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Noughts and crosses

Like ‘terrorism’ for Muslims, ‘conversion’ is now being widely used to demonise Christians. Worse, this minority community is under attack even in states ruled by so-called secular parties, writes Dominic Emmanuel.

india Updated: May 01, 2007 23:07 IST
Dominic Emmanuel
Dominic Emmanuel

The attack on Walter Massey, a pastor in Jaipur, by the VHP is not the first of its kind. Nor is it likely to be the last in the series of attacks on Christians by Sangh parivar stalwarts, known for their disregard and insolence towards constitutional bodies of India.

Recently, the VHP had tried to armtwist the Governor of Rajasthan, Pratibha Patil, into clearing the Rajasthan Dharma Swatantraya Bill, 2006 — which bans religious conversion “by use of force, allurement or fraudulent means” — which has been pending with her since last year. Addressing the media in Jaipur a couple of weeks ago, Rajasthan VHP’s regional co-organising secretary, Jugal Kishore, had warned that “the Governor would be responsible for any untoward or violent situation during the VHP protests”. Is anyone, then, surprised at the attack on Massey?

There has been no let-up in the number of attacks on Christian institutions and personnel across the country over the past few years. In fact, in the last one year alone, there have been more than 200 such attacks. The Massey incident came to light since it took place in a city like Jaipur. Many other incidents go unreported because the media is unable to reach the spot on time, or because the police refuse to entertain the complainants. Nearly all of these attacks are triggered by false allegations of ‘conversion by force or fraud’. Like ‘terrorism’ for Muslims, ‘conversion’ is now being widely used to demonise, and terrorise, Christians at the behest of the parivar.

Yet, facts speak out loud. The number of Christians has actually fallen in the last few decades, from 2.8 per cent to 2.3 per cent. So far, not a single case of conversion by force or fraud, even in BJP states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh or in Orissa and Arunachal, has been proved.

And yet, the Sangh has succeeded in great measure in labelling Christians as those who indulge in such practices. Things for this micro-community are getting worse. Even the Congress appears to have thrown its secular pretensions to the winds, and has paid little heed to the pleas of the Christian community. In Himachal Pradesh, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh introduced the so-called ‘Freedom of Religion Bill’ (read anti-conversion) within a matter of days. A letter to UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi from Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao, president of the National United Christian Forum, expressing his concern about the hurriedly-passed Bill, brought no change in the situation.

How deeply the rhetoric on conversion has seeped into the mind of the Grand Old Party is seen again in a major initiative of the Union Home Ministry. A new Foreign Contribution Regulatory (FCR) Bill is at present before a Parliamentary Standing Committee, headed by another Sangh parivar stalwart, Sushma Swaraj. In Sections 12 (3) (a) (ii) and (iii) of the Bill, which deals with the granting of FCR certificate to an organisation, these conditions are set forth: “That it [organisation] has not indulged in activities aimed at conversion through inducement or force, either directly or indirectly, from one religious faith to another; and has not created communal tension or disharmony in any specified district or any other part of the country.”

Words like ‘inducement’, ‘communal tension’ and ‘disharmony’ have not been defined anywhere in the Bill. They are subjective and have the potential to be used selectively against the Christian community, which is providing facilities like medical aid, food, shelter, clothing, education in many parts of the country.

It is once again the fear of mass conversion that has prevented governments from giving Dalits, who have converted to Christianity and Islam, the privileges due to them. The latest report by National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) corroborates the claims of the backwardness of Dalit Christians. The report, made public last month, says, “In rural areas, the unemployment rate was 4.4 per cent among Christians, 2.3 per cent among Muslims and 1.5 per cent among Hindus.” The survey also points out that Christians have the lowest illiteracy rate, both in rural areas (20 per cent for men and 31 per cent for women) as well as in urban areas (6 per cent for men and 11 per cent for women).

Could this indicate the frightening truth that be it in BJP- or Congress-ruled states, the Hindutva ideology sets the agenda for governance?

Dominic Emmanuel is the spokesperson of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese

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