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Scholars urge Christians to join mainstream to fight false propaganda

ICC Note:
This article is a fascinating examination of why non-Christians attack Christians in India. According to these scholars, Christians face persecution because of a “lack of transparency” and their “submissive nature.” But take these criticisms with a grain of salt, given that those leveling these recommendations at Christians are often the ones trying to create a Hindu theocratic state out of India, and thus do not see a place for Christians in their country.

Indian Catholic
UCAN (12/14/06) — Why do people of other religions misunderstand Christians in India despite their social and humanitarian works? Why do Christians face violence in several parts of the country?

According to some scholars in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the main reasons for the misunderstanding and violence are Christians’ ghetto mentality and lack of transparency.

Christians do “wonderful works,” but they are “not very transparent,” says Saroj Kumar Jain, a university professor in Indore, the state’s cultural capital, 810 kilometers south of New Delhi. He is an adherent of Jainism, a religion founded in India in the sixth century B.C.

Mukund Kulkarni, a Hindu, agrees. Christians “hardly” attend public programs. They remain closed within their community, says Kulkarni, a member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, national volunteers corps), the umbrella organization of right-wing Hindu groups, many of which have been accused of targeting Christians.

R.D. Prasad, another Hindu scholar, says Christians face attacks and false propaganda because of their submissive nature.

These scholars shared their views at an interreligious meeting the Church organized in Indore. Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, told UCA News the Nov. 25 meeting attempted to find out what other people think of Christians, especially amid persistent accusations that missioners attempt conversion through force and allurement.

Madhya Pradesh has witnessed several attacks on Christians after the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party) came to power in December 2003. The party is considered the political arm of groups that endorse the RSS ideology of making India a Hindu theocratic state and that generally oppose Christians working among the poor.

The Madhya Pradesh government recently amended a 1968 law regulating religious conversion to make it more stringent. However, the approval of the state governor is required for the amendment to take effect. According to official sources, the Madhya Pradesh governor has asked the government for details proving that Christians engage in forceful conversion.

Jain says the conversion charges arise because others do not know “exactly” what Christians do, other than manage schools and health-care centers.

UCA News contacted Jain and other scholars in early December to ask them to elaborate on their views. According to Jain, unlike other communities, Christians seldom join social functions. Asked to explain this apparent isolation, he said, “I think they lack self-confidence.”

In Madhya Pradesh and other northern Indian states, Christians form less than 1 percent of the population.

Jain advised Christians to use the media to highlight their activities. Since ignorance about the community is more apparent in northern India, he said, the community should start a Hindi-language newspaper. Hindi, the national language, is a main language in northern India. Christians “never come to public meetings to defend themselves properly even when accused of conversion and other activities,” he noted, adding that Indians consider silence a sign of acceptance.

Prasad, a university professor, praised Christian services at different levels. But he cautioned that only if Christians take the initiative to defend themselves would anyone else defend them. He suggested that Christians protest violence against them, but through nonviolent methods.

Agreeing with the scholars, Jesuit Archbishop Pascal Topno of Bhopal expressed the need for more lay participation in public programs. Bhopal, 185 kilometers northeast of Indore, is the state capital.

The archbishop, who heads the Catholic Church in the state, told UCA News Christians should do more to oppose false campaigns against the Church. However, he acknowledged that Christians believe in doing service rather than seeking publicity.

Father Muttungal suggested that to get rid of unwarranted allegations against it, the Church should become more open and highlight its activities.

Jain said he does not object to low-caste and tribal people becoming Christians. Hinduism, he added, never cared for those people anyway. If some of them prefer to join Christianity, there is “nothing bad if they get their dignity,” he added.

Kulkarni clarified that he does not subscribe to the RSS stance that change of religion would lead to change of nationality. “There is no suspicion about Christians’ patriotism,” he said. However, the Church should encourage its people to get involved in more social and cultural activities, which would counter false allegations and misunderstandings, he added. He described the allegation of forceful conversion as “nothing but political propaganda.”