Many have heard of how Hindus are persecuting Christians in Orissa, India. In this report an Indian Christian thinker looks at the trouble Hinduism is facing in its homelands by Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi, Author of India: The Grand Experiment.
- On 18 May 2006, the Maoists in Nepal (who practice the precept of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong that political power comes from bullets, not ballots) forced the world’s only “Hindu” nation to discard its Hindu identity in favor of a “secular” one.
- On August 23, 2008, in India’s eastern state of Orissa, a group of 18-20 pro-Christian Maoists armed with AK 47 rifles gunned down revered Hindu leader Swami Laxamananda Saraswati along with his four associates. The Swami had been forcing lower caste Christians to reconvert to Hinduism and had instigated large scale violence against them during December 2007 and January 2008.
- Militant Hindus retaliated to the Swami’s ghastly murder by killing over 40 Christians, injuring hundreds, raping a nun, burning hundreds of homes and churches, and driving approximately 50,000 Christians into jungles and refugee camps.
- Those in the refugee camps pray, but Intelligence Officers suspect that some of those in the jungles are also learning the art of using a rifle. The Maoists had trained 20,000 guerillas before these Christians were driven to the forests. Now, the Maoist ranks may swell with Christian youth who have lost everything at the hands of Hindu arsonists. They have nothing more to lose but much to gain from learning how to get money from officials (who extracts bribes from everyone) and eventually to rob banks (owned by a government which did not prevent the arsonists from looting their homes, businesses and whole villages).
- Pro-Christian Maoists in Orissa have already warned a number of specific Hindu leaders responsible for anti-Christian violence that they are next on their hit list.
- A few hundred “Christian-Maoist” guerillas will change the power-equation in Orissa. By refusing to defend their families the government gives to the Maoists the ethical right to self-defense. However, once they move beyond defense to revenge they destroy the image Christianity has built up by two centuries of humanitarian service and developing democratic institutions of civilized life. For the next generation of Indians, Christian guerillas may define what Christianity means just as terrorists now define Islam.
- Today (on October 31, 2008) the ten million strong women’s wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist – not Maoists) has made public its decision to support the Catholic nun raped by the Hindus.
- (Why would a political party in need of Hindu majority votes stand up for a despised, persecuted minority? It is a principled stand but it is also possible that the Communists are seeing that a social revolution is taking place in Orissa: 50,000 people have chosen to live in jungles and refugee camps rather than reconvert to Hinduism! The Communists may be agreeing with Mahanta Krushna Charan Dash Goswami, President of the Matha Mandir Surakhsya Parishad that Hinduism is being reduced to a minority religion in some pockets of Orissa.)
- At least one good American Christian (presumably, unaware of the Christian-Maoist nexus) has asked his Congressman if he should help Christians in Orissa buy guns.
- In the neighboring state of Chhattisgarh, the Government and the upper caste Hindus tried to create an armed force called “Peace Mission” (Salwa Judum) to counter Maoist insurgency. In March 2007, three hundred armed Maoists retaliated by invading the Police camp with rifles, grenades and petrol bombs. They killed 55 of the 79 “Security” forces, without losing even one of their members.
- Consequently, the Prime Minister of India acknowledged that this growing Maoist revolt has become the “single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.”
- The Maoists have established a significant presence in at least 13 of India’s 28 states. They are recruiting guerillas and terrorizing entire regions to establish a safe haven called “Revolutionary Compact Zone” from Nepal in the north all the way down to Andhra Pradesh in the south. The goal is to build a base for launching a full-scale revolt against India Inc. – the custodian of a corrupt democracy. [see maps (Left) BBC News 2006; (Right) The economist 2006]
Is Armed Revolt against “Shining” India Inevitable?
A democratic India that can send a rocket to the moon is certainly shining. It makes me proud. However, the corrupt culture of bribery in our government, courts, police, education, employment and business makes it incapable of providing equality of opportunity. Upper caste Hindus are the primary perpetrators and beneficiaries of corruption. Hindu asceticism renounces wealth but it espouses a moral philosophy that cannot fight corruption. Intellectuals such as the late Oxford don Nirad Chaudhuri have charged that Hinduism’s venal gods that require appeasement are an important reason why upper caste Hindus corrupted clean institutions built up by British Christians.
In 2004, the BJP led “Hindutva” Government became so proud of India’s sudden economic boom that it tried to fight the General Election on the slogan “India Shining.” But many peasant farmers were committing suicide, because unable to repay their debts they were harassed by banks and money lenders. The peasants shocked the pundits by defeating the BJP-led government and entrusting their future to Sonia Gandhi – an Italian born, Roman Catholic widow of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Mrs. Gandhi did focus some of her attention on the plight of the rural poor, but failed because she had to rely on a corrupt bureaucracy and a creaky political machinery to implement her welfare programs. So far she has not exhibited the strength needed to build a new party that has moral nerves to match her vision.
What do you think the children of a harassed farmer do after he commits suicide? My guess is that in many cases the son accepts the offer of a gun which comes with a promise to change the rotten religio-social “system” responsible for his father’s death. The daughter becomes her brother’s trusted informer.
Journalists have gone into the jungles to meet with the Maoists that killed the Hindu Swami, but the police cannot get to them. India Inc has become so bankrupt (morally and intellectually) that soon it will have to send in the army to crush it’s downtrodden, but it knows that the army’s use would be democracy’s ultimate moral defeat. An imported political system that offers no hope to the poor will lose its right to remain.
From the perspective of the hopelessly poor, India’s secular democracy has already failed. . . But . . . at least some poor think that it is not democracy that needs discarding but Hindu culture which provides no spiritual basis to make democracy work.
The Conversion ControversyThe initial conflict in Orissa was ethnic, not religious. Swami Laxamananda Saraswati succeeded in instigating Tribals to kill Scheduled Caste (Untouchable/Dalit) Christians because the Christians were demanding to be reclassified as Tribals. This would make them eligible for special quotas in educational institutions, jobs, loans, and political office. The Tribals feared that if the Government conceded the Scheduled Castes’ demand then their children would have to compete against better educated Christian children. The Hindu government was insensitive to poor Christians and the Christians were insensitive to the needs of the Tribals who were poorer than them. A Christian leadership confused by a secular sense of social justice and Marxist-leaning Dalit Liberation Theology precipitated the political (non-violent) conflict.
In this non-violent conflict over affirmative action programs, the Swami saw an opportunity to mobilize the Tribals against the Dalit converts to Christ. His agenda was to stop conversions. His motivation was hatred and his method was force. If he were a saint he would have won poor Christians by empathizing with their poverty and need. He would have used his position to reconcile the two groups and fight their common enemy – poverty. He could have championed poor Christians by asking the Government to consider their plight. But blinded by Hindutva ideology he complicated the conflict by injecting the issue of conversion in a battle against poverty. The Western Church supports missionaries to serve poor Hindus but many rich Hindus pay their leaders to harass the poor who convert to Islam and Christianity.
Gandhi, Untouchability and Conversions
When he was a child Mahatma Gandhi’s mother taught him that Uka – the boy who cleaned their lavatories – was “untouchable”. Any accidental contact with him required a cleansing bath. While studying in England, Gandhi experienced the beauty of a different culture, one built on the biblical assumption that human beings were created equal. He was liberated by white families affirming his human dignity.
This “English” Gandhi revolted against inequality when the racial arrogance of white South Africans violated his dignity. He devised his weapon of Satyagraha – passive, non-violent resistance – to use his opponents’ biblical view of human equality against their routine violation of the Bible. The “African” Gandhi did not champion the dignity of the black Africans. To this day Indians in Africa are considered more racists than the whites.
Gandhi liked the biblical ideas of human equality and the dignity of a sweeper, but he could not bring himself to reject the Hindu faith that people were either born unequal due to their karma in previous lives or because Brahma created them unequal to begin with. His ambivalence expressed itself vividly in controversy over conversion:
In 1935, Newspapers reported that in village Kavitha in Ahmedabad (in Gandhi’s native state of Gujarat) the upper caste Hindus had committed horrible atrocities against some “untouchables”. Columbia University educated Untouchable leader, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, had been thinking about conversion for a while. In a Depressed Classes conference in Yeoli in Maharashtra, on October 14, 1935, he made his famous announcement that he was born a Hindu and had no choice, but he will not die a Hindu because he does have a choice. Ambedkar’s resolve initiated a national debate on conversion.
John R. Mott, the American founder of the YMCA, asked Mahatma Gandhi if he thought it was wrong to “preach the Gospel with reference to its acceptance.” The Mahatma responded in his paper Harijan (19 & 26 December, 1936):
Would you, Dr. Mott, preach the Gospel to a cow? Well, some of the ‘untouchables’ . . . can no more distinguish between the relative merits of Islam and Hinduism and Christianity than a cow . . . If you must share [the Gospel] with the Harijans, why don’t you share it with Thakkar Bapa and Mahadev? Why should you go to the ‘untouchables’ and try to exploit this upheaval?
Dr. Ambedkar was not the only one enraged by Mahatma Gandhi’s view of the Dalits. His own follower Jagjivan Ram – a gifted, young, ‘untouchable’ Congressman from Bihar – registered his protest. Gandhi had demonstrated that Hinduism’s caste arrogance was worse than the racial arrogance of white South Africans: It assumes that most of the “untouchable” Hindus are an inherently lower species – like animals. Indeed the Hindu Law of Manu classifies Untouchables as “talking animals”!This prejudice that marred Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy not only continues to this day, but is reinforced each time an educated, upper caste, “secular” Hindu argues that missionaries should not attempt to convert the “Lower Castes.” This condescending attitude drives militant Hindus such as Swami Laxamananda Saraswati to try and save the lower castes from Christian missionaries, if necessary by force. Why should anyone follow a Swami who believes that they are stupid animals, incapable of thinking for themselves and therefore have to be herded into the Hindu fold with a stick?In India and Nepal Marx’s dictum that religion is the opiate of the masses is understood to mean that Hinduism is that opium. That perception is reinforced by an increasing acceptance of Ambedkar’s analysis that Hinduism is the cause of the backwardness of the Backward Castes, Dalits and Tribals.
Why is Christ Losing to Mao?
Chances are that you have never heard that at least some of the “persecuted Christians” in Orissa are Maoists. Some of them killed Hindus and burned their homes in December 2007. You have not been given this information because unfortunately India’s Christian leadership has presented a simplistic picture. That is not to suggest that Christian spokespersons lack integrity. They have misled the world because
(a) Like secular journalists, most Christian leaders have not taken the time to understand poverty, the poor and the growing appeal of Maoism. Therefore, they cannot make sense of what is happening. They describe what they understand.
(b) Some of them are motivated purely by their compassion for the sufferings of fellow-Christians. They do not have the time or the tools to diagnose the deeper disease. (The Church is doing all it can for relief and that deserves support. However, relief without imparting biblical spirituality will create new problems. From all reports most of the Christian victims in Orissa are “carnal” Christians who do not hesitate in using lies and deceit to get a few rupees even in normal times and these are abnormal times when they are in desperate need.)
(c) Some, who know better, talk only about “persecution” either because they are afraid of acknowledging the growing Maoist-Christian connection or because they are out to raise money for the victims and their own organizations. (The Western Church is unlikely to donate money if it knows that Christians have been killing Hindus or that the primary conflict between Dalit Christians and “Hindu” Tribals is not over religion or conversion but over benefits of affirmative action.) Relief workers do need to remain neutral in such crises. But then, like the Red Cross, they must serve both the warring groups. Relief work loses its nobility if it serves one side and misleads donors.
(d) Regrettably, some Christian spokespersons who understand the issues choose not to present the full picture because some of them are also driven by a spirituality of hatred taught by Dalit Liberation Theology. Others may have personal agendas: Some seem to want to promote themselves as champions of “human rights,” and they choose to condemn the “fascist” Hindutva BJP even when it is not responsible in order to please Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to find appointments in national and international forums for Minority Rights. The cumulative result of these tendencies is that:
- Christian leadership has shown little interest in developing understanding. It prefers relief dollars and preaches the socialist idea of “Reservations” (affirmative action) without any discussion of its negative consequences or consideration of better alternatives.
- Christian leaders refuse to debate and defend conversions even when invited to do so by national leaders. They see no need to educate the voters that individual liberty has little meaning if it does not include the right to choose one’s beliefs.
- Christians show no concern for reconciliation: In January 2008, when we discovered that some Christians in Orissa had burnt down some Hindu homes, I suggested to a well-known Christian leader that the relief money that his group was raising should be used for reconciliation: (i) Local Christians should be encouraged to go to the Hindus, apologize, and rebuild their homes with Christian money before rebuilding their own homes. (ii) His organization should consider building a school and a hostel which admits equal number of Hindu Tribals and Christian “Dalits.” The gentleman got so mad at me that he went to some of my friends instigating them against me. Some leaders from his group project themselves as spokesmen for Indian Christians and they have taken a public stand that they will not meet even with sane Hindu leaders. They slander the BJP as a “fascist” party, which has not been true
at least since 1977.
Unfortunately, the failure of Christian leadership goes much deeper: Christ is losing at least some of his followers to Mao because the Church no longer preaches “the Good News to the poor” Their Gospel aims to take souls to heaven but is not bothered whether or not God’s will is being done in India. Some missionaries do specialize in subjects such as elementary education, health, micro-financing and linguistics, but no one seems to know anything about the biblical worldview that liberated Western nations out of poverty, oppression and corruption, giving them relatively just, clean and sensitive governments.
Perhaps the most tragic fact is that at a time like this when Indians are killing and dying in search of human equality, there is a growing group of American missionaries teaching the upper caste followers of Christ not to worship with lower caste converts. This unthinking forum is importing American racism into the Indian Church. It believes in segregating churches along caste lines because it thinks that the Great Command to love our neighbors as ourselves can be superseded by the obligation to make disciples of the Brahmin nation (people-group). They don’t believe that it is necessary for believers to be “one” as Jesus prayed in John 13.
Secular democracy has failed but there is no forum in India that teaches biblical economic and political thought. The Maoists overtook Nepal because several decades ago the Government of North Korea donated libraries to every school. No one bothered to see what those books were teaching. In as much as Marxism is a Christian heresy, it does do some good. But just as the Chinese Marxists are searching for a satisfying world and life view, India needs literature that will expound a reforming worldview and spirituality. Then our universities, colleges, seminaries, pulpits, radios and television will communicate a message that makes sense even to the Maoists.
The fact that militant Hinduism is giving birth to Christian Maoists will thrill the proponents of Dalit Liberation Theology. But is this something to celebrate? Medieval Europe had plenty of “Christian” knights who dedicated their weapons and skills to the Church. Most of them became such nuisance that Popes sent them away on Crusades to kill and die – away from their homelands. It took Europe centuries to bring physical might under moral right. India inherited a professional army, police and bureaucracy from the British. These institutions have degenerated. The Maoists killed the Swami only because the Orissa Government did not bring him under the rule of law. In choosing not to protect innocent Christians the Government failed again. That deserves condemnation and a resolve to transform. But is the government’s failure good enough reason to exchange civil government and rule of law with the rule of guns and gangs? A civil war could be justified when the Government itself kills the poor who agitate for affirmative actions or for their right to convert. But under present circumstances, it is foolish to destroy the magnificent institutions that the Christian political thought, spirituality and wisdom gave us through the British. The Church should be training its youth to reform and run the institutions of justice that have been corrupted.
Christ and Mao have come together in Orissa because people oppressed for thousands of years have decided to stand up against the Hindu socio-economic system. One brother may be choosing Christ, while the other Mao. The Maoist brother gets angry when Hindus persecute his brother who chose Christ. The Christian should love his Maoist brother, but cannot follow his brother in hating his oppressor. He has to follow Christ and find supernatural power to repay good for evil. The Church has to equip a Christian to love both the Hindu oppressor as well as his Maoist brother and help them both to find the true Savior of the world.
The Maoists are not dumb. They know that in the short run their violence will drive investors and industrialists away from Eastern India and in the long run they will have no option but to join the democratic mainstream. Bullets do give political power, but they also take it away, quickly and abruptly. In the long run they establish either chaos or authoritarianism as the order of the day. That precludes the possibility of establishing peace – the pre-requisite to prosperity. The Maoists need to know how they can help build a culture of human equality and dignity, freedom and justice, honesty and service, education and development, science and technology, peace and prosperity where guns remain under the authority of moral law. India will seek the Kingdom of God when it sees that the historical track record points to Christ, not Mao.
© 2008 Vishal Mangalwadi. (http://www.vishalmangalwadi.com/). Reprinted with permission.