05/01/2018, 13.03
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Expert: the bogey of Christian infiltration in India is a 'political hoax'

by Deep K Datta-Ray

The aversion to foreign missionaries derives from how Indians perceived European colonization. The appeals to "reform" and “reinvent” Indian traditions. The idea is spread that the West is the leader of science only because "it has stolen Indian science". "Western Christians have stolen India's legacy and put it in jeopardy to make Western scientists stronger than everyone else."


New Delhi (AsiaNews) - A " age-old bogey " that owes its origins "to how the Indians have chosen to understand European colonialism": This is how Prof. Deep K Datta-Ray describes the rebirth of the old dislike of Christians. The topic returned to the center of public debate last week, when Bharat Singh, a leading figure in the Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accused missionaries of being a "threat to democracy and unity" in the country and the Congress Party of being under their control. According to the expert, the conviction of the politician derives from the Italian origins - and therefore presumably Christian - of Sonia Gandhi, former President of Congress. In turn, Christian missionaries pay the price for being the descendants of the European colonizers, from which the Indians try to distance themselves by rereading the history of the colonial period. Below his analysis shared with AsiaNews:

The age-old bogey of Christian infiltration into the heart of India and to undermine it, has been resurrected. Significant is not the revival of what is now a hackneyed political canard, but the fact that it is a leitmotif of Indian politics. That signals an insidiously invidious malaise which has robbed India’s body politic of its political imagination about what is possible. This is compounded by the simultaneous limiting of the future of over a billion people to the West’s history by understanding it in a manner that was once the West’s, but has long been discarded by it.

At the heart of this latest bout of Christian-bashing is a parliamentarian from the ruling BJP saying ‘Christian missionaries control the (opposition) Congress’ party. The parliamentarian’s certitude arises not from empirical evidence for there is not a shred of it, but draws sustenance from Sonia Gandhi’s Italian, and presumed Christian, origins. It is presented as still ordering her being, the Congress party which she led for nearly two decades, and her son, Congress’s current leader, Rahul Gandhi. All this despite Sonia having married an Indian, become an Indian citizen, and living in India for decades. Not only is the link at best tenuous, but it is undermined by the conception it rests upon. And that is that humans are incapable of change, forever trapped by our origins. Even a cursory glance at everyday life, refutes this flawed notion which at the very least denies us the ability of personal growth generated by experience.

Despite these obvious absurdities, the conception persists and orders the intellectual circuits of a significant section of India now. The tenacity of the conception alone makes worthy tracing its origins and delineating it, a requirement made acute by the wave of violence that has always been a part of India but has surged since the BJP came to power in 2015.

Organising the conception is a mentality born out of how Indians choose to understand European colonialism. Instead of viewing European colonisers as simply replacing of one set of imperfect leaders with another, Indians internalised it as a deeply humiliating encounter. The first step in managing the pain was an evisceration of the self which began in the late 1800s, because Indian ways were understood as having failed to withstand colonialism’s onslaught. Hence the calls, which became widespread by the early 1900s, to ‘reform’ Indian intellectual traditions, that is, those that were not ejected outright. The vacuum that resulted, Indians believed, would permit a reinvention of themselves. Naturally, the model for this new Indian was to be the supposedly victorious Western mentality of the times, and what we now know is a delusional view of the world as binary where the West is right, and the rest is wrong. Underscoring this belief is the shibboleth of science understood as born out of the West’s Christian past, and it made for the idea of scientific progress. In short, all that was good was Western and it was synonymous with science and so the only hope Indians felt they had to survive was to progress, that is, Westernise themselves.

Once appropriated, the mentality took on a life of its own. The cause was the contradiction of a coloured people attempting to internalise a mentality that viewed them as inferior. Indians continue to wrestle with the paradox. Indicative are Indian immigrants to the West. Dipesh Chakrabarty and Sumit Ganguly struggle to either reinvent themselves as Western or strive to contain Indians by claiming they must be Western at inception. Neither hypothesis will do of course, if only because Indian reality contradicts both. However, Ganguly’s way is popular in the land he left behind and the means is to discard the mentality’s Western history in an attempt to claim its scientific fruits as Indian. Note for instance Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi citing mythical characters as evidence of Indians having invented genetic science millennia ago. Yet, the inconvenient fact remains that even if India invented science, its bastion is the West. Managing this requires further mental gymnastics, but its contours are limited by Indians having already Westernized themselves to the extent of believing in binaries. What is required then is to reverse colonial ideas of the West as superior. This is aided by the invention of India as historically scientific which means that India was good. That naturally means the West is not, and so the only explanation for why it is the scientific leader today is that it stole Indian science and undermined the polity that generated it.

It is at this juncture that Christianity reappears, for the West was, if it is still not, Christian. The violence and offensive statements directed at Christians is a product of the binarism that Indians learnt from the colonising West. This is charged by the notion that Christian Westerners stole India’s heritage and undermined it, to make for scientific westerners stronger than all others. At the root of it all is the failure of Indians to have dealt with its colonial past. A way out inadvertently presented itself in Hanoi.

A gallery was celebrating with paintings of pilots, aviation engineers and soldiers what the Vietnamese call Dien Bien Phu of the air. During Christmas 1972 the United States mounted a massive aerial campaign against Hanoi, but American losses were so great that the battle is credited with the negotiations in Paris the next year which eventually lead to the US withdrawal. This was related to me by a loquacious group of fat old men and women who, in the middle of the gallery, were banqueting. They loquacity was no doubt aided by the pile of empty wine bottles, which sparked a question, which my guide hesitantly put to them: The Americans were not too different to the French, hence the name you have given the battle. But is it not odd that you celebrate your victory with French wine? There was a pause, until one of the men burst forth: It was a great battle, a battle worthy of the best celebrations. What do you want us to celebrate it with, Chinese wine?!

Unlike Indians, the Vietnamese remember past wrongs in the best possible way. Those former Vietcong viewing not the French or American as intrinsically superior but simply as possessing some useful things which were worth harnessing to improve the Vietnamese present. But then again, such objectivity may be the prerogative of the victorious.


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