Extremists in India Pressure Christians to Adopt Hindu Culture
11/21/07 India (International Christian Concern) – Local youths instigated by Hindu extremists attacked a Christian family for not celebrating a Hindu festival in Chhattisgarh state recently. This incident reveals that not only are Hindu extremists trying to assert the dominance of their religion, but that Christians in India are also facing pressure to adopt Hindu culture, which Hindu nationalist groups claim is the Indian culture.
According to the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), extremists of the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu council or VHP), gave liquor to Hindu youths and compelled them to launch an attack on the family of a Christian, Pritam Arse, on November 9 in the Raubanda slum area near Durg Railway Station in Chhattisgarh state’s Durg district. Arse is member of a church belonging to the Living Grace Ministries.
Arse and his family members, including his wife and grown-up children, were praying inside their house when they heard fire crackers going off on their veranda. When they went out, more than 20 youths beat up Arse’s eldest son Ravi Arse, taunting, “So, you don’t celebrate Diwali?”
On Diwali, which fell on November 9 this year, Hindus light candles, put up decoration lights on their homes, and burn crackers, besides worshiping the goddess Lakshmi, the god of money.
Extremists have long been using non-conformity of Christians to Hindu culture as a pretext to launch attacks.
Last year, extremists of the Dharam Jagran Sena (DJS or Army for Religious Revival) stormed the Christ Church Boys School on April 6 in Thaiyavali Chowk in Jabalpur city in Madhya Pradesh state, reprimanding them for not closing the school to mark Ram Navmi, a Hindu festival held that day, according to Compass Direct News. They also shouted slogans accusing Christians of being “anti-national” and “unconcerned” about the feelings of Hindus.
In July 2005, villagers in the southern state of Tamil Nadu closed down a Pentecostal church, Church of Christ, and expelled Pastor Steven and his wife Annammal from their village because the participation of villagers in Hindu festivals had lessened due to the conversion of a few to Christianity in the Murichambedu area in Tiruvallur district, reported BosNewsLife news agency.
Hindu Culture versus Indian Culture
India’s most influential Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), alleges that the Hindu religious tradition is inseparable from the Indian culture, thereby equating being Indian with complete conformity to the Hindu way of life. This argument is further extended to assert that every religious conversion is an “act of violence” as it “destroys” the “Indian culture.”
Thus, the RSS actively propagates Hindutva (Hindu-ness), an ideology of Hindu nationalism. Hindutva is a term coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923 through a pamphlet “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu,” which claimed that the Indian sub-continent is the homeland of Hindus while Christians and Muslims, being “outsiders,” are its enemies.
The RSS seeks to establish a nation ruled by those whose ancestors were born in India and who belong to religions that originated here, namely Hinduism and its offshoots. It allows religious minorities to live in the country, but in subordination to the majority community.
In response to the attempt of Hindu nationalists to portray Hinduism as the unique cradle of Indian civilization, India’s Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen says in his book “The Argumentative Indian”: “It is indeed important to understand the long tradition of accepted heterodoxy in India.
In resisting the attempts by the Hindutva activists to capture ancient India as their home ground it is not enough to point out that India has many other sources of culture as well. It is necessary also to see how much heterodoxy there has been in Indian thoughts and beliefs from very early days.”
Sen, also a social scientist, points out that not only did Buddhist, Jains, agnostics and atheists compete with each other and with adherents of “what we now call Hinduism (a much later term)” in the India of the first millennium BCE, but also the dominant religion in India was Buddhism for nearly a thousand years.
“Ancient India cannot be fitted into the narrow box where the Hindutva activists want to incarcerate it,” he concludes.
Although a majority of the one billion plus population – more than 80 percent – of India is Hindu, there is a sizeable number of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and people from other religions, who have coexisted with the people belonging to the “majority” religion for centuries.
Sen goes on to say out that while most of Catholic Europe was given over to the Inquisition, and, in Rome, Giordano Bruno was being burnt at the stake for heresy, in India, the 16th-century Mogul emperor Akbar was declaring, “No man should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is to be allowed to go over to a religion that pleases him.”
Today, India has the world’s third-largest Muslim population, after Indonesia and Pakistan. In addition, about 2.2 million people in India follow the Bahá’í Faith, forming the largest community of Bahá’ís in the world. India is also home to followers of Zoroastrianism, who in India are called Parsis. They represent about 0.006 percent of the total population, with a concentration in and around the city of Mumbai, the capital of the western state of Maharashtra.
Close to 14 percent of India’s population is Muslim while Christians comprise about 2.3 percent