Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999 00:31:36 -0500 (CDT)
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Christian Millenium Bugs Pro-Hindu Government
By Ranjit Dev Raj, IPS, 17 aug 1999
NEW DELHI, Aug 17 (IPS) - Jesus Christ's fast approaching 2,000th birthday is proving to be another millenium bug for the ruling, pro-Hindu, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The problem started with the eclectic, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, considered the 'moderate face' of the BJP, mooting the idea that India celebrate 2000 as the year of Christ.
But Vajpayee failed to get the innocuous sounding idea past Hindu hawks in his party, notably Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi who shot down the proposal saying Christianity was a religion 'alien' to India.
If the BJP establishment has little love lost for Christianity it has less for the Gregorian calendar preferring to stick to a traditional Hindu calendar according to which India is now in the year 2056 of a calendar established by the emperor Vikramaditya.
Christian leaders see Joshi's xenophobia as consonant with a wave of murderous and unprecedented attacks on missionaries and the two million strong Christian community ever since the BJP came to power in March last year.
Political leaders closely associated with the ruling regime such as Ashok Singhal have loudly accused missionaries of enticing impoverished and marginalised people into the Christian fold through educational activities and charitable health care.
Indeed when the Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen prescribed higher literacy rates as a remedy for poverty, Singhal said he smelt in it a foreign plot to promote Christian missionary activity in this country.
The attacks even drew criticism from President Kocheril Raman Narayanan but culminated only in the gruesome immolation alive in January of the Australian evangelist Graham Stuart Staines and his two minor sons Timothy and Philip in eastern Orissa state.
Though the government expressed regret at the incident, a commission of enquiry set up by the government failed to link the triple murder to Hindu communal elements in a report submitted earlier this month, outraging Christian leaders.
But Justice Wadhwa, who headed the commission, did say in the report that "the spreading of the Gospel and the preaching of Christian ideals is democratic and a Constitutionally guaranteed right."
Evangelisation, Justice Wadhwa said, is grossly misunderstood and confused with conversion and that in any case he found that Staines himself was never engaged in conversions.
The All-India Christian Council said in a statement that the community as well as all secular and peace-loving people in India felt disappointed that the report did not clearly indict Hindu organisations said to be behind the murders.
Apart from Christian organisations, political opponents of the BJP, particularly the Congress party and the Communist parties, have also openly expressed dismay at the Wadhwa commission's report.
Opposition leaders had criticised the very appointment of the Wadhwa commission because the National Minorities Commission and the National Human Rights Commission, both statuory bodies, were to conduct separate investigations.
Congress party leader Madhav Rao Scindia, however, pointed out that although Justice Wadhwa saw no evidence to implicate any religious organisation in the murders he did not comment on the affiliation on the prime suspect.
But Bishop Nimrod Christian of the Methodist Church said, "Even before the investigations began Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani had prejudiced them by declaring that Hindu organisations were not involved."
Bishop Nimrod said the biases of the BJP government against the Christian religion were now just as evident in the "discriminatory" attitude towards celebrations of the year 2000 along with the rest of the world.
The bishop said Joshi was ignoring history when he said Christianity was alien because historically, the religion came to India as far back as 52 A.D.
Besides, he said, the church and its organisations deserved recognition for the role they played in uplifting the downtrodden and providing the best education and medical care through missionary work.
Indeed, few can quarrel with the tremendous contribution made by Christian missionaries towards promoting education in a country where there is little investment in primary schools and where half the population remains illiterate.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Delhi, Alain de Lastic said he thought the good work of the Church may in fact have attracted hostility from the pro-Hindu establishment.
According to the archbishop the work of missionaries among the poor and downtrodden may have upset the Hindu religious caste hierarchy in the rural areas.
Uplifting the poor and oppressed is alien to the Hindu belief in 'karma' according to which suffering in this life is the result of misdeeds in previous ones. Anyway, generous contributions to Hindu temples rarely go into charity.
Prof. T K Oomen who teaches Sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) here thinks that resentment against Christianity may also stem from its association with the colonial past - although the British never encouraged conversions.
There is, Prof. Oomen points out, a similar resentment towards Islam, another 'alien' religion brought to India through conquest and which has traditionally been the target of Hindu fanantics.
The resentment fuels much of the seemingly irreconcilible hostility between India and Pakistan which were partitioned from each other in 1947 on religious grounds.
But where Muslims continue to be a large minority in India, constituting 20 percent of the country's billion people, Christians wield influence disproportionate to their small numbers, mainly because of better access to education.
English-medium education prized as the key to success more than half a century after the departure of the British is still monopolised by missionaries and the source of much heartburn for ultra-nationalists who back the BJP.
The campaign against Christianity may also have to do with the fact that the BJP's main political rival, the Congress party is led by Sonia Gandhi, an Italian-born Roman Catholic.
Though nothing has been said openly about her faith, Gandhi is under attacked for her Italian birth and indeed the BJP manifesto for the general elections next month promises legislation to bar foreign-born people from holding high office in India.
Bishop Nimrod said the failure to recognise the year 2000 was particularly unfortunate when the BJP government unreservedly joined in the tercentenary celebrations of the founding of the Sikh religion earlier this year.
Origin: New Delhi/RIGHTS-INDIA/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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