The atmosphere is quite different from that which prevailed at this time last year. Then there had been attacks on churches in some places, even in the Capital. While it was not conclusively established whether this was the work of vandals or the Right-wing Hindutva forces protesting, among other things, against forcible conversions, there was an air of apprehension and disquiet. This year, it’s different. The home minister Rajnath Singh recently met church leaders and made it quite clear that the government would not tolerate any attacks on Christians. The message has obviously gone home to those who see Christmas as an alien festival.
As is our wont, Indians have appropriated and assimilated a great many once foreign traditions. Christmas is no exception. Across small towns and cities, the shops are full of Santas of various hues and people are out shopping for X’mas goodies unmindful of the Christian origins of the festival. This is part of the great pluralistic Indian ethos. Today, almost all our festivals are celebrated by most communities. This is what sets us apart from many countries which regard festivals of some religions as a threat to the purity of theirs. The latest is Brunei, where the ruler has decreed that anyone celebrating Christmas will be punished with five years in prison.
Clearly, the loony fringes which took the ascent to power of a BJP government as a sort of licence to impose a cookie cutter ideology on Indians have found that they have little traction today. The political leadership has made it clear that it does not want these people to speak on its behalf and the majority of Hindus have rejected this narrow and sectarian vision of the idea of India. Of course, there are ugly incidents aimed at the minorities but the self-styled champions of Hindutva risk being isolated more than ever before. There is still a long way to go before we can rest easy, but hopefully, we are getting there. There is still far too much intolerance and hate-mongering but the push back has been vigorous from civil society, the political class and from ordinary citizens who do not want India to go the way of its neighbour to the west. That is a heartening thought as the festive season kicks off in full swing. We wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas.