The other day as one opened the newspapers one found that one essential difference between India and Pakistan had been obliterated by events in the two countries. While two of the Lahore churches were subjected to suicide bombing killing as many as 70 church-goers and injuring a like number (some of them critically), an up and coming church in Hissar district of Haryana was demolished. While the Pakistani attacks on the churches were clear cases of terrorist attacks and were even owned by such an outfit, the one in India was the act of rabid Hindus who not only seemed to have razed the under-construction church but also vandalized it, hoisting a flag at the site with “Shri Ram” written on it. This was a clear indication of the reprehensible handiwork of fringe elements of certain Hindu groups, who seemingly tore and shredded our claims of being a secular polity.
Surendra Jain, a spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a right wing organization, (claiming to represent all Hindus) aggressively defended the demolition, issuing threats that such cases would happen in future if Christians did not stop conversions. Ill-informed as he seemed to be, he appeared unaware that the right to practice and prosylatise a religion (without inducements) is sanctioned by the Indian Constitution. He also erroneously claimed that the First War of Independence of 1857 was fought as a religious war and asserted such wars would continue to be fought until the Christians mended their ways. Alluding to the razed church, he asked whether Christians would allow construction of a Hanuman temple in Vatican – as if the village where the church was demolished could be equated with Vatican.
The foot soldiers of the Hindu fringe organizations are increasingly taking the law in their hands under the mistaken notion that they would be protected by saffron governments at the Centre and in some of the states. Firstly, they are mostly unaware of what Hinduism or Hindutwa stands for and, secondly they forget that people in general are aware of their rights and they would not allow any willful infringement of laws to go unnoticed and, possibly, unpunished. Regardless of the colour of the governments, people and the electronic media are far too active for the comfort of any religious miscreant. Nonetheless, the onus of all such inconsequential acts is placed on the Prime Minister Modi as most of these have occurred in quick succession after his assumption of power.
Demolition of the church, coming as it did after the unfortunate incident of rape of an elderly nun in Ranaghat, West Bengal, attracted keener attention of everyone, including parliamentarians and the Vatican Christians are getting greater attention from the Hindu fringe elements as they probably find them a softer target. Besides, most of the religious activities of the Christians are carried out in backward and rural areas and there they are open to attacks by crude and ill-informed Hindu activists in the general absence of effective policing. However, later a church in Delhi, another in Navi Mumbai and yet another in Jabalpur in Central India were victims of stone pelting by masked men.
Unfortunately, these misguided people do not realise that Hinduism, despite erosion of its secular power over the centuries, survived for thousands of years because of its own intrinsic strength. Buddhism and Jainism, the two breakaway religions, remained as small islands surrounded by the ocean of Hinduism in India. Its spirit backed up by its ancient philosophical base gathered worldwide appreciation. It had been imbibed in many parts of the world and its cultural remnants can be seen and felt in largely Buddhist and Muslim South-East Asia. Besides, even more than one thousand years of Islamic and 300 years of British rules could not subdue it in this country where it is followed by the majority till this day. What is more, with all its warts, India with its mostly Hindu population, continues to be preferred place for residence by numerous foreigners of different religions. After all, it had historically been the haven for the tormented and tortured peoples of the Middle-East and the Far East. Hindu India embraced them all. Known for its “open-arms” and welcoming attitudes, the country, down the ages, allowed people of various religions – Christians, Jews, Parsees, Baha’is Buddhists, Jains and several Islamic sects – to come and find sanctuary here, enriching its culture as also endowing it with a fair name in the world.
Why shatter this fantastic image by narrowness of mind as displayed by Islamic countries? Do these rabid Hindus wish to behave like Pakistanis who slowly but surely ejected Hindus and Sikhs from West and East Pakistan and also tormented the small minority of Christians? No, we are far better than them. The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi had said, ”The lawlessness of communalism is a monster with many faces. It hurts all in the end including those who are primarily responsible for it”. None should, therefore, be swayed off the feet by what the narrow-minded and mean protagonists of Hinduism preach. Ours is a far more enlightened civilization of which we are proud. We cannot allow our fair name to become spotty because of a few misguided ignorant, uncivilised and uncultured philistines.
If the rowdy foot soldiers of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) think that by their violent and destructive activities they would be able to protect Hindu religion they are sadly mistaken. What they should do instead is to try and get rid of the ills of Hinduism. Its caste system constitutes one of its great and inherent weaknesses and yet it is practiced with vehemence, particularly in rural areas. The so-called Dalits, the former untouchables, are generally at the receiving end of the atrocities. The incidence of rural caste violence is increasing despite the efforts of the state. Almost every day there are reports in national dailies of maltreatment of dalits and rape of their girls. It is these miserable people who prefer to switch their religion even though it might not be of great help to them. In changing over to Islam or Christianity they find light after living through a long dark tunnel of humiliation, atrocities and a miserable survival. In most cases, attempts to damage a churches are made by those who would be the very first to maltreat dalits and discriminate against them. This is what hurts Hinduism the most and this is what needs to be addressed by the self-proclaimed protectors of Hinduism. They should try and smash this inequity before thinking of smashing churches, for it is the Church which provides succor to the harassed, persecuted and tortured lowly Hindu.