The Hindus, the state Government and the nation needs peace in Orissa and the Lord Jesus has asked his disciples to be peace-makers. Therefore, the Church must move beyond relief, evangelism and human rights to an aggressive mission of making peace by Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi.
During the Hindu-Christian conflict in Orissa, almost 4,500 houses were burnt and 50,000 people were displaced from their homes, fields and work. These people have to be housed and fed. Therefore relief is necessary.
However, the victims cannot return to rebuild their homes and work unless some communal harmony is re-established. The latter requires peace-making.
The Church and the NGO’s involved in relief should invite some high profile Hindu leaders and groups to donate money for relief and peace-making (see below) and to personally go to the affected villages to distribute relief money to victims of all faiths and help re-establish peace.
Just Peace is a pre-condition for education, infra-structural and industrial development and economic progress of all communities.
Conversion: The fact that 50,000 people have chosen to live in jungles and refugee camps rather than “reconvert” to Hinduism shows that these people find Hinduism enslaving and oppressive.
The Government of Orissa needs to respect their right to choose their faith.
Three forces are opposed to conversions: The Sangh Parivar, the secular media and the Liberal Christians. Three groups see conversion as essential to liberation: Maoists (see the “Least Told Story”), Ambedkarites and biblical Christians. Maoists along with the Marxists of various shades see Hinduism as the opiate of the people in India and Nepal; Ambedkarites believe that Brahminism is the cause of India’s backwardness; and the Bible teaches that false deities, doctrines and demons enslave, while truth liberates. Therefore, these three groups want everyone to have the right to seek truth.
However, the two opposing perceptions make Conversion a controversial topic. Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, the Hindu leader murdered by the Maoists, had a right to teach that conversion is wrong and ought to be stopped. However, the Government had a responsibility to ensure that the pro-conversion and anti-conversion activities are carried on with civility; without coercion or inducements. The Government did not use the law to restrain him, so the Maoists did it illegally – although in line with their perception of what is morally permissible.
Reservations: Whatever one thinks about the affirmative action programs known as Reservations, the fact remains that the Government can eliminate an important source of conflict in Orissa by choosing to treat the Scheduled Castes the same way it treats the Scheduled Tribes – i.e. by giving them the right to choose their faith and remain a part of their caste, deriving whatever “Reservation” benefits the law gives to their caste. Reservations may be a bad idea (and in principle, I don’t like the policy), but if they are a part of the official remedy for backwardness, then they need to be implemented justly, not as a means of promoting Brahminical social order.
Conversion is a Human Rights issue and Reservation for Scheduled Caste Christians has become a Justice issue (even a bad policy has to be implemented justly.) All India Christian Council (AICC) has sought to champion both of these issues (even though at times it talks of Reservations as a Human Rights issue). One problem with AICC is that each time a national debate on conversion is called for AICC backs out of it on the ground that the Constitution guarantees the right to propagate one’s religion. The reality is that since religious tolerance, i.e. the freedom to choose one’s faith, is not a part of our traditionally oppressive family, caste, religious or social ethos, a national debate on conversion has to take place. The society has to resolve whether it will practice tolerance or bigotry.
Some Christian leaders are suggesting that the only thing needed in Orissa is to make true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ through house churches. Indeed, reports from Orissa suggest that for many, religious conversion has meant merely a change of religious label but not a straightening of moral crookedness. The new converts are reported to have no qualms about cheating their tribal neighbors, the government, the NGOs, and the Church. This is said to be an important reason why tribals hate Scheduled Caste converts to Christ. I tend to believe some of these shameful reports and therefore I have no doubt that a huge influx of relief money without training in biblical godliness will create fresh problems and will discredit the name of Christ.
Even if one rejects the idea that house churches are more important than church buildings, there is no doubt that it is far more important to build godly disciples than to rebuild burnt down churches. PEACE-MAKING
In the name of a Revolution, the Maoists are attracting young people and threatening “peace” because for thousands of years our people have been enslaved under an unjust and oppressive social order. There was peace, but the kind that exists in a cemetery: where no one makes a noise or creates a conflict. Rhetoric of “Revolution” attracts because our social order does need transformation.
However, a full-fledged Maoist-Army conflict will make it difficult to continue relief, development, and pursuit of human rights or disciple-making. If Maoists murder more Hindu leaders in defense of the Church, then the church will pay for it in many parts of India. Therefore, in its own interest, if not in obedience to the Lord, the Church needs to devise aggressive and sincere strategies for establishing just peace in violence prone areas of Orissa.
It is tempting to think that we may have peace if conversions are stopped and all energies are focused on serving the poor. The reality is that many in the Sangh Parivar dislike Christian service to the poor as much as they hate pure evangelism. Some of them think that pure evangelism is ineffective therefore harmless. It is Christian service that is dangerous because it attracts the poor to Christ. It is hard to see things the way the Hindus see them because Hinduism has a genuine difficulty in understanding Christian service. The Hindu philosophy of karma and caste prevented Hinduism from developing a tradition
of service from its own internal spiritual resources. (The service that Hindus do have now is largely imitative.)
A credible start for peace-making mission will require a public apology for the murder of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati by pro-Christian Maoists. The Church has condemned the murder, but that condemnation comes across as hypocritical. The fact is that the murder was committed on behalf of the Christian community, even if no Christian asked for it. It is natural for Hindus to ask “Why do the Maoists love you so much that they will go out and kill for you?”
Even if every Christian persecuted by the Swami condemned the murder sincerely, that condemnation would imply condemning the murderers. Yet, the murderers, even if none of them had anything to do with the Church, stood up for the Church, therefore, the Church needs to own them as our own misguided children (see the “Least Told Story”). Since the Maoists feel the pain of poverty, oppression and corruption most intensely, no one can establish peace without involving their participation in peace-making.
Practical strategies for peace-making will need to be developed by those on the ground. The following suggestion is meant only to start us thinking: After apologizing to for the murder of the Swami, the Church should ask the Hindu community, including the BJP and the RSS, to donate Rs. One Crore (i.e. ten million) to establish an educational fund for the children left orphaned by the riots. A part of this money should be kept in the name of individual children in banks as Fixed Deposits and the rest should be kept for scholarships for university and vocational training in a Trust consisting of eminent Hindus and Christians, who will manage the trust to promote communal peace and harmony.
The Hindus, the state Government and the nation needs peace in Orissa and the Lord Jesus has asked his disciples to be peace-makers. Therefore, the Church must move beyond relief, evangelism and human rights to an aggressive mission of making peace.
Copyright 2008 Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi (www.vishalmangalwadi.com). Printed with permission.