Tuesday, December 28, 2010




Deep-rooted fatalism, dumb acceptance of misery, a raging sea of poverty, and a few islands of vulgar luxury, inhabited by a few who behave as if nothing has happened. This is India today. And this should disturb every sensitive Indian today. The time is long past when one could pacify one’s conscience by angry outburst or exposure of a few misdeeds. The situation is far more serious, the prospect grimmer.

The cancers that have grown in the vitals of India are so horrendous that whole limbs may decay and die before some sort of curative effort succeeds in the rest of the system. Men of vision, integrity and merit were at the helm of affairs in the early years of this nation. A different set of qualifications has now become necessary to attain and then retain office. Men and women of merit have disappeared from the higher echelons of power.

The welter of crashing values, the miasma of poverty, the insensate outburst of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, regionalism and casteism: it is chaotic. One is also shocked at the sight of brute force trampling upon the underprivileged, while the elite enjoy all the inevitable accompaniments of permissive morality, addiction to vicarious violence, erotic and narcotic fantasies.

Caught in the immediacy of the present we may be agonizing over these maladies. There is still hope. “There is an ebb and tide in the affairs of man. Things will change”. This may be the darkest hour before the radiant dawn. God has not gone bankrupt. He can make the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame cross the mountain. If past is any pointer to the future, there is indeed hope. There is resilience in our people, which no combination of adversities can kill. Our ideals and principles might appear to be in eclipse. But, eclipses are short-lived.

In an atmosphere surcharged with cynicism on the one hand and despair on the other, we would do well to go out anywhere, amidst the din and bustle of the factories or vast expanses of the fields, in the beehive of busy offices or in the boisterous, crowded campuses – among men, women, the young and the old – you will hear a thousand and one questions why things have gone wrong and what’s the way out of it.

Dedicated men and women, sacrificing comfort and many allurements of the consumerist society are building a new India in the remote villages and hilly regions of this vast land of ours. There abound in this country today men and women of finest moral qualities, experts in their respective fields seeking to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to serve the community by disseminating it to the public. In the prevailing darkness they move about like figures in silhouettes; soon the sun shall arrive and identify them, and among them shall be seen new leaders with a new message of enriched patriotism. A new resolve to make this land of ours a better place to live in. The saga of such endeavours is hardly publicised by the media addicted to the burlesque of present-day politics. But they give us reasons for hope.

The reserves of India are too strong to be contained by the unworthy for too long. Today’s rulers as well as the ones waiting in their wings to be future rulers must necessarily be themselves marginalised sooner or later because they are superficial manifestations of a superficial phenomenon; neither they nor the phenomenon that sustains them have any validity in the general scheme of human progress.

Like wars, seemingly hopeless political cancers help steel a nation’s nerve and accelerate the maturing process. India will then step out of the new into the newer.

501, Indira Residency
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Responses to SONG OF MARY


Jeykar Jerome

Many thanks for your Christmas message. Frankly I had never thought of the Magnifact in this way. Wishing you and Mrs Benjamin (your only wife !) a Blessed Christmas and God's blessings all through the New Year.
Veena & Jayakar

Dear brother,

Thank you for the engaging article with the usual original look at history and the scripture.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Love and regards,


Mark Tully

The Song of Mary
From: markandgilly@gmail.com
To: benjaminpn@hotmail.com

Dear Benjamin, Many thanks for your theological Christmas card. Best
wishes to you and your family for Christmas and the New Year. Mark


Dear Mr Benjamin,

Thank you for the beautiful song.

I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and happy New year.

With warm regards,

Yours sincerely,
M V Nadkarni


Thank you Mr. Benjamin.
"sarve janah sukhinO bhavnatu" is the centarl thought that our Indian people are advised to remember always.
THE SONG OF MARY holds the same rich thought and it is universal.
I still remember from a lesson - Sermon on the mount- in my high school (1955) english book - Blessed are the Meek, for
they shall inherit the earth. Also another lesson I remember from Gurudev Tagore's Githanjali " strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart". Sometime I wonder the story of humans world over seems to has some thing else to say - obsession with acquisition and control.
No wonder Che Guvera said "My revolution stems from my love of my people". Society is being constantly and deliberately disturbed by
the modern merchants with impunity. The silent suffering cry of billions - from all forms of life - is deafening.

Sister Amala

Thanks !!!
Wishing you too a blessed and gracefilled Christmastide and a New Year that fulfills many of our deep desires to see the Reign of God established.
Keep up the good work !!!

Sr. Amala, 101 Maria Kripa Apts II,
12 Davis Rd, St Thomas Tn,
Bangalore 560084 Tel: 080-25470645
Susan Varkey

Dear Benjichayam and Maychechy,
Wish you Happy and Meaningful Christmas( in whichever way you define the word)
How is Nina and family? I had heard about Nina 's hospitalization.Thank God she is okay.
What's Maychechy up to these days?
Here we are fine. We get about 10 days of vacation. Our boys )who are away in University) will come home for Christmas.Looking forward to it
Any trips to Kerala planned?
Love and prayers, Susan.

Dr. David Scot

Dear PNji,

(Apologies for the devanagari script; my computer doesn't have the appropriate script for Kannada.

Hearty thanks for the meditation on the Magnificat, a truly revolutionary document. Indeed this is a fitting cap for the other two documents -- the USCIRF Report on Karnataka and Mark Tully's lecture -- you have sent recently.

All in all, this comes with hearty expectation and hope that the cosmic revolution initiated by the birth of the Christ will come a little closer to fulfilment in the New Year ahead.

Peace and Joy,
David Scotachen

Maher Spurgeon Madras C hristian College

Dear Brother Benjamin

Thank you for your thought provoking Christmas Thought.
Wish you a merry Christmas and a blessed New Year
Madras Christian College

Rev. Kiran Sebastian

Dear Mr Benjamin,
This comes to thank you for your meaningful and powerful words - as usual they offer much to reflect upon and challenge us to be open to the invasion of the spirit.
Wishing you and your family all the very best for a meaningful and happy Christmas and a new year filled with invigorating hope.
With many greetings and warm good wishes,

Rev. Dr. J. Jayakiran Sebastian
7301 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19119-1794


FRANCIS Good neighbor

Dear Mr. Benjamin,
An analytical and powerful message on the eve of Christmas!
God bless you and keep you in good health and spirits!


Rev. Dr. M.J.Joseph

Dear friend

May the song of Mary be heard from the Churches, the temples .mosques and the pagoddas.May it help the worshipper to bow his/her kness and touch the earth for Peace on Earth.

Wishing you the blessings of the Almighty.



Dear PNB,

Thanks for the most inspiring reflection on the Magnificat. I do hope it will sink deeply into the minds of those who read it.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you both a meaningful Christmas and a peaceful New year.

Warm Regards,

Rev.Dr.Mani Chacko, Ph.D( Lond.)
Ecumenical Christian Centre
Post Bag 11
Bangalore - 560066
Telephone : 0091 80 2845 3158 ( Direct )
0091 80 2845 2270

Dear PN

What an appropriate thought on this festive occasion.You have rightly concluded it by your last two paragraphs.
Thank you and wishing you and your family all the best during this Chistmas and for ever.

A theological Christmas card

The celebrated BBC bureau chief in New Delhi for for more than thirty years, Sir Mark Tully, has described the following article by me (already posted here) as "the theological Christmas card"


By P.N.Benjamin

There is more to Christmas than peace and goodwill. The story of the birth of Jesus Christ begins with a revelation to a peasant girl that she would be the mother of the Messiah – the Saviour of the world. She would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God. She was so overpowered by the message that she breaks into poetic utterance:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord/ And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour…/He hath showed strength with his arm/He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts/He hath put down the mighty from their seats/And exalted them of low degree/He hath filled the hungry with good things/And the rich he hath sent empty away…”

This Song of Mary is called the Magnificat. Mary sees a vision of a new order of things where the weak and the poor will throw off their shackles. It is a song of liberation for man as well as for woman.

The Song of Mary reflects the teachings of the prophets of the Old Testament in the Bible. These prophets denounced the oppressors of the people, those who would sell the needy for a pair of shoes. The prophets were constantly exhorting the people to “untie the knots of the yoke, and loose the fetters of justice, to set free those who have been crushed”. And, Mary belonged to this oppressed section of the people.

It might seem strange that in this momentous hour of her life when the angel had cast her in this stupendous role, she should be preoccupied with justice for her people. But one can well imagine that, then as now, this was a burning question. The Jews were under the Roman yoke and longed for the Messiah who would liberate them. Mary’s Song is a song of deliverance not only from foreign domination but the oppressor within the gates.

She did not know then that beginning with the Magnificat the road would end at the Cross where she would stand weeping for her son would show the world an entirely new way. But now it is a cry for justice, liberation from the tyranny of the rich and the exalted. Thus, woven into message of peace and goodwill is also the lesson that these conditions can only come when there is social justice.

It is unfortunate that the Church has sidestepped this problem dispensing charity while ignoring the deeper claims of equality. The Song of Mary is a reminder that charity without justice is an insult, and peace only a graveyard where there is no equality.

Yes, the voice of Christmas cries in the wilderness. It is not a call to violent revolution – for violent revolutions always end in tyranny of one kind or another. Christmas calls for a change of heart, a turning away from oneself to one’s neighbour, and therefore to God. We like to imagine that religion is a love affair between man and God. But the face of the neighbour intrudes.

Christmas reminds us that in a creative relationship there is God, man and always his neighbour – only in such a cooperative partnership can we hope for a restructuring of the social fabric, which will be permanent. In short, Christmas comes to remind us that we are all inextricably bound together in this brief sojourn on this troubled planet – that either we are ALL saved or we are ALL damned for we are all human, all vulnerable, all in need of one another.

With greetings of peace in this Christmas season and happy New Year.

Christmas Day 2010
Dec, 25, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Demands of Christians in Karnataka

The Chairman
Karnataka State Minorities Commission

Dear Mr. Chairman,

Christians in Karnataka
An e-mail interaction

Immediately after the Nandi Hills meeting of the Commission, I rushed the following e-mail to a group of Christian leaders and laymen belonging to various Christian denominations and churches.

My mail to them said: “I need a little help from you urgently. I shall be thankful if you could please rush me a note on the Christian community in Karnataka, their fears, anxieties, agonies, aspirations and social conditions, children's educational needs - about everything that matters to them and what they expect from the present BJP government etc. Not forgetting the developmental programmes meant for them and also about the attacks on them and then, of course, the cow-slaughter bill.”

Those who participated in interaction included:

1. Bishop Samuel Mathew (Believers Church)
2. Fr. Faustine L. Lobo (Catholic Church, Bangalore)
3. Fr. Jayanathan (Catholic Church, Bangalore)

4. Emerson Samuel (Ecumenical)
5. Georgy C. George (Catholic)

6. Brig. (Retd) Chacko Abraham (Orthodox)
7. Mrs. Molly Varghese (Mar Thoma)
8. Rev. Dr. Thomas Ninan (CSI)
9. Siddartha, Fireflies Ashram (Catholic)
10. Suhas Jeede (Methodist)
11. Dr. Thomas George (Catholic)
12. Noel Noronha (Basel Mission)
13. Ram Sunder (Catholic)
14. Dr. C. Alex Alexander (Orthodox)

15. Mr. Philip Mathew (Mar Thoma)
16. Dr. K. C. Samuel (Mar Thoma)
17. Rev. Dr. Mathew Chandrankunnel
18. Dr. Thomas George (Catholic)

19. Mathews Philip (Orthodox)
20. Rev. C. S. Hoolgery, (CSI North Karnataka)
21. Rev. Daniel Honnayakar,
22. Rev. P. F. Gedeon, (CSI KND)
23. Pastor John Wesley Baptist Church North Karnataka
24. Pastor Moses Murugavel - Baptist Church in Northern Karnataka.

What emerged from the interactions is:

1) 83% of the population of Karnataka is Hindus, 11% are Muslims, 4% are Christians, 0.78% are Jains, 0.73% are Buddhists and with the remainder belonging to other religions.

2) As for the distribution of Christian population in Karnataka, Southern Karnataka has relatively more concentration with Bangalore City accounting for 5.9%.

3) Christians by and large live above Poverty Line in cities like Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore. But, their condition elsewhere in Karnataka is miserable and pathetic.

4) Accordingly and justifiably, the participants in the discussion felt that at least 30% of the Rs.207 crores allocated in the 2010-2011 State budget for the Karnataka State Minority Development Corporation must be utilized for the developmental schemes meant for the Christian community.

5) Several participants expressed their disappointment that poor and needy Christians have not yet been able to avail themselves of any benefits worth mentioning from the various government schemes meant for the minorities in Karnataka. They have brought to my notice that almost the entire benefits of the schemes meant for minorities in Karnataka are being used by one single community - the majority community among minority communities. This anomaly needs to be corrected urgently.

6) For instance, during 2008-2009 the Government had allocated Rs. 167 crores for minority development. Out of which Rs. 37 crore had been earmarked for housing, Rs. 15 crores for shaadi mahals and Rs. 5 crore for a Haj bhavan. But, no money seems to have been spent on the Christian community. It is also observed that the announcements of the schemes are done in Urdu and no one else can understand them except the Muslims.

7) Christians complain that they are not invited to the so-called awareness building meetings. Even when invitations are extended, they do not reach them on time. The Christian leaders felt that the community leaders should be informed of these meetings well in advance so that their members could participate in them and bring their grievances to the notice of the Commission.

8) The Minorities Commission doesn’t seem to be aware of the need for a well-planned, well-informed and properly executed awareness building meeting, which will include the Christian community representatives. The itinerary of the commission should be fixed well in advance and be made known to all the minority communities in time so that they can participate at the meeting and present their demands. On the contrary, it is unfortunate that Christians are often blamed by the Commission for not attending the meetings.

9) There is no clarity about the schemes that benefit the Christian community. How do they apply for benefits from various government schemes? Whom to apply? There is urgent need for simplifying the procedures. What can the minorities Commission do about it? Can the Commission allow the representatives from the different minority communities to choose the eligible candidates and present to the Commission?

10) There is fear and anxiety in the minds of Christians because of the continuing violence against them in various parts of the State. They are concerned about the silence of the Minorities Commission in this regard. They are intrigued by the Commission’s inaction in not sending any fact-finding teams to the trouble spots and not taking any initiatives to defuse the tension. There is no representation to the Somashekar Commission by the Minorities Commission so far on behalf of the Christian Community.

11) Their question is “If there are alleged aggressive conversion activities by some Christian preachers or extremists in Christian community who denigrate Hindu gods and their rituals as barbaric, why should the innocent be punished? However, they feel that the State is duty-bound to prevent attacks on Christian community and bring the perpetrators to books. Why the State is allowing the groups to take law into their hands? Because of the government’s apathetic reaction Christians have lost trust in the present government. What can the Commission do about it?

12) It is also true that false cases have been filed against pastors who may not have been into conversion business but who organize worships and prayers for their people. Looks like the local police all over the State is waiting for anyone to rush to them with a complaint against a Christian priest or a pastor, so that they arrest them within no time, without even checking whether there is a prima facie case at all. How does it happen without the connivance of those who are in power? So, there is room for fears and anxiety among Christians.

13) The other issue is, of course, the cow slaughter. “It is the right to food that is at stake along with the right to livelihood of those who are involved in the meat, leather and cosmetics industry”, say Christian leaders. How can the food habit of one is to be questioned? As a matter of fact, it is the farmer who is protecting the cow and not the Govu Shaalas. If cow slaughter is banned the farmer will not rear cow at all because it is not economical for him to look after the unproductive cow and rear a milch cow.

14) A Christian representative(P.N.Benjamin) wanted to know why the Commission sent a letter to the PRO of the Bangalore Catholic Diocese, calling for details about the Church’s assets. It should be borne in mind that the PRO is not the custodian of the assets of the Catholic Church and that the Catholics are NOT the only Christian denomination in Karnataka. All Catholic churches or institutions do not come under the purview of the Bangalore Diocese.

15) The participants suggested that the Minorities Commission appoint an expert committee to study the socio-economic conditions of the Christian community in Karnataka because there is no authentic data available about them in any of the official documents.

16) They pointed out that the officials of the state Minorities’ Development Corporation and the Minorities Commission make the procedures for grants and scholarships difficult and arduous whenever Christians approach them for this purpose. This has led Christians getting frustrated and thus tend to abstain from approaching the Commission or Minorities Corporation,

17) The Christians have not been able to avail themselves of the Government’s Aradhane schemes that support construction of religious places.

18) The officials make it so difficult for Christians when they approach them and the officials even indicate that without a bribe grants are not sanctioned. It sounds so absurd that one has to pay a bribe to get what is rightfully theirs. Giving a bribe is against the spirit of Christian Faith.

19) Lastly, an important suggestion made by the Christian participants in the e-mail interaction is that the chairmanship of the Commission be rotated among the other minority communities also. All the persons who occupied this post in the past have been representatives of a particular minority community which is a gross injustice and disservice to the democratic fabric of the country.

20) Lastly, there are no Christian employees/officers in the Minorities Commission or Minorities Development Corporation as well as the Minoirites Department

Christian Member in the KSMC
20 May 2010

Christian population in Karnataka

Karnataka State Minorities Commission

Dear Mr. Atiq Ahmed,

greetings to you.

I have just seen on the internet that the latest(2010) estimate of population in Karnataka is as follows:

Population of Karnataka consists of:
Hindu - 83%,
Muslim - 11%,
Christian - 4%,
Jains - 0.78% and Buddhist - 0.73%

I shall be grateful if you could double-check this figures and let me know the position.

Please accept my greetings on Bakrid

Yours sincerely



Monday, December 20, 2010

Break free from evil moulds


To begin the New Year with forebodings may sound like a pessimist’s pastime. But there are few stout hearts today that can face it with buoyant self-confidence. Deep-rooted fatalism, dumb acceptance of misery, a raging sea of poverty and a few islands of vulgar luxury, inhabited by a few who behave as if nothing has happened. This is India today. And this should disturb every sensitive Indian in the New Year. The time is past when one could pacify one’s conscience by angry outbursts or exposure of a few misdeeds. The situation is far more serious, the prospect grimmer.

In spite of six decades of effort, our society is still disfigured by gross unfairness which, without constant correction, feeds strongly upon itself. It has helped create a meaner, more selfish and more dangerously tense society – the crushing poverty and misery.

Gross and stubborn inequality is incompatible with justice and fairness and we cannot hope to bring about changes until we launch a major attack on the unjustified disparities that still divide us from one another. We cannot be content with anything less than the elimination of poverty as a social problem. It is a formidable task, but not an insurmountable objective.

We have to break the mould of customs, selfishness and apathy which condemns so many of our fellow-countrymen to avoidable indignity and deprivation. To do that we have to recast the mould of politics. In place of envy, we must put the politics of compassion. In place of politics of cupidity, the politics of justice. And, in place of the politics of opportunism, the politics of principles. Only so can we hope to succeed. Only so will success be worth having.

Christmas Season 2010



Dear Father Ambrose Pinto,

It is intriguing that you have been selected by the BJP government in Karnataka as a recipient of this year’s Rajyotsava Award. Hearty congratulations.
But, touch your heart and give me an honest to God answer: Are you worthy of this honour? Can you deny the fact that every time you open your mouth and wield your pen it is only to spew venom on the Hindu community whom you have always termed as Bhraminical? RSS, VHP. Bajarangi Dal and BJP bashing has been your second nature? In addition, you have a soft-corner for anti-national elements, separatists and the Naxalites and their ideologies through your writings and speeches. I am telling you these facts because I have been critically following your writings and activities in the past two decades or more as a freelance journalist.

Needless to add, self-styled Dalit and minority leaders like you have emerged bereft of principles. Our national life has been polluted by the venality of the discredited men like you. You have therefore no moral right to criticize the ‘saffron brigade’.

My only appeal to you, in the name of the Rebel of Nazareth (Jesus of Nazareth), is to refuse to accept the award conferred on you by the ‘Hindu extremist’ BJP government – if you have an iota of that precious quality called self-respect left in you. I pity the ignorance of those who recommended your name for the coveted award.

God bless

THE MAGNIFICAT- the Song of Mary


By P.N.Benjamin

There is more to Christmas than peace and goodwill. The story of the birth of Jesus Christ begins with a revelation to a peasant girl that she would be the mother of the Messiah – the Saviour of the world. She would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God. She was so overpowered by the message that she breaks into poetic utterance:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord/ And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour…/He hath showed strength with his arm/He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts/He hath put down the mighty from their seats/And exalted them of low degree/He hath filled the hungry with good things/And the rich he hath sent empty away…”

This Song of Mary is called the Magnificat. Mary sees a vision of a new order of things where the weak and the poor will throw off their shackles. It is a song of liberation for man as well as for woman.

The Song of Mary reflects the teachings of the prophets of the Old Testament in the Bible. These prophets denounced the oppressors of the people, those who would sell the needy for a pair of shoes. The prophets were constantly exhorting the people to “untie the knots of the yoke, and loose the fetters of justice, to set free those who have been crushed”. And, Mary belonged to this oppressed section of the people.

It might seem strange that in this momentous hour of her life when the angel had cast her in this stupendous role, she should be preoccupied with justice for her people. But one can well imagine that, then as now, this was a burning question. The Jews were under the Roman yoke and longed for the Messiah who would liberate them. Mary’s Song is a song of deliverance not only from foreign domination but the oppressor within the gates.

She did not know then that beginning with the Magnificat the road would end at the Cross where she would stand weeping for her son would show the world an entirely new way. But now it is a cry for justice, liberation from the tyranny of the rich and the exalted. Thus, woven into message of peace and goodwill is also the lesson that these conditions can only come when there is social justice.

It is unfortunate that the Church has sidestepped this problem dispensing charity while ignoring the deeper claims of equality. The Song of Mary is a reminder that charity without justice is an insult, and peace only a graveyard where there is no equality.

Yes, the voice of Christmas cries in the wilderness. It is not a call to violent revolution – for violent revolutions always end in tyranny of one kind or another. Christmas calls for a change of heart, a turning away from oneself to one’s neighbour, and therefore to God. We like to imagine that religion is a love affair between man and God. But the face of the neighbour intrudes.

Christmas reminds us that in a creative relationship there is God, man and always his neighbour – only in such a cooperative partnership can we hope for a restructuring of the social fabric, which will be permanent. In short, Christmas comes to remind us that we are all inextricably bound together in this brief sojourn on this troubled planet – that either we are ALL saved or we are ALL damned for we are all human, all vulnerable, all in need of one another.

With greetings of peace in this Christmas season and happy New Year.


Sunday, December 5, 2010


THE dictum – “Let our words be matched by deed” – made full sense when the leaders of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) in Karnataka and the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) decided to send a joint fact finding team to Mysore for gathering first-hand information on the violent incident on 17th February 2002 (Sunday) at the Holy Family Catholic Church. It was also to reassure the Christian community that the RSS and BIRD share their anxieties, concerns, and fears and stand by them in this hour of crisis.
The RSS was thus honouring its commitment, in letter and spirit, it made to the Christian community at the first meeting between RSS and BIRD in November at the Bible Society of India in Bangalore. The commitment was that in the event of future violence against Christian community anywhere in Karnataka, the RSS leaders would rush the trouble spot along with representatives of the BIRD to defuse the tension and restore peace and normalcy in the area.
The team led by Dr. Upendra Shenoy, included Mr. V. A. Gopala and Mr. Chandrashekar Bhandary of the RSS and Dr. Thomas George of Asian Council for Communal Harmony, and P. N. Benjamin of the BIRD. They reached Mysore by 11.30 a.m. They could not meet the Catholic Bishop Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Roy immediately as planned because he was leading the protest march of Christians at that time.
So, they first met Dr. V. V. Bapat. He is a well-known pediatrician and the Mysore District president of RSS. According to him the root cause for such communal tension and hatred is the issue of conversion. He agreed that there should be a mechanism to defuse communal tension and prevent violent incidents in the future.
Later the team went to the residence of Mr. V. Vittala Rao, a prominent merchant and an activist of the RSS in Mysore. There they met Mr. Sadashiva, Pracharak Pramukh of RSS (South Karnataka) and Mrs. Veena Bapat, social worker and VHP activist. Mr. Sudhakar Shetty, President, Hotel Owners’ Association, Mysore, also took part in the discussion. (The association has over a thousand members. Mr. Shetty does not belong to any groups – political or religious.)
While all of them condemned the attack on the church, they wondered why so much of media hype is given to such a minor incident of violence and questioned the authorities’ over-reaction. They expressed their dissatisfaction at the double standards followed by the media and the government in the light of the unabated violent incidents in the neighbouring Madhikere where the Hindu temples were ransacked and desecrated a few weeks back.
They also expressed their disapproval of the activities of certain Christian groups distributing pamphlets ridiculing Hindus and urging poor and lower strata of the Hindu community to convert them to Christianity. Whatever had happened at Hinakal Church, “ is nothing but an out-burst of some accumulated anger against the conversion activities systematically carried out in and around Mysore by Christians”. According to them the root cause was the distribution of the pamphlets and the attack was only its effect”. Of course, one may claim that there is nothing wrong in distributing pamphlets and may justify it as within one’s constitutional right, but if the contents of the pamphlets are outrageous to the sentiments of the majority community it is natural that they react violently. No doubt violence is unjust but unfortunately in an emotionally surcharged situation, discretion becomes the casualty”, they averred.
The fact finding team and the participants in the discussion were unanimous in their opinion that every citizen of this country has the right to preach, practise and propagate his/her own religion but that should not cross the limits of decency and should not hurt the sensitivities of adherents of other faiths.
While strongly condemning the violence in the church, Dr. Upendra Shenoy impressed upon them the urgent need to enter into an open-hearted discussion and dialogue with the Christian community to diffuse the prevailing tension and to dispel mutual fears and misunderstandings. To achieve this goal and to prevent recurrence of such incidents of violence in future, he added, they must find permanent machinery - a platform for joint meetings of representatives of the two communities. Dr. Bapat, who later joined the group, agreed, as per Dr. Upendra Shenoy’s suggestion, to coordinate the proposed peace initiative (an initiative similar to BIRD) comprising of both Hindu and Christian representatives.
In the afternoon (2.15 p.m.) the team met Bishop Dr. Joseph Roy at the Bishop’s House. Bishop Roy warmly welcomed the fact-finding team. Father Noronha and Father Leslie Morris were too joined the discussion. Dr. Bapat and Mr. Vittal, as representatives of RSS/VHP also participated.
Bishop Roy, Fr. Noronha, and Fr. Leslie spoke in detail about the attack on the Holy Family Church. They expressed their sorrow, anxieties, and fears about the recurring violence against the Christians. Bishop told the team that one youth, by name, Kumar, was the main culprit behind the violent incident at the church. He further told that the same youth had created a scene during December 2001. At that time when members of the Holy Family Church were visiting Catholic homes, singing carols, as is the custom among Christians everywhere in the world during Christmas season, some youngsters from nearby village led by Kumar, threatened them and damaged the musical instruments. The incident was reported to the police authorities, but no action has been taken till today on the complaint.
According to the Bishop, on Sunday, 17 February, at about 10 a.m., Kumar intruded in to the room where Father William, parish priest of the Holy Family Church was talking to four VHP leaders. He used some abusive language against the priest. The parishioners present there objected to it. This led to a commotion. Kumar went out to return immediately, accompanied by about fifty emotionally charged youths. They were at nobody’s control. They ransacked the priest’s room, entered the church and damaged some furniture and broke window glasses. In the melee a few parishioners sustained minor injuries. They included women and children.
Bishop Roy also spoke highly appreciatively about the timely intervention of Mr. Pappaya, a village leader of Hinkal, who rushed to the spot and chased the unruly mob away. It was this man, a Hindu, who prevented the situation being turned into a bloody battleground that would have resulted in unimaginable loss of property, limbs, and even innocent lives.
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.
Mr. Benjamin shared the priests’ concern. He said 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 and move around. (It is said that there are about 37 Christian denominations operating in Mysore itself.) “Although my analysis may sound too simplistic, I 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”, Benjamin added.
Mr. Sadashiva, Pracharak Pramukh of RSS South Karnataka, produced two pamphlets distributed allegedly by the Holy Family Church members. On close scrutiny it was found these were printed, published and distributed by some revivalist Christian organization in Bangalore.
Dr. Upendra Shenoy appealed to the Bishop and the priests to set up a peace committee consisting of representatives of Christian and Hindu communities, which would have regular meetings and interactions so that violent incidents could be nipped in the bud itself in future. He informed the gathering that he has named four RSS/VHP leaders in Mysore to be part of the committee. They are: Dr. Srinivasa Murthy (Sanghachalak, Mysore Division of RSS), Dr. V. V. Bapat (Sanghachalak, Mysore District), Mr. Madappa, Mr. Shyam Bhat and Mr. Keshava Murthy (Advocates). Dr. Shenoy requested the Bishop to nominate Christian representatives to the committee. The Bishop agreed to consider the suggestion and would inform Dr. Bapat about it soon.
“Should there be any sign of tension building up between Hindus and Christians and possibility of recurrence of violence, please get in touch with Dr. Bapat who would in turn rush to the spot along with RSS/VHP members and help iron out differences and bring peace”, assured Dr. Shenoy on behalf of the RSS and VHP to the Church leaders present at the meeting.
Dr. Thomas George of Asian Council for Communal Harmony informed the gathering that he came with the RSS-BIRD team because the Archbishop of Bangalore, Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius Pinto, had asked him to do everything possible to bring peace between the Church and the Hindu community in Mysore. He also said that the Archbishop had informed Bishop Roy previous day itself about the team’s visit.
Mr. Vasukhi of ANI, Mr. Bhanutej of The Week, Father Melvin, and Mr. Sajan K. George, who ‘dramatically’ appeared on the scene in the midst of the talks, were present until the end of the dialogue.
Immediately after the meeting with the bishop and others, in an interview to ANI- a TV channel- Dr Upendra Shenoy condemned in strong words vandalism at worshiping places, including the violent incident occurred at the Hinkal church.
Later the team met a few advocates at the District Court. Advocate Shyam Bhat whose clientele list includes local churches, questioned why the Christian missionaries are partial towards poorer section of Hindus while rendering services. He wanted to know why slums dominated by Muslim population are ignored for service activities. He also spoke about the simmering anger in the Hindu minds for various other reasons, for example, commercialisation of the Church property donated by the former Maharaja of Mysore for charitable and educational purposes. Advocate Mr. Medappa too expressed similar opinions. According to them, there is no mention in the FIR of the involvement of any advocate in the Hinkal vandalism.
The team also met Advocate Keshava Murthy who has been implicated in the case. To a blunt question by Mr. Benjamin about his reported connection with Bajarang Dal, he replied: “I am too old to be a member of Bajarang Dal. That says it all, Mr. Benjamin”. Our enquiries revealed that Mr. Keshava Murthy is a highly respected and well-known senior advocate in the Mysore Bar. He is a former principal of Hassan Law College. He is involved in various social service activities, including orphanages in slums in and around Mysore City.
The RSS-BIRD delegation visited the Holy Family Church and met the parish priest Father William at about 6 p.m. We had a long and cordial talk with him at his residence. Dr. Upendra Shenoy and Dr. Thomas George spoke to him on behalf of the fact-finding team. They said that the team was visiting him and members of his parish to get the first hand information on the violent incident in his church and also to express their regret over it. They also assured them that they stand by the Catholic Church now and would continue to do so in the future too. They also told Father William and the parishioners that dialogue alone would be the only antidote to violence in future.
Father William told the team that when he was engaged in cordial talks with VHP leaders on Sunday morning after the Holy Mass, Kumar who had threatened the members of the parish in December, suddenly appeared on the scene and created a ruckus. (Father William’s version of the incident is exactly the same as that of the Bishop and others told us earlier. So, there’s no need for its repetition). Fr. William emphatically denied the charge that pamphlets encouraging conversion to Christianity originated from his church. They were distributed by some other Christian denominations. He too made it clear that the Catholic Church does not believe in conversion. He said: “Catholics at Hinkal live in peace with neighbours of other faiths. There has been nor quarrel or misunderstanding between them so far. Those who are involved in the incident are outsiders… It was the village leader Mr. Pappanna’s timely intervention that prevented further violence”. He also agreed that inter-religious dialogue is necessary for defusing tension among different communities. Father William said that the attack was an unexpected one. He had no knowledge of any violence brewing or erupting around his church. It looked as though it were not pre-planned, he said. The team’s visit to the church ended in a very cordial and friendly note.
Father Malcolm Bogadi, a former priest of the Holy Family Church, and Messrs. A. James, Jayakumar, Wilfred, Deepak and Ambrose (all members of the parish) were present at the meeting. The team rounded off the visit after calling on Dr. Srinivasa Murthy, Sanghachalak of RSS, Mysore Division, and listening to his version on the Church incident, which too tallied with the facts we had already gathered. He readily agreed to be on the proposed peace committee/initiative in Mysore.
1. What happened at the Holy Family Church, Hinkal was a minor local incident and it should have been localized and contained.
2. There was no need for blowing it out of proportion and flashing it on national and international media. It was a classic example of making a mountain out of a molehill. On the other hand, when eight innocent Hindus, including three children were brutally massacred in J&K on the same day there was not a a word of condemnation from the so-called defenders of minorities from the secular and human rights warriors and even the media. A Hindu temple at Coorg too was under attack a couple of weeks back allegedly by a group belonging to a minority community. But why were these incidents of brutality not given wide publicity by the press. The media should have followed a similar attitude towards the Hinkal incident too.
3. We are of the opinion that the incident was not pre-planned. We agree with Father William in this context.
4. We believe that the violent incident took place due to “mistaken identity” as explained by Mr. Benjamin during the talks with Bishop Roy and others. In the eyes of the Hindus and even to the media persons, the Catholic priests and nuns are the “visible” Christian missionaries. They move around in their official dress (cassocks and robes) and are mistaken for preachers, priests, and pastors of Christian groups who use doubtful methods and words that are derogatory to neighbours of other faiths “to gain converts”. There are hundreds of varieties of Christian sects in India- a fact seems to be unknown to non-Christians and media persons alike.
5. We are convinced that the Catholic Church does not encourage conversions to Christianity.
6. We are, again, convinced that the pamphlets urging conversions were NOT distributed by or originated from the Holy Family Church. They were printed, published, and distributed by some fundamentalist Christian groups unconnected with mainline churches. The mainline churches are Catholic, CSI, CNI, Mar Thoma, Syrian Orthodox, and Jacobite.
7. Self-styled leaders of Christian community and unscrupulous politicians are using ordinary Christians as cannon fodder for their narrow and selfish ends. This seems to have happened in the Hinkal incident also. Those who claim to be spokesmen and defenders of the Christian Faith and the Indian Christian community spread distress and division and to all appearances, enjoy the grace and favour of the State Government. This encouragement helps the growth of powerful elements of separatism and disunity.
8. Whenever two communities are at loggerheads, emotions should not be allowed to take its own free course. Facts should be bared and emotions should be contained. Regular meetings among various communities will be a bulwark against the recurrence of communal tensions and passions and also ‘a guarantor of peace and amity between different religious communities. ’
1. We have underlined the importance of establishing friendly relations and collaboration on issues of common interest and in pursuit of amity and peace between Hindus and Christians in Mysore.
2. Our experience is that inter-religious communities often spring up in response to crises and public emergencies also.
3. We are aware of the vital need of forming inter-faith communities in rural areas.
4. Every person and institution, especially places of worship, should take the initiative in forming inter-religious communities in cities and rural areas.
5. Dialogue is a necessary tool for overcoming alienation and halting the march of hatred and misunderstanding.
6. Engaging in dialogue will enable us to graduate from coercion to the art of persuasion and the resources of civilized world
7. Our mission to Mysore has renewed our conviction that to be religious is to grow in openness to other traditions.
Conscious of our limitations in facing challenges posed by the prevailing tension and misunderstandings between Christians and Hindus in Mysore, consequent to the recent incident of violence at the Holy Family Church, we fellow pilgrims of inter-faith pilgrimage, affirm our faith in one another, and our hope for a society where divisions will cease and people will live together in harmony, respect, love and compassion. Our hearts are full of gratitude for the leaders of the Catholic Church and Hindu community in Mysore who extended their full support and co-operation in our humble initiative to iron out differences between the two communities through free, frank and openhearted talks and promised to establish a permanent peace initiative to continue the dialogue process in Mysore. We are confident that these leaders will be channels of peaces in that city and its surroundings so that in the days to come they will be able to prevent recurrence of communal violence.
The road ahead of the peace-makers is long, narrow, and arduous. The coming together of RSS and BIRD amounts to no more than, as it were, striking a match in a dark immense cavern, to dispel the surrounding gloom. We hope and pray such initiatives for peace and communal harmony will soon spring up in various parts of Karnataka.
We returned home on the night of 19th February confirmed in our resolve to work more effectively with added vigour and spirit for a harmonious family of faiths.
P. N. BENJAMIN, Co-ordinator
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
Tel. 080 5486880
E-mail: benjaminpn@hotmail.com
RSS Prachar Vibhag Pramukh RSS, Prachar Vibhag Pramukh
Karnatak Uttara and Dakshina Bangalore, Tumkur and Mysore

& Dr. Thomas George

Collapse of moral standards



THE FOURTH Estate ranks first in shaping public opinion when society is politically literate and socially insensitive even in this information age and knowledge era.

We have not yet fully realized the profound importance to our democracy of an educative, objective newspaper, which publishes promptly and marshals information without fear and favour, affection and ill will. Journalistic independence, intelligence, investigative ability and probity are integral to the greatness of the Press. In the Mudroch epoch, sex, vulgar values, purchase of the readers’ souls and propaganda which beats cultural heritage and vintage traditions, are apt to captivate readership and buy up the media with monopolistic hunger. There are newspapers even today, which are no mere mechanical messengers but are dailies with a message, which makes the reader more informed, illumined and thoughtful.

John Pilger (Hidden Agenda) writes: “ I have become convinced that it is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers, without understanding the hidden agenda of the message and the myths that surround it. High on the lists is the myth that we now live in an “information age” – when, in fact, we live in a media age, in which the available information is repetitive, ‘safe’ and limited by invisible boundaries. In the day-to-day media, much of this is the propaganda of Western power, whose narcissism, dissembling language and omissions often prevent us from understanding the meaning of contemporary events. ‘Globalization’ is a prime example. This smokescreen extends to journalists themselves.

Fawning servants, obedient aides, and the symbols of success surround the powerful in the country. In our country those who reach the mountaintop are so pampered and so insulated by the trappings of power that they can easily forget that they are servants, not masters, of the nation. It is far more pleasant to write puffery about the powerful in the social, political and religious fields, of course, than it is to probe their perfidy. “ Public officeholders are usually likable; that is why they get elected (or continue to occupy high positions in public and religious and educational institutions). Many reporters taken in by this “personal charm”, are awed by the “majesty” of office/position; and they become publicists rather than critics of the men who occupy the offices”(The Anderson Papers).

Jack Anderson, wary of the collapse of moral standards in the media observes that they become the lap dogs of government (and also powerful persons in the private institutions) instead of watchdogs over them. They wag their tails and seek approval instead of growling at the abuses of power. The reporters who go along with the powerful, and act as explainers and apologists for those who violate the public trust, must be considered accessories to the pillage. Like the politician and special seekers, these men sell a little of themselves each day; and the chumminess between the power structure and the Press apparatus robs the reports of integrity. Erosion of integrity seems inevitable. If power belongs to the people and the Press is a trustee, resistance to exotic pressure is a new challenge to the Indian media

Spare a moment to consider corruption among journalists themselves? The media seldom expose journalistic corruption except when the delictum is so flagrante that there can be no conceivable defence. Members of a guild protect their own. But what about the large tracts of real estate in the State capitals and district headquarters which every State Government thinks it worthwhile labelling a Jornalists Colony? What about the gifts in cash and kind reporters on the business pages are liable to receive for lauding a particular scrip or company? What about the wining and dining journalists accept, so much so that even a charitable initiative goes without newspaper coverage if it goes without cocktails?

The editorial elite have been living off the fat of the land. This sort of culture produces its own branch of experts who know little about journalism. In the old days editors avoided parties given to launch consumer products like plague. Now virtually everybody is usually seen at such bashes. It has to expose a whole section of the incestuous elite to the loud sniggers of every video watcher.

Journalists should be pointing a finger at the mirror. Doctors on graduation vow to follow a code of ethics. Its breach may be as common as its observance, but at least they know when they transgress. Journalists have no such code. What they are taught in journalism schools I don't know; but in the profession certainly there is no consensus. Journalistic ethics, like the law, have to evolve in tune with the times, not merely become elastic.

It is high time Indian newspapers and journalists returned to their moorings and maintained their high standards. Why? Because the media influences what people think of and the way they think. If the focus is wrong, direction is lost. A people without reliable news, rooted in its vintage values and primitive of its progress will sooner or later be a people without the basis of swaraj.

Newspapers by plurality of editions, should not indulge in fragmentation and localization of news, missing the national perspective which alone keeps alive the unity and integrity of the country. They, with their long history of glory in the field of nationalist struggle and thereafter for the freedom of the Press, have a soul to preserve and a struggle to wage, so that they are no longer opium but tonic. The patriotic duty of the Fourth Estate today is to stress democratic discipline, expose untruth wrapped in gloss and party and individual interests in appealing dross.END

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mark Tully's Samartha Memorial Lecture


(The ninth Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture delivered by Sir Mark Tully,
on 7th October, 2010 at the Rotary House of Friendship, Bangalore, organised by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD))

Thank you very much for that very kind introduction. It’s a great honour to be here, but I’d say that this lecture for me is something more than an honour it’s a trial as well, because I’m speaking here in honour of a great theologian. I am a person who read theology rather inadequately and rather lazily when I was at Cambridge; and when I was asked to give a series of lectures, known as the Teape Lectures I had to start the first one by saying very firmly that I am a journalist and not as all the previous lecturers were, and as Dr Stanley Samartha undoubtedly was, a scholar.
I want to speak to you from my experience rather than from any very deep reading and I hope you will forgive me for doing that.

It seems to me that I can start off by making a rather general point. The theology that searches for pluralism is very much a theology in the Indian tradition. I was once asked to organise a meeting of people of different faiths to meet Prince Charles when he came to India, and one of those who came was Father Samuel Ryan, a Jesuit from Delhi. He told Prince Charles that it was because of the Indian tradition of pluralism and Indian Christian pluralist theology that the Roman Catholic Church had made it clear it no longer maintained there was no salvation outside the church. That is evidence of the penetration of pluralism in Indian Christianity, and it’s a reflection I believe of the pluralist nature of Indian culture. I am a firm believer that we need religious variety, and I am very interested to learn that Stanley Samartha rejoiced in variety. Perhaps I shouldn’t say this in the presence of people of the Church of South India which is a great example of oecumenicity, but I personally believe that rather than trying to jam all our churches together we should rejoice in the variety of the Christian experience and the variety of church traditions. .

To me there are two things about religion which we sometimes forget. One is that to some extent it’s culturally specific. In other words, there is a mix between religion creating a culture, and that culture having a life of its own which impacts on religion. To demonstrate that I love this story about a very orthodox young missionary priest who went to Africa. When he got there he was shocked because he found in his church that every day a group of women would come and sit around the statue of the Virgin Mary. They would talk and pray to her, and talk amongst themselves. Of course he was very concerned about this, because, as you know the Roman Catholic Church is very keen not to give the impression that the Virgin Mary is God, or equal to Jesus, or anything like that. So he hid behind the high altar one day and said in a loud voice “I am Jesus and you should be talking to me and not to Mary.” One of the women shouted back at him "Shut up, we are talking to your mom!" (Laughter) This is just one little illustration.

The other thing about religion I feel is important in the context of pluralism is that it’s always personal. There are no two Christians, no two Hindus, no two Muslims, who actually believe and behave and do everything in exactly the same way. And this is hugely true, of India. There’s a basic pluralistic culture in this country. Now, I know from experience what I am going to say now will be misinterpreted. but I think it’s justified, although controversial, to say that this Indian culture is deeply influenced by religion in this country. I’d prefer to say influenced by the development of Hinduism, although I know all about the controversies over that word. What has come about in this country is a faith which is highly individualistic, in other words it accommodates the fact I have mentioned, the fact that each person’s religion is in someway personal. But at the same time this faith is part of great historic traditions which have bound people together in common beliefs and forms of worship. Now, there are many arguments about the history of religion in this country. but the fundamental fact still remains that India has been a historic home to all great religions in the world. Of course there has been differences as there have been problems. But if you look at India today, I would ask you to compare it with the West and see the difference. See the muddle which is being created in the West, over religious pluralism, over the presence of Muslims in the West, and see India where 15 per cent of the population is Muslim, They are perfectly free to worship, no one is going to tell any woman she is not allowed to wear a burqa, or anything like that. And of course, you know, you have a substantial Christian population. This is not a recent phenomenon. It’s a historic fact that India has provided a home down the centuries for almost every religion in the world. So, I think this pluralism and this ability to recognise the individual element in your religion is culturally specific to India.

So, why is pluralism important today? Well, there are three reasons I’d give you. The first is of course the obvious one that if we don’t have understanding between religions we tend to have fights and differences can, as we see today degenerate into terrorism. But even in disputes that involve religion, it’s almost always wrong to blame religion entirely. There are usually economic, political and often ethnic reasons involved in those disputes. Nevertheless, they are fought in the name of religion.

The second reason of course is when these disputes become ugly, they defame religion. They give religion a bad name. One of the most absurd things said by the secular fundamentalist Richard Dawkins is that if there was no religion, there’d be no wars. The fact that some people are prepared to accept nonsense like that indicates the damage these disputes inflict on religion.

The third reason is in my view, is that not accepting that there are different ways to God is a hugely missed opportunity to demonstrate the validity of belief in God. The theologian we are honouring today searched for a way to demonstrate that in different cultures at different times in the history of the world in different languages, human beings have had experiences and held beliefs with a great deal in common. In other words we should search for the commonality in religions in order, in my view, to demonstrate that the religious urge is a common urge to humanity. That, if you’d like to put it crudely, is a selling point for religion. So, on the one hand you have religion defamed when religious pluralism is not practiced, on the other hand, you have evidence that can make you more secure in your faith and also able to justify it in discussions with others when you are pluralistic.

Now for Christianity, there are of course, difficulties in pluralism. One of the obvious difficulties in pluralism is of course is Christianity’s exclusiveness. Jesus’ reported statement in St John’s gospel that he is “the way the truth and life” has traditionally been taken to mean that he is the only way. It’s very interesting that perhaps one of the most outstanding Christian books on religious pluralism was written by a Belgian Jesuit who spent many years in India and was deeply influenced by the culture and religions of India, Father Jacques Dupuis. His book is called Toward A Christian Theology of religious Pluralism. Dupuis said that until recently theology often seemed in Christian circles to belong to Christianity as its exclusive property. And, in Western Christianity, first world theology, seemed to have the monopoly. Certainly when I did my theology in Cambridge, we didn’t learn about any other religion.
So Christianity not only made this exclusive claim to truth but also tended in its theology to be narrowly confined to the tradition of one part of the world. Even within that tradition because we couldn’t accept pluralism we have this long history of fighting each other. I am thankful to say things have changed. When I went to university I had many Roman Catholic friends, but they would not come to an Anglican service with me. In fact some of them were even reluctant to go into an Anglican Church. Now that has changed totally. I was in Britain for the very recent visit by the Pope and one of the most touching aspects of this was the obvious friendship, despite their theological differences, between the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope not only celebrated Mass in the Roman Catholic Westminster cathedral, he also took part in a special service in the Anglican Westminster Abbey.

So Christians are making what I would argue is progress. But still we do have this problem of a theology which traditionally says Christianity is the way to God. A few years ago, I had the privilege of taking the Bishop of Kingston in South London to meet a friend of mine, Maulana Wahiduddin, who is a great Islamic scholar. The bishop said to the Maulana that in his view the need for a Christian theology of pluralism was the major problem facing twenty first century theologians. The Maulana said, “I have an answer to that. I believe Islam is the true way but I respect other religions.” And he certainly expresses his respect in all he writes and all he says.

But without wanting to show disrespect to the Maulana, I think the Mahatma was more profound, because he went one step further. He not only respected all religions, but also believed all religions can and should learn from each other. The Mahatma said “All faiths constitute a revelation of truth but all are imperfect and liable to error. Reverence to other faiths need not blind us to their thoughts; we must be keenly alive to the defects of our own faiths also. Yet we must try to overcome these defects.” And then e Mahatma went on to say, “looking at all religions with an equal eye we should not only hesitate but it’s our duty to blend into our faiths every acceptable feature of other faiths.” That I think is a more profound way of looking at religious pluralism.

Jacque Depuis said that Hindu Vedanta might help Christians purify and deepen their faith in the divine mystery. And mystery is in some ways, is the key to this problem. Because what does mystery say? Mystery means we are talking about something mysterious. We are talking about something that we cannot write up on a blackboard and say this is who God is and this is what religion is etc etc. As Christians, those of you who are Christians, you believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But I bet, if you put five of you together all of you will have different interpretations of what Son of God means.

In the same way, with all other religions, if we remember that word mystery, then we will realise that all our beliefs are to some extent open to questioning. We do not fully understand. That great metaphysical poet George Herbert wrote a wonderful poem called Prayer, which ended with the words, “something understood”. In other words our prayers, our religious beliefs can never be absolute certainties; we will always only grasp part of the full mystery of God.

Here I would like to talk about the uncertainty of certainty, and this again is very Indian. If we believe in the uncertainty of certainty we will not take our certainties too far, and they will not get out of balance. We will realise that we will have to be open minded, look at our certainties and make sure we are maintaining our balance. You can put it very crudely that people can be too religious, people can be too certain about their faiths. And this suspicion of certainties is something which is fundamental to Indian philosophy, as I understand it. It was very well put by a great scholar R C Zaehner who held the same chair at Oxford as Radhakrishnan did. Zaehner said “Hindus do not think of religious truths in dogmatic terms.” In other words, they don’t believe in certainties that can’t be questioned. According to Zaehner Hindus say, “dogmas can’t be eternal, only the transitory distorting images of truth that transcends not only them but all verbal definitions.” This is the mystery, something that transcends all verbal definitions. And then Zaehner goes on to say, “for the passion for dogmatic certainty that has racked the religions of Semitic origins, from Judaism itself through Christianity and Islam to Marxism they feel nothing but shocked incomprehension.”

I would put what I call Scientism in the same bracket as Marxism. By scientism I mean, the confident belief that everything can be answered by science and scientific answers are the only answers. It’s a creed which maintains that rationalism is the sole method of perception. I hasten to add here that I am not therefore saying religion can ignore reason or rationalism. Scientism is a dogmatic certainty, just as much as the belief that Jesus is the one and only one way to God is a dogmatic certainty. It’s very important, I think, to recognize that people like Richard Dawkins who popularise scientism are fundamentalists, just much as some religious people are.

By believing in Christian certainties the church has made classic blunders. It’s all right for the church to be suspicious about scientism but it has to respect scientific findings, and see how they relate to its beliefs. If it respects the fact that it’s dealing with a mystery the Church will not get involved in arguments with science which lead to blunders like the blunder over Galileo. In my view not being sufficiently open to scientific discoveries is producing problems at least some parts of the church are facing today. The Roman Catholic Church is deeply concerned about moral relativity, but on the other hand if we do not have an element of moral relativity we get stuck in a rut. That is why is the Christian faith fell behind in its understanding of the place of women in society in my view and fell behind in its understandi8ng of the way we should regard homosexuality as well. This is because Churches held on to outdated certainties instead of being prepared to move with the times.

I talked to you about balance. And obviously, there’s a need for balance here. If we respect the mystery, if we respect what science is saying to us, if we respect what the best of secularism is saying to us, and I firmly believe in secularism provided it’s the secularism, that leaves space for everyone, and has a genuine respect for religious belief as well as genuine respect for those who do not believe, we will be balanced. . But, secularism too has to be held in balance. The same is true for relativism. If we do not respect the need for being open to change, for a certain amount of relativism, then we get stuck in the past. On the other hand we have to be very careful that relativism doesn’t result in diluting traditional historic faith, and all that faith has stood for, so much that it loses its meaning. . If we become too relativist we will find that faith gradually withers away. There should be some ground on which we stand. And this is a matter therefore as I said of the Indian tradition of balance, the balance between the need to have an open mind, and the need to stand on some firm ground.

There are two other dangers I believe to taking relativism too far in being too open to change. One danger is what I call Pick and Mix Religion. That is when we say, “I don’t like this bit of that, and I do like that bit of that, and anyhow I am very clever and I can make it all up for myself. Therefore I am very happy to take a bit from Hinduism a bit from Islam, a bit from Christianity and mix it as I feel suits me, or I am very happy to take this from Christianity and drop the rest of it.

The other danger of relativism is its tendency to undermine all tradition. Then you find yourself saying, “I don’t have any need for any institutional religion at all”. Now I know that institutional religion has problems. The church is fallible; the church has made mistakes. The church does get things wrong. But on the other hand it seems to me that unless your religious faith is rooted in the past, rooted in tradition, then in some ways it become rootless and over-personalised. Here I would like to come back to Gandhi and his famous saying that he wanted the windows of his house to be open to winds blowing from all quarters of the world, but he didn’t want to be blown off his feet. That is one of the most profound views of religious pluralism that I have ever come across.

Before I sum up, I want to give three health warnings. The first is that what ever I have said today does not mean that I am turning the whole western missionary argument on its head and, saying that Hinduism is the only valid religion. There is a common problem in communication – how do you, prevent an audience, listeners, viewers, or readers seeing issues in black and white. So if I say something in favour of Hinduism many will take it to mean that I am opposed to every other religion, or at the least that I regard it as superior to any other religion.

There is a strange version of this black and white thinking in India. It is the type of secularism which has no place for Hinduism, and which sees anyone who says anything about that religion as a supporter of the RSS Hindu nationalism. In other words for those secularists either you are wholly white and you totally support their anti-religious point of view or you are wholly black in their eyes and support an organisation they condemn as communal. Only today I was interviewed by a journalist who said to me you have a reputation of being right-wing. When I asked what she meant by right wing she replied, “ RSS and all that.’ So I said to her, “I have written a book called India’s Unending Journey, in which I have tried to express my respect for Hinduism, as well as other religions. At the same time I made the limits of that respect absolutely clear, and criticised the RSS family. It isn’t the first time I have written or spoken like that. But because of the existence of what I’d call blind secularism in this country, and it does not include all secularists of course, expressing my appreciation of Hinduism, has, you tell me, labelled me RSS.” If you in the audience have been listening to what I have said, you will understand my understanding of Hinduism is very different to the dogmatic RSS school of Hinduism. My speech has been an appreciation of an undogmatic religion. So, that’s the second health warning that I wanted to give.

The third health warning I’d like to give is this. I may have trained to become a priest, but I only survived through two terms in the seminary before I was told by the bishop that because I liked drinking beer rather a lot, my place was in the public house rather than in the pulpit. So I hope you do not think that I have preached to you. I didn’t come here to preach. I came here to express in a sense my faith in religious pluralism. And the last thing I came to do was to preach to Hindus, because of course I have no right to do that. I have merely tried to explain to you why I see religious pluralism as so important. and how I believe the Indian tradition, the tradition of openness, the undogmatic tradition, can be the tradition that takes us down that road. As I said you already have great Indian theologians, or theologians who have been much influenced by India who are taking us down that road. There’s another person I mentioned to you, Julius Lipner who teaches Sanskrit at Cambridge, and has written a wonderful book on Hinduism. He calls himself a Catholic Hindu or Hindu Catholic depending which way he feels like saying it.

So Christian theology is on the move, and it up to all of us who are Christians to welcome that. It’s also very important that all of those who are Hindus, and who suspect Christianity of being an exclusive religion that wants to convert everyone, should realise there is a big body of Christians who want to have a dialogue. There is Christian theology to support those Christians too. But dialogue after all, is like clapping. It does require two hands. So in a sense, my appeal is to Hindus, Muslims and Christians to dialogue with each other and to learn from each other.

To sum up, the principle of religious pluralism is accepting that in religion we are dealing with a mystery, which means claims to absolute truth are inevitably open to question. If there is a doctrine, it has to develop. For doctrine to develop we shouldn’t just live with other religions but learn from them. As Jacques Dupuis said dialogue is the necessary foundation of a theology of religions. And that’s also of course what the great theologian we are celebrating today said.

Thank you all very much.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Press Release

Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
Apt. 501, Indira Residency, 167 Hennur Road, Kalyan Nagar, Bangalore 560 043
Tel. 080 25435716, Mob. 097311 82308 e-mail: benjaminpn@hotmail.com


Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture

The Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) is a low-key organisation of theologically and socially interested people, which has attempted to be a forum for people of different religions to talk things over in times of strife and peace over the last decade.

The BIRD has an annual lecture series named after its inspiration, the late Dr Stanley Samartha, an ordained priest of the Church of South India and theology teacher from Karnataka (born in Karkala), who lived his Christian faith and practice in harmony with his Hindu tradition and culture during his ministry.

Samartha was the first director of the Inter-Faith Dialogue Program of the World Council of Churches in Geneva (1970-81). Earlier he was the Principal of the Karnataka Theological College, Mangalore and also the Serampore College, West Bengal. He was a professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore in 1960s.

Samartha is known as a the “Christian prophet of religious pluralism”, who famously declared himself "a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith, Indian by citizenship and ecumenical by choice".

I am happy to inform you that the 9th Rev. Dr.Stanley Samartha Memorial lecture organized by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) will be delivered by Sir Mark Tully on 7th October 5 pm. at the Rotary House of Friendship, Lavelle Road, Bangalore.

Sir Mark Tully, KBE is the former Chief of Bureau, BBC, New Delhi. He worked for BBC for a period of 30 years before resigning in July 1994.He held the position of Chief of Bureau, BBC, Delhi for 20 years. Since 1994 he has been working as a freelance journalist and broadcaster based in New Delhi

The lecture last year was delivered by Arun Shourie on ‘Rethinking Religions’. In years before that, we have had M.J.Akbar, Justice K.T.Thomas, Metropolitan Philipose Mar Chrysotom of Mar Thoma Church, Dr. Hans Ucko of World Council of Churches, Dr. M.V. Nadkarni, Dr. C.T.Kurien and Francois Gautier.

BIRD is entirely dependent on small contributions from people of diverse faiths who are strongly convinced about the dire need to preserve inter-faith amity in the true and abiding traditions of India, which is a living symbol of religious diversity and inclusiveness.

Apt. No. 501, Indira Residency,
167 Hennur Road
Kalyan Nagar
Bangalore 560 043
Mobile: 09731182308
Res. 090 25435716

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Methodist Church land dispute- a rejoinder to CSF


Your call to protest against the BJP MLA and his ‘hoodlums’ for usurping the Methodist Church land in Belgaum reminds me of what Jesus tells us: “Do not look for the mote in the eyes of your neighbor when we may have a pillar stuck in our sclera”.

Following are a couple of instances in which the Judases of the Christian community sold/usurped the Church land for just thirty pieces of silver.

1. 15 acres of Bangalore YMCA land has been sold to a Hindu real estate developer for Rs. 9 crores. Transparency International Karnataka Chapter headed by Justice M.F. Saldanha discovered that the land was worth a minimum of Rs. Rs. 32 crore. Who pocketed the kick-back. Those involved in it are all Christians – including a former Catholic Christian minister/MLA. Mind you, YMCA is a Protestant, evangelical organisation where the Catholics should not have a say at all.
2. The plan to sell about 7 acres of land of Vishranthi Nilayam belonging to the Order of Sisters (nuns) of the Church of South India in the heart of Bangalore City – just a kilometer away from Raj Bhavan Bangalore and in the neigbhourhood of Malayala Manorama- The Hindu- Indian Express- Coffee Board – Police Commissioner’s HQ – was foiled for the time being by the timely intervention and protests of 33 elderly nuns in April this year. Don’t you want to know who were behind this move? They were two respectable Christian leaders and friends of CSF! The land were to be sold to a Muslim land developer!!! The same vultures are still eyeing the property.
3. The 150-year old CLS Press ( Methodist Press) on Dickenson Road was usurped by a Christian Congress leader, former minister and today sitting MLA. He built a huge shopping center, that encroached upon about 80 feet into the adjacent property where stands the British Methodist Bishop’s House which is today occupied by Mr. John Zac, Bishop Cotton Boys’ School Principal. It belongs to CSI. No one protested. This property known as 4 M.G. Road has been eyed by several land developers many of whom are Muslims. However, it cannot be alienated because there’s an undertaking by the diocese in the High Court of Karnataka that the land can be used ONLY for educational purposes.
4. The same Congress leader and family have cornered the priceless Bangalore Tract & Book Society property adjacent to the Bible Society – Karnataka Auxillary. The place where Bibles were sold since 1912 has been converted into lounge bar and dance hall for the rich and powerul. No Christian leader protested.
5. In 1990s, the CSI Karnataka Central diocese entered into an agreement to lease out the East Parade Church property for 99 years to a German Bank( Deutche Bank) or to be precise a Muslim builder. But, sustained public protests, write-ups in news papers, and a petition signed by almost 2,000 members of the East parade Church Malayalam Congregation and general public forced the diocese to beat a hasty retreat. The ‘reigning’ moderator of the Church of South India was the vice president of the diocese, And fortunately, I led the campaign against commercialisation of East Parade Church.
6. It is to my credit – sorry for patting on my own shoulders – that several Church properties have been saved in the last 20 or 30 years because of the campaign I unleashed against commercialisation with the support of the enlightened public opinion expressed through the newspapers.
7. The historic Trinity Church land which was leased out to build a thirteen storeyed shopping complex was stopped midway by a writ petition filed by the late Rev. C. Arangaden and me .The late Barrister Balakrishna Rao in late 1980s presented the case free of charges. The stay continues even to this day and no portion of any Garrison Church can be commercialised today.
8. The alert public opinion mobilised by me through news papers and other sources has helped preserve and save several church properties in Bangalore, including the St. Anrews Church on Cubbon Road.
8 In 2008 about 60,000 sq. ft. of YMCA land on on Nrupatunga Road was sold to a Hindu – not BJP - land developer by the help of the same Catholic YMCA President – Congress leader and DCC president . The property is adjacent to the Police HQ and abutting into the Cubbon Park. Here again, I led the charge against the move with the help of the media and forced the YMCA to withdraw from the deal. But, the same Catholic president and Congress leader is back in the saddle and the property is not safe.
9 There are several other land grabs by Muslim land grabbers of Catholic diocesan property ably supported by friends of CSF. For instance, the precious land on Residency Road that housed an old age home has been converted into a commercial hub with the help of a former archbishop of Bangalore.

If you need documentary evidences, please feel free to get in touch with me. In the meantime, let us urge the churches to allot/distribute the excess lands in their possession, including the Methodist land in Belgaum, to the poorest of the poor in Christian community, especially the Dalit Christians.

How many among us know that the Idgah maidan in Hubli was originally belonged to the Basel Mission? We have no guts to reclaim it.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)

An Appeal for a small contribution

Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) is a low profile organization formed in 2001, by a small group of Hindus, Muslims and Christians in Bangalore, to promote inter-faith amity in line with our native wisdom of promoting inclusiveness for preserving India's religious diversity.

BIRD has been organizing seminars, consultations, panel discussions and dialogues. The annual lecture series in memory of Rev. Dr Stanley Samartha remains the signature event of BIRD’s inter-faith activities undertaken in the cosmopolitan city of Bangalore. This year’s lecture will be delivered by Sir Mark Tully on 7th October

BIRD is entirely supported by small contributions from people of diverse faiths who are deeply convinced about the urgent need to preserve inter-faith amity in the true and abiding tradition of India, which is a living symbol of religious diversity and inclusiveness.

May I request you to consider making a small contribution to BIRD for its activities? Grateful if you please write a cheque in favour of BIRD and mail it to the following address:

Apt. No. 501, Indira Residency,
167 Hennur Road
Kalyan Nagar
Bangalore 560 043

Remembering Raimon Pannikkar

Raimon Panikkar, Catholic Theologian, Is Dead at 91

Mr. Panikkar was a Roman Catholic whose embrace of Hindu
scriptures and Buddhism made him an influential voice for
promoting dialogue between the world's religions.

Continue reading at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/us/05panikkar.html?emc=eta1

In the Sept. 5th New York Times, there was an obituary of the distinguished Roman Catholic theologian Raimundo Panikker which is worth reading, especially with regard to Panikker's discovery of the value of delving into the scriptures of eastern religions.

Panikker was born in Spain to a Spanish mother and an Indian father. He became a Catholic monk and then went to India to study eastern religions. An 0ft-quoted comment of his is, "I left Europe as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be Christian". That is the great contribution that a study of eastern religions imparts on any serious student of religions. Professor Diana Eck discovered likewise in her "Encountering God: A spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Benares".

And, yet one finds that most theologians of monotheism see little or no value in either studying eastern faiths or engaging in any serious dialog with followers of eastern religions. It is most pronounced among Islamic theologians, Christian proselytizers in that order, and least prevalent among the Jewish Rabbis.

Panikkar also averred that "if the Church wishes to live, it should not be afraid of assimilating elements that come from other religious traditions, whose existence it can today no longer ignore".

C. Alex Alexander

Raimon Panikkar who was and is a hero of Indian Christian Theology. All Indian Christians should read his position on the approach to Hinduism while remaining a true Christian. Mr. Panikkar has amazingly brought up the truth of Christ whom Christians simply say, " He is the light of the world" but would not mean anything to
the world. Christians must be able to know Christ an THE example of representation of HUMANS who can penetrate through the human history without any barriers of religion or even denominations. That is also the Christ who penetrates through genders, cultures, politics, language etc. that divide humanity foolishly. Christians' inability to understand and uphold that Christ who can enlighten the
entire world has become the biggest obstruction for Christ to be seen through the Church to the rest of the world. But it is still possible for Christians to come out of its petiness and see Christ 'AS HE IS' and the world would say, "we need HIM".

Fr. M .K Kuriakose, Philadelphia

Pannikar and Kaaj Baago

Raimon Panikkar averred that "if the Church wishes to live, it should not be afraid of assimilating elements that come from other religious traditions, whose existence it can today no longer ignore".

Almost in the same vein, a brilliant Danish Professor, Dr. Kaaj Baago, in the United Theological College, Bangalore, made history when he said in the 1960s: “Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists should never give up their religion to join the Christian Church”. On the other hand the Church should humble itself and find ways of identifying itself with other groups, taking Christ with them. Christ, he said, was not the chairman of the Christian party. If God is the Lord of the universe he will work through every culture and religion. We must give up the crusading spirit of the colonial era and stop singing weird hymns like “Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war”. This will lead to Hindu Christianity or Buddhist Christianity.

It must involve the disappearance of the Indian Christian community, but he reminded us: “a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls to the ground and dies”. Needless to say, the Indian Christians were furious. He left the College, the Church and the mission and took refuge with the Danish Foreign Service!!

He later returned to India as his country’s Ambassador and died in harness in 1988.


Attacks against Christians: Justice Saldanha's Bluff


The Compass News has reported:” Christians in Karnataka State are under an unprecedented wave of Christian persecution, having faced more than 1,000 attacks in the last 500 days, according to an independent investigation by a former judge of the Karnataka High Court”

But, “the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has recorded only 72 attacks on Christians in 2009. That represents a decline from 112 attacks the previous year”.

It proves that Justice Saldanha’s allegation that there were 1,000 attacks against Christians in Karnataka during the last 500 days is utterly false and outrageous, and the reality easily verifiable. The allegation reflects his shocking ignorance about the real religious situation in Karnataka.

But, people like me who have access to the media and who are still in control of our Betz cells know that all such propaganda is being peddled in the name of a bogey man called Sangh Parivar! If any one is honest in his analysis, the so-called Sangh Parivar, it is certainly the outcome of the actions of the arch conversionists of Christianity and the Jehadi Muslims who challenge the religious sensitivities of the Hindu majority in the State.

Mr. Saldanha should apologize for his irresponsible and unsubstantiated comments; he should also check and recheck facts before deciding to disparage Hindu ‘extremists’ in public. In this day and age, when greater inter religious understanding and mutual respect is the need of the hour, levelling wild accusations that do not have any foundation, in fact, can hardly help matters.

The Sangh Parivar bogey man will disappear if Saldanha and his Catholic Bishops and the Protestant Evangelical leaders will come out openly and affirm that they are taking a solemn pledge in the name of Jesus to abide by the admonition of Jesus not to go miles to make a proselyte. If they can do that, the so-called Sangh Parivar will disappear

India and its tolerance for the diversity of its religious communities were built up over thousands of years. But, it looks like if individuals like Saldanha and his like-minded friends are not checked and their false propaganda nipped in the bud, your children and the children of India's minorities will have no future anywhere near the equity and fairness that they have so far enjoyed despite India being a predominantly Hindu nation.

I marvel and admire the enormous charity and Christ-like compassion of the Hindu majority to accept two Muslim Presidents, a Sikh President and a Dalit President and at present a Sikh Prime Minister and a foreign-born Christian woman Party Leader of the ruling party.Not forgetting the present Christian Defence Minister, Anthony. No Islamic or Judeo-Christian country on this world's stage can hold a candle to the wisdom of the majority people of India who truly know what Sanatana Dharma is. It is high time that Mr.Saldanha and his protagonists make an attempt to appreciate that. That would be a true Christian,s humility if that is indeed possible for them to manifest

Is there a true Christian leader among us who can light a candle amidst the encircling gloom spread by the religious conversionists of both funddamental Christianity and Jehadi Islam?

Peace, Shanti, Salam and Shalom. With malice towards none, and charity towards all, I remain true to my guide and spiritual leader, the Jesus of Nazareth.


Friday, September 10, 2010

9th Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture

Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture-2010

The Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) is pleased to announce that the the 9th Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture will be delivered by Sir Mark Tully* on 7 October 2010 in Bangalore at 5 p.m. at the Rotary House of Friendship, Lavelle Road.

Please mark your calendar and participate in the event if your schedule permits.


*Sir Mark Tully, KBE is the former Chief of Bureau, BBC, New Delhi. He worked for BBC for a period of 30 years before resigning in July 1994.He held the position of Chief of Bureau, BBC, Delhi for 20 years. Since 1994 he has been working as a freelance journalist and broadcaster based in New Delhi

Mark Tully joined the BBC in 1964 and moved to India in 1965 to work as the India Correspondent. He covered all major incidents in South Asia during his tenure, ranging from India-Pakistan conflicts, Bhopal gas tragedy, Operation Blue Star (and the subsequent assassination of Indira Gandhi, anti-Sikh riots), Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi to the Demolition of Babri Masjid.

Tully was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1985 and was awarded the Padma Shree in 1992. He was knighted in the New Year Honours 2002] and in 2005 he received the Padma Bhushan.

Tully has written several books based on India including India in Slow Motion (co-author Gillian Wright), No Full Stops in India, The Heart of India, Divide & Quit, Last Children of the Raj, From Raj To Rajiv- 40 Years Of Indian Independence, India – 50 years of Independence, India's Unending Journey and Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi's Last Battle. In the area of religion Sir Mark has authored The Lives of Jesus to accompany the BBC series and Four Faces: A Journey in Search of Jesus the Divine, the Jew, the Rebel, the Sage.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture 2010

Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)thanks the Hindu American Foundation(HAF)for its kind offer to sponsor the 9th Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial lecture to be held on 7th October 2010 at the Rotary House of Friendship in Bangalore. Sir Mark Tully KBE will deliver the lecture.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Plight of Dalit Christians

Plight of Dalit Christians
By P.N.Benjamin

As per the 2001 census, there are 24.20 million Christians in India of which the Christians of South India constitute 12.5 million, more than half the total Christian population of India, and those of the North-east, 5.4 million. The total population of Tamil Nadu Christians is 3.8 million, Karnataka one million, Kerala 6 million, Andhra Pradesh 1.2 million and Goa 0.4 million. Dalits constitute 65% of the total South Indian Christian population. Some Christian groups even claim that dalits constitute 70% of the Christians of Tamil Nadu.

To corrupt George Orwell's famous aphorism: "all Indian Christians are equal, but some are more equal than others". By embracing Christianity, the Dalits have not found themselves emancipated from economic and social inequalities. Conversions have neither offered the Dalits a way of escape from the bondage of caste nor have they fostered the social transformation of the Dalit Christians. They still live under the same conditions of discrimination, exploitation and oppression.

Bishop Dr D.K. Sahu, a former general secretary of the National Christian Council of India (NCCI) once said: "The Indian church has to make a confession first. If you are alienated in society and you become a Christian, you are alienated again. We tell them, 'if you become Christian then there is no discrimination', but once they become Christian they are looked down upon by Christians of higher castes. A higher caste Christian will never marry a Dalit Christian, yet we say we are all one."

By embracing Christianity the Dalits have not found themselves emancipated from economic and social inequities. On the other hand they even find themselves to be victims of double discrimination in their new religion. Jesus himself has said that those who proselytize end up making their "victims" twice as miserable. That is what is happening in the case of Dalits, regardless of whether they seek refuge in Christianity, Islam or Buddhism. Their initial caste identity persists unless they relocate and live in areas where no one knows their antecedents. But, then they become caught up in a quandary when they would like to access the benefits of affirmative action programs such as admissions to educational institutions, government jobs etc by reclaiming their Dalit status. It becomes a CATCH-22 situation.

The Church has sinned more than others in perpetuating social injustices against Dalit Christians. Casteism is rampant in the Church. Caste discrimination takes many forms among Indian Christians. In rural areas they cannot own or rent houses, however well placed they may be. Inter-caste marriages are frowned upon and caste tags are still appended to the Christian names of high caste people. Humiliating discrimination on the basis of caste does not spare the Dalit Christians even in death. Separate places are marked out for them in the parish churches and burial grounds.

Charity begins at home. But, the home (Church) where it begins, the Dalits Christians do not belong. According to a study, all the landed properties of churches in India put together, the church is the second biggest landlord in the country, next only to the Government. In addition, the Church - Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal and all other denominations- its institutions and Church-led NGOs receive millions of dollars worth foreign financial support every year. However, there is no transparency with regard to these funds as well the massive income accruing from the elite schools, colleges and hospitals and also shopping complexes built all over the major cities in the country.

“Christians are a mere 2.5 per cent of the Indian population. But the Church in India suffers from a case of plenty, says Remy Denis, All India Catholic Union President. According to him Church authorities control funds equivalent to the Indian Navy’s annual budget. But, the poor Dalit Christian does not even get the crumbs, leave alone participation in Church matters. The Indian Church has miserably failed to take care of Dalits converted to Christianity

Besides, indiscriminate conversions have ruined the spirit of Christianity into savagery. Christianity is a path paved with suffering and service. Christ said: "If any one wants to follow me, let him take up the Cross and follow me”. But, the Indian Church leaders want the Government to carry the cross of Dalit Christians. That’s why they have been demanding reservation to Dalit Christians in education, Central and State Government jobs and social welfare schemes.

Church leaders have tamed the Dalit Christians and reduced them to eternal slaves of organized Church bodies. On the one hand, the Church demands reservation for Dalit Christians from the government while on the other, it opposes and refuses to provide them reservation in the Church structure.

Thus, the Church's call for re-distribution of national resources in favor of Dalit Christians will be heeded only when its own resources are re-allocated and used with a clear partiality for Dalits in its own fold. The Church's fearless stand for justice will no longer let it remain silent about the discrimination within the Church - a matter of shame to its members and an embarrassment to its friends.

Dalit Christians have been used as cannon fodder by Church leaders and Dalit NGOs. These leaders have grown fat and powerful and enjoy better standards of living and greater prestige than the poor and ordinary Dalit Christians. Their eyes are turned westward even more than during the Pax Britannica, and they draw their inspiration not so much from the poverty, inequality and indignities faced by the Dalit Christians within the Church but from the next seminar in Geneva or other western capitals.

It is time Dalit Christians stood united and fought for their rights in the Church until they are equals in the Christian fraternity first before seeking equal treatment from the government. It would be futile to expect others to give them support with a real change of heart. This goal can be achieved by following intelligently Ambedkar's exhortation: "educate, organize and agitate.

Dalit Christians' plight calls for a deeper analysis of the problem so that Christian leaders do not throw stones at the caste system prevailing in Hinduism but look to something more meaningful and constructive. Without going into details of how enlightened Hindus have dealt with the unconscionable practice of untouchability, the Church in India must audit its own record with regard to the dalit Christians.

Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)