Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi: India’s celebrated Christian community long pre-dated the British, who had sponsored missionary initiatives, with little success in the subcontinent. Times have changed. There is an unblemished glow to Christianity in India: the priests are mostly upper-caste Brahmin disciples, while the flock is mostly drawn from this nation’s untouchable communities, known as Dalits.
Contemporary India has struggled with Hindu anger that has largely focused on their apprehension……of shining India’s ascent, which is likely to see an explosion of Christianity, very soon in the country. This is a reminder of something similar, which has already happened in South Korea. A foreign ideology and faith had taken over the Korean society, nearly a half century ago.
Diverging concepts and images of the Creator, have led to confusions and discord in India’s dominant nationalism. All this has been doused under the powerful influence of secular thought: that underneath the rough edges of divergence among India’s varied religions, there lies a common dogma, coupled with a moral order. And, this is also something very well articulated in the country‘s constitution.
We are led to believe this is the Hindu ‘right’. And paradoxically, a variant belief has also existed in the silhouette, that we often refer to as the strong Hindu ‘left’. Like the powerful convergence of light waves, their philosophy has unified India, under the banner of Hinduism…. the nation’s dominant religion.
Nearly a decade ago, anti-Christian violence had spilled over the country. News media has continued to flash gruesome images of fiery (Hindu) mobs smashing churches and prayer halls. Unpleasant memories continue to haunt us. Exhibition of brute force and communal violence had embraced India with a profound sense of guilt and national shame.
Expectedly, there was bloodshed on both sides. A Christian priest had been literally cut to pieces for his alleged crime of committing a ‘conversion’, while a Hindu priest lost his life, campaigning against such conversions. The frenzy had continued unabated, taking its toll of twelve precious lives, that spread across six states of secular India.
Finally, when sanity prevailed, an aggrieved nation searched their ‘souls’ in the aftermath of senseless bloodshed. Passion, hatred, and fury had gained strong roots as India searched its own soul. The prognosis: bad times ahead for a billion people who have cherished secular values!
Individual faith enjoys powerful roots in this thickly populated country that represents one-fifth of our entire humanity. Indeed it was the passion of ‘Divinity’ that had chartered its course leading to their independence, seventy years ago and shaking the very foundations of the subcontinent. Powerful waves generated by Partition of India, cast grave concerns about the nation’s future direction.
Only recently, the state of Orissa went through its trauma when several hundred Christians were subjected to the process of ‘reconversion’ of (their) faith, and forced to become ‘Hindus’. They were all coerced into the act, courtesy of a clear ultimatum delivered by self-styled, lynch mobs. Under duress, these innocent followers of their religion of choice were left with no option, but to abandon their Christian faith. in defiance, they would simply lose their lives.
For well over a decade, India has painfully traversed in its journey, carrying with it, a heavy baggage of religious frenzies. Forced conversions have come in waves across India’s rural divide, to mark a dramatic escalation in separate, continuing orgies of sectarian brutalities. According to estimates, hundreds of people have lost their lives, rendering nearly 50,000 homeless victims.
In the aberration that continued, long time neighbors ferociously attacked one another leaving thousands of houses and churches gutted or razed to the ground. The Christian minorities were caught by an element of surprise. They became the vanquished ‘tribe’, and victims of communal carnage. And, were unable to leave the scene of brutality, unless they had consented to abandon their existing Christian faith.
Let us also look into what is happening in other Christian societies, thriving in India’s neighboring countries.
Nepal, first. This landlocked country boasts itself of being the only ‘Hindu’ nation, and home of the Untouchables or Dalits. They are members of the lowest Hindu castes, who have continued to suffer from discrimination and abuse. Unbelievably, these marginalized groups including Dalits, are currently engaged in a different kind of struggle. They are leading an upsurge of the Christian community in Nepal.
In the face gruesome consequences, nearly 2.0 million people in this Hindu state, have declared themselves to be Christians. Surprisingly, it is on record that the Christian population has multiplied here, manifolds, at a pace faster than the rest of our world. Although Hinduism prevails as the country’s dominant religion, its transition into a secular state in recent times has opened the doors for other religions to fill the spiritual void in the region.
The rise of Christianity in Nepal is further driven by motivations of health, discrimination, and poverty, rather than a pure belief in the gospels illustrating the Holy Bible. Behind the curtains, note the critics, the conversions have surfaced perhaps, due to well-funded missionaries and their good work.
I had the opportunity to travel to Nepal, on several occasions. I have seen first hand, the quality of life in all its urban and rural landscapes and mountain slopes. After thirty or so odd visits, I could visualize the emergent changes taking place in its religious horizon. In Western Nepal, off the terrains of Manahari, more than thirty churches sprung up, in a matter of few years. In a short span of time, this town has further boasted of a couple of mosques and Buddhist gompas, and at least ten Hindu temples. These churches are being led by Chepangs, the locally disadvantaged group of this Nepali region’s backward population
After a devastating earthquake in the year 2015, Christian missions in Chepang neighborhoods have become proactive. Hence, the houses of Christian worship have increased in their numbers. All this has been achieved by virtue of the ‘healing powers’ attributed to this new faith called ‘Christianity’. This has been a faith, that overcame traditional, tribal rituals and the charismatic effects of the ‘shamans’. These conversions have also created situations inviting direct collision within the Chepang communities settled in the region.
Prevalent caste discrimination has largely been responsible for the conversions of Dalits in very large numbers, into Christianity. Hindu priests have accepted this reality of religion-change, in rural and backward Nepal. Without prejudice, Hinduism is acknowledged to contain perhaps, a definite weakness in its division of society, by caste. Where, the lowest ranking in the caste, constitute the Untouchables.
Unfortunately so, the religion is now losing out to a more powerful influence that has engulfed the minds, in this conservative society. The old diehards have lamented that Christian missionaries are luring the Dalits by the ‘intrinsic’ value of money, which has apparently disqualified the poor Hindus out of the competition. This is something, that has continued here for a long time.
Predictions are very clear that in not too distant future, there will be no Hindu worshippers at least, in this region. Preposterous as it may appear, this could be an ugly reality.
Next, let me discuss the relevant issues prevailing in Pakistan. Cosmopolitan Karachi is Pakistan’s largest (mega) city, a seaport and the business hub of the country. For twenty years, I have lived in this queer city of swaying ethnic dimensions. The largest among the churches in the country is the St. Peter’s, that has over the years, been hailed as a symbol of local Christian community’s pride.
There, however, exists a parallel situation, in terms of the difficulties the parishioners face here, comparable to other non-Muslim minorities and their houses of worship. All this is seriously complicated in the backdrop of an overwhelmingly large and intolerant (Muslim), society that thrives here.
Shocking as it may seem, armed guards are posted outside the Church, to protect the worshippers from would-be assassins or attackers, (and also suicide bombers) who mean to cause harm to the ‘infidels’ and their churches of worship. Prayers inside the Pakistani churches now forced to highlight the sacrifices of Christians who laid their lives in the mayhem caused by suicide bombings, in waves of attack all over the country’s churches.
Pastors are constrained to use non-alcoholic wine during Holy Communion for the fear of antagonizing Muslims, who keep a watchful eye at their infidel citizens.
Pew Research Center has reported that Pakistan is one of the most hostile nations for religious minorities. It is among the top five nations attributed to restrictions on religious practices. And also accompanied by its wagging serpent’s tail of anti Blasphemy statutes, that govern the hearts of Pakistani Muslims.
In this pure land, Courts simply award capital punishments of death, or lifetime jail sentences, to minorities if they are even accused of insulting Islam, or its Holy Book and/or the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
The US Commission for International Religious Freedom has accounted for at least 200 attacks on minorities’ religious groups, resulting in nearly 2500 casualties from acts of violence alone, that were conducted between 2012 and 2013. Religious minorities in the country, face everyday admonition for their quandaries, including discrimination by laws, forced conversions or armed attacks on non-Muslim minorities.
All this does not stop here and goes on to slit open the throats of even their own minority sects including the Shiites or the Ahmedis. School Textbooks have continued to demonize the existence of Pakistan’s minority classes.
Let me share with you, the national psyche. Due regard and sanctity are paid to the country’s Islamic roots by ignoring the major scientific and social contributions that have been made by people of various faiths. This constitutes the national pneuma and a mindset of the people of the country.
Minorities are forced to remain within the bottom rungs of the state’s employed citizens, often working as menial servants, janitors and day laborers.
When India was partitioned in 1947, nearly one-fifth of the population of Pakistan constituted to be non-Muslims. A majority of the non-Muslims living in the boundaries of Pakistan had left their homes to seek protection in neighboring India. After nearly three decades, in 1978 however, Pakistan’s radicalized clergy adopted new sharia laws that were enacted to reflect the aspirations of a society that practiced the Islamic faith of distant Saudi Arabia.
The new military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq had seriously pursued in his ambition to ‘exorcise’ Pakistan’s Muslims. He had promised the right-wing religious parties their heyday in the national mainstream.
The last ten years of the previous century were also the clouded years recorded in the annals of Pakistan’s history. Public floggings and brutal punishments were awarded by the Islamic Courts all around the country. Pakistan’s society had been incessantly brutalized.
The laws of Blasphemy conferred extreme punishments, merely on being accused of a violation of this draconian law. Undoubtedly, religious discrimination in Pakistan is a serious, serious issue in the country. Christians, Hindus, Atheists, Shiite and Ahmadi Muslims are customarily discriminated against. Jobs are refused and opportunities are denied just because they choose to practice a different or no faith, or a variant of the Muslim faith.
The year 2011 was perhaps the nebulous period for the religious minorities in Pakistan. Religious intolerance was at its peak. Hundreds of citizens of different faiths were targeted and killed by Islamist fundamental extremists, while the Government had remained a silent spectator.
Their failure to protect the minorities had encouraged the assassins to act with total liberty. Violent attacks against these innocent victims had occurred against the backdrop of legal and social discrimination in almost every aspect of human life in the Islamic Republic. This had included the domains of political participation, marriage, and freedom of belief and expression.
One final note of reminder to those at the helm of affairs in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
Nations must uphold the principles of equal citizenship and non-discrimination. Respective governments must afford due priorities; to ensure banishing the use of religion to violate the rights of all minorities and citizens of varying faiths who live the countries of our subcontinent.
Perhaps, this the only way to protect ethnic and religious diversity, and account for the security of a diverse polity. Otherwise, future generations will be less than forgiving, for endorsing crimes against humanity.
Photo Credits: 3the rd party for editorial purpose The Voice Times, Christian Today, La Stampa