other parts of Orissa also.

2.   Leaders of the Christian community in Karnataka called for a
state-wide closure of their educational institutions and peace marches on 14th September to express their solidarity with the victims of the attacks against Christians in Orissa.

The above actions by the Christian Community were seen as a negative action by Hindu organizations and others. It created a divide in society fanning hatred and unrest.

3. The denigration of Hinduism, Hindu practices, Hindu Gods and Goddesses by Christian evangelists has caused extreme pain to Hindu Society.

4.   Insecurity of Hindu Society caused by intense and active evangelists is also cited as a cause for the simmering anger. There are claims of coerced conversion by evangelists through monetary allurement as also by showing Hindu Religion in a negative light.

5.   Prayer Halls and other Christian worshipping places throughout DK used for weaning Hindus away from the Hindu way of life too have been viewed as a cause.

According to a large number of people and organizations that deposed before the team, intense evangelical activity and denigration of Hindu icons and practices,  the killing of the Swami in Kandhamal and the Christian leaders’ call for protest closure of schools led to the sudden eruption of violence in Dakshina Karnataka, especially in Mangalore and Udupi,  on 14th and 15th September.

Detailed Causes as deposed by the aggrieved parties are:

DENIGRATION OF HINDU GODS & GODDESSES:

Many Christian groups have been indulging in aggressive evangelization and conversion activities in recent years in Mangalore and surrounding districts. They denigrate Hindu gods and their rituals in their attempt to get new adherents to their faith from Hindu community. One such example, are the contents of a booklet called Satyadarshini printed and circulated by Newlife denigrates Hindus gods as follows:

–   Urvashi – the daughter of Narayana – is a prostitute.  Vashitha is the son of this prostitute.  He in turn married his own Mother.  Such a degraded person is the Guru of the Hindu God Rama. (page 48)

–   When Krishna himself is wallowing in darkness of hell, how can he enlighten others?  Since Krishna himself is a shady character, there is a need for us to  liberate his misled followers. (page 50)

–   It was Brahma himself who kidnapped Sita.  Since Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were themselves the victims of lust, it is a sin to consider them as Gods. (page 39)

–   When the Trinity of Hinduism (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) are consumed by lust and anger, how can they liberate others.  Their projection as Gods is nothing but a joke. (page 39).

–   When Vishnu asked Brahma to commit a sin, he immediately did so. How can such an “evil brahma” be a Creator of this Universe?  How is it possible for both the sinner and the entity which provoked the sin to be gods?  (page 39)

–   God, please liberate the sinful people of India who are worshipping False Gods  that believe in the pleasures of  illicit ‘Vyabichari’ relationships. (Page 39).

CONVERSION BY COERCION, INDUCEMENTS

(Based on depositions given by aggrieved parties)

The Christian evangelists and missionaries have been targeting the poor and illiterate extensively as also the youth. Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes like Kudubis, Vishwakarmas and Lingayats are some who have fallen prey. Their modus operandi is to visit poor Hindu houses without their permission and distribute Christian tracts and literature. They seek those who are mentally and financially weak and induce them to give up their Hindu way of life and join the Christian religion with promises of moral and financial support on conversion to Christianity.

There is a drastic increase in recent times in aggressive faith marketing strategies followed by the Christian groups in this region, which has caused this anger against Christians.

ENCROACHMENT OF PRIVATE AND PUBLIC PROPERTY:

(Based on actual visit and enquiry)

There have been instances of Christian groups encroaching upon public and private properties in Mangalore. Two specific cases in point are:

The Nagavana, at Shanthinagar, is a place of worship for the Kudubi tribes for centuries, The property has been encroached upon by the International Jesus Christ Church in India. A large church complex and living quarters have been built on this land by desecrating the sanctity of the Nagavana and also preventing the Kudubis from their worship at their sanctified shrine. It has led to much emotional trauma to the tribals of incomplete rituals. There has been a continuing protest by the Kudubi community but of no avail.

The same Church also causes much disturbance to the entire neighborhood with its week-end events that include loud music and dancing through the night shattering the peace and tranquility of the entire area. The leaders of the Kudubis have expressed their anger and disgust, displeasure and resentment, against the presence of this Christian group several times in the past to the civic authorities and have also legally proceeded against them in the civil court.

The founder of this church is Pastor Mani David Joseph and the present pastor is Immanuel Santosh Kumar.

Pachinady Kurchugudde

This is a hillock belonging to the government. A couple of years back, the Catholic Church authorities encroached on it and erected several crosses all around its boundaries. They also built a statue of the Crucified Jesus Christ and a house-like structure. The Mangalore Bishop inaugurated it on January 20, 2007.

The Mangalore Municipal Corporation has illegally allotted a number to the structure thus giving it a semblance of legal sanction, thus creating an impression among the local people that the land and the structures are owned by the Catholic diocese.

The local residents who met the team at the site asserted that this
particular property belongs to the government. They wanted to know how the Municipality had allowed the Christians to erect the structures, a statue of Crucified Jesus Christ and several concrete crosses on the said government land.

Some activists of Hindu organizations have, in the aftermath of
Mangalore incidents, hoisted several flags on this land in protest
against the illegal occupation of the hillock by the Catholic Church.

Incidents such as these have led to growing anger, heartburn and
tension amongst Hindus against Christians.

Sensing the simmering communal tension in the area the administration has invoked Section 145 of CRPC and taken over the illegally occupied land. Police have set up a small outpost and a squad is also stationed there to guard the place.

CONVERSION ATTEMPTS & POLICE APATHY:

(Based on depositions and enquiries)

Despite lodging cases with the police regarding conversion attempts by Christian groups, the police authorities have not taken action by registering cases against the accused in the past. This is evident from the records of the police.

One Smt. Rati and Anantapadmanabha had lodged a compliant on 17-12-2005 itself. The same has been registered as C.MIS. No. 306 of 2005 and 307 of 2005 within the jurisdiction of
Kundapur Police. However, no investigation has been conducted and no further action has been taken.

Mr. M. Santhosh S/o Bachha Poojary had lodged a complaint in Crime Number 267 of 2006 under Section 153A, 448 (Read with Sec. 34 of IPC).

In this regard, the police have filed a charge sheet and it is under
trial in the criminal court. This evidence clearly establishes the
fact that everything is not normal in the coastal district of
Mangalore and Udupi with regard to illegal conversions. However, there was no answer from the police with regard to the complaint lodged by Ratheeh and Padmanabha despite adequate evidences.

RESPONSE TO THE ABOVE CAUSES

The immediate response was to attack prayer halls, churches and
fellowship houses belonging to evangelical Christian groups like New Life, Pentecostal, Believers’ Church, Assemblies of God etc. They are known as para churches and are independent of the mainline churches, like the Catholic and Church of South India, Mar Thoma Syrian Church etc.

On 14th September some miscreants damaged and desecrated the idol of Jesus Christ at the Perpetual Adoration Chapel of the Monastery of the Poor Clares in the premises of Milagres Catholic church in Mangalore.

The VHP and Bajrang Dal have condemned the desecration of Jesus Christ’s idol in the chapel. They have also clarified that they are not against the Catholic Church.

To the pointed questions to those who deposed before the fact-finding team as to why the miscreants turned their ire against the Catholic Church the answer was simple and straightforward: ” How can we – the Hindus – distinguish between Catholic Christians and evangelicals? All denominations of Christianity are one and the same in the eyes of Hindus and we need not know the differences within the Christian community.”

INCIDENTS AT HOLY CROSS CHURCH :

A CASE STUDY

(based on depositions, video, enquiry and visit)

On 14th and 15th, church bells continuously tolled in all the Catholic Churches of Mangalore signaling to the faithful that the churches were in imminent threat of destruction. Consequently at the Holy Cross Church compound in Kulashekar, about 800 Parishioners gathered within few minutes. In addition, many people who had attended the first Mass were holed up inside the Church All the gates to the church premises and school building adjacent to the church were locked from within. The school was closed inspite of a government directive not to close schools.

Some miscreants from among the crowd inside the Church compound snatched away the wireless set from ASI. They were asked to return it and the priest was unable to convince the youngsters to do so saying that he was recently transferred to the church and did not know anyone of them personally and therefore helpless.

The police surrounded the compound from outside because all the gates were locked. Police Inspector Ganapathy repeatedly asked the miscreants on the megaphone to voluntarily come out and surrender the police wireless set. He also requested the crowd to disperse as it was against the curfew orders that had been clamped to congregate inpublic.

The negotiations went on for almost 5 hours until the SP Mangalore Sri Satheesh Kumar arrived on the scene. The situation was getting out of control. Sensing the seriousness of the situation, he entered the compound wearing a helmet supplied by a constable and broke open the gates with the help of about 50 constables.

As they moved in, they were attacked with stones and bricks from the top of the school. The action photos of youngsters – face covered with duppatas/clothes given to them by girls/women — throwing stones and roof tiles from the third and fourth floors of the school in the Church compound, are seen in the unedited videos in the possession of the fact-finding team. This was handed over to them by an amateur free-lance videographer.

When the miscreants started attacking the police, the SP had no other option but to order lathi-charge and ultimately burst teargas shells. In the melee, several policemen were injured and a lady constable suffered serious head injuries. A Tata Sumo belonging to the police (Dy.SP) was also destroyed by the miscreants.

CHURCH USING CLEVERLY EDITED TAPES TO SPREAD HATRED

It has come to the notice of the fact-finding team that the Church authorities have been circulating doctored video clips on the happenings in the church.  Fr. Frances Vincent of Holy Cross Church showed us the tampered video to prove that the police action against the Church members, said to be numbering about 800, was brutal, inhuman and heartless. He also emphatically claimed that the police ‘brutality’ was without provocation on 15th September and in violation of all canons of human rights – Indian Constitution and the UN Declarations on Human Rights.

The video clips in the possession of the Church were supplied by the same source that gave the fact finding team the unedited version of the video pictures. It is shocking that the video tapes in the possession of the fact finding team show pictures of mounds of stones, sticks and bottles stored inside the Holy Cross church. There is no
explanation by the Church as to why those materials were stored inside the Church.

Circulation of such doctored tapes by the Church authorities have been further stoking the flames of ill-will against the police and the Hindus at large.

PRAYER HALLS IN SHOPPING COMPLEXES:

The team has received a representation from the businessmen of Krishna Krupa shopping complex wherein they have complained that New Life fellowship has taken on rental premises for the purpose of prayer even though they are not entitled for the same. They have further complained that the Blessings Prayer Hall under the Assemblies of God Church (AG) is using the premises for prayer meeting and singing with musical instruments and high decibel microphones thereby causing nuisance to the inmates and the business community.

Immediately after the violent incident on 14th Sept.2008, the police have increased their deployment thereby causing hindrance to the business activities. Further they have requested the authorities to vacate the Prayer Hall from the above said shopping complex.

POLICE ACTION:

–   72 cases of arson were registered in Mangalore and two in Udupi.

–   67 policemen suffered injuries when Christians attacked the police.

–   26 Christians and 17 Hindus were injured in police lathi charge.

The police too did cross the limits of mild-lathi-charge. However, it is fair to suggest that the police were also at their wit’s end having seen some of their injured members and did not want to take any chance, especially when they did not have any wherewithal to judge the armed nature of the miscreants.

A warning to the government: The team was shocked to hear Fr. Vincent’s angry and ominous comment at the Holy Cross Church: ” If the Hindus have a right to protest against attacks on their temples, we, as Christians too have the same rights. And when cornered, we too will attack them hereafter and our bells will toll and call for support from the Christian community”. It is a warning the government should not ignore

FINDINGS

All the incidents of violence that came to the notice of the team were directed against what is known as para-churches, house churches, Christian fellowships and associations belonging to New Life, Pentecostal, Believers Church, Assemblies of Gods etc. All of them are independent of the mainstream Christian churches in India.

The Catholic Churches were targeted because of mistaken identity.

The majority of Hindus cannot distinguish between the mainline
churches and the para churches. These incidents were not localized but took place across the district of Mangalore, Udupi and Chikmagalur.

Dakshina Kannada is sitting on a time bomb of Hindu – Christian Evangelist strife.

The sordid events in Mangalore and elsewhere are the obvious result of unethical religious conversions and the denigration of Hindu practices and symbols by evangelists that polarize families and communities and aggravate long standing social conflicts as also.

Our appeal to the sensitive and sensible Christians is that they should realize that the acts of certain groups of Christian evangelists are the root cause of tension between Christians and Hindus. They should come out in the open to disown such acts of intolerance. It is the responsibility of these Christians to strive hard to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and not to denigrate the faith of their neighbours in their religious beliefs and sentiments.

The Team is of the opinion that timely and outright condemnation of hate literature by the Christian leadership would have pre-empted the spate of violence in Mangalore. It is time the mainline churches disowned and distanced themselves from what the late Pope John Paul termed as: “the evangelical wolves”.

We are of the opinion that the violent incidents in Mangalore were not pre-planned. They were a spontaneous reaction to the immediate causes as already mentioned. We are convinced that aggressive evangelization and conversions to Christianity, specially in Mangalore is being carried on mainly by the para-churches (evangelical) and not by the Catholic Church.

Leaders of communities and politicians should be aware and responsible and not to cause a further  fracture in society.

An atmosphere of MUTUAL RESPECT should be instilled and encouraged amongst all religions.

The government should have a legal process to bar forced and coerced conversions.

THE ROAD AHEAD

We are of the humble opinion that the Christian leadership must make conscious efforts to delete any derogatory references to Hinduism by any of its manifold Churches and continuously monitor them for infraction. Christians must desist from aggressive evangelisation and conversion activities. PREACH CHRIST, BUT DO NOT CONDEMN OTHERS

Conscious of our limitations in facing challenges posed by the
prevailing tension and misunderstandings between Christians and Hindus in Mangalore and elsewhere consequent to the recent incidents of violence there,  we affirm our faith in one another, and our hope for a society where divisions will cease and people will live together in harmony, respect, love and compassion.

ANNEXTURES

SCHEDULE 1.

Places which were attacked in Dakshina Kannada:

1. Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration Monastery

2. Christ Church at Kodikal near Mangalore.

3. Believers Church of India at Puttur

4. Mahima Prarthanalaya at Madanthyar

5. Indian Pentecostal Prayer Hall at Madanthiyar.

6. Bethesda Aradhanalaya at Sullia.

7. Youvana Swamy Church at Magodu Village, Chikmagalur

8. Time and Paul Gospel Harvest Prayer Hall at Koppa

(9). New Life Prayer Hall located behind KSRTC Udupi and two other prayer halls at Shiroor and Kollur.

SCHEDULE ii

REPRESENTATIONS RECEIEVED BY THE COMMITTEE:

A. Mangalore

1. Businessmen of Krishna Krupa Shopping Complex with several signatories

2. Father William Menezes, PRO, Diocese of Mangalore

3. Parish Priest, Church of St. Joseph the Worker Church, Vamanjoor.

4. Holy Cross Church, Cordel, Kulashekara, Mangalore by Rev. Fr. Valerian Pinto with annexures A to Z

5. Rathnakar Putran – Unity Shopping Complex with annexures A to J

6. SKDB Association with offensive statements of Satyadarshini.

7. Spoorthy Mahila Mandali

8. Nagarika Hitarakshna Samiti by G Hanumant Kamath

9. D Vaman Kamath

10. Sarvajanik Ganeshotsava Samiti (Regd).

11. GSB Yuvaka Vrinda

12. GSB Hitarakshana Vedike

13. Himakara Puthran

14. Vijaykumar and others, Haleangadi.

15. Villagers of Kulashekar and Padua, Mangalore.

16. Narendra Prabhu, Shivaniketan, Gram Panchayat member, Haleangadi

17. Satish Bhat Kuluvailu, Gram Panchayat member, Vinod Kumar Bollur, Taluk Panchayat member and others.

18. Manjunath Shenoy, Mangalore.

19. Asha J, Urwa market, Mangalore.

20. Ravi Alevoor,

21. Dr. Shreesh Kumar, Mangalore.

22. Gangadhara, Paladi, Ashoknagar, Mangalore.

23. Udaya Kalavrandha, Kuthar, Mangalore.

24. Kateel Dinesh Pai, Social Activist, Carstreet, Mangalore.

25. Rani Abbakka Nagarika Hitarakshnana Vedike, Ullal

26 Citizens of Shaktinagar, Padua Layout, Mangalore.

27. Villagers of Pachanady, Mangalore.

28. Residents of Srinidinagar, Kodikal, Mangalore with around 100
signatories and annexures A to M

29. Hindu Yuva Sena

30. Citizens of Bolur area, Mangalore.

31. Citizens of Thokkattu, Ullal village in Mangalore.

32. Record of Rights for the year 2006-2007 (Revenue Records).
pertaining to Survey No. 78 of Pachanady Village (2 Nos).

33. Dalit Hitarakshana Samiti (R), Kapikadu, Gandhinagara, Ullal.

34. St. Sebastian Shrine Church, Thokkattu, Permannur, Mangalore with annexures A – G and a CD pertaining to police action.

35. Unedited CD pertaining to Milagres Church incidents.

36. Sevanjali Charitable Trust

B. Udupi

1. Santosh M of Margodu, Koteshwar with a copy of FIR

2. Copy of FIR by Anantapadmanabha with police endorsement in Form. No. 76 A

3. Copy of FIR by Smt. Ratna of Bejadi village Koteshwara with Police endorsement in Form. No. 76 A.

4. Rathee Lingaiyat and others of Belmund Village

5. Copy of FIR by Laxmi Pujari with Police Endrosement in Form. No. 76 A. with annexures A – B

6. Manikantha of Madhwanagar, Kodavuru, Udupi

7. K M Krishnamurthy of Kelarkalabettu Village near Udupi

8 Shiroor villagers with annexures A-C

9. Karnataka Kommu Souharda Vedika, Udupi.

10. P Vasant Bhat and others, Udupi

—————————————————————————————
RELATED PLEASE :

Don’t convert!

[ A rejoinder (11 Oct. 2008) by Dr. Mrs. Hilda Raja to the article “Don’t target converts” by Michael Pinto in the ‘Times of India’ dated 8 October 2008. ]

‘ Don’t target Converts ‘ by Michael Pinto

(TOI 8th OCT) – poses many questions than it answers. No amount of provocation can justify violence is easily said but humanly not easy to follow. All are not Gandhians or Jesus to show the left cheek when slapped on the right. Some countries follow a justice system which is based on ‘eye for an eye’.

Aggressive policy of conversion followed by some fundamentalist churches and fundamental Christians cannot justify taking law into one’s hand and no amount of provocation can justify violence is correct theoretically and logically. But if such logic rules the hearts and minds of men/women why is there so much of violence in the world? Why do countries violate the rights of other countries? Why do law makers turn into law breakers? Why do those in the Khaki who have to operate the law on the streets become violators of human rights? In the midst of such oppression, exploitation can we expect the people to meekly be submissive and subservient? Or is the author’s theory held good only in the provocation rising in the business of conversion?

When Indira Gandhi was assassinated why thousands of Sikhs were butchered in the capital? Was it not justified by the Congress party? When the Brahmin pundits were killed and chased away from their homes in the Valley and forced to become refugees in their own country under ethnic cleansing no voices were raised against such an abuse and violation? When a holy man held in great reverence was brutally murdered with his three disciples in his own ashram will the author’s theory be strong enough to hold back the emotional, social, and religious upheaval of the hurt psyche?

Every action has a reaction. When a nun is raped then all hell breaks loose-Daily children are sexually violated and raped and murdered, no protest voice is heard -no church rallies are held, no Archbishop/bishop rebukes Chief Ministers and express pain and anguish. And no EU raises the issue with the PM in a foreign land. So Christians have global brokers and Christian lives become sacred and the PM is accountable to foreign powers for their safety – the lives of others can be snuffed out without even a whimper. What is the root cause of this warped perception but religion? This is not to down play the rape of the nun but to point out that it is a harsh world we are living in and to high light the discrimination in our perception. Does a crime become more heinous because the victim belongs to a particular religion?

‘Terrorists do not belong to any one community knows no religion’, pontificates our political leaders. Is this again reserved only when it comes to the terrorists of the Minority community?  It must be said that violence is nurtured within religious ghettos, madrassas, and only religions/beliefs are strong enough to provoke and sanctify spilling of the blood of the innocents. It is in the name of religion that the world had witnessed violence, genocide, torture and oppression and a Talibanism justifying the imposition of religious domination and curtailment of the rights of humans.

It is a utopia that Michael Pinto is envisaging when he states that no amount of provocation can justify violence. This is armchair wistful thinking. When the Christians were oppressors this theory vanished. The tables are turned and when there is an assertion of the Hindus to retain their culture, their religion and their heritage then the drum beating of the Constitutional guarantees is heard. It is the right of the Hindus to protect the Hindu ethos of this country which they feel is threatened. Was Art 30 not enacted to ensure the Right of the Minorities to establish manage and administer institutions to safeguard their ethos?

It is shocking that politicians are equating the Bajrang Dal and the VHP with the SIMI. The latter is a terror outfit with its branches now functioning in new names. The suspects belonging to these outfits are involved in serial blasts all over the country, they are trained in Pakistan and in POK .These are anti national outfits. What is the purpose/aim of these serial blasts-killing of innocent people who are about their daily business? The aim is to destabilize the country, create panic and insecurity and unrest within the country. Why was Parliament targeted? And who were behind it? But the same cannot be said of Bajrang Dal and the VHP. They are nationalists-they may be attacking a particular community for reasons of their own- the root cause being forced conversion and a reaction to the denigration of the Hindu gods and goddesses. Those involved in such violence and criminal activities must be apprehended and brought to justice. But where is the justification to demand a ban on such outfits? This is indulging in vote bank politics. Till date not a single terrorist has been brought to justice. The reality of wars, underworld dons killing, custodial deaths, political bosses unleashing terror against their opponents are all part of the harsh reality of today’s world.

Conversion from time immemorial has a concomitant – violence. Indian history is replete with it. The oppression, force, torture, massacre of the Indians to convert them to Islam, and Christianity is not a fable. The Inquisition and all that it wrought is world record. Again it is in the name of religion. What you sow you reap. Violence begets violence-this is nature’s order. In ‘don’t target converts’ the author finds it strange that converts are targeted in a country which constitutionally upholds the right to preach and propagate one’s religion. But then to preach and propagate one’s religion does not mean to force and use fraudulent means to pressurize people to change from one religion to another. I am shocked that in this context the author compares inducements like ‘buy one and get one free’ in the market of commodities, to faith changing. If the market goods can be sold with inducements why not it be extended to faith and belief changing is the author’s argument. Can faith and belief be brought to the market level of sales of commodities? By this analogy the author accepts that there is inducement. Money is flowing from foreign based churches and the gods of these churches need recruits-the greater the strength the greater the power of these gods and hence the brokers of these gods are all out targeting the poor. The inducement-a plate of rice, a loaf of bread to the hunger, shelter for the homeless, and also the promise of the green pastures in the next world.The strategy has first an entry point-first denigrate, abuse, degrade and demolished their gods and icons. Second instill in these victims the doubt that their gods are false and then promise to lead them to the true god. A vulnerable victim, with a vacuum inner self is then ready for the initiation into a “New Life”/to be “Born Again”. The false propaganda is vicious because of its attack on another religion. This kind of provocation is not easy to overlook because human nature is to refute and repel this atrocious slander/blasphemy.

What will the author say if one prints pamphlets that the mother of Jesus was a prostitute and Jesus’ birth was not a virgin birth? That after her marriage Joseph found her pregnant and toyed with the idea of putting her away. Only the intervention of an angel restrained him from taking such a drastic action. This is what the bible narrates. Will the Catholic Church and other fund churches sit back and humbly submit to such provocation? When posters depicting Jayalalitha as a Virgin Mary appeared in Chennai there were massive rallies and protests. But if Madhuri Dixit is depicted as Durga and the goddess is painted nude it comes under the freedom of expression of a painter. Only difference is that the same painter will not dare to let his artistic acumen and constitutional right to freedom of expression to depict Allah even in the best form. This is how we perceive the operation of guarantees/Rights enshrined in our Constitution

If opting for a “New Life”/ “Born Again”, demands discarding of one’s culture, social practices, adapting a western life style and adapting western forms of worship  then the convert becomes an alien to the Indian/Hindu ‘ethos’, and is sucked into a process of  alienation. This has other ramifications. Why did East Timor break away from Indonesia when its Christian population swelled to 27percent just in a matter of ten years? Similarly in our own context the partition of India was based on the theory that two religions-Islam and Hinduism cannot co-exist as a nation-that was the contention of then Muslims leaders. World history and Indian history is replete with the experience that ‘peace cannot co-exist with conversion. The reason being conversion has an inbuilt violence: physical, psychological, social and cultural. It may even abet one to be anti-national.

At times church laws and rules are in variance with national rules and laws. The Christians and the Muslims have their own Personal laws. Whom will the Christians take orders from-their respective church leaders or the government of India when it comes to a national decision? When loyalties of a person are divided and clash then the likelihood of becoming a victim to schizophrenia. A leader from Kashmir proclaimed on the floor of the Parliament that he is a Muslim and an Indian. No Muslim/Christian will state, ‘I am first an Indian and then a Muslim/Christian’. One can change one’s religion but not one’s nationality into which one is born. Politicians too have abetted this by not addressing citizens but focusing on communal/caste/religious divide.

Another aspect to be noted in the business of conversion is that conversions are made even in proxy. A few years ago in Trichy district of Tamilnadu a whole list of names were produced in paper and the bishop of that evangelical church baptized them in absentia! Would this qualify as conversion? I belong to the Catholic Church and my understanding of conversion is that it is a process-a life long search for truth.

Conversion is a private affair and not a street tamasha-neither is it an activity intended to swell numbers. It is not that conversion is from one religion to another the Fundamentalist churches poach on the grounds of other Christian sects. So the Jesus of one church is different from the Jesus of another. This creates also distrust and disharmony among the Christian community. Freedom is always accompanied by restrictions. Freedom is restricted when it encroaches the freedom of others and of a whole society. Rights are not hierarchically.

When conversions are a threat to peace then it needs to be banned. Like the curfew order-the ban to strike etc. The million dollar question is why conversion? Is it a prerequisite for development work? Why are the foreign agencies funding conversion activities? It is strange that the fundamental Christians and the churches to which they belong do not turn their attention and energy in this salvation ensuring business to the Muslims. Development and upliftment of the poor is the camouflage of evangelization all the more why the need for the churches to work with the Muslims. Because according to Sachar report the Muslims are the lowest in India-both economically and educationally. Is it not strange that not a single Muslim has been converted? According to Michael Pinto the Christian population has fallen from 2.6 percent in 1971 to 2.3 percent in 2001.This does not mean that lakhs are not converted by the hundreds of fundamental churches that have mushroomed in the country. Today we are one billion so what does the 2.3 indicate in absolute numbers? When one reviews numbers a few other indicators must also be listed-Christians follow Family planning, the celibacy of nuns and priests, and the fact that most of the converts for the sake of reservation and other benefits retain the religion and the caste in which they were born on records.

Conversion has been commercialized by the Fundamentalistic churches. The number of converts is co-related to the quantum of funds that flow in. This must not be overlooked. Why not ban foreign funds and watch how evangelization evaporates?  All laws have their accompanying lacunae/loopholes and difficulties in implementation, do we on such grounds fight shy of enacting laws? Conversions must be banned to ensure peace and harmony. Let us give peace a chance-for peace and conversion cannot co-exist.

Dr Mrs Hilda Raja,

(Former member of the National Advisory committee of the CBCI)
———————————————————————————————————————————

END AGGRESSIVE FAITH-MARKETING

By P.N.BENJAMIN

A senior Hindu RSS leader told me in an interview for Deccan Herald a couple of years ago: ” The incidents of violence against Christians are a reaction to the aggressive propaganda and mindless evangelism, abusing the Hindu Gods and indulging in similar activities. The incidents are bloated out of proportion. We have decided not to tolerate intolerance of other faiths. Let the Church declare that there can be salvation outside the Church also, and the whole atmosphere will undergo a radical change…”

The statistical approach implied in the words “the unreached millions” is derogatory to neighbours of other faiths. ” Unreached “ by whom? When Indian Christians themselves use these phrases, which have originated outside the country, to describe their neighbours living next door to them in the community, Christians should not be surprised if the nehigbours are offended. (Dr. Samartha).

The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handful of Hindu extremists. Most of the violent incidents have been due to aggressive evangelising. Other than this there have been few attacks on Christians. Finally the sensitive and sensible Christians must realize that acts of certain “born-again” varieties of Christian evangelists who denigrate Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric are the root cause of tension between Christian and Hindu communities. Christian leaders known for their erudition, equipoise and empathy should come out in the open to disown such acts of intolerance.

The best and perhaps the only way Indian Christians can bear witness to their faith, is by extending their unconditional love to their neighbours and expecting nothing in return as Jesus Christ showed the world. As such, most of the Indian Christians are against aggressive faith marketing by any religious group because such efforts discredit India’s tradition of respecting all religious thought and also runs counter to the true spirit in which the Constitution grants people the right to profess, practice and propagate their faith.

Many of the Indian Christians were born into Christianity and some others others freely chose to embrace it. They also believe that the Great Commission in the Gospel according to Matthew unequivocally calls us to witness Christ in a pluralistic setting without violating the right of the others to preach, practice and profess his/her faith. Witnessing Jesus cannot in any case be done by questionable means, whether by exploiting people’s socio-psychological vulnerabilities or by running down other religions.

The Christian injunction to make disciples of all nations in today’s context is best honoured by the bearers of the Good News living exemplary Christian lives and showing respect for the nation’s commitment to pluralism, for the larger public good in a civil society. Conversion of faith, given its life-changing nature, stems from a considered personal experience and is less likely in this day and age to be the stuff of dramatic immediacy.

When India’s Supreme Court ruled, in 1977, that a citizen’s right to “profess, practice and propagate” one’s religion does not include the right to convert another it was merely reaffirming both tradition and the Constitution. We believe that every nation should give primacy to maintenance of public order by ensuring safety and security to the life and property of its citizens. India’s all-encompassing culture and secular Constitution allows not only its citizens but also visitors the freedom of religious practice. But, Article 25 of the Constitution which guarantees that right also subjects it to the maintenance of “public order, morality and health” of the citizenry.

Militant Islam and evangelical Christianity are the two remaining Neanderthals who are still committed to proselytization and religious conversions. India will continue to remain hospitable to all religions only if the Muslim fanatics and the Christian fundamentalists will accept the pluralistic tradition of Hindus which is to consider all religions as equal. Pluralistic Christians and liberated Muslims of India have done that. The overwhelming majority of Hindus practice it.

Fundamentalist Christians assert that they alone are the holders of valid visas to heaven and paradise! Many preachers of the Gospel lay enticing traps for people whom they think must be “saved” at all costs. It is worse still that their attitudes, though they (Christians) are a tiny minority in India, often create counter-reaction from among militant Hindus who sometimes incite violence against Christians. The Hindu fundamentalism is a reaction to the provocations of Christian proselytizers. The fanatics among the Christian faith will soon realize that theirs is a losing battle even if they derive their financial and other means of support from the wealthy nations overseas.

P.N.BENJAMIN, Bengaluru