17. Christ in India


         The Sangh is even less combative vis-à-vis Christianity than vis-à-vis Islam.  The Christian Churches must be counted among Hindutva's most determined enemies.  Much of the negative image which the BJP has acquired internationally is due to the lasting powerful impact of the Churches on the information stream concerning the Third World.  In quarrels between the Hindutva forces and the Muslims or the secularists, the Christian institutions are invariably on the anti-Hindu side.  There are also Chris­tian armed separat­ist movements in Nagaland and Mizoram, which are openly supported by the World Council of Churches and by a number of Catholic institutions.


         Some Hindu writers have therefore developed detailed criticisms of Christian political behaviour in India, detailing records of conversion, and discussing the missions' international sponsoring.[1]  This line of argument is also developed in books formally published by the Sangh Parivar itself through its "think-tank", the Deendayal Research Institut­e, most notably Devendra Swarup, ed.: Politics of Conver­sion (1986).  A more fundamental critique of Christianity itself, regardl­ess of its alleged "anti-national designs" and use as an "instrument of the Western powers", but more in touch with Western developments in Church history and Bible research, is only available in publications by independent writers, mostly through Voice of India.[2]


         The Sangh Parivar cannot be accused of a confron­tationist stance vis-à-vis the Christians and the mis­sionaries.  The single most frightening moment for the Christian mission strategists was in the mid-1950s, when the BJS was hardly in the picture as a political force.  The Congress governm­ent of Madhya Pradesh ordered an inves­tigation of fraudulent conversions through social pressure and material inducement by Christian missionaries in the tribal belt.  The BJS supported the implementation of the recommen­dations (for a much stricter control of missionary ac­tivities and finances) concluding the highly critical report of this commit­tee.  The BJS 1957 election manifesto stated: "The recommen­dations of the Niyogi Committee and Rege Committee will be implemented to free the Bharatiya Christians from the anti-national influence of foreign missionaries."[3]  Remark the language used: it sounds as if the BJS wants to protect the Christians against the mis­sionari­es.  Then already, it apparently felt the need to cloak its concern for Hindu (including tribal) interests in an ostensible concern for the minorities.  At any rate, Nehru prevented the report from having any political consequen­ces.


         The BJS took up the same thread of checking the missionary activities when it reckoned it was in a stronger position to impose its will, viz. when it was part of the Janata Party government.  In 1978, O.P. Tyagi proposed his Freedom of Religion Bill in the Lok Sabha, with the object of prohibiting conversions by force or allurement.  The Christian missions launched a worldwide propaganda campaign against it, and the Leftist sections of the Janata Party also opposed it, so that nothing came of it.  But the BJS had at least tried; the BJP can not even be credited with trying.


         In 1994, the Churches created a similar stir, on the occasion of a very small incident in the Chennai area.  After reading Ishwar Sharan's book The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, which argued that a number of churches including the one commemorating Saint Thomas's alleged martyrdom had been built on destroyed Shiva temples, a back-bench member of the RSS-af­filiated Tamil organization Hindu Munnani went to a church in Pon­dicherry, equipped with the parapher­nalia for puja, and inquired where the Shiva lingam was, so that he could worship it.  He had learnt that the Cathedral had been built on the site of the Vedapuri-Ishwaran Temple after the temple had been destroyed in 1748 by the Jesuits aided by the them French governor of Pondicherry. Immediately, the Catholic Church was alarmed and warned that the Hindu fundamentalists were trying to create a second Ayodhya affair.  The Hindu Munnani responded to the challenge in a very modest way, holding a small demonstration near the church (as close as the police allowed them to go) to draw attention to the Catholic Church's record in the attempted destruction of Hinduism in South India. 


         The Hindu Munnani did not let the controversy escalate any further, not least because the BJP had immediately disowned the fledgling movement. The story of how the Vedapuri-Ishwaran temple was destroyed had been documented in great detail in Sita Ram Goel’s History of Hindu Christian Encounters published in 1989. He requested an RSS journalist whose syndicated column was published in many newspapers across the country, to make the story more widely known by devoting one of the articles to it. He agreed but did not keep his promise. Goel tried to get the story summarized in the Organizer also, and immediately sent a copy of his book to the editor who expressed willingness over the telephone. But weeks passed without the weekly even mentioning the episode. Later on, it was learnt that the Sangh leaders had decided to suppress the story, and so it was blocked out of the media controlled by the Sangh Parivar. When I mentioned this incident to some leading BJP members, none of them expressed any interest in, let alone sympathy for the Hindu Munnani's position.  K.R. Malkani, whom the media always describe as "BJP ideologue", laughed it off and said that "we have no quarrel with the Chris­tians". 


         Why did the BJP refuse to focus attention on the record of Christian aggression?  Though focusing on conflictual chapters in history has been decried and condemned in the strongest terms when Hindus did just that during the Ayodhya campaign, it is a per­fectly respectable activity in other parts of the world.  Every now and then, we hear of some new monument or movie com­memorating the Holocaust and confirming the Germans in their role of culprits.  Monuments are being built to commemorate the victims of Communism, and hence to draw attention to the guilt of their Communist oppressors and execution­ers.  Except for Hindu society victimized in centuries of Muslim rule, every community which considers itself the victim of large-scale aggression at some point in history freely exercises the right to fix the memory of this crime in the collective consciousness.


         Most to the point, the not-so-gentle conquest and chris­tianization of the Americas has been commemorated on a very large scale in 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus's landing.  It so happens that another 500th anniversary in approaching: that of Vasco da Gama's landing in India in 1498.  Juridically and theologically, this event was the exact counterpart of Columbus's landing in America.  In the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, the Pope had allotted two halves of the world to Spain and Portugal, on condition that these Christian states organize the christianizat­ion of their respective colonies.  Most of America and East Asia fell to Spain, while Portugal got the area from Brazil to China, including Africa and India.  The Portuguese were less successful in India than the Spanish were in America, not because their intentions and methods were different, but simply because the power equation was different: the Indians were better equipped (cannon, horses, resistance to diseases) than the Native Americans, while the Portuguese were fewer in number than the Spanish.  On a smaller scale, the Portuguese in India behaved just like the Spanish in America: forcible conversions, massacres of the native priesthood, destruc­tion of places of worship.


         Therefore, the question arises: is there any chance of a 1998 commemoration comparable to the 1992 commemorations?  In 1992, even the Pope felt he couldn't ignore the painful anniversary, and in the name of the Catholic Church, he publicly apologized to the Native Americans.  This was the result of a broad movement in public opinion, including the cultural sector and politicians from every American country.  Is there any chance that the Pope will feel suf­ficiently pressured to do the same thing towards the Hindus?  As things stand at the time of writing, it looks like there will be no trace of a similar Christian soul-sear­ching, simply because there will be no Hindu pressure in that direction.  In December 1995, Hindu Munnani activists in Chennai told me that they vaguely consider "doing something", but no writer or film director is creating an opinion climate, and even the political party allegedly waging a campaign against the Christians is not taking up the issue at all.  Mr. Malkani emphatically denied that the BJP would ever consider par­ticipat­ing in or give a lead to such a movement. 


         To sum up, while a part of the BJP constituency certainly harbours anti-Christian feelings, the BJP is careful to avoid any confrontation with the powerful Christian Churches.  One reason is that most Hindus are simply not sufficiently informed about Christianity to take it on in any meaningful way (often sentimen­tally cherish­ing crazy myths about Jesus having lived in India, the Gospel teaching yoga, etc.).  Another is that the calculating BJP politicians see courtesy to Christianity as one of the prerequisites for achieving the mirage-like goal of being accepted as secular.



             [1]  Typical examples are Brahma Datt Bharati: Christian Conversions (1980), Thanulinga Nadar: Unrest at Kanyakumari (1983), and Major T.R. Vedan­tham: Christianity, a Political Problem (1984).

             [2]  Examples are Ram Swarup: Hindu View of Christianity and Islam (1992) and Hindu-Buddhist Rejoinder to Pope John-Paul II (1995), Sita Ram Goel: History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (1989, 1996) and Jesus Christ, Artifice for Aggression (1995), Ishwar Sharan: The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (1991, 1994), and Arun Shourie: Mis­sionaries in India (1994).

             [3]  Party Documents, vol.1, p.82.







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