Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Vicky Nanjappa interviews BIRD Coordinator


Abuse of Hindu Gods cause for backlash in Karnataka

In Karnataka there has been a waging battle over the attacks on Churches. Recently there was also a report which claimed that Karnataka is the number one rogue state for Christians as there have been over a 1000 attacks on both Christians and Churches.
The question now is whether this figure is exaggerated and is being put out for some ulterior motive. It is an exaggerated figure says P N Benjamin, who is the member of the Minorities Commission and Coordinator of the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD). A question that Benjamin asks is that if Karnataka is really the number one rogue state for Christians then why is it that not a single Christian fled the state. In this interview with, Benjamin takes us through the entire issue while stating that merely exaggerating figures for ulterior motive is not the way out.

Some Christians claim that there have been over a 1000 attack on Churches and Karnataka has become the number one rogue state for them? Is this correct?

It is not correct. It is just exaggeration. I feel there are a handful of attacks which were instigated by some fringe Christian groups.

Why do you think it is being exaggerated?

I am not saying all Christians do this. Yes there is a fringe group which involves itself in such activities. They get a lot of money especially from the American fundamentalist and fanatic churches for this. The more they exaggerate the better for them. I have personally gone into many such cases and realised that most of them have been blown out of proportion and internationalised by a handful of leaders from the Christian community and by unscrupulous politicians. They are using ordinary Christians as pawns in their hands for their narrow selfish ends.

Why do you think the Hindus are so upset with the Christians? Why has this issue blown out of proportion?

For one there is a BJP government in Karnataka and it is aimed at destablising the government. Secondly there are a lot of fringe groups that have emerged which do not report either to the Catholic or Protestant Church. Small churches are being formed in houses at a very quick pace. These are the persons who have broken away from the main line churches. They sit and abuse Hindu Gods and this has not been taken too kindly by the Hindus and hence the agitation. These fringe groups in fact have gone uncontrolled and this is a danger in the making.

Tell us about the conversions that are taking place. Is the Church involved in this?

I would not say that the Church is involved in conversions. In fact both the Catholic and Protestant Churches are not involved in this. Again it is these fringe groups- the Pentacostals among others who are involved in this. There is a report which states that nearly Rs 10000 crore has landed here for the purpose of such activities. Recently we sent a team to Suratkal near Mangalore. We noticed that some poor people had been given a handful of money to convert. They are just given money and later not taken care of.

So what is the exact version regarding large scale conversions?

There are no large scale conversions happening. As I said the Church does not do this. It is those small elements. There are a handful of people who have been converted. But these people send reports to donor agencies stating that large chunks of people have been converted for they want of more funds.

There is a great deal of confusion over the recent attacks. There are two versions to this by both Hindus and Christians. Can you please explain this to us?

The attacks are just a reaction to aggressive faith marketing and mindless evangelism and conversions through unethical means indulged by Christian missionaries. Even Father Adolf Washington of the Archdiocese of Bangalore said recently that there are several groups of people doing the rounds in Bangalore adopting persuasive techniques not just to convert people but also to spread animosity against mainstream Christian denominations. They hurl invectives against the teachings of Christian denominations and even induce people to tender a written ‘resignation’ to the pastor or priest. Since some of these groups do not even accept the divinity of Christ, in effect, their conversion should not be understood as conversion to Christianity but to their organisation. Mainstream Christian denominations do not go on a conversion spree, only splinter groups and cultic groups do so probably for some self-gain.

Are the Christians in Karnataka living in danger

The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handful of Hindu extremists but the self-styled saviours of Christianity who assert that they alone are the holders of valid visas to heaven and paradise.

What is the solution?

No civil society should condone violence. But mere condemnation is not a method to avert the repetition of violence. We have to find out if the violence is deliberate and unprovoked, or due to provocation. If it is the former, then there is one set of solutions, which mostly involves applying the law and severely punishing the perpetrators of the violence. However, if there is provocation, then we have to study the issue in greater detail. We have to understand why there has been a provocation for the violence, and who are the persons or organisations behind the provocation.

The Church is supreme. Do you think the Church is doing enough to prevent such incidents by fringe groups who you say are the core of the problem?

These fringe groups have been stealing the sheep. They steal people from main line Churches and are also engineering defections and are giving them important positions. The Church has spoken about this, but I am afraid has not done enough to prevent this. During the Bishop’s conference in Kerala there was an appeal to their members not to go in for conventions and revival meetings. In the year 2004 some members were also expelled. However I think they ought to do more and openly declare that they have nothing to do with such people. I feel that things would change for the better if a strong stance is taken and more regularly. Also I feel that the Church itself has become dead and people cannot look up to it for inspiration. The social work that the Church is doing is simply run of the mill and has become life less. All this needs to change soon.

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