Viewpoint by Dr Ram Puniyani
This article is the 15th in a series of joint productions of South Asian Outlook and IDN-InDepthNews, the flagship of the International Press Syndicate. The writer is a former professor of biomedical engineering and former senior medical officer affiliated with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (now Mumbai) and meanwhile a social activist and commentator.
NEW DELHI (IDN) — Rakesh Sinha, thinker of the right-wing Hindu nationalist RSS and a member of Parliament in a recently given interview to Dainki Jagran (Mid July 2021) demanded that time has come to launch the campaign “Isai Missionary Bharat Chhodo” (Christian missionaries leave India). As per him the missionaries are ruining Adivasi culture and are doing conversion work taking advantage of the provisions of freedom of religion.
Earlier (May 22, 2018) in a tweet he had stated “Do we need Missionaries? They constitute threat on our spiritual democracy. Niyogi Commission report (1956) exposed their real face but Nehruvians preserved them as essential vestige of colonialism. Either Quit India or form Indian Church vouching non proselytization.”
Most of the accusations against missionaries are not only baseless and lack understanding of Christianity in India. Contrary to his assertion, missionaries are not a part of colonial legacy. Indian Christianity is very old and it begins in A.D. 52 with St Thomas coming to Malabar Coast and setting up the church. Various Indian rulers welcomed the missionaries and saw their spiritual aspect.
One recalls Maharashtra’s popular King Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj telling his army to ensure that the Ashram of Fr. Ambrose is not damaged during their campaign. There are accounts of Akbar receiving the Christian representatives very respectfully in his Court.
Gandhi regards Christianity as an Indian religion along with Hinduism, Islam and others, “Every nation considers its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversions from one faith to another.”
And then he goes on to list the faiths of India, “Apart from Christianity and Judaism, Hinduism and its offshoots, Islam and Zoroastrianism are living faiths.”(Gandhi’s collected works, Volume XLVI p. 27-28.) As such religions are universal and not bound by national boundaries.
As per Sinha Missionaries constitute a threat to spiritual democracy. Let’s understand what spiritual democracy means. I understand it as regarding all faiths as equal in the eyes of Indian Constitution and as per Universal morality. On the contrary many authors have argued that caste/Varna system is the threat to spiritual democracy. Those perpetuating caste/Varna through their ideology can be considered as threat to spiritual democracy.
Sinha needs to understand this from his seniors like Lal Krishna Advani and late Arun Jaitly’s (both of them have been students of Christian run schools). I presume many others in his ideological camp may have also been studied in such schools.
What is the work of Christian missionaries? It is true that prior to 1960s there were many a missionaries coming from abroad, particularly from Western countries. Now most of the Christian churches are Indian in all sense of the word. They work and operate within the provisions of Indian Constitution. Their main work is focused on health and education in Adivasi areas and poor dalit areas apart from the schools where worthies like Advani or Jaitly studied.
How are they ruining the Adivasi culture? Spreading education and providing health facilities among these children of lesser Gods in no way is the ruination of their culture. Any way, culture as a social phenomenon is not a static phenomenon. It changes with interactions. We need to refer to the brilliant report of the United Nations ‘Alliance of Civilizations’ which argues with a profound overview of Human history that it is the alliance of cultures, religions, food habits, languages and knowledge which is determining the progress of human civilization.
Lately with intervention of Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), an Indian right-wing Hindu organization based on Hindu nationalism. VHP and other organizations have brought a vast change in Adivasi practices. From last four decades or so the organization of Shabri Festivals and installations Lord Hanuman idols have been very much popularized in Adivasi areas. Is this not a cultural modification of Adivasis, who are essentially nature worshipers?
As far as Conversions are concerned, Niyogi report, which was published in 1956, did conclude that Christian missionaries are converting. There is no denial that some missionaries perhaps have been overtly focusing on the work of conversions. Practice and preaching of our religion is a right given in the constitution.
One can travel a bit further and also look at the Wadhva Commission report also to see the other side of the picture. Pastor Stains was burnt alive by RSS affiliate Bajrang dal’s Rajendra Singh Pal (Dara Singh), who is currently undergoing life imprisonment for the same. What was propagated was that the pastor was doing the conversion work so he was a threat to Hinduism, and the brutal act was orchestrated.
Wadhva Commission report (appointed by NDA Government, the National Democratic Alliance, is an Indian political alliance made up of predominantly right-wing political parties and led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) concluded that Pastor was not doing any work of conversion. The area Keonjhar, Manoharpur in Orissa where he was working did not see any statistical significant increase in Christian population.
The total picture of conversions is very interesting. Christianity came to India in AD 52. As per the census of 2011, the percentage of Christians is 2.30. In preceding census figures it was 1971-2.60%, 1981-2.44, 1991-2.34, 2001-2. 30). So there is a stability or marginal decline in the Christian population. The fear is being deliberately created of the conversions. Even RSS in its recent conclave at Chitrakoot (July 2021) gave the call of ‘Chadar Mukt-Father Mukt Bharat’. (India free from Muslims, free from Christians)
We have Indian Constitution and enough laws to prevent the conversion by force, fraud or allurement. To give the call against Christian missionaries or Father Mukt Bharat is an attempt to impose the Hindu nationalist agenda. To think that Missionaries has ruined the Adivasi culture is not true as spread of education and improvement of health, the basic work of Missionaries cannot be looked at as the ruining of culture in any way. If few of them have been claiming and doing conversions, they can be dealt with the Indian law rather than giving divisive aggressive slogans.
Sinha seems to treat Adivasis as a part of Hinduism. Hindusim is a polytheistic religion with its scriptures, holy places and what have you. Adivasis are nature worshippers in the main. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 July 2021]
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