This article was posted in my blog in 2003
Forming not more than 3% of the Indian population, the Christian community exercises an influence far more than what its miniscule numbers would suggest. Everyone in India will admit that the Christian Church -- here I speak of all the sects and denominational churches as one body of believers -- has made a unique contribution to the progress of our country. In the field of education, medicine and social service the Christian Church has done pioneering work. S. M. Krishna, Karnataka Chief Minister, remarked on April 16, 2001: "If it weren't for the contribution of Christian institutions in the field of education and health, it is difficult to wonder what the present status of these fields would have been.” Christians in India have therefore reason to be proud of. But, there is one sobering fact that we cannot overlook. Most of this work has been done through lavish financial support from the churches in the West.
Delivering the first Stanley Samartha memorial lecture in Bangalore last year, Francois Gautier, the well-known journalist said: "Christians in India are unique: not only did the first Christian community in the world establish itself in India but, before the arrival of Jesuits with Vasco de Gama in the 16th century, they developed an extraordinary religious pluralism, adopting some of the local customs, while retaining their faith in Christ and accepting the existence of other religious practices. Even though they constitute less than 3% of the population, they wield an enormous influence in India through education mainly because many of India's top educational institutions are Christian and also because of the quality care in Christian hospitals and nursing homes.”
However, the elitist Christian schools and hospitals tend to cater to the rich, whether Christian, Hindu or Muslim, and not to the Dalit Christians who form some 80% of the Christian population in India. Little seems to have been done for the socio-economic uplift of these people who need education the most. Yet, some committed Christians are now speaking in terms of the option for the poor. Several Christian social work projects in various parts of India run by Christian priests and nuns and socially conscious Christian groups, who are attracted to what is called the social gospel. Christianity for them is not something to be simply believed in or to be remembered only on Sundays. Rather, faith in the religion is meaningless if not expressed in actual commitment and involvement in efforts to bring about social change by actively working with the poor and the downtrodden.
It is unfortunate that several of these activist priests and nuns have been targets of attacks in recent years. This is mainly because they are easily identifiable as they wear their official dress when moving around in the countryside. It is worth quoting one of the findings of the fact-finding team consisting of RSS and Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) that probed into the alleged `violent attack' on the Holy Family Church in Mysore last year. "The Catholic priests who were present at the dialogue emphatically told RSS-BIRD team that the Catholic Church does not indulge in any conversion activities and wondered why they are being accused of these activities and why the Catholic priests and nuns and their institutions are always the targets of violent attacks and vandalism.”
The RSS-BIRD team shared the priests' concern. They agreed that "among the Christian community, only Catholic priests and nuns are murdered and raped mainly because they are easily identified as Christians by the dress they wear. They are the visible Christian missionaries in the eyes of ordinary people. They are always dressed in cassocks and robes. Most of the Hindus and other religionists, including the enlightened media persons, do not know that Christians are divided into hundreds of denominations whose priests, preachers and pastors rarely put on their cassocks. (It is said that there are about 37 Christian denominations operating in Mysore itself.) Although our analysis may sound too simplistic, we firmly believe that it is this mistaken identity that makes the Catholic priests and nuns always the victims of vicious attacks, brutal murder and rape, while the fanatic and fundamentalist fringe of Christian denominations who provoke, ridicule and belittle the Hindu way of life go scot free,” the team added.
It is absolutely true that the fundamentalists Christian evangelists cannot separate their charitable work from spreading their faith. "It's not a crafty attempt to proselytise. It's an earnest attempt to share what they hold most dear. That's true of all the proselytising religions. The evangelical Christians, carrying food in one hand and the Bible in the other, are generously funded by American churchgoers. To them, humanitarian relief is just a cover. Their basic motivation is conversion. These groups train workers to go in under the guise of relief to convert people away from their faith.
A well-known Hindu scholar has urged that Christians must criticise Hinduism out of knowledge. They must try to understand what Hinduism is. Make an honest attempt to agree as far as you can and state your honest difference in a decent way. This would improve the image of Christianity in India, as the greatest devotion for the personality of Christ. Hinduism has admitted prophets born elsewhere into its own grand galaxy of Avatars. There is no doubt whatever that Jesus Christ was a great avatar in the eyes of Hindus. Every Hindu will bow down before the image of Christ. There is no question of the purity of that great Sage. No Hindu will ever question this. But if the Mission of Jesus is to succeed, it is an obligation on the part of professing Christians not to do anything that will in anyway mar the luminous, beautiful and grand image of Jesus Christ.
It is true that there seems to have crept in certain rigidity in the thinking of Indian Christians in the last few years. It may be due to the feeling of fear they have experienced after many Christians have been attacked since 1998 by Hindu groups. Most of the violent incidents have been due to aggressive evangelising by "born-again" varieties of Christian fundamentalists and fanatics who denigrate Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric, causing tension between Christian and Hindu communities. They have by and large gone scot-free. Christian leaders known for their erudition, equipoise and empathy should come out in the open to disown such acts of intolerance. Other than this, there have been a few attacks on Christians. But these are isolated incidents and are bound to abate (haven't they already abated?) if Christians and Hindus sit down and iron out their differences. After all, Christians should not forget that they were able to live and prosper for centuries in a multi-religious India, as Stanley Samartha had remarked: “The extreme tolerance of India, where Hindu gurus had Muslim disciples and Sufi saints had Hindu disciples, where Jew and Zorastrian refugees too came and lived among the Hindus without being disturbed, is unparalleled."
Here is an interesting story for the benefit of my Hindu friends. Almost 150 years ago, England was sending out a very important Anglican Church dignitary to the Metropolitan of Calcutta. The Brahmin priests got wind of it. This foreign religion might become a threat to their own traditions. They must investigate. So they sent one of their men to investigate. He wandered around the city till he came to the Bishop's residence. It was a vast, sprawling opulent mansion. As he stood at the gate, the great man walked down the steps, arrayed in his magnificent robes. He stepped into the waiting carriage drawn by two horses with a postillion sitting at the rear. The spy returned to his friends. "Have no fears,” he said. "This is not a religion we need fear.” The priests were relieved, and rightly relieved for the pomp and splendour of organized Christianity holds no appeal for any genuine seeker after truth. And what's the proof? The Christian population has decreased from 2.8% in 1981 to 2.3% in 1991 and to just 2% in 2001.