Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Economist article: The cross they bear & a response

The Editor

The incidents of violence against Christians in the Indian State of Orissa (The cross they bear: Feb. 7) are minor in nature compared with the communal riots India has witnessed. So, they should not have been blown out of proportion and flashed on national and international media.
Self-styled leaders of Christian community bank-rolled by foreign Christian funding agencies and unscrupulous Indian politicians are using ordinary Dalit/tribal Christians as cannon fodder for their narrow selfish ends.Those who claim to be spokesmen and defenders of Christian Faith and the Indian Christian community spread distress and division and, to all appearances, enjoy the grace and favour of the present Indian Government. This encouragement helps the growth of powerful elements of separatism and disunity in the minority communities.
Catholic priests and nuns are the visible Christian missionaries in the eyes of ordinary people. Always dressed in cassocks and robes and easily identified as Christian missionaries, they become the victims of vicious attacks, brutal murders and rapes, while the fanatic and fundamentalist fringe of Christian denominations/cults who provoke, ridicule and belittle the Hindu way of life and recklessly run the ‘conversion industry, go scot free.
Yours truly
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue(BIRD)
7, 4A Cross
Kalayan Nagar
Bangalore 56 043
Tel. 080 25455620
9 Feb. 2008
THE CROSS THEY BEARFeb 7th 2008 Politics fuels religious violenceTHE blackened shell of a burnt car lies in the yard of Radha Bai's farmin this bucolic village of whitewashed houses and unhurried bullockcarts in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. On January 16th, asshe prayed with a large group of Christians, a mob of Hindu extremistsarrived. They chased worshippers away, set fire to a car and tenmotorcycles and, says Mrs Bai, threatened to cut her "into pieces".In recent weeks Hindu extremists in India's "tribal belt"--wheremissionaries have long sought to convert traditionally animistforest-dwellers--have stepped up a vicious anti-Christian campaign.Over Christmas in neighbouring Orissa mobs set fire to 55 churches and600 houses. Asghar Ali Engineer, of the Centre for Study of Society andSecularism, a Mumbai think-tank, calls it the worst anti-Christianviolence independent India has seen. Ramesh Modi, Chhattisgarh state president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad,or World Hindu Council, which propagates "Hindutva", or "Hinduness",says that Christians are "responsible for the violence themselves".Missionaries in the area, he says, are converting Hindus illegally.Chhattisgarh and Orissa are among several Indian states to have lawsbanning forced conversions.It is true that an expansionist evangelist movement is in full swing inIndia's tribal belt. Its targets are tribal people, Hindus, evenChristians, many of whom say they have switched churches to joinindependent Pentecostal groups. Officially, fewer than 3% of Indiansare Christian. But Arun Pannalal, of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum,reckons the true proportion may be twice that. Christian converts oftenclaim to be Hindus to keep access to government jobs and college places"reserved" for Hinduism's lower castes. Most Indian Christians areDALITS, at the bottom of the caste system, once known as "untouchables".Mr Pannalal, whose own church belongs to the Anglican Communion,regrets the proselytising style of some pastors, and their habit ofripping into Hindu gods from the pulpit. They lay themselves open toaccusations of illegal conversion. More than 230 people have beenarrested on conversion charges in the state in the past two years. ButMr Pannalal says very few cases go to court "because the conversionsare not forced and there is no case". As in other religious conflicts in India, the trouble betweenChristians and Hindus in the tribal belt has more to do with politicsthan theology. In Orissa, the Christmas violence was mostly directed atCatholics, who tend not to proselytise. But identifying religiousminorities as a common enemy has proved an effective rallying cry forright-wing Hindu groups. In December the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wonelections in the western state of Gujarat, where it has had awell-documented hand in the persecution of Muslims. Christians in thetribal belt believe Hindu extremists have been emboldened by itssuccess. Later this year, Chhattisgarh itself goes to the polls.Christians fear more violence.

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