Why Are Christians a Punching Bag?

Christians are under attack in states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, where they comprise barely 1–2% of the population

Representative image
Representative image

A.J. Philip

Nearly 600 cases of Christian persecution or harassment were reported from all over the country in 2022. Yet, there has not been a single case of Christians physically retaliating against such atrocities anywhere. The worst-ever atrocities they suffered were in Kandhamal in Odisha where hundreds of churches were destroyed or vandalised and thousands of the faithful were driven out of their villages following the murder of a controversial religious person in 2008. They suffered in silence without striking back, except marshalling evidence against the culprits in courts of law.

The question is: how can there be growing violence against the minority community without any rhyme or reason? Fascist forces have always wanted a mythical enemy to consolidate their own strength as in Germany, where they found their perfect adversary in Jews, though they were too insignificant to resist violence, let alone retaliate.

It is difficult to believe that the anti-Christian violence is spontaneous. Studies of communal riots show that violence can erupt over anything but the State has the power to put it down; without instigation and support from extraneous sources—including those in power—no riot can last longer than a few hours. To believe otherwise is to underestimate the capacity of the police, the paramilitary and the armed forces.

This strengthens the suspicion that the violence is politically inspired with the aim to polarise and mobilise people. To put the Christians in the dock is the unsubstantiated claim that they are out and out proselytisers at whose hands Hindus would be reduced to a minority. Nothing is more farcical than this claim in the light of evidence, with census reports confirming that Christians have recorded one of the lowest growth rates. Their total population is less than 3 per cent, though they have supposedly been converting Hindus since St. Thomas’ arrival at Kodungallur in Kerala in 52 AD.

In between, the country was ruled by the British, who professed the same Christian faith. The Christians were pioneers in taking modern medicine and modern education to the four corners of the country, setting up the largest number of hospitals and schools. Many of the leaders of the Sangh Parivar had their education in such schools.

All this did not make the Christians demographically stronger. It is also not the first time that they are accused of conversion. When Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa were two states that brought forward what is euphemistically called the ‘Freedom of Religion’ Acts. Today, nearly a dozen states have such laws in force.

Yet, the fact remains that not a single Christian has so far been convicted for forcible conversion. This has, however, not prevented states like Haryana, Uttarakhand and Karnataka from strengthening the existing legislation in order to drive the Christians to a corner.

Claims of mass conversions to Christianity are voiced so often that even a Supreme Court judge is forced to say that the national security is in danger. In Karnataka, the relevant law describes mass conversion as conversion of two or more people. Thus, if a man and his wife convert, it comes under the definition of mass conversion, attracting severe punishment.

Allurement for conversion is an offence. What is allurement? If a Christian educates a non-Christian boy or girl in a good school, it is allurement. If the student is taught in a government school, it is not an allurement. What the authorities want is that the Dalits should not get good education.

India is a democratic country. It allows a person to vote for the BJP in a parliamentary election, for the Congress or another national party in an assembly election and for an independent or a regional party in the municipal election. He can also join and leave any party of his choice. He does not have to seek any permission.

But if a man who believes in 33 crore Hindu gods and goddesses, adds one more Christian or Islamic God to the pantheon, it endangers national security. In states like Karnataka and Uttarakhand, he will have to file an affidavit before the district judge about his intention to convert. Then only he can convert.

A citizen can vote for a party in one election, may change his allegiance to another party in the next election. Yet, he cannot worship a new god under the freedom of religion laws, now in force in several states.

The fact of the matter is that no person can be converted through allurement. Had that been the case, the one per cent, who own 40.5 per cent of the country’s wealth could have used a portion of their money to lure all the Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. But that’s not the case because nobody converts except through the will of what the believers call God.

That is how Samuel Evans Stokes, an American who came to India as a missionary and introduced apples to Himachal Pradesh, converted to Hinduism and chose the name Satyananda Stokes. Musician A.R. Rahman was born a Hindu but became a Muslim. It was not because anyone gave them money to do so. The Constitution of India gives one the freedom to not only practise any faith, but also propagate it. Yes, the law does not allow anyone to convert anyone. What is not realised is that conversion is often the culmination of the act of propagation.

Why does a person join the BJP? It is because he is influenced by the kind of rhetoric employed by Narendra Modi and other leaders. Can it be called allurement and banned? That is what they are doing in the case of conversion.

Now the question: why is the Sangh Parivar worked up over conversion? Historically, most of those who convert to a new religion are the deprived sections or lower castes. Most of those who became Christians in the first century were gentiles, who had lesser social status than the Jews.

In India, most of the converts to Christianity and Islam were from lower castes. They were oppressed by casteism. They were prevented from acquiring modern education. In fact, they were not even allowed access to public roads as in Vaikom in Kerala where an agitation had to be resorted to. It is this section that the Sangh Parivar wants to keep under its subjugation.

I have heard a BJP MP belonging to a Scheduled Caste proudly claim that he carried his own glass and whenever he went to an upper-caste household, he would take out his own glass to drink water. He justified it on the ground that it was their tradition to have the two-glass system. He became an MP but he remained a slave of tradition.

Empowerment is when a person feels that all are equal citizens who can reach any position by virtue of their ability. S/he also knows her/his rights, privileges and duties as a citizen. Such a person will never be a vote bank because he knows what to choose.

But the Sangh Parivar is scared of lower castes getting educated and empowered. They want them to remain under the yoke of tradition while their own wards are sent to elite educational institutions in India and abroad. That is why even after so many years of freedom, an elite group controls the State power.

In the name of fighting conversion, illiterate and indoctrinated cadres are instigated to attack Christians praying collectively at their homes or in churches. Because they are guided to suffer rather than fight, it is easy to terrorise the Christians. It is the responsibility of the State to protect them but governments like in UP and Chhattisgarh fail to take action, encouraging the cadres to intensify the attack.

Injustice is practised in many ways. If a Dalit scavenger converts, he will lose the benefits of reservation. Not only that, the law that protects Dalits from atrocities will also not protect him. Laws enacted with noble purposes are misused to drive out Christians from village after village in some north Indian states.

It is foolish to believe that the anti-Christian attacks will soon end as it has a clear motive. And that motive is to polarise the voters on communal lines for the BJP to rake the moolah in the ensuing elections in Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Little wonder then that the small community of Christians has become the Sangh Parivar’s punching bag.

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