Christmas Carols in the times of deepening divisive politics

by Dr. Ram Puniyani ::
Month of December has not only the major festival of Christmas it is a season of festivity, saying bye to the year past and looking forward to the prospectively happy New Year. The trend seems to be changing; the attacks on those planning festivities related to Christmas, those participating in the cultural practices of this festival are under attack and the atmosphere of intimidation is all around the issue of celebrating Christmas. In Maharashtra, the Chief Minister’s wife and a BJP MLA were trolled from promoting an event with the theme of Christmas. The carol singers in Aligarh were detained on the charges of forced conversions, while Hindutva groups, the affiliates of RSS combine said that Christmas celebrations in schools are a strict no no! Not to be left behind; in Rajasthan; VHP members barged into a Christmas function disrupted it and alleged forced conversions. In Satna (MP), Hindutva group attacked the carol singers and burned the Priest’s car. These are a few from the list of attacks on the Christmas celebrations all over the country. In all these attacks the offenders are related to groups which are Hindutva right wing in nature.
While anti Christian activities, many of them violent; have been an emerging pattern over last many years, 2017 marks a new low. Open Doors, the global charity which monitors the treatment of Christians worldwide to produce an annual World Watch List of the 50 most difficult countries for them to live points out that in 2016 India was at its highest ever on the List – at no. 15; it looks set to rise higher in 2018 if present trends continue. Also, that the incidents occurring against Christians in the first half of 2017 are equal to the incidents in whole of 2016.
Anti Christian violence has picked up from last two decades in particular. One of the most initial acts in this direction was hacking to death of Rani Maria in Indore (MP) in 1995. The most horrific of this of course has been burning alive of Pastor Graham Stains along with his two innocent sons by Bajrang Dals’ Dara Singh in 1999, and the Kandhamal violence of August 2008. One recalls that even earlier the observation was that anti Christian violence picks up during the month of December. This trend was perceptible in the violence in Dangs, Phulbani, Jhabua and Phulbani so far. Come December and the atmosphere is rife with scattered attacks against Christians.
The main spread of this violence has been in the Adivasi belt spread from Dangs in the West (Gujarat) and Kandhamal in the East (Orissa), in between it passes through the tribal areas of MP, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. At the same time the urban organizations have been relatively spared. In these remote areas, Swamis associated with VHP etc. had made their Ashrams or have been active spreading hate against Christians, like Swami Aseemanand in Dangs, followers of Asaram Bapu in Jhabua and Lakshmananand in Orissa. These are the areas where anti Christian violence has been to the fore and the slogan, ‘Hindu Jago Kristi bhago’ (Wake up Hindus-Go away Christians) was popularized. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, along with VHP, both RSS associates have stepped up their activities and propaganda in these areas during last over two decades. While on one hand the sporadic anti Christian violence picked up on the other programs like Shabri Kumbhs (Dangs) and Hindu Sangams were organized to mobilize Adivasis’s to around the icons of Shabari and Hanuman.
The murder of Swami Lakshamanand and aftermath in the form of Kandhamal showed the pattern of the violence. While Maoists claimed that they had killed Swami, many Christian youth were arrested. The remains of Swami were taken in a procession in the Adivasi areas, and precisely in these areas violence followed. Incidentally the anti Christian violence so far has been more in BJP ruled states. When Kandhamal took place BJP was the ally of BJD in Orissa. Currently this year, all the violence has been observed in BJP ruled states.
The deeper anatomy of violence seems to be that since the ruling party appears to be belonging to the Hindu nationalism, the so called Hindu fringe groups do feel emboldened. The attitude of police is generally hostile to the Christians; Christian missionaries, as the propaganda that the Christians are converting by force, fraud or allurement seem to have percolated far and deep. Many a priests doing prayer service have been arrested or apprehended on the charges of conversion.
Violence is generally the after effect of hate, constructed around the propaganda against Christian missionaries. As such taking the law in their hands is the norm for Hindutva groups. What is important is to note that most of this violence is in the Adivasi areas. It is the areas where Christian missionaries have been working in the area of education and health, a process which is empowering to these downtrodden sections. While in the cities many of the Hindutva right wing followers have been sending their children to Christian mission schools as a matter of choice, the fellow travelers of the same ideology in Adivasi-dalit areas are up in the arms against missionaries, alleging them with conversions.
As per the census figures of Government of India, the population of Christians has slightly declined during last five decades (1971-2.60, 1981-2.44, 1991-2.34, 2001-2.30, 2011 -2.30). Even Wadhva Commission report which was set up in the aftermath of Pastor Stains murder by NDA Government with Advani as the Home minister pointed out that Pastor Stains was not involved in the work of Conversions and Keonjhar, Manoharpur in Orissa where the Pastor had been working did not show any statistical increase in Christian population.
Currently we seem to be witnessing a phase where the cultural part of festivals are being attacked, to eliminate the syncretism and intercommunity relations, further intimidating the Christians in general in Christian missionaries in particular. More than Christmas Carols and Christmas festivities, what is under attack is the pluralism of Indian society!