Friday, October 26, 2007


Need for RSS-Christian Dialoguehttp
(Talk by P.N.BENJAMIN, Co-coordinator, Bangalore Initiative for ReligiousDialogue (BIRD) at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore, on 13May, 2002)

“LORD, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sowlove; where there is doubt, let me sow faith; where there is despair, let mebring hope; where there is sorrow, let me bring joy; where there is darkness,light. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as toconsole; not so much to be understood as to understand; not so much to be loved,as to love. For, it is in giving that we receive; in pardoning that we arepardoned; in dying that we are born to eternal life.” AMEN.

Nowadays, when I occasionally find myself standing before an audience – one of those bad habits after I have crossed the two score and ten year mark; andnever, by the way, in a more educated and enlightened group than this – I alwayshave the feeling as I look around, as I do now, at your faces; a deep,passionate longing to be able to say something memorable, to shed some light.But, forgive me, if I do not come up to that expectation.I have been billed to speak to you today on the Scope for RSS-ChristianDialogue. But before I go into it, here’s a word about my Christian commitmentand witness in this troubled times. I have always loved John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’sProgress, perhaps because its hero remains on the move up to the very end. Evenwhen he is crossing that last river, with Mount Sion actually in sight, he isstill assailed by doubts and troubled by the hazards of his journey. I, too,have found no finality in the quest for a sure faith, and do not expect, or evenhope to. At the same time, I dare to say as I have plodded on, the light hasshone a little more brightly and steadily for me. To make this light shinebefore men, as Christ exhorted us, has always seemed to me the highest that anycommunicator can hope to achieve – even if it amounts to more than, as it were,striking a match in a dark cavern, which flares up and flickers out. Such, atany rate, is the purpose of this message, undertakenwith no expert knowledge, no sudden Damascus Road illumination; representing nomore than the efforts of a typical twentieth century skeptical mind at thedawning years of the twenty-first – to grapple with the circumstances of hislife and time.A peep into the pastIndia is the homeland of four world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism andSikhism. The ancient sages have from time to time formulated differentperceptions of the Almighty. Almost all the non-Indian religions set foot onIndian soil right from their very beginning. Even in their own lands of origin,Christianity and Islam faced stiff opposition in the battle for survival. Incontrast, in India, these two religions received hospitality. The mainsprings ofIndia’s emotional unity did not arise from its religions, but from its verycultural base. The cultural superstructure was supremely capable of containingall religious systems in all their genuine fullness and grandeur.The modern India is a land, not of one religion, but of diverse religions. Thestate does not sponsor or foster any one religion at the expense of the others.This is in keeping with the genius of India, which through the ages has followedthe path, not of mere tolerance, but of acceptance of diversities of creed andpractice. Of course, this process of assimilation has to go on continuously.There have been periods when Hinduism has been mainly on the defensive, buildingup walls, mostly caste regulations, to protect itself from the inroads of otherfaiths. But there have also been glorious periods when at least creativeindividuals have cast aside protective shells and entered into faithfulintercourse with other faiths, resulting in significant mutations and advancesin the nation’s culture and progress.AssimilationKabir, the inspired weaver of northern India, declared that there was neitherHindu nor Muslim, but only man as the embodiment of the Divine. The beautifullegend that his dead body, over which Hindus and Muslims were quarrelling fortheir respective rites of burial or cremation, was found, when the covering wasremoved, to have disappeared, leaving behind a bunch of flowers, testifies tothe reconciliation that he had urged between the warring creeds. There have beenother efforts at reconciliation or assimilation in modern times — like theBrahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Movement.But the effort at assimilation has to be continually made at fresh levels. Adecadent India under foreign rule failed to work out a creative synthesis undermodern conditions and has paid dearly for that failure. The vivisection of Indiaon the basis of religion has been a sad consequence of our failure to embody thepeculiar genius of our country in terms of modern thoughts and needs. But thepartition has not, as we know, removed the challenges of rival faithsco-existing in this country.Christians in India are uniqueDelivering the first Stanley Samartha memorial lecture last year, FrancoisGautier, the India-South Asia political correspondent of Le Figaro said:“Christians in India are unique: not only did the first Christian community inthe world establish itself in India but before the arrival of Jesuits with Vascode Gama in the 16th century, they developed an extraordinary religiouspluralism, adopting some of the local customs, while retaining their faith inChrist and accepting the existence of other religious practices. Even thoughthey constitute only less than 3% of the population, they wield an enormousinfluence in India through education mainly because many of India’s topeducational institutions are Christian and also because of the quality care inChristian hospitals and nursing homes. Finally, Indian Christians are oftengentle, soft-spoken, friendly and God-fearing.”Innate spiritualityMore than anything, Christians in India are alive. Not many of us realize thatChristianity in the West is on the ebb: church attendance is often dangerouslylow in European countries; there are very few boys and girls nowadays who wishto become priests and nuns and thus, many parishes have no ministers, whereastill the sixties, the smallest hamlets had its church priest. Compare this withIndia, which has such a small percentage of Christians: India has 14,000Catholic priests, 60,000 nuns, 6 million children being taught in Catholicschools, 126 seminaries and 44 seminarists for 100,000 habitants (against, sayin the Catholic France, 3 for 100,000). I do not have the statistics on theProtestant Christians. But do Christians in India realize, then, that they maybe holding high the flame of Christ in the world, because of the innatespirituality with which most Indians are gifted, be they Hindu, Christian,Muslim or Jains?It is true that there seems to have crept a certain rigidity in the thinking ofIndian Christians in the last few years. It may be due to the feeling of fearthey have experienced after many Christians have been attacked since 1998 byHindu groups. But these are isolated incidents and are bound to abate ( haven’tthey already abated ?) if Christians and Hindus sit down and iron out theirdifferences. After all, Christians should not forget that they were able to liveand prosper for centuries in a multi-religious India, as Stanley Samartha hadremarked: “the extreme tolerance of India, where Hindu gurus had Muslimdisciples and Sufi saints had Hindu disciples, where Jews and Zorastriansrefugees too came and lived among the Hindus without being disturbed, isunparalleled”.The Christian dilemmaToday the Indian Christian community is in the horns of a dilemma – to dialogueor not to dialogue with the RSS, the Hindu “extremist” organization. A debate iscurrently raging, and anxiety is spreading in the community on the dangers anddesirability of this dialogues. Critics say: “The RSS-Christian dialogues do notseem to be informed by a sense of purpose. One dialogue follows another withoutany idea as to what needs to be accomplished in the process. Christian groupsseem to be competing among themselves in appeasing the RSS. RSS is intolerant toother religions. They demolished Babri Masjid. It continues to propagatereligious fundamentalism, communalism and cultural nationalism. Its chief,Sudarshan has questioned the loyalty of churches and called forre-interpretation of Christian scriptures. The admiration of the RSS chief forthe Syrian Christians is intended to divide the churches. And above all, RSSdoes not represent the majority of Hindus”.Dialogue – core of Christian faithI believe Christians must encourage dialogue. Dialogue is at the core of theirfaith. The Bible is the story of a dialogue disrupted and restored: the dialoguebetween God and man. Dialogue is a necessary tool for overcoming alienation andhalting the march of misunderstanding. By his example, Jesus has insisted thatno one should be outside the pale of dialogue for Christians. It is childish toinsist that we should not dialogue with RSS because they are our tormenters andthey do not form the majority of Hindu community. Dialogue presupposesdifferences and disagreements. At the same time, dialogue must stand on thewillingness, on both sides, to see and accept the truth; something that cannotbe taken for granted in either parties at the present time.Common searchThe search for understanding among people of differing faiths is the need of thehour. The role of different religious communities in a common search for justiceand peace and in unfolding their theological and spiritual resources will enablefollowers of different religions to enter into dialogue with integrity and hope.It is not only intellectual understanding that is required of those whoencounter neighbours of other faiths but also a need for the courage to be freeand open in such meetings. It is a challenge to all of us who live in a countryof religious pluralism. It is a call to overcome “the fear of losing one’sidentity, of being shaken in one’s comfortable beliefs, of being confronted withand perhaps compelled to acknowledge the truth in another camp, of recognizingthat the stranger at the gate might turn out to be a fellow pilgrim”.To promote dialogues and to encourage reflection on the social, political andreligious issues that arise in such encounters we must first of all removedoubts, overcome reluctance and make clear each other’s motives. A single themeholds it together – the concern for inter-religious understanding andcooperation in the quest for larger community in a world of tensions andconflicts.Humility and loveGenuine dialogue demands humility and love. Dialogue is both an expression offaith and a sign of hope. Dialogue also demands a level of consciousness thatrefuses to take an easy course to the spiritual and so waits for answers,however tentative they may turn out to be. Dialogue does not accept the gulfbetween religions as permanent, and asks people of each tradition to re-treadthe path they have travelled in history.The alternative to dialogue is coercion. At a time when technology has sharpenedthe edges of aggression and the erosion of our sense of fellow-humanity hasremoved all inhibitions, it is imperative that we talk to each other – to ourenemies and friends alike. But we must dialogue not just because of thelikelihood, otherwise, of hurting or getting hurt. We must dialogue because ofour commitment to spread goodwill and to break the spell of misunderstanding.Dialogue is basic to the dynamics of peace. And Christians are mandated to be“peace-makers”, which includes the duty to accept the risks and costscomprehended in peace making.Christians need to practise dialogue. In the past they have done disservice totheir duty to proclaim the Gospel by excluding the discipline of dialogue fromthe dynamics of their proclamations. They have got used to a one-way traffic incommunication and have almost forgotten the art of being sensitive to others.The duty to listen has evaporated from the right to be heard. As a result, attimes the Good News proclaimed by them sounds like Bad News. So, they need todialogue, not as experts in dialogue but as novices who have a lot to learn. Weall need to dialogue, if only to learn to dialogue.Spiritual and ethical valuesInter-religious dialogues can eliminate religious conflicts and intolerances.Essentials as between the different religions are few and simple and it ispossible to conceive and state these in the broadest spirit so as to exclude noone. It will be easier for one to understand the best in another religion whenone understands the best in one's own religion. Thus true loyalty to the best inone’s religion is hardly ever in conflict with the best in other religions.Emphasis more on spiritual and ethical values, as distinct from rituals, dogmasor doctrines, will tend to bring devotees of different religions closertogether. True religion should be understood as a constant and continuous questfor the fuller and still fuller comprehension of God and Truth and thereforewithout any end. When such spiritual quest goes on actively, differences anddiscords will tend to disappear among all such seekers.Undoubtedly, within any religious community, the web of relationships betweenthe human and the divine, between individual freedom and social discipline,between a partial recognition of the meaning of life and a humbleacknowledgement of the mystery of existence, is complex, delicate, and fragile.“Religious commitments go much deeper than intellectual explanations. They touchthe total life of the individual and the collective personality of thecommunity. One must tread gently on hallowed ground and be careful not to offendthe sensitivities or hurt the emotions of people. The obstacle to dialogue isnot so much the absence of a theology of dialogue as a lack of courage to meetpartners of other faiths and ideological convictions freely and openly in aclimate of openness and freedom”. (Samartha).Unprecedented crisisChristianity in today’s India with a renascent Hinduism faces an unprecedentedcrisis. If it is alive to the situation and sensitive to the signs of time, ithas to rethink itself, reorient itself, and rediscover its basic substance andinterpret that in terms acceptable to the Indian mind and genius, wrote Prof.S.K.George, in the Niyogi Commission Report in early 1950s. His words arerelevant today more than ever before.Christians form just about 3% of the Indian population. “Very often they have todepend not so much on their rights as on the goodwill and generosity of powerfulmajority Hindu community. Christians in India are dependent in a double sense,on the goodwill of the Hindus and on the churches in the West whose fellowshipsustains them and whose affluence often supports them. Judging from numbersthere is hardly any equality in relationship. But Christians in India can play acreative and critical role in the life of our nation. What matters most is thequality of their life as Christians and the courage of their faith”. (Dr.Samartha, Courage for Dialogue). That’s exactly what the recent controversialBangalore resolution of the RSS said!Loyalty to India?The RSS and other Hindutva organizations have unfortunately questioned theloyalty of the Indian Christians to this country. But let us not blame them“because during the colonial era Indian Christians were not particularly notedfor their patriotism or participation in the struggle for Independence, bycontrast to the Christians in Indonesia. Indian Christians as a community arenot spiritually rooted in their own culture. As long as this continues – and aslong as Western churches promote this dependence – the burden of proving theirIndianness and their wholehearted commitment to the life of this nation is verymuch on the Indian Christians. Dialogue, properly understood and responsiblycarried out, might help both Christians and their Hindu neighbours to examinecritically the process of Westernization and its effects on their minds andhearts”. (Courage for Dialogue – Stanley Samartha).Reject past errorsThe attitudes Indian Christians have inherited towards neighbours of otherfaiths were very largely shaped in the colonial era, with Europe dominatedhistory, church-centred theology, and unexamined assumptions of Westernsuperiority in race, culture, and religion. The church in India should give upthis posture and should have the courage to reject past errors and seek new waysof relationships with their neighbours. The right to profess, practise andpropagate one’s faith should be used faithfully and responsibly, not in anaggressive and flamboyant style. Highly organized missionary activities,supported by vast sums of money from abroad, using expensive mass advertisingtechniques, loudly proclaiming the word to large crowds, quite often bypreachers from outside whose knowledge of the people’s religion and culture islimited – do these constitute the way of Christ? Our neighbours in the communityshould be regarded not as statistics but as persons, not as potential recruits to the kingdom but as partners in common enterprises in the community.”What’s genuine conversion?Now I turn to the question of conversion. No one can deny that genuineconversions do take place through the influence of one individual on another. Inthe mid 1970s, a lovely Canadian girl came to India on a government of Indiascholarship to learn Bharata Natyam. Like most of her generation in the West,she was an agnostic. She was U.S.Krishna Rao’s star pupil and made her debut insix months. One day she met Mother Teresa. She fell under her spell. Sheabandoned dance and donned the robes of a nun. “You are a born artist. How dareyou become a nun?” Krishna Rao raged in vain. She went to Calcutta and later toMexico where she was working in a slum when I last heard about her. Not even Mr.Sudarshan, the RSS chief, could quarrel with such a conversion. But when awell-organised body financed by foreign money begins to shift a whole herd ofpeople from one caste to another one begins to suspect their motives.‘Crusading’ spiritSome thirty five years ago, a brilliant Danish Professor in the UnitedTheological College, Bangalore, made history when he said: “Hindus, Muslims andBuddhists should never give up their religion to join the Christian Church”. Onthe other hand the Church should humble itself and find ways of identifyingitself with other groups, taking Christ with them. Christ, he said, was not thechairman of the Christian party. If God is the Lord of the universe he will workthrough every culture and religion. We must give up the crusading spirit of thecolonial era and stop singing weird hymns like “Onward Christian soldiersmarching as to war”. This will lead to Hindu Christianity or BuddhistChristianity.It may involve the disappearance of the Indian Christian community, but hereminded us “a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls to theground and dies”. Needless to say, the Indian Christians were furious. He leftthe College, the Church and the mission and took refuge with the Danish ForeignService! He later returned to India as his country’s Ambassador and died inharness in 1988.Pomp and splendourAbout a hundred and fifty years ago England was sending out a very importantAnglican Church dignitary as Metropolitan of Calcutta. The Brahmin priests gotwind of it. They were perturbed. This foreign religion might become a threat totheir own traditions. They must investigate. So, they sent one of their men toassess the situation. He wandered around the city till he came to the Bishop’sresidence. It was a vast sprawling opulent mansion. As he stood at the gate, thegreat man walked down the steps, dressed in his magnificent robes. He steppedinto the waiting carriage drawn by two horses with a postillion sitting at therear. The Brahmin returned to his friends. “Have no fears”, he said, “This isnot a religion we need to fear.” The priests were relieved for the pomp andsplendour of organized Christianity holds no appeal for any genuine seeker aftertruth.The ‘onlyness’.The most precious freedom that Indian Christians enjoy is to hold Jesus Christas their saviour, as the Son of God, as the “only true divinity”. It is theirabsolute right to cherish that belief – and if any Hindu outfit or governmenttries to impeach upon that liberty, then definitely, Indian Christians shouldfight tooth and nail for their religious privileges. They would be justified tospeak about Hindu fundamentalism, saffron brigade or Hindutva. But the momentChristianity tries to impose this belief of only one true God- Jesus Christ- onthe world, then it is itself impeaching upon the freedom of others. For thisbelief of onlyness of our God as the real one and all others are false is at theroot of many misunderstandings, wars and terrorism.Attacks against ChristiansLike most of those who have regular columns to write to newspapers and needfactual information, I keep my personal file of clippings so I don’t slip up onaccuracy. The violent attacks against Christians have been going on for the pastseveral years. Sister Rani Maria was stabbed inside a bus and murdered inFebruary 1994 in Madhya Pradesh. A helpless Father Christudass was hit on thehead, punched and kicked, stripped naked, scissored up his hair, ashed his faceand garlanded with chapels and shoes, and paraded naked on the streets ofGuhiajori in Bihar in 1997.Three Catholic priests, Lawrence, Joseph and Anup were shot dead in 1994 inGumla, again in Bihar. The headless, tortured body of Father A. T. Thomas,Jesuit priest and liberation theologian, was discovered in the jungles ofHazaribagh in Bihar in 1997. All these and many more happened before the BJP-ledgovernment came to power. Why didn’t we unleash a nation-wide protest and sendinvestigation teams?Ghastly murderThere is no doubt that the ghastly murder of Australian missionary GrahamStaines and his two sons needed to be universally condemned and the culpritsseverely punished. But the massive outcry it had evoked raised a fundamentalquestion in my mind: Is the life of a white man more important and dear toIndian Christians than the lives of hundreds of innocent Indians – men, womenand children – killed by militants in various parts of the country? Have we, asChristians, ever condemned such killings? Or the unending massacres of innocentDalits all over the country at regular intervals? Does it mean that the value ofa life depends on the religion to which that person belongs? Are some livesexpendable and others accountable? This is a blatant discrimination. Shouldhuman suffering, loss of lives be barters in the hands of foreign-fundedorganisations to embarrass Hindus?As true followers of the Prince of Peace, the Christians in India should haveforgiven the criminals and forgotten the incident the moment the saintly widow,Gladys Staines said: “In the name of Jesus I forgive those who committed thiscrime and may they experience in their hearts God’s forgiving love”. She waswitnessing Christ in the darkest moment in her life. But, instead of followingher example, the Christians have been spreading hatred, like butter on hotbread, against the Hindus, especially the Sangh Parivar. Many Christians havemade millions of dollars in the name of Staines’ murder. They have cynicallyused the Staines’ murder for far too long. They must remember: “Kindle not thecoals of sinners by rebuking them, lest thou be burnt with the flame of the fireof their sins.” (Ecclesiastics, viii.13).Military enterprise?Terms such as “evangelistic campaign”, “missionary strategy”, “campus crusade”,“occupying non-Christian areas”, a “blitzkrieg” of missionaries, and sending“reinforcements” sound more appropriate to military enterprises than toChristian witness to God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ. The statisticalapproach implied in the words “the unreached millions” is derogatory toneighbours of other faiths.“Unreached” by whom? When Indian Christians themselves use these phrases, whichhave originated outside the country, to describe their neighbours living nextdoor to them in the community, Christians should not be surprised if thenehigbours are offended. (Dr. Samartha).The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handfulof Hindu extremists. Most of the violent incidents have been due to aggressiveevangelising. Other than this there have been few attacks on Christians. Finallythe sensitive and sensible Christians must realize that acts of certain“born-again” varieties of Christian evangelists who denigrate Hindu gods andabuse Hindu rituals as barbaric are the root cause of tension between Christianand Hindu communities. Christian leaders known for their erudition, equipoiseand empathy should come out in the open to disown such acts of intolerance.A warningIn an interview published in Deccan Herald on 23 December 2001, Mr.M.G.Vaidya,spokesman of RSS told me: “The incidents of violence against Christians were areaction to the aggressive propaganda and mindless evangelism, abusing the HinduGods and indulging in similar activities. The incidents were bloated out ofproportion. We have decided not to tolerate intolerance of other faiths. Let theChurch declare that there can be salvation outside the Church also, and thewhole atmosphere will undergo a radical change…”Christians against ChristiansAs to violence, Christians don’t need to learn anything. We ( the IndianChristians) have in the past set fire Bishop Anantha Rao Samuel and his wife inthe early 1980s. Mrs. Samuel was roasted alive and Bishop Anantha Rao Samuelsurvived. He later became Moderator of the Church of South India (CSI). I askmyself, wasn’t there anything else they could burn, paper, cigarettes, andfireworks? A CSI member beat up a CSI pastor two years ago at the office of theKarnataka Central Diocese of Church of South India. A Lutheran bishop wasstabbed and killed last year over a property dispute in Andhra Pradesh by agroup of Christians. In Bangalore, a principal of a reputed Christian collegewas arrested recently for masterminding an attack on another Christianprincipal!Secularism, no one way streetMost Hindus stand for a secular, liberal India, keeping with their heritage,in-built catholicity of their religion and its basic outlook of live and letlive. This situation may not last indefinitely if certain unhealthy trendscontinue to gain ascendancy. It is very well for the vested interests to playcommunal card. But this will not pay. Communalism of the minority communitieswill only make some Hindus more fanatic. Undoubtedly, no quarter should be givento Hindu communalism. At the same time secularism cannot be regarded as aone-way street. Each community must respect the sentiments of others.By and large, a Hindu is today accepted as secular only if he is pro-Muslim andpro-Christian and pro other minority communities. He is lauded as ‘genuinelysecular’ if he is critical of Hinduism and enthusiastically condemns his fellowHindus with or without reason ignoring the doings of rabid fanatics in othercommunities. It is all very well for vested interests to play the communal card.But this will not pay. Communalism of the minorities will only make the majoritycommunity more fanatic. “Driven by the drumbeat of what it sees as a hostilepropaganda against their beliefs and values in the name of secularism, Hindusare beginning to gravitate towards extremism”.Peace initiativesThere was an urgent need to dispel the fears among the Christian community aboutthe perceived threat posed by the RSS and other Hindutva forces followingviolent attacks on Christians and their institutions throughout the countryafter the BJP-led government came to power. More than a year ago Mr. JohnJoseph, member, National Commission for Minorities, took the initiative forbringing Christian and RSS leaders together and sit across the table and sortout differences and dispel mutual fears and suspicions. Six rounds of nationallevel talks have already taken place, which helped to build confidence andstrengthen the bond of friendship between them. The result of these talks isthat these days we hardly hear of any attacks on Christians by the so-calledSangh Parivar.The Bangalore ‘experience’Now, here in Bangalore, a small group of Christians, known as the BangaloreInitiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) has been regularly in touch with ortalking to the RSS representatives since last October. To be precise, since 7thOctober – the day, the first Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture was heldat the Bishop Cotton Boys’ School. Among those listened to the lecture were alarge number of VHP-RSS-BJP activists ( They are the fundamentalist/fanaticfringe of the Hindus who have been accused of attacking Christians in India).They were surprised to learn that there ever lived a Christian thinker like Dr.Samartha – the Christian prophet of religious pluralism. (It is a fact that notmany of our Christian thinkers are known outside the four walls of Christianseminaries or institutions. May I hasten to ask: How many of you have heard ofDr. Samartha or how familiar are you with his writings?)Immediately after the function, the RSS-VHP-BJP members met me and wanted toknow more about Samartha. I distributed to them a few copies of Samartha’sbooks. The so-called Sangh Parivar ( the lunatic fringe/ fascistic fringe ofHindus) expressed their desire to enter into dialogue with the BangaloreInitiative for Religious Dialogue. Since then there has been no looking back.BIRD and RSS have met several times later. (It may interest you to know that Ihave, later on, personally handed over Dr. Samartha’s books to all the nationallevel leaders of RSS, including its supremeo, Mr. Sudarshan, when I met them,first at Aluva in Kerala in November last year and later twice in Bangalore, inJanuary and March this year).What BIRD has achieved is something marvelous. It extracted an unconditionalassurance, at the first round of talks itself, from the RSS that should there bean attack on Christians, their churches or institutions anywhere in Karnataka,representatives of BIRD and RSS would rush to the trouble-spot immediately andhelp bring peace and normalcy there! And they fulfilled that commitment on 19thMarch by sending a joint fact-finding team to Mysore as soon as the news aboutthe attack on the Holy Family Church was flashed in the newspapers and on TV.Meeting with national leaders of RSSThe Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) camp held in Bangalore in the last week ofJanuary in Bangalore provided representatives of the Bangalore Initiativeanother opportunity for dialogue and interaction with senior RSS leadersincluding K.S.Sudarshan, H.V.Seshadri and others. It gave representatives ofBIRD a new insight into the RSS ideology.Sudarshan assured BIRD representatives that “the RSS is not targetingChristians. RSS is not against genuine individual conversion. But it is against“harvesting of souls” or mass conversions. We are against manipulativeconversions.We are opposed to the alienation of people from their Indian cultural roots. Weare not against the preaching of the Christian faith”. The RSS leader alsounderlined the need to control both Hindu and Christian fundamentalists."We saw another side of the RSS during a 40 minute plain-talking session. Thereis a new image of the RSS emerging; they are very open to dialogue. Sudarshanassured us that the RSS has great respect for the Christian religion," said DrRichard Gnanakan from the ACTS academy of education."A lot of Christians look at the RSS agenda suspiciously. Now I have a greaterunderstanding of the group. I feel they are going through a period ofintrospection and are coming up with more balanced views," added Gnanakan.The BIRD delegation consisted of Bishop Paul Raj, a former deputy moderator ofthe Church of South India (CSI), Rev. Dr. Kiran Sebastian, professor at theUnited Theological College, and Mathew Chandrankunnel, professor at DharmaramCollege, Dr. Thomas George of Mount Carmel College, and P.N.Benjamin,coordinator, BIRD. The RSS leaders accepted BIRD’s invitation and agreed to holdthe sixth round of national level talks with Christian leaders in Bangalore.That was the origin of the talks held at UTC on March 22, 2002.Bangalore talksPress Trust of India reported on 22 March: “Seeking to build bridges, RashtriyaSwayamsevak Sangh chief K S Sudarshan and Christian leaders held another roundof talks centering around conversion and violence against members of theminority community. During the three-hour meeting, Christian leaders expressedtheir concern over issues that "threaten the security and safety of minoritycommunities", particularly in the context of an RSS resolution stating thatminorities should earn the goodwill of the majority for their safety."Sudarshan has made some bold statements. There is an emergence of openness tolisten to each other," Dr Ken Gnanakan, moderator of the dialogue, said inBangalore. He said: "we cannot solve problems in three hours. It is like afamily. But we will continue the dialogue. Our relations with the RSS are veryfine."Sudarshan said that the RSS had been depicted as "anti-Christian, anti-Muslimand an uncompromising militant group" by a section of the media. The RSS, hesaid, was a socio-cultural organisation wedded to the all-round development ofthe nation by consolidating the Hindu society and purging the society of evils.On the contentious issue of conversion, Sudarshan said they were not againstChristians propagating their faith but against conversion through coercion.Gujarat tragedyI will be failing in my Christian and moral duty if I do not touch upon thegreat human tragedy in Gujarat. Yes, the killings in Gujarat are a grim reminderthat India is a communal tinderbox. The relative communal peace after 1992-93lulled us into a false sense of security. Yet, remember that more people werekilled in the communal riots in Gujarat in 1969. The trouble continued formonths, yet Gujarat eventually returned to normalcy, and forged aheadeconomically.Will history repeat itself? Probably. The key feature of India in the last fivedecades has not been communal killing but the ability to bounce back after eachbout of slaughter. When the killers are on the rampage, all seems black andruinous. Yet, we have recovered again and again. So, caught up in the immediacyof the present we should not be agonizing too much over the carnage in Gujarat.“There is an ebb and tide in the affairs of man. Things will change”. This maybe the darkest hour before the nation before the radiant dawn. God has not gonebankrupt. He can make the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame cross themountain. If past is any pointer to the future, there is indeed hope. There isresilience in our people, which no combination of adversities can kill. Ourideals and principles might appear to be in eclipse. But, eclipses areshort-lived.Dialogue route to communal peaceI am intrigued that the so-called intellectuals and secularists do not talk ofthe dialogue route to communal peace. In a pluralist society like that of India,peace can be established only on the basis of dialogue, not on the basis ofaggressive assertion of sectarian rights. The path of confrontation will onlyresult in promoting separatism. The communal conflict is fundamentally apolitical conflict fought on the battlefield of religion. A dialogue wouldbenefit all. There is no point in insisting that the “Hindutva brigade” does not represent the majority ofHindu. But, are they not the perceived enemies of minorities?We must master the art of disarming our enemies with a smile and stop them intheir tracks. The on-going dialogue and peace initiatives between RSS andChristians in various parts of the country will help in ironing out differenceand reducing tensions between them. It is true that a dialogue will not endcommunal strife and conflict overnight. But such a dialogue can always help defusing an explosive situation. It may even turn out to be slow and tortuous,trying one’s patience to the utmost. We must be prepared for this. But theeffort would be worthwhile.Extinguish the fire of hatredOn November 17, 1946, at the 25th anniversary of Jamia Milia by Dr. ZakirHussein had made one of the most moving statements about our country. It wasabout the fire of hatred consuming the land then. Jawaharlal Nehru was there.So, were Rajaji, Jinnah, Abdul Kalam Azad and Liaquat Ali Khan.“For God’s sake”, Zakir Hussein said, “sit together and extinguish the fire ofhatred. The problem is not of this community’s or that community’s survival. Itis the choice between civilized human life and barbarism.”Eyes grew moist and among those seen wiping their eyes was Jawaharlal Nehru.

Fifty –six years later, with much punier men and women leading the politicalparties, the same tragedies have been repeating themselves.Millions of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians live in peace and harmony andare friendly to one another. They recognize and respect the diversities amongthemselves and have an overwhelming commitment to brotherly co-existence. Then comes the ogre of communal hatred- bloody and hideous. It is mendacious to saythat common people hate each other. Pseudo secularists, intellectuals, NGOs andruthless politicians of different varieties cold-bloodedly spread the communalpoison. Communalism in our country is not just a social evil. It is a blatantlypolitical weapon, cynically used for political purposes by identifiableelements.It is time for every one of us to be seriously concerned about the flames ofhatred engulfing the nation. An India at peace with herself has to be our visionand striving. Will our ears be sensitive to the heartbeat of the ‘other’community or caste? Who will assist and permit a true healing? Blood, tears anda time to search our souls, here and now.

Blessed are the peacemakers

The on-going parleys between RSS and Christian leaders will help to rid theChristians of the fake they see around them, to separate the wheat from thechaff. The dialogue must go on regardless of protests from vested interests. .It is the harbinger of peace. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will becalled sons of God.Paulinus, in the fourth century, about whom I have read recently, foreseeing thedarkness ahead, decided to light a lamp and keep it burning in a Christianshrine. We as Christians must do just this – a little lamp to signify thatwhatever the darkness, however profound the sense of lostness, the light ofJesus and the clarity of his enlightenment still shines, and will continue toshine, for those who have the eyes to see, a heart to love and a soul tobelieve.

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