By Christopher Joseph*
Last week should have been significant for India’s Christian leaders fighting a right-wing Hindu group’s march toward creating a Hindu-only India. But their prospect of success seems more complicated now, with cracks developing within the community.
When some 200 of them met in New Delhi Feb. 13 there were no two opinions about the need to resist advances by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, to appropriate the Christian community. Our leaders emphatically renounced an RSS proposal to form a separate forum for Christians within their Hindu group.
The RSS proposal was seen as an attempt to reach out to the Christian community amid accusations that the RSS, along with its political wing, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are stoking a climate of intolerance against minority religions in India and the spirit behind all anti-Christian activities in the country.
The RSS, the engine room that runs the government, is also seen as the reason for the state’s silence and apathy toward the ongoing Christian bashing.
But unfortunately, both the Catholic and Protestant churches were not part of the meeting and a good enough reason to divide Christians who have more than two opinions about teaming up with RSS for political relevance.
The official church was evidently unhappy that a group of Christian leaders on their own initiative planned a meeting, without the church’s consult and sanction. Officials of the national Catholic and Protestant conferences, although invited to the meeting, did not attend it. They told media that they have nothing to do with it!
Activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shout slogans as they march through the streets of Kolkata, India on June 18.
Most Christians who support the idea of collaboration with the RSS and BJP live in south and southwestern India where traditional Christianity has its roots in the upper classes. Christians are socially and politically influential here, unlike in the rest of India, where they are mostly indigenous people and those from the so-called lower-caste origin.
In Goa, a former Portuguese colony, Catholic politicians are part of the BJP government that runs the state. The BJP and RSS have also made inroads into another traditional Christian stronghold state of Kerala.
Some church leaders in Kerala for example are cut off from the realities faced by Christians elsewhere. Kerala-based Mar Thoma Church’s Metropolitan Joseph Mar Thoma addressed a gathering for the newly elected BJP state president in January and said he found similarities between his church and the BJP. “We too have the lotus and the oil lamp” the political symbols of the BJP “as symbols placed on our church logo,” he said. Media interpreted this as a softening of the Christian stand against hard-line Hindu groups.
Some Christians believe collaboration, not confrontation, is the way ahead. They argue that having more moderates and Christians within these groups may neutralize the hard-line and anti-Christian views.
Besides, and more importantly, the RSS runs the government and joining forces with them would be a sure way to influence government polices in favor of Christian interest, they argue.
These arguments are fine as arguments, but the history of India and its religious minorities would prove that such premises stand on shaky ground.
The RSS no doubt is a cultural organization, but they have a fanatic view about things. They accept only Hindu culture and despise all other cultures and cultural habits. They make demands on the lifestyles of people including food habits and dress. The culture they stress also denies gender equality and accepts the caste system that sees poor caste people as sub-human. The seeming logic of collaboration could work only if Christians accept these cultural basics of the RSS.
Indian Catholics pray during at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi in this 2010 file photo. ?(Photo by AFP)
The genesis and growth of the RSS is based on hate. The 90-year-old organization’s second chief, M.S. Golwalker (1906–1973) lists Muslims, Christians and Communists as a prime “threat to the nation” in his book, Bunch of Thoughts. The book gave the RSS its underpinning philosophy that saw it grow to a 6-million strong member organization having some 51,400 branches across India.
More essentially, the existential concept of Christianity such as evangelization and conversion are totally unacceptable to them. Christians “should subordinate their exclusive claims for final and sole revelation vis-a-vis the national society,” asserts Glwalker in his book. God saves the Christian who believes collaboration with the RSS is possible for him.
The hope that working with the RSS would help influence government policies are too ambitious. For one, Christians — a numerical minority in vast parts of India — would not get any influential positions or ministerial berths. They will be sidelined to nominal positions, if they win a parliamentary seat or two, and will be forced to toe the official line. Nothing will change that ideology.
What is most depressing is to say: “They run the government, and so let us be with them.” It legitimizes a right-wing group. But more than that, the attitude betrays cowardice, the rush to protect institutional interests and the sickness that seeks power, wealth and limelight. That rush is not only un-Christian, but also inhuman as it could jeopardize the lives of poor tribal and dalit people, just because they happen to be Christians.
Indian Christians have better choices as they live in a country following the principles of secularism and democratic institutions. A constitution and court systems that guarantee equality and religious freedom to all citizens surely offers recourse to their woes.
The challenge before Indian Christians is to come to the mainstream of Indian social and political life and work with other minorities and civil groups. With long-term planning and vision, their leaders could strengthen laymen and women for political action.
*Christopher Joseph is a journalist working for ucanews.com in India.