By PN Benjamin
A retired judge of Karnataka High Court, M.F. Saldanha has recently said that Christians in Karnataka State are under an unprecedented wave of persecution. He has also termed Karnataka as “the Rogue State No.1”. Unfortunately for Saldanha, he himself admits that the State has not recorded any killing in this season of “persecution”.
Despite the horror stories trotted out by Saldanha and his friends about the unprecedented “persecution of Christians in Karnataka” it is interesting to not that there has not been a single instance of Christians fleeing the State and migrating to neighboring states!
The same retired judge had alleged last year that there were 1,000 attacks against Christians in Karnataka at that time. . Asked for the details of the attacks, Saldanha failed to provide me with the list of names of churches and even dates of attacks. Thus, his baseless charges against the State government now also reflect his shocking ignorance of the real religious situation in Karnataka.
I have been a freelance journalist writing regularly for several newspapers for the past thirty five years. Like most of those who have to regularly write for newspapers I need factual information. So, I diligently file press clippings so that I don’t slip up on accuracy.
I am the founder and coordinator of the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), promoting pluralism, tolerance and understanding for a society, free of all prejudices. It provides a platform for addressing issues which are causes for religious/communal tension/resentment by inviting people of all faiths to share through it the richness of their various religious traditions and experiences.
In addition, I am at present a member of the Karnataka State Minorities Commission, representing the Christian community in the State. As a member of the Commission I have visited several places where alleged attacks against Christians took place and interacted with the victims of the alleged violence and also government officials to find out the facts behind attacks.
As far back as 2002, I was part of a fact finding team that enquired into the attack on the Holy Family Church at Hinkal in Mysore. Its report is available on the internet. In the same manner, I was a member of another fact-finding team that exposed the political conspiracy behind the Mangalore incidents of violence against Christians in 2008.
So, I have the first hand information about several of the alleged attacks against Christians in Karnataka. I can thus confidently say that the incidents of violence against Christians in Karnataka have been few and far between. However, all of them have been blown out of proportion and internationalised by a handful of leaders from the Christian community and by unscrupulous politicians. They are using ordinary Christians as pawns in their hands for their narrow selfish ends.
Reasons for Attacks
The reasons for the attacks against certain Christian groups are not difficult to ascertain. Simply put, they are a reaction to the “aggressive faith marketing,” propaganda, and mindless evangelism and conversions through foul and unethical means indulged in by Christian missionaries who denigrate and make fun of Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric.
Father Adolf Washington of the Archdiocese of Bangalore wrote in a Bangalore daily:: “There are several groups of people doing the rounds in Bangalore adopting persuasive techniques not just to convert people but also to spread animosity against mainstream Christian denominations. They hurl invectives against the teachings of Christian denominations and even induce people to tender a written ‘resignation’ to the pastor or priest. Since some of these groups do not even accept the divinity of Christ, in effect, their conversion should not be understood as conversion to Christianity but to their organisation. Mainstream Christian denominations do not go on a conversion spree, only splinter groups and cultic groups do so probably for some self-gain.”
Karnataka has suddenly become the principal target for a wide range of western Christian missions, especially after the BJP government came to power in 2008. The leaders of these groups are determined to spread “the Good News” to Karnataka’s “unreached” people. The tragedy is that politically ambitious so-called Christians like Saldanha who claim to be the spokesmen and defenders of the Indian Christian community spread distress and divisions and fan the flames of hatred against peace-loving Hindu community. They spread the venom of communal hatred like butter on hot bread. To all appearances, these Christian leaders enjoy the grace and favour of the Congress Party-led Government of India. This encouragement helps the growth of powerful elements of separatism and disunity in the country. It is well-known to political observers in Karnataka that Saldanha has been currying favour with Congress leaders and waiting in the wings for a plum post in the Party.
Animosity against Christians
Saldanha is ignorant of the fact that Christians are a tiny minority in this country/state. Their attitudes often elicit counter-reaction from the lunatic fringe of Hindu community who sometimes incite violence against Christians. Many preachers of the Christian Gospel rattle off verses from the Bible to preach hellfire and damnation to those who do not agree with their interpretations of the contents of the Bible. They lay enticing traps for people whom they think must be “saved” at all costs. One hopes that the Christian merchants of hate including the retired judge will soon realize that theirs is a losing battle even if they derive their financial and other means of support from foreign funding agencies for their nefarious activities.
Simply put, the animosity against Christians is a reaction to the aggressive faith-marketing and mindless evangelism by thousands of foreign-funded, cultic, fundamentalist, fanatic and revivalist Christian groups and their half-baked preachers working among the wretched of the Indian earth. They denigrate Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric. They are the root cause of tension between Christian and Hindu communities. Why should anybody be surprised if the so-called “extremists” among Hindus are offended and react violently? Invariably, incidents of violence against Christians are always bloated out of proportion and internationalized. It is, therefore, urgent that leaders of the established mainline churches, known for their erudition, equipoise, and empathy came out in the open and disowned such provocative acts of intolerance of the fundamentalist Christian groups masquerading as real Christians.
The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handful of Hindu extremists but the self-styled saviours of Christianity who assert that they alone are the holders of valid visas to heaven and paradise.
Yes, no civil society should condone violence. But mere condemnation is not a method to avert the repetition of violence. We have to find out if the violence is deliberate and unprovoked, or due to provocation. If it is the former, then there is one set of solutions, which mostly involves applying the law and severely punishing the perpetrators of the violence. However, if there is provocation, then we have to study the issue in greater detail. We have to understand why there has been a provocation for the violence, and who are the persons or organisations behind the provocation.
It is high time people like Saldanha made an earnest attempt to appreciate this basic fact. That would be true humility if that is indeed possible for them to manifest. The retired judge and his friends should apologize for their irresponsible and unsubstantiated comments that Karnataka is “the number one rogue state” in the Indian Union. They should also check and re-check their facts before deciding to disparage Hindu “extremists” in their utterances and reports.
The only way out
When greater inter-religious understanding and mutual respect is the need of the hour, leveling wild accusations that do not have any foundation is dangerous gamesmanship.
Hindu “fundamentalism” is a reaction to the provocations of Christian proselytizers. Under attack, Hindus have partly woken up to the need for self-protection and self-preservation. When they attack such Christian proselytizers they generate much criticism, especially from pseudo secularists and from the media world-wide.
People like me, who have some access to the media and are still in control of our betz cells know that all such propaganda is being peddled in the name of a bogey man called Sangh Parivar. If one is honest in one’s analysis, it is not the Sangh Parivar but certainly the actions of Christian proselytizers and jihadi Muslims who challenge the religious sensitivities of the Hindu majority in the State.
The Sangh Parivar bogey man will disappear if the mainline Churches in India come out openly and affirm that they are taking a solemn pledge in the name of Jesus Christ to abide by his admonition not to go miles to make a proselyte. If they can do that, the so-called Sangh Parivar will disappear.
India and its tolerance for the diversity of its religious communities were built up over thousands of years. But, it looks like if individuals like Saldanha and his like-minded friends are not checked and their false propaganda countered, your children and the children of India’s minorities will have no future anywhere near the equity and fairness that they have so far enjoyed despite India being a predominantly Hindu nation.
Be that as it may, can Saldanha, the self-styled leader of the Christian community, light a candle amidst the encircling gloom spread by the religious conversionists of both fundamental Christianity and Jehadi Islam?
With malice towards none, and charity towards all, Indian Christians like me remain true to our guide and spiritual leader, the Jesus of Nazareth. Peace, Shanti, Salam, and Shalom!
(About the Author: P.N. Benjamin is the Coordinator of Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue(BIRD) , Member, Karnataka State Minorities Commission and Freelance journalist with 35 years experience)