This is no time to cavil, or be mean and political.
She is going to be a Saint, and India and its Prime Minister are quite naturally very elated at this signal honour to secular India. He said so in his monthly national broadcast over the state-owned All India Radio. The highest in the Church expressed their gratitude and thanks to him for this warm gesture.
No one has, correctly, spoken of any irony that even Odisha, remembered every August since 2008 for the sponsored pogrom in Kandhamal, and earlier for the gruesome 1999 killing of Graham Stuart Staines and his pre-teen sons Timothy and Philip, will name a major street in its capital city after the new saint. In 2008 August, half a dozen nuns of Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Teresa of Kolkata, had gone missing after their convent was attacked, and the MC Brothers had to close down the home they ran for leprosy patients and families half way up a sal forest hill. The nuns were rescued.
Everyone understands that Mr Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, is just placing on record their charge that Teresa’s love for the poor and her social work was just a ruse to hide her real mission to convert Indians to Christianity as a true agent of the Pope in Rome. The Sangh does similar social work and more, without any ulterior motives. On cue, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Mahasabha spokespersons have criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party and Mr Narendra Modi for appeasing Dalits, Christians, and for good measure, Muslims.
This little tableau of good cheer, however, does not gel very much with battles being fought in courts of law on justice for victims of targetted violence, and complaints to the police for attacks on small village prayer houses attacked by local political thugs of the ruling dispensation who are accompanied by enthusiastic constables, and often a friendly videographer and photojournalist who have been alerted to the forthcoming action against people who convert innocent tribals by offering them money.
The grassroots media may perhaps be as complicit as the police constables, but it is because of their hard work that the world comes to know of pregnant women, wives of pastors being assaulted, and at least one sought to be burnt alive. Many readers will also remember the photograph of a pastor, his hair partly shorn in bold swipes of the razor, being paraded on a donkey. It was not a parody of the Nazarene’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem two millennia ago.
On an average, a case is recorded every day and a half.
To be fair, there has been violence against Christians even when the Congress has been in the national government, but as data and analysis by the Evangelical Fellowship of India, the United Christian Forum and other groups show, the intensity and pattern changes when the BJP rules in New Delhi as also where the party has been in power for years. Even in Odisha, the BJP was part of the ruling alliance, with its people in key ministries. Impunity is apparent. The victims, by the time they reach a police station, find a case already registered against them, with the assailants smirking in the Inspector’s office.
Mr Modi himself has dismissed this data as false, perhaps even concocted in connivance with his political foes. Incidents against half a dozen churches in Delhi on the eve of the last Assembly elections were first pinned on the Aam Admi Party, and then dismissed as short circuits and mischief by local drunkards. Protestors, among them several women, who had been injured in a violent lathi-charge outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi at that time were cautioned against registering formal complaints lest they face criminal proceedings for attacking the police. “Ÿou are not with us””, Mr Modi had told a delegation of clergy and lay persons who had gone to greet him.
This is not about Christians as collateral damage in the larger criminal intimidation of Muslims in several parts of the country. The incitement to violence is specific, and continues, as much by the small fry in the village as by several identified Members of Parliament, men and women, and persons who also call themselves Sadhvis, Nuns, or Sants.
There seems political sanction and support for it. The BJP has, since coming to power, reaffirmed its objective of outlawing religious conversions in the country. It chooses to ignore the Christian argument that conversions by force and fraud which are declared illegal by special legislation in several states, are also bad in faith. The BJP and RSS anger could be because Christians also assert that citizens of India enjoy freedom of faith, to espouse a religion of their choice, to reject the religion of their birth, and if they so desire, to reject religion entirely, to become an atheist, agnostic, a communist, perhaps.
This freedom is seen as an attack on Indian culture. Alas, it is not just the BJP and the RSS who are guilty. Many of the regressive laws were enacted by the Congress, the last in Himachal by Mr Vir Bhadra Singh, currently facing charges of corruption. He thought Christian missionaries posed a threat to stability, law and order in the Himalayan state which is billed as an abode of the gods, much like its neighbouring Uttarakhand which so far does not have the law called Freedom Of Religion Act. The chief ministers do not see the irony in the name.
The ecstatic and political rejoicing over the new saint will not change one whit the oft-spoken fear by the same elements of Christianity overwhelming the ancient land, much like Islam but without the gun they see in all that television footage.
But Teresa is our own, even though Kolkata, and Bengal, sometimes claim a monopoly on her. They are specially blessed. We must rejoice, as citizens of a country where Christianity is just a few years younger than its founder.
John Dayal is a former National President of the All India Catholic Union, and a writer.