The politics of conversion and reconversion – C. I. Issac

Prof C. I. Issac“R.C. Majumdar observes that the purpose of shuddhi was national in character: ‘to realize the ideal of unifying India nationally, socially and religiously’ (An Advanced History of India, p 878). Since the fall of the Rajputs in the Second Battle of Tarain, Muslim dogmatists brutally and ferociously converted Hindus to Islam. The Muslim population of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are the ‘lost sheep’ of Hindu dharma. From the 16th century onwards, Christians have been in action, carving out sizeable numbers to their fold by using fourfold tactics (chatur-upayam). In this situation, a proud Hindu could not remain a silent onlooker.” – Prof I.C. Issac

Prof Arnold ToynbeeArticle 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees its citizen the right to practice and propagate their religion. It doesn’t mean total destruction of the other man’s religion or non-hierarchical unorganized religions. This right is not conferred only to a particular religion; it is applicable irrespective of all religions and religious practices of India. It is not a constitutional provision for one-way traffic or a non-return valve. 

In no way with this article did the founding fathers think of any sort of conversion. Their intention was the healthy coexistence of all cultures and religious groups. Conversion by brainwashing, coercion, allurement, incentives, etc. is cruel in cultural terms. So it doesn’t come under the purview of Article 25. Such subversive practices seem just under the law of the wild, that is, might is right, or matsya nyaya (law of the fishes). 

The architects of our Constitution were well aware of the fact that the death of a religion is the death of a particular culture or sub-culture or a civilization associated with that religion. As observed by Arnold J Toynbee, every civilization has a universal Church (religion). Hence, religion and human civilization have an umbilical link. Each civilization, whether small or large or extra-large, has its own knowledge system. For instance, today our alleged socialized social orders are pursuing the pharmaceuticals of our tribal social orders. These have a substantial, objective, and observationally demonstrated information framework, obtained through generations. We, as an enlightened society, are bound to secure all societies and their commitments. 

With the death of the Inca, Maya, ancient Greek or Roman civilizations, mankind lost an immense knowledge system. The technology behind the ‘Golden Raft’ of the Mexicans was buried along with their en masse conversion to European religions. The above mentioned lost civilizations had their own religious practices. They were naturally evolved religions, that is, they had no founders. So they never discussed the spread of their religious frontiers. Almost all these civilizations died of the wild and brutal interference of founder-oriented religions. 

 Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar KhiljiThey indiscriminately destroyed whatever they found in their targeted (prey) societies or religions which they found indigestible. In India, Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khilji burned the library of Nalanda University on the ground that the contents of the books there were not in conformity with the message of his religious books and founder of his faith. The destruction of Nalanda is not the loss of Hindus; it is a loss to mankind. 

The above narrative is essential in the context of recent deliberations over ghar vapsi. Certain media and Church circles contend that this movement began only after 26 May 2014. But this is not a new movement begun by the ever-shrinking Hindu society. It was started as the shuddhi movement in the 19th century by Arya Samaj leader, Swami Dayananda Saraswati. 

R.C. MajumdarSwami Dayananda Saraswati observes that the purpose of shuddhi was national in character: “to realize the ideal of unifying India nationally, socially and religiously” (An Advanced History of India, p 878). Since the fall of the Rajputs in the Second Battle of Tarain, Muslim dogmatists brutally and ferociously converted Hindus to Islam. The Muslim population of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are the ‘lost sheep’ of Hindu dharma. From the 16th century onwards, Christians have been in action, carving out sizeable numbers to their fold by using fourfold tactics (chatur-upayam). In this situation, a proud Hindu could not remain a silent onlooker. That is why Swami Dayananda Saraswati took the lead and the tempo continues Swami Shraddhanandunobtrusively. After the 1921 Moplah riot of Malabar, the British Indian Government issued license to Arya Samaj to reconvert those forced to abdicate Hindu Dharma and willing to return to their poorva-dharma. The status of this license is still in force. Since then, thousands have returned to their original faith. Every State’s gazettes since 1947 will prove the tempo of ghar vapsi in the Republic of India. 

Attacks on places of worships are not a new incident in either, and are due to varied reasons, such as local issues, personal vengeance. We may cite some attacks on churches prior to April 2014. The Catholic church at Kuddu, Lohardaga district, Jarkhand, was ransacked and the priest injured in the last week of August 2004. The church complex is hardly a kilometer from Kuddu police station, but no arrests have been made so far. It was the second attack in three months, the previous one being June 9 the same year, when the UPA was in power. 

In Orissa, a Catholic church was attacked by 300 persons, its idols and holy costumes destroyed and altar burned. The Prime Minister then was Dr. Manmohan Singh (Malayala Manorama, Kottayam, August 28, 2004). On 29 August 2004, Fr. Job Chittilappally (71), Vicar of St. Varaprasada Matha Church, Thurithiparambu near Chalakudi in Kerala, was found dead with stab injuries (The Hindu, Kochi). Dr Singh was the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister was A.K. Anthony; he resigned the same day. 

In all these incidents, the Church hierarchies found no fault with the government. Then we have the mysterious deaths within the four walls of convents in India, which meet with mysterious silence…. 

Sarvepalli RadhakrishnanThe psychology of the Church is religious and political. They want a halo of martyrdom because martyrs and saints are fuel for the gargantuan engines of the Church (like jihadis for Islam) without which it cannot sustain. As Dr S. Radhakrishnan observed, “The intolerance of narrow monotheism is written in letters of blood across the history of mankind from the time when first the tribes of Israel burst into the land of Canaan. The worshippers of the one Jealous God are egged on to aggressive wars against people of alien cults.They invoke Divine Sanction for the cruelties inflicted on the conquered. The spirit of old Israel is inherited by Christianity and Islam. Wars of Religion which are the outcome of fanaticism that prompts and justifies the extermination of aliens of different creeds are particularly unknown in Hindu India”. (The Hindu View of Life, 1927, Oxford University, p 55) 

This aspect was visible during the third and last phase of campaigning for the Delhi Assembly poll earlier this year, when a small demonstration of Christians received disproportionate publicity as a signal to all members of the community to vote against the Bharatiya Janata Party. Since then, the religious and secular leaders of various Christian denominations have successfully put the community at the centre of an anti-BJP fledgling movement, the full dimensions and objectives of which are yet to unravel. – Vijayvaani, 9 April 2015

» Prof I. C. Issac is a retired professor of history and vice-president of the Bhartheeya Vichara Kendram, Trivandrum. 

Kanchi Acharya Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal and VHP's Ashok Singhal

Catholic priests are stirring up an epidemic of yogaphobia – Andrea R. Jain

Prof Andrea R. Jain“The more legitimate fear should be that yogaphobia has become so ubiquitous that even otherwise innocuous comments by powerful, high-profile people, such as the Pope, can be co-opted and put in service of a conservative agenda. This can prevent experimentation with widely popularized fitness-oriented yoga, even though there are many evidence-based claims regarding its physical and mental health benefits.” – Prof Andrea R. Jain

Fr. Gabriele AmorthWe see yoga practically everywhere we turn, from strip-mall yoga studios to advertisements for the Gap. So it seems reasonable to assume that yoga is nearly universally accepted, if not practised. But a growing number of individuals and institutions oppose yoga, and actively encourage fear of it. 

Yoga is satanic and “leads to evil,” warned Gabriele Amorth, Italian priest and chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, reported Vatican Insider in Nov. 2011. Three years later in July 2014, Father Padraig O’Baoill of County Donegal, Ireland, warned his parishioners against “endangering” their souls by practicing yoga, which he called “unsavoury.” Other high-profile opponents of yoga in the US include Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Pat Robertson, television evangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition of America.

It’s what I call the Christian yogaphobic position.

The danger of yoga, according to yogaphobics, is its Hindu essence, thought to be incompatible with Christianity, as I argue in Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture (Oxford, 2014). 

In one of the most high-profile cases of Christian yogaphobia, in Feb. 2013, some parents in Encinitas, California, complained that yoga classes from their kids’ public schools were  promoting Hinduism. Supported by the National Center for Law & Policy, an evangelical Christian civil liberties organization, the parents sued their school district for introducing religion into the curriculum. Although the judge ruled in favor of the school district, the fight continues. 

Pope FrancisEven Pope Francis, idol of the leftist media, has become part of this yogaphobic maelstrom. 

At one Jan. 9, 2015 morning mass in the Santa Marta residence in Vatican City, the Pope spoke of that day’s gospel reading, and mentioned that only the Holy Spirit could open peoples’ hearts and free them to love, no matter how many catechism courses, spirituality courses, zen courses or yoga courses they took. 

It didn’t seem like an intentional dig. The Pope had, after all, listed yoga alongside catechism classes and so did not set it apart as a practice that Catholics should avoid altogether, or as something incompatible with Catholic identity. Rather, he seemed to simply suggest the unique importance of a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. But one conservative immediately spun the Pope’s words as another contribution to the growing, global yogaphobia movement. 

In a homily on the devil and exorcism delivered on Feb. 8, 2015, in County  Londonderry, Northern Ireland, Father Roland Colhoun warned that yoga leads to the “Kingdom of Darkness” and draws people toward “Satan and the fallen angels.” In a later Feb. 23 interview about his homily with the Derry Journal, Colhoun misquoted the Pope:

Pope Francis said ‘”do not seek spiritual answers in yoga classes.” Yoga is certainly a risk. There’s the spiritual health risk. When you take up those practices from other cultures, which are outside our Christian domain, you don’t know what you are opening yourself up to. 

The “bad spirit,” he added, could be caught in all sorts of ways: 

I’m not saying everyone gets it, or that it happens every time, and people may well be doing yoga harmlessly, but there’s always a risk and that’s why the Pope mentioned it and that’s why we talk about that in terms of the danger of the new age movement and the danger of the occult today. That’s the fear. 

Other contemporary high-profile Catholics have identified yoga as self-destructive activity, and associated it with Satan. In Selling Yoga, for example, I write about a 1989 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) of the Roman Catholic Church, titled: Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.

Pope Benedict XVI: As Cardinal Ratzinger he was the head of the Inquisition.The letter warns of “dangers and errors” in fusing Christian and non-Christian meditative methods. It was written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later to be known as Pope Benedict XVI, and approved for publication by then-Pope John Paul II. 

Understandably, the CDF wants to prevent Catholics from undermining Church doctrine, but the letter does more—it incites fear, by judging eastern body practices as not just incompatible with Catholic doctrine, but dangerous. 

The letter warns that unless a person is an advanced religious adept in the Church, no bodily experiences can be legitimately identified as spiritual. It also asks that Christians who have acknowledged the meditative role of body practices avoid the “exaggerations and partiality” of eastern methods. 

Postures and breathing, according to the letter, can become an “idol and thus an obstacle” to experiencing God. It also warns that such body practices “can degenerate into a cult of the body” with severe consequences, including “mental schizophrenia,” “psychic disturbance,” or “moral deviations.”

Fr Roland ColhounThe Christian yogaphobic position leans on the misconception that yoga is definitively Hindu, an idea that ignores yoga’s actual history and lived reality. Selling Yoga cites many scholars who have shown that yoga has always taken a variety of forms in South Asia as Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and others prescribed them. 

Recent scholarship has also problematized the identification of modern postural yoga, that widely popular physical fitness system, which involves the movement through physical postures and the synchronization of those postures with breathing, as Hindu. In fact, modern postural yoga is a product of a 20th-century response to transnational ideas and movements, including military calisthenics, modern medicine, and the Western European and North American physical culture of gymnasts, bodybuilders, martial experts, and contortionists. 

Nothing like modern postural yoga appeared in the historical record up to that time. 

There is no evidence that yoga will make you convert to Hinduism, self-destruct, have a schizophrenic breakdown, or worship Satan. 

Shiva wearing a yoga bandThe more legitimate fear should be that yogaphobia has become so ubiquitous that even otherwise innocuous comments by powerful, high-profile people, such as the Pope, can be co-opted and put in service of a conservative agenda. This can prevent experimentation with widely popularized fitness-oriented yoga, even though there are many evidence-based claims regarding its physical and mental health benefits. 

And when powerful, charismatic religious leaders are publicly cited insisting upon apparently irreconcilable differences between them (that is, Hindus) and us (that is, Christians), we can also expect real social consequences. – Quartz, 26 March 2015

» Andrea R. Jain is an Assistant Professor, Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana.

See also

Who really oppresses Christians in India? – Rajeev Srinivasan

Rajeev Srinivasan“A case could be made that it is internal issues that haunt Christians in India today. In fact, unlike, say, in Pakistan, Christians have almost never been hurt by Hindus (although the reverse is not true, for instance the assassination of octogenarian monk Swami Lakshmananda in Kandhamal, Odissa). The average Christian enjoys constitutional and other privileges the average Hindu can only dream of.” – Rajeev Srinivasan

Thomas & JesusAt this time of one of the biggest festivals of their mythology, the death and resurrection of their founder-deity, I wish all Christians a happy Easter Sunday. A time of new beginnings, the arrival of Spring, and a Jesus rising from the dead is a metaphor for the revivification of the earth and the beginning of a new cycle. In Kerala, the extraordinary spun gold blooms of the Indian laburnum, kani konna, gladden the heart as we await the Spring festival of Vishu on April 15th.

This year, of course, we have heard a great deal about how Christians are oppressed in India. Famous people including an admired chief of police and a former chief of naval staff have said that they feel uncomfortable in India because of their Christian faith. There was also the case of a 71-year-old nun in West Bengal, who was allegedly raped by some young men (although she has since mysteriously disappeared). There is a meme that implies that the new dispensation at the center, with the Narendra Modi administration, is deliberately hounding Christians.

I admit that there is in fact a lot of oppression of Christians in India, except it’s not coming from the PM or Hindus, but rather from certain Christians themselves, which is a sad fact that’s seldom commented on. Let me present to you three nuns whose stories are startling. All three of them are from Kerala, which has the maximum number of Christians in India. These are Sisters Abhaya, Anita and Jesme.

Sister AbhayaSister Abhaya was found dead in the well of a convent exactly 23 years ago: on 27 March 1992, to be precise. The teenaged girl’s death was ruled a suicide. In a sense, this is not unusual, because young nuns are periodically found dead, some of them in wells, some pregnant: a sad commentary on their lives. But something was not right in Abhaya’s case, it was rumored.

An activist named Jomon Puthenpurackal took up the case; he found certain irregularities in the conduct of the investigation, including what appeared to be the willful destruction of evidence such as Abhaya’s viscera and clothes. Jomon reasoned that someone was trying to sweep things under the carpet, and so he and other activists went to court. The case wound through the courts, and eventually, based on suspicion that the local crime branch’s inquiry had been compromised, the CBI was brought into the picture. There were some irregularities with the forensic lab in Bangalore, too: a sitting judge in Karnataka who had nothing to do with the Kerala case was fully briefed on the lab’s findings, which I find distinctly odd as he had no locus standi.

Yes, twenty-three years later, Sister Abhaya has not gotten justice.

The CBI conducted a detailed investigation, and the results were sensational: under truth serum or sodium pentathol, three people confessed to the crime. Father Puthrakkayil and Father Kottoor and Sister Seffi confessed that they were engaged in three-way sexual activity in the kitchen of the convent at 2 am. Abhaya chanced upon them when she came for a drink of water. Seffi beat Abhaya over the head with the blunt end of an axe and apparently killed her, and the trio threw her into the convent well.

Unfortunately, and very conveniently for the accused trio, the Supreme Court ruled that narco-analysis or truth serum would no longer be accepted as evidence, with the result that it was mistrial, and the trio walked free. Yes, twenty-three years later, Sister Abhaya has not gotten justice.

Sister AnitaAnother story that broke on 27 March 2015 was that of Sister Anita. The 40-year old nun had embarked on a hunger strike, alleging that she had been sexually harassed by a priest in her Madhya Pradesh convent. When she protested, she was packed off to Europe. Then she was sent back to Kerala, and when she appeared determined to seek justice for herself, she was physically thrown out of the convent. She threatened to sit in hunger strike, supported by local activists. The latest news was that the church had settled out of court with Sister Anita, offering her twelve lakh rupees and defrocking her. It was not immediately known what happened to her alleged assailant.

Sister JesmeThen there is the story of Sister Jesme, who published a sensational autobiography titled ‘Amen’ in 2009 in Malayalam, about rampant abuses in convents, including non-consensual sex with senior priests, and forced lesbian experiences with another nun as well as “humiliation, sexual abuse and mental torture”. Jesme was also expelled from the order after serving it, including as a college principal, for 33 years.

There have been serious allegations of sexual predation by priests in an official document published by an investigating Vatican official some time ago. It appears that many nuns find themselves as captive sex objects for predatory priests. In fact, there was the case of a nun in Europe just a few months ago who claimed when she delivered a baby that it was an “immaculate conception”.

Beyond this level of exploitation of vulnerable women (which is not unusual: there is the story of the Magdalene laundries in Ireland where generations of unwed mothers and other ‘fallen women’ were brutally abused and used as slave labor in nunneries) there is also the allegation about ‘nun-running’ of Indian nuns to Europe to do the cooking, cleaning and other menial tasks there, as the supply of natives there dries up.

Swami Lakshmanananda SaraswatiThus a case could be made that it is internal issues that haunt Christians in India today. In fact, unlike, say, in Pakistan, Christians have almost never been hurt by Hindus (although the reverse is not true, for instance the assassination of octogenarian monk Swami Lakshmananda in Kandhamal, Odissa). The average Christian enjoys constitutional and other privileges the average Hindu can only dream of.

As an example, consider two cases, both from Kerala. One is a small boy, seeking admission in 5th grade in a Christian school. Despite good grades from his prior school, he ‘flunks’ the entrance test. His professor parents get a recommendation from a Christian friend of theirs, and the boy is admitted. Thereafter, he stands first in his class, and the school, and upon graduation, he is a topper in the state.

The other is a teenager, an average student. His parents try to get him into the most prestigious and exclusive college in the country. The parents are confident that he will St. Stephen's College, Delhiget in because he is a Christian and the college is run by Christians (it is St Stephen’s, Delhi). In fact the boy manages to get admitted.

I have intimate knowledge of both situations, as I was the boy in the first case. I remember some of my teachers from that school fondly, and my best friends there were Paul, Mathew and Tony, but the injustice of the shabby treatment I got – the blatant discrimination in admission – I have never forgotten. I have not been back to that school even once after I graduated decades ago.

The average Christian enjoys constitutional and other privileges the average Hindu can only dream of.

The second case is that of a neighbor of mine; his father and he consulted me on how to conduct himself in the interview. The kid is a decent sort, and I was happy to advise him. But I was appalled at how the father said, at least four times in the hour we spent together: “We Christians have preference in admissions at St Stephens”, as though it was an entitlement. And of course it is. That is astonishing in a secular nation where I imagine a good bit of the funding for the college comes from the public purse.

The same discrimination holds good in many other educational institutions, for instance at a famous medical college in the south, which discriminates blatantly in favor of Christians. In Kerala, more than 70 per cent of the educational institutions are run by Christians, including those ‘aided’ schools and colleges where the management chooses teachers, and their salaries are paid by the taxpayer.

Bishop of Tuticorin Roman Catholic Diocese Rt. Rev. Yvon Ambroise offering juice to a protester at Idinthakarai The preference for Christians runs deep in Kerala where they are nominally about 25 per cent of the population, but given the massive conversion drives and the very large number of churches there, it is likely they are already in a plurality there, as in southern Tamil Nadu. Many converted Christians still retain their Hindu names, often to continue to enjoy government affirmation action programs to lowest-caste Hindus.

The Christian hold on Kerala was demonstrated when the current state government was formed: it was negotiated by two Christians and a Muslim. No Hindu leader was involved. Similarly, during the UPA days, with Sonia Gandhi, a devout Christian in charge, it was clear that all the plum positions in the center would go to Christians – an example is Leela Samson, who became culture czarina. Indeed, quite unlike the US, where any Indian who wants to seek electoral office has had to convert to Christianity, Christian politicians are in senior positions not only in Kerala, but also in Karnataka. During the UPA regime, a remarkable number of Christian IAS officers were deputed to Delhi. If you look at the media, there are disproportionately more Christians in positions of power.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral, PuducherryA remarkable factor about Christians in India is their real-estate ownership. In particular, large grants under British rule have ensured that Churches have enormous land holdings, worth billions of rupees and generally untaxed, in every city center. The Church is said to be the largest landowner in the country after the central government. A particularly telling example is in Trivandrum. There is a large cathedral in the city center, a prominent mosque, and next to them, a tiny postage-stamp sized Hindu temple. Behind the temple, there is another large church. It is a vivid demonstration of the status of Hindus in the state: dominated by Christians and Muslims.

Prof C. I. IssacAcademician C. I. Issac has pointed out, with voluminous data to support him, that in Kerala, Christians own twice as much land on average, have 50 per cent more in bank deposits, and run the vast majority of trade and education. A telling statistic: 92 per cent of those committing suicide in Kerala, mostly due to financial problems, are Hindus.

There is a fair case to be made that there is an elite group of privileged Christians, and that includes the priests in the church hierarchy as well as politicians. They are the ones oppressing or exploiting poor Christians, as well as Hindus. It is not at all the case that Hindus are oppressing Christians, although that fits well with the (fake) martyr meme. The biggest martyr story in India, that of Apostle Thomas being killed by Hindus in Chennai, is a complete fabrication, as Thomas never even arrived in India, as certified by the Vatican. From that myth to the current myth of Hindu oppression of Christians is but a small leap, a lie that is highly damaging for India, nonetheless. – IndiaFacts, 6 April 2015

» Rajeev Srinivasan is an author, columnist, and consultant in sales in the software industry. He lives in Thiruvannanthapuram and blogs at Shadow Warrier.

Sister Mary Chandy

Ex-Priest K.P. Shibu

Ivan Cardinal Dias

Uncle Sam is indirectly funding religious conversion in India – Rupa Subramanya

Rupa Subramanya“If the US government doesn’t act to change its policy stance, there may well be a policy reaction by the current Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The government has already put under the scanner foreign funds flowing into environmental NGOs which it believes are detrimental to the country’s economic development. If dissatisfaction with large foreign funds supporting large-scale Christian proselytisation continues to grow, it’s conceivable that the Indian government may restrict or at least scrutinise such inflows as well.” – Rupa Subramanya

Barack ObamaAre church and state really separate in the United States? And how does that affect US foreign relations with countries such as India?

An unsettled and ongoing debate in the area of foreign development assistance concerns the extensive role played by faith-based organisations (FBO). In the US context, in particular, FBOs have been heavily involved in the delivery of both domestic social and foreign development assistance activities funded by the US government. On the foreign front in particular, the involvement of FBOs is seen by its proponents as a projection of US soft power in the area of foreign policy.

Despite uncertainty about whether it is even constitutional, given the US First Amendment’s “establishment clause” separating church and state, FBOs have played an important role, starting during the administration of President Bill Clinton, carrying through that of George W Bush in a significant way and continuing into that of Barack Obama.

USAIDOne of the principal avenues through which FBOs receive taxpayer support is the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Indeed, several major US-based FBOs, which receive USAID funds, are active in India in a big way.

An obvious concern is that when explicitly religious organisations are funded by tax dollars, what happens if those organisations are tempted to use the funds for proselytising activity rather than just the intended humanitarian or charitable purpose?

In theory, this is not supposed to be an issue. USAID has strict rules which prohibit FBOs from using government funds to engage in proselytising or other explicit religious activities. But this is problematic for at least two reasons. First, nothing prevents an FBO from quickly transitioning from a humanitarian activity such as disaster relief to evangelising to the same group of people — and such activity is widely reported. Second, as monies are fungible, the fact that FBOs receive government support means that they can transfer money away from humanitarian activity toward proselytising, and still come out ahead financially.

Human Life InternationalIn Africa, American evangelical Christian groups (some funded by the US government, others not) have brought not just humanitarian assistance and a proselytising mission, but have an explicit agenda to promote socially conservative values, such as opposition to abortion and homosexuality. Here in India, Human Life International, a far right Catholic group that is against a woman’s right to choose and is widely seen as anti-Semitic and homophobic has established a centre in Goa, which was inaugurated in 2011 and praised to the hilt by former Congress minister Eduardo Faleiro.

Samaritan's PurseOne of the most important and controversial American evangelical organisations active in Africa and India and which receives substantial US government support is Samaritan’s Purse. Headed by the influential evangelical leader Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, the organisation has received support from both Republican and Democratic presidents — despite their support for anti-homosexual and anti-abortion rights around the world. Franklin Graham also said made no secret of his disdain for other religions. After visiting India as a young person, he spoke of “hundreds of millions of people locked in the darkness of Hinduism… bound by Satan’s power”.

Operation Christmas ChildSamaritan’s Purse has also encountered controversy with “Operation Christmas Child“, which is active in India and elsewhere. The program gives shoebox gifts, packaged in the US and other western countries by donors and distributed to needy children in the developing world. These boxes contain toys, clothes and other accessories and are accompanied by bibles and invitation to learn the Gospel and the Christian faith. Samaritan’s Purse’s own promotional video shows young children in India being presented with gifts, starting to attend church as a result, and then converting to Christianity.

As Samaritan’s Purse’s shoebox gifts makes clear, proselytisation takes many forms and is an increasingly sophisticated and savvy enterprise. It’s much more than the traditional modus operandi of a missionary going to a backward community with a loaf of bread in one hand and a bible in the other.

Business SevaTake Partners Worldwide, another recipient of US government money which is active in India through an Indian NGO, Business Seva. They’re a Christian network devoted to a “business as mission” (BAM) model, which sees business activity not just as profit-making but as an avenue for evangelising. One of their success stories in India is Olive Technology, an IT company based in the southern city of Hyderabad.

Olive TechnologyThe company offers bible lessons and other support services for their Christian employees and provides IT support to other Christian missionary organisations. The company’s founder suggests that Christians ought to be “overt and zealous” in the public expression of their faith, with the BAM model being one avenue for doing this.

While the opacity of funding arrangements would make it difficult or impossible to prove that US taxpayer money has directly supported evangelical activity, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that US-funded FBOs such as Samaritan’s Purse and Partners Worldwide are heavily proselytising in India, quite apart from whatever humanitarian or charitable work they may be doing. And this is leaving aside all of the non-government funded US-based evangelical organisations active in India, which don’t even have to maintain the pretence of separating humanitarian from evangelical work.

Rajnath SinghThis sort of activity, blending charity and Christian evangelism, has aroused the concern of the Indian government. “Can social service not be performed without resorting to conversion and will any country allow changes to its demographic character?” asked India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh recently while addressing a government commission charged with protecting the rights of minorities in India.

As it happens, such concerns are not new. Because of India’s history of almost two centuries of British colonial rule, Christian missionaries have been extremely active in the sub-continent long before independence in 1947. Indeed, Mahatma Gandhi himself expressed a similar sentiment before India’s independence, when he said, “I hold that proselytising under the cloak of humanitarian work, is to say the least, unhealthy. It is most certainly resented by the people here.”

Quite apart from the distaste that people may feel for proselytisation piggybacking on top of humanitarian work is the very India-specific issue that the country’s majority religion, Hinduism, is along with Judaism, the world’s only major non-proselytising religion, which creates an unlevel playing field when confronted with aggressively proselytising faiths such as Christianity and Islam. That, in turn, has fuelled a debate on whether the central government ought to pass legislation to restrict conversion (some Indian states already do).

Nepalese ChildrenIndeed, concerns about Christian proselytisation have recently flared up in neighbouring Nepal, which until recently was a Hindu kingdom in which conversion was not allowed. After a secular constitution came in 2007, there was an influx of Christian missionaries and apparently a sharp rise in the Christian population, provoking a backlash from the majority Hindu, Buddhist and Kiranta (a blend of animism, Hinduism and Buddhism) communities.

At present, the backlash against widespread Christian proselytisation in places like Nepal and India is largely localised, but one cannot rule out the prospect of a serious blowback on the United States.

Advocates of the use of FBOs as soft power tools of US foreign policy, such as President Obama and various scholars, have stressed that FBOs with ties to local religious organisations may be less intrusive than official US government intervention as administered directly by USAID. But this misses the fact that US FBOs active in India and elsewhere carry considerable baggage, namely the evangelical mission itself, which in reality is their self-proclaimed raison d’être.

The Indian experience with FBOs such as Samaritan’s Purse and Partners Worldwide, to name just two discussed here, suggests strongly that the next US president, whichever party he or she may belong to, ought to seriously reconsider the way that the US government supports FBOs working overseas.

Prof Lee MarsdenDespite being couched as support for FBOs broadly, the reality is that under Presidents Bush and Obama, this has really meant supporting Christian organisations to the exclusion of almost all others. According to Lee Marsden, a professor of international relations at the University of East Anglia in the UK, and a critic of the role of FBOs in US foreign policy, the first five years of the Bush presidency saw only two out of 159 major grants to FBOs being awarded to Muslim organisations, despite the large number of projects being undertaken during this period in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Marsden documents that this trend has continued into the Obama administration, with very few US-based Muslim organisations receiving any USAID funding. Marsden’s research corroborates a year-long Boston Globe investigation which found that USAID grants heavily favoured evangelical groups engaged in proselytisation overseas.

This is to say nothing of Hindu, Buddhist or other non-Christian FBOs which simply aren’t in the picture.

If the US government doesn’t act to change its policy stance, there may well be a policy reaction by the current Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The government has already put under the scanner foreign funds flowing into environmental NGOs which it believes are detrimental to the country’s economic development. If dissatisfaction with large foreign funds supporting large-scale Christian proselytisation continues to grow, it’s conceivable that the Indian government may restrict or at least scrutinise such inflows as well.

Chiristian Aid MissionIt’s noteworthy that the principal concern of one US-based Christian charity, Christian Mission Aid, which funnels money into India for proselytisation, is not the alleged persecution of the Christian minority in India but rather the concern that the flow of foreign funds into India might stop and therefore jeopardise their evangelical mission.

Either way, it seems unlikely that the status quo is sustainable, and irrespective of what countries such as India do, it’s in the US national interest to revisit the use of FBOs as a tool of foreign and development policy.

Going forward, either grants to FBOs should be genuinely inclusive, and widely engage non-Christian FBOs, or the next administration should seriously consider turning the clock back to the days in which the makers of US foreign policy and development assistance took seriously the First Amendment. – FirstPost, 27 March 2015

» Rupa Subramanya is an author and economist based in Mumbai. Follow her on Twitter @rupasubramanya

World Vision India

Christian NGO racket of human trafficking – Rajiv Malhotra

Rajiv Malhotra“Christian missionaries in adivasi areas offer poor families an inducement that is hard to resist: If the family converts to Christianity, one of its young daughters will be sent as a domestic servant to Delhi or another metro. The affiliated “agencies” in the metros collect placement fees up to Rs 50,000 per maid from the household that hires them. In between the point of “recruitment” and the point of placement there are intermediaries that “sell”, transfer and move the young, vulnerable person through the supply chain. Money is exchanged at each stage.” – Rajiv Malhotra

Adivasi GirlsDramatic scandals routinely fill India’s media headlines about some poor victim from a remote area being exploited by upper strata Delhi elites. Yet there is no investigative journalism to uncover the inconvenient facts about certain NGOs that operate what amounts to a human trafficking industry. One reason for this conspiracy of silence is that the traffickers are linked with some politically connected NGOs that make noises in the metros ostensibly on behalf of the victims. In reality the noise made serves to cover up the sinister role of NGOs in this industry that brings Christianity to the remote villages in exchange for maids to Delhi.

The elaborate scheme works as follows. Christian missionaries in adivasi (indigenous, “tribal”) areas offer poor families an inducement that is hard to resist: If the family converts to Christianity, one of its young daughters will be sent as a domestic servant to Delhi or another metro.

The affiliated “agencies” in the metros collect placement fees up to Rs 50,000 per maid from the household that hires them. In between the point of “recruitment” and the point of placement there are intermediaries that “sell”, transfer and move the young, vulnerable person through the supply chain. Money is exchanged at each stage.

The agencies keep relocating the same girl from one employer to another every few months in order to collect their placement fee repeatedly. This disruption adds to the trauma of the young girl. The agency becomes, by default, her only hope of security, and in the process she becomes even more vulnerable to the agency’s exploitation. Delhi alone is estimated to have several thousands of such girls being brought every year.

The cultural gap between India’s adivasis and its metro elites is larger in many ways than the gap between people living in Delhi and New York. The victim often gets duped into thinking that she is headed for the good life of an Indian metro, and her parents are often hand in glove in selling her into such a scheme. The money given to the parents is a “down payment” to convert them, their daughter’s placement as maid being part of the transaction. Many Churches also provide safe transfer of the girl’s monthly salary back to her parents, with a certain “donation” charged by the Church for its services. All this is a package deal for “being saved”.

This end-to-end system functions like the old slave trade from Africa to America and other continents — in which the Church had also played a major role. Today’s racket hides behind the mask of helping the downtrodden by finding them employment in a faraway place. By no means do I wish to imply that all abuses of maids from villages are the result of this system, but that fact that such a system exists outside the bounds of investigative scrutiny is noteworthy.

In the most recent episode of this tragedy, a woman executive working for a French multinational in Delhi has been arrested on charges of committing atrocities against a girl from the Santhal tribe of Jharkhand state. The maid comes from Sahibgunj, one of India’s poorest districts. The media is having a field day sensationalising this as child labour, even after the police confirmed that documents in her village show her to be over the age of 18. The girl had worked for this executive for only 3 months, prior to which she had worked in numerous other households in Delhi since age 15. So the child labour stage of her exploitation was done under several previous employers. But there is no investigation of the previous employers. Why?

Telesphore Toppo (L), Oswald Gracias, Salvatore Pennacchio in RanchiThe reason for authorities not pursuing the earlier employers is that the girl is a Christian convert from a very poor family; and uncovering the entire chain of events and parties involved would expose the nexus of the Jharkhand Church, the political parties that use these poor folks as their vote bank, and various NGOs involved in so-called “human rights” programs. The placement agency in Delhi is run by a Christian woman with likely links to the Jharkhand Church. The media sensationalises the matter as an isolated, localised episode when in fact it deserves to be investigated as a system of mafia-like underground network.

Mother Mary in tribal uniform in Singhpur Catholic Church at RanchiBrinda Karat, the rabid voice of the Communist Party of India, swung into rapid action targeting the maid’s employer, but not wanting a broader inquiry into the supply network that originates in the remote villages where her party seeks support from the church and NGOs.

Many other political leaders also saw opportunity in this scandal to show support for dalit communities whose votes can swing elections. These remote villages are also infested with Maoists seeking to topple the Indian state. The political stakes are high and NGOs compete to prove their worth by claiming to champion the plight of the poor. The same NGOs also raise funds under various “noble” pretexts.

The media ought to act more responsibly than selling us Bollywood-style action drama. To expose the large criminal networks and attack the roots of the problem, they should emphasize some systemic changes. First and foremost, it should be declared illegal to offer employment or other material inducements for religious conversion of poor and vulnerable persons. In particular, the church, parents and agencies that are involved in peddling the labour of a person under age 18 should be prosecuted. This is the nexus where the focus of prosecution should be targeted when incidents of abuse are discovered.

At the same time, one should recognise the legitimate need for domestic servants in Indian metros. To serve this demand, agencies should have to be certified periodically that they are in compliance with all laws. This must include transparency of disclosure of the full details concerning every employee and employer served. There must be a mechanism by which the legal age of a potential maid can be formally ascertained and the agency must bear this burden prior to offering her as a candidate. All commissions and salary payments must be legalised.

The media must start educating the metro employers about the laws concerning minimum wages and others aspects. Right now most Delhi households lack such awareness, as the media has focused on sensationalism without its shouldering social responsibility or due diligence.

There are also many instances of exploitation in the reverse direction that should be noted: Elderly persons in Delhi are too often being criminally attacked by their domestic servants who threaten legal action with the help of NGOs, and thereby prevent the crime from being reported. I know of cases where a youth gang has repeatedly burglarised the house of an elderly woman living alone. The police have been reluctant to file charges because of the threat by NGOs that these youth criminals are protected as “minors”. This means tougher juvenile crime laws need to be enacted and enforced.

I have anticipated such NGO-backed crimes within India since the 1990s when I first became aware of foreign nexuses intervening in India’s so-called tribal areas. It was a Harvard Roundtable Conference on Indology sponsored by Infinity Foundation where I found that Western scholars had become very interested in Indian communities belonging to the “Munda” family of languages. The thesis formulated was that the Munda people were the only indigenous peoples of India. They were first invaded by the “foreign Dravidians” coming from the Middle East, and later on both the Munda and the Dravidians got invaded by the “foreign Aryans”. Thus, Indians were classified into layers with the intention of empowering one group against the others. In my earlier book, Breaking India, I mention some important US-based interventions through this type of anthropology and linguistics work.

Sarna DhoromThe Santhal community where the maid in the latest scandal comes from is one of the largest communities in what is called India’s “tribal belt”. Most anthropological studies on them were done by Christian missionaries since British times. The colonial-evangelical lens used was the same as for other non-Christian peoples that were encountered outside Europe, and many of its prejudices have become accepted by modern Indians. The “tribals” are considered “pagans” because they believe in “animism”, meaning that they consider all of nature as inhabited with divine spirit. (Ironically, the latest trend among Western thinkers is to appropriate these very ideas into Judeo-Christianity, using fancy new terms like “panentheism” and “immanence” after studying Hindu philosophy on which such ideas are based.) These villages have been a hotbed for missionary activities for the past few centuries, and this intensified in 1914 when the first complete translation of the Bible into the Santali language was finished by a Norwegian missionary.

Clearly, the battle for fragmenting Indians has entered a new phase. “Tribal” Indians will be increasingly exploited in various ways in the guise of bringing them human rights. The media’s framing of such episodes as “secular” crimes of an isolated kind is a shallow and inadequate treatment of what is much deeper and multilayered. This issue has far-reaching implications. – Niti Central, 15 October 2013

See also

Christians are being used, not abused – Swapan Dasgupta

Swapan Dasgupta“The fact that neither Mr Rebeiro nor Adm. Kumar have been able to give satisfactory explanations as to why they have suddenly gone public with their fears over the citizenship rights of Christians has, in turn, prompted a number of conspiracy theories. There are accusations flying all over social media that the Churches have taken a conscious decision to target the Modi government politically, first by attributing political motives to every incident involving a church building or individual Christians and, second, by enlarging its significance to suggest that an entire community is under attack.” – Swapan Dasgupta

Prof  Jagdish BhagwatiThe most comic fallout of Jagdish Bhagwati’s interview to NDTV about the spuriousness of the brouhaha over persecution of Christians in India may yet happen if his great economist rival Amartya Sen decides to publicly assert the opposite. So far the outgoing chancellor of the controversy-gripped Nalanda University has chosen to remain silent. But I am sure that the pressure on him to stand up and repeat Pastor Martin Niemoller’s “First they came for the Jews…” must, presumably, be intense.

Let’s be clear on one point: the opponents of Narendra Modi have smelt blood and seem determined to pursue their single-minded campaign to suggest that a majoritarian madness has gripped India. Earlier, and particularly during the 2014 general election, this campaign had seen the outpourings of anguish on the part of intellectuals and a small section of the media. On his part,

Mr Modi had (and has) provided absolutely no ammunition to substantiate the fear that the multi-religious character of India would be jeopardised by the exit of a Congress-led government. True, there was a pre-existing Hindu-Muslim faultline that manifested itself in the minority community staying away from the BJP. However, in the first 11 months of the Modi government, the concerns have been on the relative inadequacy of Muslim political representation rather than the security of the community. Even on this count, there was consternation among professional secularists that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the People’s Democratic Party managed to forge a coalition in Jammu and Kashmir.

Julio RibeiroUnder the circumstances, the so-called fear that is said to have gripped the Christian community following some small incidents has come as a surprise. What is even more unexpected is that these have become the occasion for a number of prominent Indian Christians to agonise over the community’s future in India. First there was the retired police officer Julio Rebeiro who asked whether he had become an alien in his own country. Subsequently, Sushil Kumar Isaacformer Navy Chief Adm. Sushil Kumar (Retd.) expressed a fear that the “communal virus” could affect the camaraderie of the armed forces — a grave concern in view of the fact that the armed forces have always been well and truly insulated from all political schisms. Finally, various functionaries of reputed Christian education institutions have added their voices to the campaign over Christian persecution. Indeed, there is now every possibility that international Christian voices could be added to the list of those who question the ability of the Modi government to maintain religious harmony.

I don’t think it will be exaggeration to suggest that the charge of Christian vulnerability has been greeted with a sense of disbelief in most of India. While the BJP’s political opponents may delight over any discomfiture felt by the government, particularly anything that shifts attention from the main agenda of economic reconstruction, the use of the tiny Christian community as a vanguard of any anti-Modi movement has been greeted with a measure of exasperation. Was Mr Rebeiro, it is being asked, ever rewarded or discriminated on the strength of his religious faith? On what basis has Adm. Kumar suggested that the “communal virus” could also affect the well-being of the armed forces? Did he ever face discrimination because he was a Christian?

Bangladeshi Nun RapersThe fact that neither Mr Rebeiro nor Adm. Kumar have been able to give satisfactory explanations as to why they have suddenly gone public with their fears over the citizenship rights of Christians has, in turn, prompted a number of conspiracy theories. There are accusations flying all over social media that the churches have taken a conscious decision to target the Modi government politically, first by attributing political motives to every incident involving a church building or individual Christians and, second, by enlarging its significance to suggest that an entire community is under attack. If this understanding of the “church agenda” is correct, it would follow that the third phase of the campaign would lie in making common cause with all the anti-Modi forces in the country.

We saw a small trailer of the third phase in the last day of campaigning for the Delhi Assembly poll when a small (but lavishly reported) demonstration of Christians became the signal for all members of the community to come out and vote against the BJP two days later.

Baselios Cardinal CleemisWhatever the real motivations of the clergy of various Christian denominations, there is no doubt that it has succeeded in putting Christians at the centre of a previously non-existent political divide. The political storm has served to resurrect subterranean schisms over religious conversions and the global links of the churches. Whether unwittingly or otherwise, Christian activism may even have prompted a large measure of countervailing reaction, much to the delight of a cynical media that seems intent on keeping the cauldron of communal politics boiling. Making Christians more aware of their religious self-identity may be a legitimate exercise on the part of community leaders. But when this results in non-Christians seeing Christians as being removed from the mainstream, the results can be self-defeating. Unless, of course, the avowed aim is to sharpen the sense of differences.

Sonia Gandhi with Cardinal Archbishop George Alencherry, head of the Syro Malabar Church in Kerala.A very dangerous game is being played by a handful whose idea of harmony is at variance with the consensual view of composite Indian citizenship. In the short-term, and thanks in no small measure to this unwarranted desire to cry wolf, we are likely to see a sharp focus on the entire issue of religious conversions — an issue that has been troubling Hindu communities in southern India. The government may feel that the emerging truth of the Ranaghat nun rape will cool passions. Unfortunately, I get an uncomfortable feeling that in the battle between propaganda and truth, the latter may become a casualty. We are not witnessing a religious conflict. These are just the opening shots of a political battle, using Christians as a human shield. – The Asian Age, 3 April 2015

» Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist in Delhi.

Christians are not under attack in India

Hindus don’t have equality with minorities – Rajeev Mantri

Rajeev Mantri“Mother Teresa is seen as a saint by some devout Christians. But to assert that she was universally seen as a saint is not just false, but unacceptable to any liberal and secular individual. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comment that Mother Teresa had an evangelical agenda is simply a statement of fact; it is something which she herself proudly admitted.” – Rajeev Mantri

Julio RibeiroAn article written by former police officer Julio Ribeiro, initially headlined “I feel I am on a hit list“, has ignited a debate concerning India’s Christians and their security under the Narendra Modi government.

The 86-year-old Ribeiro—who admitted later he “slightly exaggerated” to attract attention—makes a series of scathing allegations against the Modi government, writing, “I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country.” He points to reports of church vandalism, asserting India’s Christians are threatened because of such incidents.

It speaks to the discourse prevalent in India that every incident of vandalism or crime where a minority community is involved is viewed through the lens of communalism and secularism. Investigations into these incidents have found that they were petty crimes and localized incidents, not necessarily motivated by religious hatred, but those who stoutly believe that minorities are under siege allege the investigations are compromised or influenced. No facts can convince them that there may be no grand design; the assertion of motivated attacks itself serves as proof that there is a conspiracy against minorities, and that assertion isn’t allowed to be undermined.

Mother Teresa & Michele Duvalier of HaitiRibeiro makes one tenuous claim after another. First, he asserts the Christian community has made significant contributions to India by building educational institutions and hospitals. Second, he proclaims that Mother Teresa was an “acknowledged saint, acknowledged by all communities and peoples”.

It is true that many of India’s leading schools and colleges are run by Christian organizations, and have done yeoman’s service for the country across generations. But this has not been entirely without an agenda. The missionary organizations running these institutions received substantial subsidies from the Indian public; in the British era and even after independence, missionary-run institutions received prime land in city centres at subsidized rates.

More importantly, they were allowed autonomy and freedom in how they should run their institutions. Even today, top ranked institutions like St Stephen’s College, Christian Medical College in Vellore, St Xavier’s College and countless missionary schools across India clearly declare themselves to be minority institutions and admit Christian students through explicit quotas; all of this is done at a subsidy, implicit and explicit, from Indian taxpayers, who are largely Hindus.

Dr Ida ScudderFor example, Christian Medical College clearly states in its admissions prospectus that its aim is to “train individuals for service in needy areas, especially in Christian mission hospitals”, and “a large number of Christian churches and missions make use of training” it offers in medical education. It has a special “sponsored category” constituting up to 50% seats, reserved for Christian applicants. For the nursing programme, 85% seats are reserved for Christians. The college says that “staff and student retreats led by eminent Christian thinkers are an important feature of the spiritual nature” of the college community.

Church of North India Minister Valson ThampuSt Stephen’s has a 50% Christian quota and lower entry cutoffs for Christian applicants. Its principal, Valson Thampu, made news recently when a staff member alleged he was being coerced by Thampu to convert to Christianity. The principal of St Xavier’s College in Mumbai went so far as to issue a political statement to the 3,000 students of his college criticizing the Gujarat government’s economic record and praising the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government during the 2014 general election campaign. Why must a college principal make political proclamations to his student body?

When premier schools and educational institutions funded by public money have large religious quotas—and protectionism through government regulation certainly helped these institutions achieve their premier position—it’s a clear incentive for Hindus to convert, for becoming Christian increases one’s chances of getting admission to some of India’s top schools and colleges. The obvious implication is also that India has a system of government-funded Christian evangelism; is that secular?

It’s acceptable that these institutions retain Christian quotas. The problem is the alternatives for Hindus are limited by state diktat because of stifling regulations in the education sector that have created artificial shortages.

By not liberalizing the education sector, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be supporting a quasi-monopoly enjoyed by Christian evangelical organizations. Liberalizing the sector would level the playing field and create a more equal India. By the same token, if non-Hindus enjoy the religious freedom to convert Hindus, Hindus too should have the freedom to propagate their faith.

Ramachandra GuhaBut these are facts that are well-known to even left-liberal intellectuals. Writing in June 2007, when St Stephen’s College talked of raising its Christian quota to 50%, eminent historian Ramachandra Guha had said, “According to the Union ministry of education, fully 95% of the expenses of the college are met by the University Grants Commission. Why should a college that draws so heavily on the public exchequer be allowed to choose 40% of its students from 2% of the country’s population?”

Today, because there is a government in New Delhi headed by a man and a party they despise, the intellectuals maintain a calculated silence and merrily bandy Ribeiro’s victimhood-filled article as evidence of a state conspiracy against minorities.

Mother Teresa is seen as a saint by some devout Christians. But to assert that she was universally seen as a saint is not just false, but unacceptable to any liberal and secular individual. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comment that Mother Teresa had an evangelical agenda is simply a statement of fact; it is something which she herself proudly admitted.

A staunch Roman catholic, Mother Teresa was opposed to birth control and abortions, calling it “the greatest destroyer of peace” in her 1979 Nobel Prize acceptance lecture—the so-called liberal movie stars who jumped to Teresa’s defence might be blissfully ignorant of her beliefs.

Contrast Teresa’s regressive views on this issue with that of Modi, who said last year in an interview to a television channel, “Women should have every right to take all the decisions of their lives. How much they want to study, where they want to study, when to marry, whether to marry, what work to do, where to work, when to have children, how many children to have, whether to have children—all these decisions should be in the hands of the woman alone.” Yet, Teresa is a secular-liberal icon and Modi is a fundamentalist.

A committed harvester of souls for her God, Teresa received criticism for baptizing the impoverished on their death beds. It is for such unethical and fundamentalist acts that British writer Christopher Hitchens called her the “ghoul of Calcutta”.

Mohan Bhagwat & Narendra Modi“If my DNA is tested, it will not differ markedly from Bhagwat’s”, writes an impassioned Ribeiro. But the reality today is the Indian state treats a Ribeiro or a John differently from a Bhagwat or a Gupta. Christian educational institutions are regulated less strenuously than Hindu ones. Christian places of worship are not controlled by government, but Hindu temples are. In flesh and blood, Christians, atheists, Muslims, Parsis, Buddhists and Hindus may all be the same—but in the eyes of the Indian state, they are not.

Narendra Modi with Christian and Muslim clerics.Correcting this heinous perversity is the Modi government’s mandate—it is telling that not one self-described soldier of secularism ever asks that Hindus be granted this equality. During the 2014 general election campaign, Modi faced opprobrium from the intelligentsia for declining to wear the Muslim skull cap. Not wearing the cap amounted to an insult to Muslims and a violation of secularism, we were told. But Modi took the firm and principled position that as a practising Hindu, he could not and would not wear a religious symbol only to garner votes.

It’s a question that begs to be answered—will Hindus have to circumcise or baptise themselves to prove they are secular and tolerant?

It should be revolting to every secular Indian that Hindus and non-Hindus are treated differently by the Indian state. Under the Nehruvian template, special treatment of minorities in several areas has become the norm in our country. It is equally true that freedom has been denied in areas such as personal laws to minorities. Muslims, for instance, are forced to abide by a religious personal law code.

Jawaharlal NehruNehruvian India is a discriminatory, bigoted India that arbitrarily affords more freedom to one religious group and less to the other. This is immoral and grossly unfair, for the Indian state should not be favouring or disfavouring individual citizens based on their religion.

Given his mandate and his clearly articulated stand on religious freedom during and since the election campaign, Modi has a historic opportunity—an India where all citizens are equal in the eyes of the state is within reach. – Live Mint, 19 March 2015

» Rajeev Mantri is an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, fund manager, writer, policy wonk, and WSJ Live Mint columnist. He tweets at @RMantri.

Thefts in Delhi's churches, gurdwaras, mosques, and temples.

 

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