“Gandhi would be shocked by religious intolerance in India”
Christians make up a small part of the nation’s vast population and of late they seem to have come to face with a challenge of religious extremism in the form anti-Christian violence. By anti-Christian violence one generally tends to refer to religiously motivated attacks on the Christians, who are a minority in the nation, in the form of arson of churches, burning bibles, raping nuns, forceful conversion amongst other things.
However, this phenomenon is not new to the nation and seems to be intertwined with the ruling, Hindu Nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) government. According to a Human Rights Watch report the offences against Christians had shown an upward trend in the recent months after the victory of the B.J.P. in 1998. And now just when the nation seemed to have voted for “ache din” by electing the B.J.P. government with a whooping majority it seemed to be a déjà vu of the Christian oppression of 1998.
Since 2014, that is after the new government took office, there has been an increase in anti-Christian violence again. The violence has been in the form of attack in several churches in the National Capital, Delhi since December 2014, which included the burning of the St. Sebastian’s Church, a church in Mangalore was attacked in February, an under construction church was vandalised in Haryana, St. George church in Mumbai was attacked by masked persons, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and more than a dozen people were injured and perhaps the most outrageous of this series of attacks was the gang rape of a 71 year old nun in West Bengal during an attack on a convent school. Further this incident came just after a week when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) alleged that the charitable work of Mother Teresa (whose charitable works are considered more than a legacy) to be religiously motivated by aiming to convert those whom she helped to Christianity.
It is interesting to note that a report – “100 days under the New Regime- the state of minorities” – was released at a protest, on 27th September, by leaders of Christian denominations, Muslims and social activists and it pointed out that there have been more than 600 attacks on the minorities since the landslide victory. The report pointed out that “the first 100 days of the new regime have, however, seen the rising pitch of a crescendo of hate speech against Muslims and Christians. Their identity derided, their patriotism scoffed at, their citizenship questioned, their faith mocked.” The statement further noted that, “The environment has degenerated into one of coercion divisiveness, and suspicion. This has percolated to small towns and villages of rural India, severing bonds forged in a dialogue of life over the centuries, shattering the harmony built around the messages of peace and brotherhood.”
Though it is only logical for anything that goes wrong with the nation the ruling party is put under the axe but in this case the situation is likely to bring much more condemnation to the ruling party than any other lapses, the reason being that major accused perpetrators of anti-Christian violence have been the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), these are organisations with extreme Hindu beliefs and furthermore they very strongly endorse the B.J.P. claiming that the party too believes in the same (extreme) ideology of Hindutva. This is more than a mere allegation and is very well substantiated with facts when we look into the ruling governments in Gujarat, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka that there were serious lapses in handling the violence against the minorities and the B.J.P. was found directly responsible for allowing the bloodshed to spread.
Adding more to the allegations, as New York Times aptly put it, there was a “dangerous silence” by Mr.Modi, who is also known for his gift of the gab, giving rise to the feeling that either he cannot or he chose not to address the fringe elements of the Hindu nationalism. However he broke the silence by stating that his government “will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly.” This though welcomed by certain sects of the society as “better late than never” but on the other hand there was apprehension amongst others on the grounds as to why he decided to speak up after such a long break- whether it was out of genuine conviction or rather out helplessness or pressure, then again, there was a leader who most often addresses in Hindi speaking in English, so was it more for the global audience rather than the domestic audience.
The B.J.P. government has clearly not learnt its lesson from the past and to a large extent still appears to be a Hindu party rather than a secular one. One needs to maybe take back this government to almost two and a half decade back to the time when the B.J.P. government was dismissed in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh in the wake of the Ayodhya incident on Dec.6,1992 and the landmark judgement of S.R.Bommai V. Union of India was pronounced wherein the 9-judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme had reminded this same party that ‘secularism’ is a basic feature of the constitution and that no political party can simultaneously be a political party as well as a religious party.
In the given situation of already existing religious intolerance in the country the government cannot add to the perpetuation of this problem and needs to wake up to its promise of development, in terms of religion too, and needs to strongly condemn the perpetrators of religious crimes rather than being mute or remotely vocal on the subject. The fact that it has been entrusted with power in the center with a majority in the recently concluded election only shows that the people of the nation i.e. the Indians and not simply the Hindus have entered into a contract and entrusted them to uphold the peace and integrity of the nation and lead the nation on the path to development.