Trains and alarm chains
When I travel by train I feel relaxed. I am not tensed about the journey because I trust the driver, the guard and the system. I am not constantly on edge about what may happen, and it hasn’t even crossed my mind to look for the alarm chain or how to use it.
Yet there are many alarmists on every gravy train. They see ghosts, devils or assailants under every berth. This morning (10th August) I received a video sent by a sister in Rome. It was about one Rajiv Dixit. He went on a 5-minute harangue about how Christian churches and convents in India were actually the largest land owners. They had got these vast tracts of land for a pittance from the British, he alleged.
He then went on to say that 92% of the students in Christian “convents” in Mumbai were Hindus, and the amount of fees they were paying annually was equivalent to the budgets of some small States. What he conveniently glossed over was why these 92% of Hindus had so much faith and trust in “convent” schools. He did not also see the need to mention how much expenditure was involved in imparting such quality education.
I always take forwarded messages with a large pinch of salt. I immediately asked the Roman informant where she had got the video from, and if she could authenticate it? By evening one of my wife’s relations had forwarded her the same video, saying that Christian institutions and properties were under threat. Again I questioned the source, only to be told that the person in the video had died in 2012/13. So where did this video resurface from in 2017?
Recently an Open Letter to church heads was signed by 101 eminent Christians (not Dalmatians). One of the contentions in that letter was that there had been over 600 attacks on Christians in the last three years. I did not sign the petition. Among other reasons, I queried if the authors of the letter could document and authenticate these 600+ attacks? My question remained unanswered.
Ironically, on the day that I received that appeal (28th July 2017) I also saw a full page “Catalogue of Horrors”, or hate crimes, listed in the Hindustan Times. The newspaper acknowledged that the list was incomplete. Nevertheless, of the hundreds of cases reported, only 4 were against Christians, all pertaining to vandalism. I know the list was incomplete because recent heinous crimes in Bengal, vandalism in Agra, and detentions in Madhya Pradesh were not listed.
The dichotomy between 4 and 604 made me sit up. There could be two reasons for this. First, that the Christian community (myself included) is collectively very poor in its public relations hence unable to draw the attention of the nation or the media, to atrocities against the community. The second reason, is that we could be turning alarmist, with a persecution complex, possibly blowing minor incidents out of proportion. In some instances we could also be inviting trouble by aggressive evangelization, and telling the “pagans and idol worshippers” that they are all going to hell!
To my memory, the most alarming cases of orchestrated violence against Christians were the attacks on tribal Christians in the Dangs area of Gujarat in 1998, and the sustained pogrom in Kandhamal, Orissa, in 2008. A horrendous personal attack for being Christian was the burning of Rev Graham Staines and his two minor children, again in Orissa, in 1999/ 2000(?).
If we compare these incidents with the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, or earlier in Nellie (Assam), and the increasing attacks on Muslims in recent times, for being beef eaters, we would have to acknowledge that we Christians are relatively safe in our motherland, India. Certainly safer than in our neighbouring countries of Pakistan, China, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh; or in the Middle East – Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and sub-Saharan Africa – Nigeria, Southern Somalia etc.
While writing this a fresh controversy has erupted with outgoing Vice-President Hamid Ansari, stating that Muslims in India were beginning to feel insecure, and the incoming Vice President, Venkaiah Naidu, saying that Minorities in India were safer than in other countries. Propriety apart, both statements were true. What also needs to be said is that the insecurity and intolerance levels have spiked in the last three years; and growing unrest among Muslims could reach flashpoint. The tremors are there. The volcano could erupt at any time.
To revert to the Christian community, I do not for a moment wish to belittle the hardships that many Christians face, especially in remote rural areas. There is no doubt that “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”. My only contention is that we should not get alarmist and start pulling the chain every now and then.
We know that bonafide passengers get very irritated with chain pullers, if there are insufficient grounds for doing so. So we need to strike a balance in our public relations. Remember the boy who kept crying “wolf”? When he was actually attacked he had lost all credibility and consequent assistance.
We Christians also tend to press the alarm button every time an anti-conversion bill comes up. The latest one is to be tabled in the monsoon session of the Jharkhand Assembly. The bill has the same draconian provisions as in the earlier Himanchal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh acts; about seeking prior permission for conversion from the District Magistrate. If indeed this bill becomes law then its unconstitutional provisions will have to be challenged in the courts. Yes, we should be alert, but not unduly alarmed. Shortly after Independence the first such enactment was by the Congress in the 1950s, a consequence of the infamous Niyogi Commission. Thereafter several other States have made such enactments. However, there has not been a single conviction; as I wrote to the then Congress Chief Minister of Maharashtra, when he was contemplating such a move.
Other than judicial intervention, we also need to build public opinion by countering wild allegations with facts and figures. The best tool is the data from the Census of India, the latest being that of 2011. Most importantly, the Christian percentage of the population has remained static at 2.3% since 1971. Significantly, the Decadal Growth Rate (DGR) of the Christians at 15.5% is more than 2 percentage points less than the All India DGR of 17.64%. Almost unbelievably, Nagaland, (a Christian majority State) actually has a negative DGR of -0.58%! Old Christian bastions like Kerala and Goa also have significantly lower DGR at 4.91% and 8.3% respectively.
The percentage of Christians in both Kerala and Goa has reduced drastically. In Kerala in 1961 Christians constituted 21% of the population, down to 19% in 2001 and 18.38% in 2011. In Goa the fall is even more drastic, from 36% in 1961 to 27% in 2001 and 25.1% in 2011. Himanchal Pradesh, the last State to feel “threatened” by Christian conversions has just 0.18% Christians, and Jharkhand too has a mere 4.3% Christians! One therefore wonders why various political parties make such a hue and cry about conversions?
Ironically, Arunachal Pradesh that has a strict law against conversions now has 30.26% Christians. It is one of the four Christian majority States in India; the other three also being in the North East – Meghalaya (74.59%), Mizoram (87.16%) and Nagaland (87.93%). Manipur, also in the North East, is not far behind with 41.29% Christians, just 0.1 percentage points behind the Hindu population at 41.39%.
On their part, Hindus should not be alarmed by these statistics, because most of these conversions in the North East have not been from among Hindus, but from the indigenous or animist tribal religions.
Whether or not Christians should pursue an active agenda for conversions will be the subject of my next article, a sequel to this one.
For now it should suffice to reiterate that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. To travel safely on the train we should not buy food from unauthorised vendors (not succumb to rumour mongering or unverifiable Whatsapp messages). We also need to chain our luggage to the hooks under the seats (avoid unnecessary risks, bravado and keep our houses in order, so that there are no “raids” by the FCRA or other Govt agencies). Yes, we will pull the alarm chain when there is an emergency, but we should first take all preventive measures to ensure that such a situation doesn’t arise.
(The writer is a former National President of the All India Catholic Union)