Christmas May Become (Bloody) Good Friday in India (Continued)

7.      Orissa: All observers are aware that various Communist parties and forums are visiting Orissa and issuing statements in favor of "persecuted Christians." Is it just because the elections are around and they are fishing in troubled waters? Some of them may be doing nothing more than that. But it is also possible that like their counterparts in China, Indian Communists and Maoists are also looking for their soul – a religious worldview that will save their souls and emancipate India from her shackles.  


Several Christians have said to me that the news that a growing nexus is emerging between some Maoists and Christians should not be made public as that add fuel to the fires. That risk is genuine. But the larger problem is our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is right when he says that the Maoist movement has become the single biggest internal security threat in India. For a while, it is likely to become a problem bigger than Islamic terrorism. The Maoists are creating a Compact Revolutionary Zone in Eastern India from Nepal all the way down to Kerala to launch a national revolution. The army will have to engage with this problem. But crushing our youth who really care for issues of justice and poverty will be a moral defeat for Indian democracy. A Spiritually strong and intellectually informed Church can redeem the situation, while a carnal Church will be corrupted and destroyed by the Maoists. 


The Maoists will not go into the arms of Hindu saints but they may listen to thoughtful, courageous and godly Christians. 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. As I will propose below, I think 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. 



Why Must the Church Make Peace with Her Adversaries?


Our Lord's injunction:

I have no reason to doubt the Maoists that they killed the Swami in defense of the Christian community. Police says it has evidence that Christians collected money to pay Maoists to train some Christians and to accompany them on their mission to murder.


These assertions may not be proven for years, but given poor moral standards of the Church in these parts of Orissa, the Hindus already believe the police. No Christian has, as yet, offered an explanation for the murder better than the police has. However, some Christians of great integrity are conducting private inquiry to find out if some Christians were involved in the murder. I believe these Christians will seek truth in this matter, wherever it leads. Some Christian leaders have done good work for relief, others have (no doubt) misappropriated funds meant for relief the sad part is that we have had no Desmond Tutu focused on Truth and Reconciliation.


The Hindus have already acted on their belief that Christians planned and executed the murder along with the Maoists, and now they seem ready to launch a historic "crusade" which had been planned before Orissa was on the radar. So, what should the Church do? The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-25:


"If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary . . . Do it while you are still with him on the way…"


The Moral of a Biblical Tragedy


"Christian-Maoists" some friends protest "are at best a handful of black sheep, why should we take them seriously?" The problem is that it was a small group Benjamites in Gibeah who raped and killed the Concubine in Judges 19. That small crime led to the massacre of virtually the entire tribe of the Benjamites because instead of mourning an evil committed by a few of their wicked men they practiced tribal loyalty.  


Christian leaders have acted more or less like the Benjamite leaders who did not know that in Judeo-Christian tradition leading God's people involves taking responsibility for their moral health and dealing with wickedness. These leaders should not murmur if Hindus decide to discipline their morally undisciplined followers. Hindutva can match Maoist brutality since it has never shown much interest in cultivating "godly" followers.   


A Lesson from Contemporary History


Christian "leaders" who think that leadership role does not require them to inquire if some of their followers may have murdered the Swami are asking the government to prove to their satisfaction that some Christians were involved in this crime. This is not different then the Taliban Government in Afghanistan. When President Bush asked them to arrest Osama bin Laden for the attack of 9/11, the Taliban asked him to prove that Osama was responsible. Well, some Hindus are planning to respond like President Bush.     


What Must the Church Do to Initiate Peace and Reconciliation?


Since the Swami's murder has a community dimension, a group of Christian leaders need to take moral responsibility for the crime committed on their behalf and go to the Jalespeta Ashram where the Swami was murdered.  They should spend 24-hours in fasting, mourning and praying as an act of penance for the sins of the Maoists (some of whom may have been members of a Church at some time). Through the national and international media they should call upon everyone to repent who has killed the Swami or other Hindus/Tribals. Following a season of vicarious repenting and mourning Christian leaders should focus on moral transformation of the Church and call upon some national leaders, public intellectuals and celebrities to help bring about reconciliation and peace.


The Church could ask national leaders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Arun Shourie, Arjun Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sitaram Yechuri, Ratan Tata and celebrities such as Amitabh Bachhan to go to Orissa to meet with the representatives of the Government, Oriya Christians, Hindus, Tribals and the Maoists to initiate a process of reconciliation. Some Hindu leaders may choose to apologize for the violence committed by the Hindus and offer compensation to Christian families who lost loved ones. They could be encouraged to create a fund for the children orphaned in previous riots and managed by a Reconciliation Committee.


Church leaders should obtain from the government an assurance of safe passage for the Maoists to be able to meet with them first privately and then to organize meetings between the Government, national leaders and the Maoists to initiate a healing process and addressing the issues of poverty, corruption and inequality.


Christian leaders should also meet with the leaders of Dalit Christians, Tribals and the Government, to find either a resolution to the demand of Reservations for poor Christians or find credible alternatives to help them out of their poverty (e.g. establishment of good schools, colleges, technical education, universities and industries).


"Why should the Church repent for a murder it did not commit or ask for?"


Why did Jesus die for the sins that he did not commit? If Jesus could take our sin upon him, surely Christian leaders can consider taking the sins of the Maoists (who acted on behalf of the Church) upon themselves to bring forgiveness, healing, reconciliation and peace.


The Maoists have loved Christians enough to go out and kill on their behalf. Now the Church needs to love the Maoists enough to embrace them and reform them. It is foolish to see them as enemies. They are rejecting Hinduism for Marxist-Ambedkarite reasons. Some of them have been helping frontline evangelists and Christian service missions. They have threatened to kill more Hindu leaders and have released their hit list. There are credible reports that following the recent riots many Christian youth have joined them. Their actions will thrust the church and the nation into a far bigger mess. Therefore, both biblically and pragmatically it is necessary for the Church to become a proactive peace-maker even if no one's job description requires them to do so. 


The Church has condemned the murder of the Swami and the Hindus have dismissed those condemnations as hypocrisy.  Condemning the murder implies condemning those who risked the gallows in order to defend Christians whom neither the Government nor the Church was able to protect. Condemnation appears hypocritical to the Hindus and alienates the Maoists who have rejected Hinduism and are in search of a new home.


Public repentance and mourning for the murders would imply owning the murderers, while disowning the murder. It could give to the Church a unique opportunity to embrace Marxists of various kinds and seek to reform or educate them. The Church cannot approve of the violence, but it cannot establish peace without embracing the Maoists as Christ embraced sinners and social outcasts.


In embracing and owning the Maoists the Church would not do anything different than what the Hindus and the Congress did in embracing say Subhash Chandra Bose or Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Both Bose and Congress opposed British Raj. Bose attempted to kill the British; the Congress was commitment to non-violence. Nevertheless, the Congress chose to honor him and helped rehabilitate his army. India Inc has driven Maoists into jungles. The Church can serve the nation by bringing them back into mainstream by embracing them and talking to them and finding creative solutions to their just grievances.



Is this proposal biblical?

 Vicarious repentance and atonement are not significant dimensions of contemporary "evangelical" theology, but they are very biblical. 


Exodus 32: 30-32: The next day Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written."  


Exodus 34: 8-9  Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. "O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes," he said, "then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance." 


Job 1: 4-5  His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.&quo

t; This was Job's regular custom. 


Daniel 9: 1-6  In the first year of Darius. . . I, Daniel . . . turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed . . .  we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. . . . We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. . . . but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive!  


Isaiah 53: 4-5  Surely he [The Messiah] took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,  yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,  and by his wounds we are healed.  


Philemon vs. 17-19  So if you consider me a partner, welcome him [Onesimus] as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back 


Should Christians Stop Converting?


Admittedly, public repentance for the communal guilt will not take away the Hindu wrath against conversions. However, it will take away the immediate excuse that Swami's murder has given to the Hindus to mount a national offensive against Christians. 


Many Church leaders and theologians will no doubt ask all Christians to stop all conversions for the sake of peace. At that point peace-makers and peace-lovers will need to part company. The Lord Jesus has called us to be peace-makers, not peace-lovers. Fifty thousand lower-caste "Hindus" have chosen to become homeless and live in jungles and refugee camps in order to follow Christ. They can have a kind of peace and return to their homes, fields and businesses if they reconvert to Hinduism. But they have preferred suffering over the slavery of Hinduism and the Church has to suffer with them. Suffering for the sake of righteousness and His kingdom is "religious persecution" and we have to find grace to rejoice in such suffering. A Christ-like peace-maker is also a trouble-maker. 


In the long run the only way to establish just peace and prosperity is make disciples of the Prince of Peace. Persecution will become impossible when a substantial section of the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) begin to follow Christ. They constitute 52% of India and are beginning to accept Ambedkar's analysis that Hinduism is an important source of their backwardness.  


Understanding Conversion Revolution:

Why are the lower castes quitting Hinduism in such large numbers that Hindus have become alarmed?


Those who believe that all religions are the same, refuse to come to terms with the fact that Hinduism is not built on the teaching "love your neighbor as yourself." Many Christians do not love their neighbors, but Hinduism requires its followers to treat some of their neighbors as "low caste" if not "untouchable" and "polluting". For example, 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.  Gandhi liked the biblical ideas of human equality and the dignity of a sweeper so much that he forced his wife to host untouchables in their home. While he rejected his parent's faith privately, he felt it necessary to compromise with caste perspective in order to carry the Hindu elite with him.  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. Gandhi's 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. But 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? 


Hindus, secularists and Liberal Christians are opposed to conversions and they have every right to hold and propagate their anti-conversion views. Ambedkarites, Maoists and biblical Christians are pro-conversion and we have every right to practice and preach our ideas.


  • Maoists along with the Marxists of various shades see Hinduism as the opium 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.  


These three groups want everyone to have the liberty to seek truth.   


These conflicting ideas about conversion do constitute a genuine controversy and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that this controversy is carried out with civility and within a framework of law. If one party (e.g. some Hindus) decide to use force to impose their anti-conversion beliefs and the Government fails in its duty to enforce law and order then the Christian duty is to rejoice in persecution. Maoists may prefer countering violence with violence, but at that point a Christian will have to part company with the Maoists. However, when the government itself begins to kill innocent people as a matter of policy then a Christian as a citizen could legitimately consider joining a civil war as a moral option.  



What about Reservations?


While the Swami was angry about conversions, Tribals became violent over the agitation concerning Reservations (among other things). Reservation is an explosive issue. In the case of Orissa it has also become an issue of group identity with layers of economic and emotional issues. Christian leaders have inflamed passions by issuing simplistic political statements about Reservations for Dalit Christians.  


The reality in Orissa is that the Scheduled Caste Christians are not asking for Reservations for Dalit Christians, they want to be reclassified as Scheduled Tribes. Godly leaders who care about poverty need to engage with this issue seriously and mediate the conflict between Dalit Christians and Tribals.


Obviously, reclassifying the Scheduled Castes (Dalits) as Scheduled Tribes is one way to solve the problem. Even if this solution was to be accepted, the nation and the Church will need to find answers to the Tribals' fears that Dalit-turned-Tribal Christian kids will take over the meager benefits Reservations give to the Tribal Children.


I am yet to understand the issues involved in the Orissa conflict, but I do know that the Church should not start out blaming the Government for denying Scheduled Caste Christians the benefit of Reservations. In my assessment, historically, 50% of the blame for the present poverty of the Dalits rests upon the Hindus, 40% upon the Church (including the British Raj) and only 10% upon the Government of India. If the Church had not kept the Dalits out of its educational institutions for two centuries they would have been governing free India.


Just 10 years ago I asked the Indian Principal of an English Medium Christian High School, "How many dalit children do you have in your school?"


He replied, "One – the son of our gardener."


"Why?" I asked him, "Surely there are at least 50 Dalit families in the city who can pay the tuition? Besides, American sponsors are giving you fees for at least 75 students."


"My predecessor," the Principal explained, "(an evangelical, American missionary) started the tradition of interviewing the parents in order to admit the children. Children's IQ or parents' ability to pay the fee are not sufficient for admissions. Parents have to display a certain, minimum standard of culture" . . .  (i.e. the kind of Sari and jewelry the mother wears or if their child is sent to school on a scooter or a bicycle) Happily this is changing and the new Principal of St. Stephen's College (Delhi) has to be commended for his courage in Reserving a percentage of seats for the lower castes – a step of great symbolic value.


The pioneer of Protestant missions in India, William Carey, began by making children of all castes sit together. Later, the upper caste parents told the missionaries that their children would not sit with the lower caste kids. The Church and the British East India Company stopped admitting lower caste students. The Church could have said that our educational institutions will practice human equality, if the Brahmins do not want their children to learn this truth, then their children don't need to attend Christian schools.


I do not as yet have the information needed to discuss this  problem in depth, my point here is that the Church has played a major role in creating the present bloody problem and, therefore, the Church needs to engage with the issues seriously – not with cheap political statements demanding 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 several parts of India 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 Reservations are a part of the official remedy for backwardness, then they need to be implemented justly, not as a means of promoting a Brahmin cal social order.


Conversion is a Human Rights issue while Reservation for Scheduled Caste Christians has become a Justice issue because even a bad policy has to be implemented justly.


Becoming Peace-Makers:


The Lord Jesus said that to be a child of God means to be a peace-maker (Matthew 5:9) and that the children of God will have the kingdom of God, if they accept persecution and suffering for the sake of righteousness (Matt 5: 10-12).  


I have proposed only one step to start a nationally visible mission for peace. God's kingdom will come and His will will be done on earth when thousands of peace initiatives are launched at the ograssroots. These will require the power of the Holy Spirit to persevere in repentance and forgiveness, to repay good for evil. These creative initiatives will mend hearts and replace hate with love. They will make it possible for neighbors to live together in harmony, serving each other and their Creator.   


Post Script: My information is based on secondary sources. It is certainly incomplete and could be wrong at some points. For one thing I do not know the current strength or preparedness of the Maoist movement or the intensity of their opposition to Hindutva. If the movement is able to mobilize several thousand armed guerillas around Christmas time, Orissa could become India’s Rwanda.

Copyright 2008 Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi ( Views expressed here are personal.


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