New Delhi: Christians in India have refused to be drawn into a controversy over a claim that Jesus Christ was a Hindu and Christianity was just a sect of Hinduism.
“There is an attempt to re-write history and draw us into controversy. Christianity is well grounded and based on the person of Jesus who without a doubt is a real person in history,” says Fr Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay.
The Catholic priest was reacting to a news item about upcoming release of a book making those outlandish claims by a trust allegedly linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, the national volunteers’ corps), the umbrella organization for rightwing Hindu groups.
“The RSS is welcome to claim what they will, it doesn’t affect us. Our faith in Jesus is based on a personal encounter with Christ,” Father Barrett added.
The trust, Swatantryaveer Savarkar Rashtriya Smarak (Savarkar National Memorial), preserves and propagates literature and ideology of Damodar Savarkar, the book’s author, and his younger brother Veer Savarkar Ganesh one of the five founders of RSS.
The elder Savarkar wrote the book, “Christ Parichay” (introduction to Christ), in 1946, claiming to present evidence, references and other materials to prove that Christ was Hindu. According to him, Jesus came to India to study the Vedas, and became an expert in Yoga. He then returned to his country to preach the right path or religion. While preaching, he got involved in a political storm and was crucified, but miraculously escaped alive.
Scheduled for release on February 26, the book claims that Jesus Christ was born Keshao Krishna in a Tamil Vishwakarma Brahmin family and Christianity is just a sect of Hinduism.
The RSS has tried to distance itself from the controversy saying the author was not the founder of their organization.”We wish to clarify that Ganesh Damodar Savarkar wasn’t founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. There was only one RSS founder, Dr Hegdewar. Savarkar was in no way associated with RSS,” said Pramod Bapat, a top RSS functionary in the Konkan region of western India.
However, several accounts on the RSS, including one by its own member of parliament M J Akbar, have chronicled Savarkar’s ties with the organization. Akbar’s India: A Siege Within says this about the RSS’s origin: “…five friends who started the RSS were Dr BS Moonje, Dr LV Paranjpe, Dr Tholkar, Babarao Savarkar and Dr Hedgewar himself.”
Another book by Ritu Kohli explains Savarkar’s influence on MS Golwalkar. Political Ideas of MS Golwalkar: Hindutva, Nationalism, Secularism says: “In 1938, Golwalkar prepared the first systematic statement to the RSS ideology, “We, and our Nationhood, Defined” a text which he later revealed was an abridgement of an essay on nationalism by Babarao Savarkar.”
The claims have evoked widespread condemnation.
Clyde Crasto of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) dismissed the book’s claim as “politically driven and a fabricated story” He says the claims do not make sense. “The current political scenario is allowing such false ideas to spread.”
Abraham Mathai, president of the Indian Christian Voice and former Vice Chairman of the Minorities Commission said, “The book is a sign of high ignorance of the author. Jesus Christ was born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and died at Calvary. Yes, Christianity came first to India rather than the West, when St Thomas, one of Jesus’s apostles came here to preach. The basis of this book is completely false.”
Young Christians too, hit out at claims. IT professional, Kevin Noronha from Borivali said, “The book has no basis. The Christian community is strong in faith. Things like these cannot shake our belief, it only makes it stronger.”
Christians asserted that such claims cannot shake their faith. Anita Quadros, a logistics professional, said, “If Savarkar had read the Holy Bible, he would have not written all this. St Thomas preached Christianity and not Hinduism. Our faith will stand firm in the face of this nonsense.”
Michelle D’souza, anther Catholic in Mumbai, dismissed the book as “all rubbish. It is a made up story. Years ago, when the book was written, this conspiracy theory was not accepted now so many years later, it seems funny rather than true.”
Samir Netto, a Worli resident, said he book is an attempt by a group that would prove that their religion is the only religion in the world. “It is sad to see the book getting so much publicity for its blatant lie. In Israel, they are still investigating how Jesus disappeared from the tomb, I think we now need to inform them that Jesus is in Kashmir as per Savarkar’s claim in his book,” he added.
Dolphy D’souza, former president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha, described the book as “a figment of the fertile imagination of the author. The RSS should be disappointed that their sinister plan has not succeeded. They are looking to divert the public’s mind from the inability to govern well.”
Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Catholic-Christian Secular Forum noted that the “saffron brigade” has also claimed Jews and Arabs as Hindus. “We would have protested and filed an FIR, but this book does not deserve that. The changed political scenario is leading to the saffronization of all spheres which is sad to see,” he added.