Christmas in the time of fear, violence unleashed by Hindu right-wing groups
New Delhi, Dec 23: This Christmas season, the red-coloured dress, synonymous with Santa Claus, looks little pale. There is an unspeakable pain in the voices of carol singers during the midnight mass services ahead of the biggest festival of Christians in India. The Christmas trees, in spite of being lit with so many colourful lights, are pretty dim.
The above description is not some imaginary themes of a hallucinating mind, but an "unspoken" reality depicting the fear, anguish, helplessness and anger (at times) felt by the community members across the country, when they should have been actually celebrating Christmas carefree, as the festival demands so.
Nobody is talking about what has gone "terribly wrong" with the community members in the country during the festival time. From Christian religious leaders to politicians, fear seems to have choked voices to protest against the frequent attacks against the community members by Hindu right-wing groups.
In mid-December, report came in about an attack on several Christians, including 10 priests, right outside a police station in Satna district of Madhya Pradesh by alleged Bajrang Dal activists.
Later, members of the Hindu right wing group also torched a car owned by a victim. Reports say the brutal attack took place over alleged conversion of Hindus to Christianity.
Except for a few media reports on the incident, nobody, neither the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre nor in the state or any opposition parties, including the Congress, took up the matter to give justice to the victims.
The silence on the matter emboldened the members of Hindu right-wing groups, who after attacking and maiming Muslims seems to be targeting another minority community in the country--the Christians.
Thus days after the horrific episode in MP, in Uttar Pradesh, again ruled by the BJP, another Hindu right-wing group, this time the Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), sent letters to schools in Aligarh asking them not to celebrate Christmas. The group alleged that the festival would be a step towards "forced conversions" of Hindu students.
After MP, a Hindu right-wing group attacked Christians in Rajasthan. Rajasthan again is under the rule of BJP. On Tuesday evening, protesters allegedly belonging to the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) disrupted a pre-Christmas celebration in Rajasthan's Pratapgarh town.
According to reports, members of the VHP barged inside the room, where the event was underway, and asked the devotees to immediately end it. The attackers also vandalised belongings of the Christian people.
The grouse of protesters against the revellers was once again conversion of Hindus into Christianity. In both the attacks, there are several similarities. First, all the alleged attackers are the members of Hindu right groups and they owe their allegiance to the BJP.
Second, both the attacks took place in BJP-ruled states. Third, the attacks on Christians took place under the pretext of religious conversion. In both MP and Rajasthan, it's not the victims, but the alleged attackers who first went to the police alleging religious conversion and led to the arrest of several "victims". The members of the right-wing groups, however, never furnished any proof to substantiate their claims.
In both the attacks, it's the poor people belonging to the Christian community who were being targeted by the majority Hindu groups. The violence unleashed against the Christians looks akin to what the Muslim community has faced since the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre in 2014.
Fortunately, the Christian victims did not have to go through the horrific fate of the likes of Pehlu Khan and teenager Junaid, who were brutally beaten to deaths in two separate incidents in the name of cow protection by Hindu vigilantes, gau rakshaks (protectors of cows).
Amid growing attacks on Christians, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), the apex decision making body of the Catholic Church in the country, told The Indian Express in an interview that "the country is being polarised due to religious affiliations" and the community members are "losing confidence in the government".
"From the point of Christian community, this whole incident of attack on priests and seminaries in Satna and the state government's move to file cases against the priests, arresting the poor and the innocent instead of finding the culprits, do not help us to keep our confidence in the government intact. We are losing our confidence in the government," the Cardinal said.
"I agree such incidents can happen in a big country... But how do you evaluate the strength and stand of the government? It is the subsequent action and the legal protection are what matter.
"The country is being divided on the basis of religious belief. It is bad in a democratic country. I want my country to be united in a secular fabric. But now, this country is being polarised due to religious affiliations. We should fight against it," he added.
Immanuel Nehemiah, a Bangalore-based pastor, condemned the collective silence surrounding the attacks on Christians. The attacks are mostly confined to poor and marginalised, and there is hardly any murmur against such violent acts orchestrated by the members belonging to various Hindu groups.
"What explains the silence on these unacceptable atrocities? The silence has come not just from the government and society at large but also from the churches and Christians, who are in better positions. The answer lies in the fact that Christians in India are predominantly from the lower strata of the Indian society except for some in the community, who till today justify caste like the Hindus," Nehemiah wrote in a column for DailyO.
The latest attacks and bullying on Christians in India --who constitute just over two percent of the country's 1.2-billion-plus population--remind us of the days which followed after the horrific killings of the Australian Christian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two minor sons, Philip and Timothy, in Odisha in 1999.
Staines and his children were burnt to death by a gang of Hindu Bajrang Dal fundamentalists while sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Odisha's Kendujhar district. The incident left a deep scar on the minds of Christians in the country.
The loss of confidence in the government, as stated by the Cardinal, to protect the minorities, is a clear indictment against the Modi government. Under the BJP regime, it is clear that the extreme Hindu nationalists are hell-bent to turn the country into a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu country) by killing and maiming anyone who is a minority.