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Who will speak the truth on religious conversions?

Rev. Dominic Emmanuel, svd

HE BATTERED Christian community continues to feel beleaguered. No sooner did it hear whispers about Articles 355 and 356 from the UPA government and began to feel a little consoled, than news arrived of more attacks on churches and more Christians being killed.

The pogrom against the Christian community, that began after the death of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati on August 23, despite “five” warnings from the Central government to the Orissa government, does not seem to be abating. The perpetrators are going about it with impunity, confident that the BJD-BJP combine rule in Orissa and other BJPruled states like Karnataka would provide them all the protection needed.

The systematic and prolonged attacks on Christian institutions and its priests and nuns, are unprecedented in the history of independent India. Though nearly 10 years ago, Dara Singh, along with other Bajrang Dal members, had burnt alive Graham Staines and his two sons in Mayurbhanj, and killed Father Arul Das a few months later, the attacks never lasted this long. The fact that neither those who Staines had served for 35 years nor, indeed, the Christians, took up arms against his killers, as the Sangh Parivar is doing in Kandhamal, is a matter to give a thought to.

Three times, after the killing of the Swami, Maoists have claimed responsibility for it, but the Sangh Parivar constituents, bent on targeting the Christian community, are still instigating violence in the area and blaming Christians for it. Christian leaders, who immediately condemned the killing of the Swami, are still pressing for a CBI enquiry into both, the killing of the Swami and the riots that followed in which, according to official figures, more than 60 people have died and more than 50,000 left homeless, not to mention more than 150 churches burnt or destroyed.

In this context, a few points need serious consideration.

First is the issue of successful propaganda by the Sangh Parivar on the issue of conversion by “force, fraud or allurement” by Christian missionaries. So far, not a single Parivar member is able to satisfactorily explain the drop in the Christian population — from 2.8 per cent at the time of Independence to 2.33 per cent, according to the official census of 2001, especially in a country where 60 per cent people are poor and nearly 42 per cent live below the poverty line — vis-à-vis their allegation of mass conversions. And this, despite 2,000 years’ of Christian presence on the soil of India! Are the missionaries so inefficient in their “converting the poor” project?

As an answer to that question, both Ram Madhav, the former spokesperson of the RSS, and Surender Jain, general secretary of the VHP, proudly claim that the strength and resilience of the Hindu religion explains the missionaries’ failure. That being so, what frightens the Parivar about a small number of missionaries’ work, from the meagre 2.33 per cent Christians, against the 82 per cent-strong, deeply religious Hindu community? The Christians have completely failed in countering this propaganda.

And that brings me to the second point that, even if Christians have failed to counter the false allegations, it is amazing to hear the loud silence of millions of beneficiaries of Christian institutions who never experienced the proselytising side of missionaries during their long years of contact with them. From the BJP’s Mr L.K. Advani to Mr Praful Goradia and Mr Arun Shourie, who have all passed through the portals of Christian institutions, they all vouch that there were no attempts of conversion on them but hasten to add that it was because they were not poor. They offer this argument presuming that missionaries, like politicians, are two-faced — one for the rich and one for the poor. They do not answer the question that if converting the poor was indeed the sole motive of missionaries, then why would they not work only among the poor? Why would they be offering such quality service to the rich in cities with “zero conversion” rates? They also presume that the poor have no dignity (in keeping with Varna dharma) and that their conscience can be bought over with money.

And thirdly, that despite the unparallel work of Mother Teresa for the poorest of the poor, the motives of Christians — that “whatever they do to the least of their brothers or sisters they do it for Jesus…” — is just beyond the comprehension of those who make false but successful propaganda against Christians?

And finally, haven’t seven different states, some of them for as long as 40 years, made anti-conversion laws and never managed to convict a single person on charges of conversion by “force, fraud or allurement”?

The media is shy in reporting the scale on which the Parivar is carrying out forceful conversion of Christians to Hinduism at gun or sword point in BJDBJP ruled Orissa. People can return from forests and refugee camps only if they embrace Hinduism. This is happening right now. But who shall speak the truth?

Source: The Asian Age ePaper