Can We Christians Not Even Die In Peace ?
( Unabridged version of article published in the Sunday Times dt 1-7-01)
There have been no atrocities against Christians for a couple of months and the community was deluding themselves into believing that the worst was over when low and behold, three missionaries were gunned down in the north East and, believe it or not, a Christian was prevented from being buried in Kapadwang, Gujarat on 28th May 2001. Ironically his name was Lazarusbhai Solanki, aged 74.
Yet my community and I have faith, just as the sister of Lazarus did as we are told in the Scriptures, that in the midst of all the dying there is a Resurrection. For we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, compassionate and forgiving. And in forgiving the killers we experience the tremendous freedom that forgiveness brings.
Between 1998 and 2000 I have seen members of my community raped, assaulted, and killed. I have witnessed with sorrow churches and church institutions destroyed, and unlike in any past attacks on minorities, the most sacred precincts of our churches defiled and vandalized.
There are no prizes for guessing why there has been this kind of targeting of Christians after fifty years of Independence. Years during which the truly Indian, truly "desi" truly transformational contribution of my community to the country’s critical areas and to its nationalism has been historically recorded in letters of gold.
Unwittingly this recent targeting (a short-term greed for Hindu votes) has resulted in that the same Christian work amongst bonded labour, amongst the abandoned, the dying, the destitute, the illiterate, the untouchables is now being re-recorded in blood. The blood of martyrs. There could be no better impetus for Christianity in India.
For the ordinary Indian is no fool and although only a few may protest publicly, the rest of the nation watches with quiet rage and with shame knowing that this unjust violence or any violence is not the fruit of true Hinduism.
Last Christmas I asked the Lord not only to remember men and women of good will but also those of ill will. I asked the Lord not to remember the suffering inflicted upon us but to remember the fruit we have borne thanks to this suffering….. the greatness of heart that has grown out of all this so that when the time comes for the final judgement, all the fruit we have borne might become the forgiveness of those who persecute us.
I was once a member of the National Executive of the BJP. In 1984. I took this step at the risk of losing my job in a Multinational Company and the risk of earning the wrath of my own community. Neither happened. Only a few Christians, more Congress worshipers than fundamentalists, called me a traitor. Most others including the Vatican understood that building bridges rather than walls was the essence of Christianity.
I quit the BJP when they started to organise a "rath yatra" that led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid and with it the destruction of all that is holy, all that is sacred and all that is enshrined in our Constitution. For the entire world it symbolized the destruction of India’s much touted democracy, secularism and Gandhian non-violence.
When Jesus taught us to forgive he also taught us to question the actions of those who do us wrong. "Why do you strike me?" he asked
In a similar way I ask the the Sangh Parivar the same question.
When you strike me because hundreds of years ago the Spaniards tortured and killed Goan Hindus to force them to embrace Christianity do you not realise that my forefathers were victims not perpetrators? That I am the child of Hindu great, great, great, great grand-parents and that today I consciously exercise my right to be a Christian because I truly believe (without compromising your right to your own beliefs) that Jesus is my Saviour and he has taught me to share the good news of my Christianity?
And so I give you notice that as long as there are the poor, the sick the destitute the marginalised, the illiterate, the deaf, the dumb, the crippled (physically and spiritually) the abused, the homeless, the discriminated the unjustly imprisoned (behind bars and outside them) I shall share the good news in my own small way and nothing can stop me except my own personal weakness, spiritual and temporal.
When you strike me because of your cleverly orchestrated belief that I am anti-national, search your conscience and compare your record with mine during the anti-British movement and Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.
List the real anti-nationals. The blackmarketeers, the adulterators of essential commodities, the smugglers, the practitioners of rampant corruption, the flag-burners and Constitution wreckers, the owners of bonded labour, the girl-child killers, the dowry death-wallas and you will find them not in my community but in the ranks of those whom you support, idolize and appoint or get elected to the highest offices in the land.
When you strike me saying that mine is an alien religion and that my Church should not have allegiance to the Pope, I ask you to consider whether you also recommend that in the USA, in Europe, in the Middle East and in the far flung corners of this planet where peaceful, loving, enterprising, hardworking Hindus have settled down should be targeted because of similar reasons? Your actions are more harmful to Hindus worldwide than they are to me.
When you strike me on account of your concocted claims that I am "westernized" because I am a Christian, I ask you to do a census of people who wear the latest and most expensive and most daring Western clothes, the people who frequent Western restaurants and discotheques, who watch Western movies who buy imported chocolates, cheese, perfumes and electronic goods. You will discover that the number of westernized Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, animists agnostics and atheists far out number the west-aping Christians.
When you accuse my community of secessionist activities and of attempts to destabilize the State I need to remind you that we have never made a demand for Christianistan though there have been demands for Khalistan, for Dravidistan, for Jarkhand (the list is long) and for a separate State for the Gurkhas.
I also need to bring to your notice that the major subversive activities are in Tripura and Assam where the Christian population is almost negligible.
The tragedy of all this is that it is not so much you that are to blame but our own BJP government and its shameless allies which uses you against us and then absolves you of all your crimes against the Christians. Absolves, you above all of all the falsehoods that you propagate, all your inflammatory speeches and writings and even your physical violence against a peaceful people. It is they who will on the day of judgement have to account for selling this once democratic, secular, law abiding nation for thirty Parliamentary seats or thirty pieces of silver.
I also do not hesitate to ask for your forgiveness for the wrongs that my community and I may have done to people of this beautiful nation that is yours and mine. Wrongs that nevertheless do not permit you to be both the judge and the executioner. I ask that the law be allowed to take its own course.
I also ask the BJP cadres, who are capable of such discipline, who do such good service amongst those whom they love, to open up some small spaces in their hearts for us, brother and sister Indians.
Life is too short and the tapestry of this ancient land, woven from the joys and sorrows and the hopes and fears of a myriad people of different religions, too beautiful to destroy by hate.
In the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez "write your hate in ice and wait for the sun to show."