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Rohit Dhankar

“An under construction church in Kaimri village in Hisar district of Haryana was vandalized by miscreants and the idol of Hindu god Hanuman was placed inside the premises.”

First let’s accept certain basic principles:
• Any one in India has the right to practice and propagate one’s religion. And therefore, Subhash Chander and his Church have the right to construct a Church in Kaimri and preach their religion there. This is their constitutional right and cannot be challenged as long as we are a secular democracy.
• The accused (one of them, Anil Godara, is arrested) indulged in a hate crime in vandalizing the under construction church and placing a Hanuman idol there. As the right of Subhash Chander cannot be challenged the act of Anil Godara and Co. cannot be defended. It remains an antisocial, anti-democracy crime which should attract adequate punishment as per the law of the land.

Having stated the basic principles now let us try to understand the issue.

Historically Haryana had a very strong Arya Samaj movement. Arya Samaj was an attempt to consolidate Hindu society, work against caste (but in a limited sense), stop the conversion of Hindus to other religions and also to re-convert Hindus who had already converted to other religions. The Hindus are bad at conversion and reconversion games; they are too crude and unsophisticated. This might be because Hinduism was never a proselytizing religion; but that situation may not last long now. The Arya Samaj movement for re-conversion was called “shuddhi” implying that the converted became impure. The stench of casteism and purity in the name is for real. The current attempts at the re-conversion are called ‘Ghar-vapasi” but the “Ghar” still remains a fragmented oppressive structure; those who converted to escape casteist indignity are unlikely to re-inter such a stinking home.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajarang Dal and RSS all are active in Hisar district. They are building the on old Arya Samaj movement; their recent Ghar-vapasi is simply a new version of the old shuddhi. As I said above, since they are too poor in this game of conversion they resort to crude metaphors and methods. Stopping preaching of other religions through violence is an admission of inability to play this game through more subtle methods.

Whenever there is a news of some Hindus attacking a Christian establishment two things are generally assumed: 1. That there is a wide spread intolerance in Hindus; and 2. That the attack was on practicing religion and not on preaching it. (I would like to reiterate that preaching of one’s religion is no justification to attack it. Attack is morally heinous and from legal view a criminal act. But the distinction of being attacked simply due to practice and due to attempts to convert is important.)

There are repeated assertions from the intelligentsia and Christian religious leaders that there are no attempts to convert. This claim need to be questioned. Not to stop it but to be prepared (from law and order angle) to protect this effort and have a fair estimate of the volatility of the situation any attempts to convert creates in Indian society.

Kaimri is a village of about 1100 families in total, has about 5000 voters. Approximately 50% of the population are Jats, Brahmins, Baniyas etc.; majority in these 50% are Jats. There are about 100 families of other backward castes and about 400 families of Harijans. A friend told me that the scheduled castes (Harijans) in Haryana are divided in two groups: SC-A and SC-B. SC-B primarily consists of relatively more progressive sections in Harijans like jatavs (also called Chamars) in local language. SC-A are relatively more backward in education and economic status. SC-B are more inclined toward Buddhism due to Dalit movement. Usually in rural areas SC-A and SC-B go the divergent ways as the bifurcation happened because of a strong feeling that SC-B are grabbing all reservation opportunities.

The village Kaimri has no Christians at all. Subhash Chander came to Kaimri about 18 month beck after his training as priest was complete (this information is ascertained from a local person and am not absolutely certain about it).

The purpose of construction of the church in such a village does not seem to be practice of religion but preaching and conversion. The likely target population perhaps is SC-A, as the other castes are under the influence of VHP, BD and RSS; and SC-B are influenced by Dalit movement.

Let us remember that the ‘other’ in Rural Haryana is a layered concept. Based on caste, groups of castes and religion. To a Brahmin a ‘Baniya’ is the other; but a Jat is ‘more other’ and a Muslim is ‘even more other’. For a Jat the ahir is the ‘other’, but a Baniya is ‘more other’ and a Muslim is ‘even more other’. The distrust and acrimony rises with the otherness. In such a society any disturbance in the existing situation is likely to produce a reaction. In the majority of people this reaction will be simply a feeling of fear of unknown and vague loss of connectivity. But the situation becomes ripe for VHP etc. to be exploited and in some this vague feeling can be converted into a violent reaction. That is precisely what they want.

The preparations and preaching of Christianity among the SC-A particularly seems to be the immediate occasion of the vandalism. Obviously this would not happen without active involvement of VHP etc. The economic angle may have played a role; as the SCs are likely to be agricultural labour in that village and active conversion attempts may disturb that exploitative economic relationship. This seems to be the anatomy of Kaimri Church vandalism. There are many feeling and forced must be operating at the ground level.

So what could be done to prevent such incidents in the future?

It seems to me that we need to have a nationwide movement to emphasise the individuals’ freedom to choose one’s faith and life. At the moment the rights of the individual are part of the constitution but the social fabric is woven by the family, clan, caste and religion. The communitarians who want to emphasise community based identities and even rights of the communities should realise that this could be used in a negative manner.

The fact of Church attempts to convert should be recognised and the law and order machinery should be prepared to deal with the reaction it will generate. Those who argue that the Church is not into the conversion business should keep in mind Pope John Paul II’s declaration in India that the intention of the Church is to plant the cross in Asia in the new millennium and that the Church sees India as a field for a rich harvest. There is no reason to think that he made these pronouncements non-seriously. He was within his and Christians’ constitutional rights. And this right needs to be protected, even if one thinks it to be morally of dubious value.

But we should also remembers that an average Christian may not agree with the Pope; and may have no desire for converting others to his/her religion. Similarly an average Hindu may not see the activity of conversion as something to be retaliated violently. The media and opinion makers should capitalise on this majority tolerance.

The VHP, RSS and BD are creating a victim mentality in the Hindus. This should be somehow countered. One cannot counter it by denial of conversions but only by accepting the right to preach one’s religion peacefully.

While accepting the constitutional right to propagate one’s religion and convert; we should also realise that morally conversion is a violent act. It also involves gullibility and cheating into a false doctrine, as all religious doctrines are false. It is not an act of rational persuasion but one of motivating the ‘would be convert’ to abandon reason. It is a rationally and morally indefensible act. An interesting argument to this effect is advanced here https://mariawirthblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/open-letter-to-pope-francis/. If one discounts the author’s homilies for Hinduism and her devotion to dubious Hindu God women the letter makes good sense.

The above mentioned open letter to the Pope quotes Mark Twain: “Religion was born when the first con-man met the first fool”. Perhaps Mark Twain is a bit harsh; I would like to change it to “Religion was born when the first con-man met the first gullible person”. In this game of con-men to make fool of others those who call themselves intellectuals have a responsibility to protect the gullible.