12/24/2014, 00.00
INDIA
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As India shifts towards fundamentalism, Indian priest urges Christmas prayers for religious freedom

by Dominic Emmanuel*
As Hindu nationalist parties and movements come to power, a nationalist and extremist definition of the nation is taking hold. Attacks against minorities, particularly Christians, continue. By his silence, the prime minister takes sides. India is now likely to become another Pakistan. A public relations officer at the Archdiocese of Delhi shares his thoughts.

Delhi (AsiaNews) - India is undergoing a shift towards Hindu fundamentalism with the backing of the highest authorities of the state and government. Minorities are increasingly under attack, subjected to violence and abuses, in particular the Christian community, which is about to celebrate Christmas in a climate of fear. In view of this, action is required to restore respect for the constitution and the principle of separation between state and religion. Otherwise, India, like Pakistan, is likely to remain hostage to extremism.

Here are the thoughts of an Indian priest:

Knowing fully well the track record of the Sangh Parivar - be it the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the Bajrang Dal - the vitriolic statement by Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, a Union minister, about "Ramzaadon" (Ram's children) and "Haraamzadon" (illegitimate children) is certainly not the last uttered against the minorities. Though she fired these derogatory remarks during an election rally, one cannot accept that such criminal declarations serve purely as a dish on the election menu. They are to be seen in the larger context of a mind-set gone wrong horribly, courtesy the Hindutva ideology.

Undoubtedly, the majority vote, which the Bharatiya Janata Party, received in the 2014 general elections, and the hunger to capture more states has emboldened hate mongers to have a go at the minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. Whether it is the issue of making the Bhagavad Gita India's "national scripture, the allegation of money from beef exports being pumped into terrorism, promoting Sanskrit as the third official language, preventing distribution of chocolates by Santa Claus in schools, "love jihad", or rewriting history in a way that only glorifies Hindu culture, in just six months of the BJP coming to power, there seems no end to the ways the minorities in India are being marginalised and intimidated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's silence over these issues, who during the election rallies thundered like a lion and told huge crowds at Madison Square Garden and in Sydney about the unity and inclusiveness of India - "Sabkasaath, sabkavikas" is deafening.

Recently, when someone remarked that the BJP is being guided by the RSS in pushing its Hindutva agenda, home minister Rajnath Singh quipped: "RSS is not an external force. I am from the RSS. The Prime Minister himself is a RSS volunteer. We are (RSS members) from childhood and will remain till we are alive. When we ourselves are from the RSS, then what influence will it have to wield?" Someone needs to remind Messrs Modi and Singh that the oath they took in the foreground of Rashtrapati Bhavan was to the Constitution of India and not by the RSS' book of rules.

During his speech in the Central Hall of Parliament, before the swearing-in ceremony, Mr Modi spoke about Parliament as the "temple of democracy".

We keep hearing statements from the likes of Goa minister Deepak Dhavlikar that "Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be able to make India a Hindu rashtra (nation) in the future if he got unstinted and full support and backing from 'all of us'". As if the 31 per cent (of the total votes cast in general elections) was not a vote for development but for a Hindu rashtra.

Such people seem deaf to what Fali S. Nariman, the noted jurist, said during the seventh annual National Commission for Minorities (NCM) lecture, when he said: "We have been hearing . . . almost on a daily basis the tirade by one or more individuals or groups against one or another section of citizens who belong to a religious minority. The criticism has been that the majority government at the Centre has done nothing to stop this tirade. I agree".

He further added: "Those who indulge in hate speech must be prevented by court processes initiated at the instance of the commission (NCM) because that is the body that represents minorities in India... they must be proceeded against and the proceeding must be widely publicised . . . only then the confidence of the minorities in the NCM will get restored". A criminal case should be initiated against Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti for "wanton vilification" of minorities, under section 153 (A) of the IPC.

My concern is not just Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti's utterances but the mind-set of the resurgent Hindutva votaries clamouring for the creation of "Hindu rashtra". As an idea, this was promoted by ideologues like Golwalkar and Savarkar, who allegedly praised Hitler for his "nationalism" and for "creating a purity of race and culture in Germany" (cf. We or Our Nationhood Defined).

Such mindset poses a threat to all minorities - women, dalits, and all linguistic, cultural or religious minorities for their clear agenda is to eliminate all those who are different, even in the slightest way. They believe in "one nation, one people, one culture".

The Christian minority faces the greatest threat as, unlike the Sikhs and Muslims, who are concentrated in certain places, Christians are spread thinly all over. Nuns and pastors working in remote areas fear for their lives and their institutions.

The authorities of Christian missionary schools are harassed, among other things, to install statues of goddess Saraswati or asked not to sing hymns. A number of cases have been reported of pastors being beaten up for holding prayer services, even in places like Delhi (Kalkaji), in Greater Noida last September, leave alone in far-flung areas of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

And now churches are being attacked, the latest being the one on St. Sebastian Church in Dilshad Garden and last Saturday in Jasola, both in Delhi, not to mention about places like Orissa. The whispers within the community are rising, as is the fear. Mr. Modi is not just the Prime Minister of Hindus. He is the Prime Minister of India. He should not need to be reminded.

Where will all this lead to should be a concern not only for the Christians, but for all of us who do not wish to see India regressing from a secular democracy into becoming another Pakistan. We all need to work together to save our multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic motherland.

*The author is a public relations officer of the Archdiocese of Delhi, India

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