The Church could play a major role in reforming the Maoists and blessing the nation, provided it is open to a spiritual and theological renewal. In order to play a proactive role in this matter the Church will need the courage to embrace Maoists, which will require owning the moral responsibility for the murders the Maoists have committed in defense of the Church. Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi proposes and thinks that, some Christian leaders need to go the Ashram where the Swami was killed, fast, pray and mourn for 24 hours for that sin and call upon the Maoists to repent. By. Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi.
“If conversion activities are allowed unhampered, this will ignite a mighty reaction from the Hindus. Shourie characterizes this as a forecast?”
IndiaToday, January 17, 2000
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary . . . Do it while you are still with him on the way . . . The Lord Jesus, Matthew 5:25
For Indian Christians, Christmas ’08 could become bloody like the original Good Friday. On November 15, about 100,000 Hindus issued an ultimatum that if the Government fails to arrest the [Christian-Maoist] murderers of Swami Laxamananda Saraswati then Hindus would enforce a state-wide Bandh (closure) in Orissa on December 25. (Translation: Murderous mobs, not Santa Claus, will visit Orissa this Christmas. If police interferes, then anger will be exported to the rest of India.)
The Church in India may experience a level of persecution no one thinks could happen in a democracy. An important reason for this is that no individual or forum has made it a national priority to pursue Jesus’ advice to make peace with one’s adversary while there is still time. Many Christian leaders have invested much time and energy in responding to the Orissa crisis. Some have negotiated peace at private levels. There are beautiful stories of true discipleship, but there has been no Esther-like leader to turn away the tidal wave of expected tsunami.
Different Stars Are Aligning this Christmas
Arun Shourie is a highly respected Hindu writer. In the 1980s, he headed India‘s then largest Newspaper chain, Indian Express, and five years ago was a Minister for Disinvestment in the Pro-Hindutva BJP Government. (“Hindutva” wants Hinduism(s) to be India‘s state religion(s).) In his book, Harvesting Our Souls (2000), Mr. Shourie shared his assessment that some Hindu forces were ready to launch a major, violent attack on Christians to try and stop conversions. He was not issuing a threat. He was, he said, making a forecast. Only the ignorant would ignore Shourie. He knows what he is talking about:
· For three years Shourie had predicted a major attack on the Sikhs before it came in 1984: the Hindus killed thousands of Sikhs and burnt their homes, businesses and Gurudwaras (During those riots they also burnt down the community my wife and I had founded.)
· Shourie had predicted a massive attack on Indian Muslims which came following the demolition of the Babri Mosque in December 1992.
· Shourie’s writings played a decisive role in the bloody riots that followed V. P. Singh’s 1991 decision to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission to grant Reservations to the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and “Reservation” or Affirmative Action is a critical issue in Orissa conflict.
· Several factors delayed Shourie’s forecast re the massacre of Christians: three important reasons are:
(a) The BJP was ruling the Central Government and he was a part of it. I would like to believe that ministers like him would not have permitted major riots during their reign.
(b) In any case, soon after his forecast the Hindutva movement began to be demoralized by the Anti-Hindu party – the BSP – and Udit Raj’s daring step to initiate a mass conversion movement in November 2001.
But this Christmas, devilish stars seem to be aligning for Shourie’s forecast to come true:
; Conversions out of Hinduism have become a social revolution. At the epicenter of the recent violence against Christians, as many as 30% of the population has quit Hinduism to become Christians. Many have also become Maoists.
(ii) The Ambedkarite, Maoist and Christian campaigns of the last decade have made Hindus restless and insecure.
(iii) The terror attacks in Mumbai have set those restless hearts on fire and many Hindus feel the need to show their anger and their strength.
(iv) The Church happens to be both the softest target as well as the biggest long term threat: No one is converting to Islam; Buddhism is a minor irritation; the army will eventually handle the Maoists.
(v) Christianity, they think, can only be stopped by mobs since anti-conversion laws, police and courts have already failed and the army cannot be sent against evangelists and social workers.
(vi) It has become a political necessity for Hindutva to re-invent its hard line image to try and win the ’09 General Elections.
(vii) Christian leadership’s response to the Orissa crisis has given to Hindutva the perfect excuse it needs to launch its bloody crusade to try and stop conversions throughout the nation.
The last of the above three – the inadequate Christian response to the Orissa crisis – is the primary concern of this article. I repeat this is not the cause of the anticipated attack, it is the excuse.
Was Orissa Violence “Religious Persecution?”
Phrase “Religious Persecution” suggests that someone is being abused for choosing, practicing or propagating a faith. None of these triggered the violence in Orissa in December 2007 or August 2008, even though conversion is the underlying issue and the innocent do have the right to describe their unjust suffering as “persecution.”
An important (though not the only) source of violence that began in December 2007 was the fact that in certain districts of Orissa the Dalit or Scheduled Caste (SC) converts to Christ had become an economic threat to the Scheduled Tribe (ST) Animists. For example:
· The law prevents non-Tribals from buying lands belonging to Tribals. If a law is unjust, mechanisms exist to change that law. But individual Christians were using fraudulent means to get lands they were not entitled to own.
· Laws governing Affirmative Action programs allow an ST (i.e., Animist) to become a Christian or a Muslim and retain the benefits of these programs, but the law does not allow a SC (Dalit) to become a Christian and also take the benefits meant to bring SCs out of their backwardness. The law appears to be unjust and the matter is in the Supreme Court.
· However, the (debatable) injustice had little practical bearing because the vast majority of SC converts to Christ remain Hindus on paper and therefore are able to take the benefits of the quota system called “Reservations.”
· The SC leaders in some parts of Orissa decided not to wait for the Court verdict but launch an agitation demanding to be reclassified as STs. They believe that to classify them as SC was an injustice. The ST status would entitle them to several benefits (e.g. land rights) that they would not get even if the Supreme Court were to change the laws governing Reservations for SCs. This “Christian” agitation inspired by a secular sense of identity and socialist economics became a threat to the STs who feared that if SCs are reclassified as STs, then, better educated Christian children will get the admissions, scholarships, jobs, bank loans, lands and other opportunities that come to them at present.
· Christian leaders allowed this socialist approach to end poverty to turn into a fight for entitlements between two communities (SCs and STs). In this conflict Swami Laxamananda Saraswati saw an opportunity to get some traction for his anti-conversion agenda. Let me explain:
How do you keep hundreds of thousands of people in the Hindu fold as “low caste” and “untouchables?” It is not easy to appease so many slaves. The Tribals are Animists, not Hindus. Most Tribals see themselves as victims of socio-economic dominance of Hindus. In this part of Orissa, however, their immediate threat came not from High Caste Hindus but from Hindus-turned-Christian Dalits. This enabled the Swami to mobilize the Tribals against the converts. The Tribals responded to him favorably for several reasons including,
(a) The followers of Christ had been insensitive to Tribals who are poorer and less educated than Christians and
(b) Getting rid of Christians enables Tribals to possess their properties and take their jobs.&nb
A genuine “saint” would have tried to win poor Christians into the Hindu fold by empathizing with their poverty and need. He would have used his position to reconcile the warring groups and fight their common enemy – poverty. In order to reconvert people to Hinduism a Hindu “saint” would have championed poor Christians by asking the Government to consider their plight. But those are Christian ideas of sainthood. The WesternChurch supports missionaries to serve poor Hindus, but sadly, many rich Hindus pay their leaders to harass the poor who convert to Islam and Christianity.
Be that as it may, Christian leaders played into the Swami’s hands and made his strategy work. On Christmas Day 2007, their political conflict turned bloody. The Swami alleged that a group of Christians attacked him. Hindus believed him and responded by killing Christians and burning their homes and churches.
Is it possible that Christians may have attacked the Swami in December 2007? Christians have admitted attacking his chauffer and investigators have confirmed that during those riots Christians did kill a few Hindus/Tribals and burn some Hindu/Animist homes. Therefore, it is not unthinkable that some Christians may, in fact, have targeted the Swami. (This is not to say that Hindu leaders and police officers do not fabricate false cases to harass, arrest, and even kill innocent people. I was arrested a few times myself. Once, a Superintendent of Police – an IPS officer – spent two hours telling me that he would personally kill me if I did not cancel a public prayer meeting. Responsible public figures have claimed that the Indian police killed hundreds of innocent Sikhs in cold blood in Punjab in fake “encounters with terrorists.”) So, while it is possible that the accusers are lying, the unfortunate truth remains that religious “conversion” has not resulted in a great deal of moral transformation of the Dalits. For example, when two Hindu priests objected to Dalit Christians slaughtering a cow, the converts beat up the Hindu priests!
Fresh violence erupted after 23 August 2008, because a gang of 20-40 people armed with AK 47 rifles, pistols and grenades went into a girls’ Ashram and killed the Swami and four of his associates. Maoists, who are a dreaded force in that area, took the responsibility for murdering the Swami in defense of helpless Christians. The Hindus held Christians responsible for the murder partly because the Swami (apparently) had no history of a quarrel with the Maoists.
On 16th October, Mr. Arun Ray, the Inspector General of Police said in an interview with the Press Trust of India that there was evidence that “Maoists were given money to train certain youth of a particular community [i.e., Christian] to eliminate Saraswati.”
So, did Nero set Rome on fire and then blame the Christians to mobilize mobs against them? Many Christians believe that history may be repeating itself in Orissa because there is evidence that Hindu gangs had been brought from Gujarat at least for December ’07 violence. Whatever the truth, my point is that most Hindus did not attack Christians for practicing or propagating their faith but because they believed that Christians had eliminated a Hindu leader who was serving Tribals and standing up in defense of the poor. Militant Hindus needed an excuse and Christians or Maoists gave it to them. This leads me to the heart of the matter:
Who is Responsible for the Swami’s Murder: Individuals or a Community?
Normally individuals who go out to murder and those who support them directly are responsible for a crime. The law has to deal with those individuals. Sometimes, however, a crime is committed on behalf of a community. For example, two Sikh bodyguards killed Mrs. Indira Gandhi even though they had no personal quarrel with her. They killed her on behalf of the Sikh community. No Sikh leader may have asked them to do so, but ordinary Sikhs celebrated the murder by distributing sweets to their neighbors, just as many Muslims danced on the streets when terrorists struck the TwinTowers in New York.
When crimes are committed on behalf of a community then the community has to respond appropriately. The Sikhs in 1984 and the Muslims on 9/11/2001 responded inappropriately. Sikh saints and Muslim Mullahs did not come out publicly mourning Mrs. Gandhi’s murder or the attack on innocent civilians in New York.
Communal crimes have dimensions that go beyond legal matters. While lawyers and courts continue to have vital roles, community crimes require that community leaders take the responsibility to lead. Sikh and Muslim leaders failed their community and innocent Sikhs and Muslims paid for crimes committed by a few
· In the present case, the Hindus and Tribals hold the Christian community responsible for the Swami’s murder because the Swami was not killed for a private quarrel. He was killed in part for defending the socio-economic interests of poor Tribals, threatened by a Christian community that had organized itself to harm the interest of the poor, to take what belongs to the Tribals.
· Christians have not mourned his murder committed on their behalf but have gone on to condemn Hindus, the police and the government as fascists. This is building up the volcanic pressure that is expected to erupt on Christmas Day.
· The Hindus have reasons to be upset that Christian spokesmen have represented them as monsters in order to mislead national and global Christian community into supporting a group of Christians who are bent on harming poor Tribals.
· The Hindus fear that at least some unscrupulous Christian leaders would raise money in the name of relief but pass it on to Maoists to murder more Hindus.
Why Do the Maoists Support Christians?
For nearly a century, Communists of many shades persecuted Christians wherever they could. Consequently, our generation grew up on stories such as Tortured for Christ and perceived all Communists as enemies of the Gospel. That Communism is virtually dead. In Nepal and in India the Maoists believe that Hinduism is the opium of the masses.
According to journalist Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri, the latest amended draft of the Maoist Constitution in India calls for a total boycott of sacred symbols of Tribal worship such as stones, trees and animals as well as boycott of Hindu religious epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana. “The Maoists” she says, “have called for action against those who propagate such religious sentiments or popularise such epics.”
Besides launching a Jihad against Animism and Hinduism, the Maoists are also active in supporting evangelists. At times, Maoists escort evangelists into remote villages where police officers are afraid to go. They summon everyone to hear the Gospel. The evangelists may show a film such as the “Jesus Film”. Half-way through the film the Maoists would stop the film and give a lecture on Maoism. Then they would resume the film and ask an evangelist to give Alter Call. Following a fellowship meal the evangelists would be escorted back to their base! I have heard at least one credible report that Christians and some Maoists spent 2 days together fasting and praying
Christian leaders have not reported these stories to their supporters because (a) many of them can’t make sense of what they are hearing and (b) they are also embarrassed by the fact that their mission is supported by “terrorists.” What are they to do?
So, what exactly is happening?
1. At the simplest level, Maoists and the evangelists may come from the same ethnic group (caste or tribe) and may even be related. It is not unusual for one brother to follow Mao and the other to follow Christ.
2. Many Maoists accept the Ambedkarite belief that not Capitalism but Hinduism is the root of India‘s backwardness. Since everyone cannot follow Maoists into jungles, the least Maoists want people to do is to get out of the socio-religious systems that have enslaved them.
3. The Maoists know that the Marxist economic theory has failed. Like the Communists in China and Nepal, they suspect that Christianity has something to do with the relative success of the West, even if neither the evangelist nor the Jesus film can explain to them what Christ has to do with the West’s incredible progress. Therefore,
4. Maoists have invited some Christian agencies to start schools and community development projects in their villages. They have given protection as well as practical support to Christians. These relationships have tremendous redemptive potential. The following anecdotes illustrate the changing face of Communism:
5. China: Recently, I participated in a secular conference in a Western nation along with several Chinese scholars. The eldest Chinese professor was also a senior member of the ruling Communist Party in China. O
n the last full day of this secular conference he asked for and was baptized by his Chinese friends. He told us that before coming for this conference he had started formal discussions within his party to open up to religion.
6. India: For decades the Communist parties in India had identified the Congress Party as their Enemy # 1 and the West as their Enemy #2. Four years ago, they voted in favor of making Mrs. Sonia Gandhi – an Italian born, Roman Catholic woman – the Prime Minister of India. Why did they do so?
Obviously, many factors favored that decision, but for me the most amazing explanation came from an Indian software engineer who called from Chicago. “You do not know me, Dr. Mangalwadi,” he said, “but I have tracked you down because I have interesting news for you. Several years ago I was working for a software company in Hyderabad and I used to be in and out of the Parliament House in Delhi for work. I bought 70 copies of your book Missionary Conspiracy: Letters to a Postmodern Hindu” and gave them to the Members of Parliament that I met.
“Now I work for a US Company and I was back in the Parliament House on behalf of this Company. I ran into Mr. [xyz], a General Secretary of a Communist Party. He asked me, ‘Are you the gentleman who gave me a copy of the letters to Arun Shourie?’
“When I told him, I was, he said, ‘You know it was because of that book that we decided to support Sonia Gandhi. That book told us how good Christianity has been for India and we thought may be, as a Christian she too will be good for our country.'”