Across the Aisle by P Chidambaram: Bigotry Unbound

The year ended with the Missionaries of Charity (founded by Mother Teresa) denied the right to receive foreign contributions for its charitable work on an alleged minor accounting infraction.

Devotees at Cathedral Church in Lucknow (PTI Image)
Devotees at Cathedral Church in Lucknow (PTI Image)

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me —
And there was no one left to speak out for me.
— Martin Niemöller, German Theologian (1892-1984)

Saturday, December 25 was Christmas. Before the celebrations ended — in some places well before midnight — all the evils that Christ preached against reared their heads. If the year ended on a sour note, the new year has begun on an ominous note. The last two weeks have been a challenge for Christians and liberals alike.

The year 2021 witnessed the death of Fr Stan Swamy, a Christian missionary from Tamil Nadu who spent all his life among the tribal people of Jharkhand. He was accused (falsely, in my view) of terrorist activity, treated inhumanely in prison, denied bail even on medical grounds, not tried, and allowed to die. The year ended with the Missionaries of Charity (founded by Mother Teresa) denied the right to receive foreign contributions for its charitable work on an alleged minor accounting infraction.

Christmas defiled

What happened on Christmas Day was unforgivable, even if Christians are prepared to forgive the mischief makers ‘for they know not what they do’. Just consider recent events:

In Ambala, Haryana, there is the Church of the Holy Redeemer, built in the 1840s. At about midnight, after the church was closed, two people entered and knocked down the statue of Jesus Christ and burnt the figures of Santa Claus. Two days earlier, a group had entered a church in Pataudi, Gurugram, Haryana, and disrupted the prayers with slogans like ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

In Agra, Uttar Pradesh, several Santa Claus figures were set on fire in front of missionary colleges. The activist of the Bajrang Dal justified the vandalism and said, “They attract our children by having Santa Claus bring them gifts and attract them to Christianity.” He failed to say that the missionary colleges had also selflessly taught many thousands of ‘our children’ for several decades.

In Cachar district, Assam, two persons dressed in saffron broke into a Presbyterian church on Christmas night and demanded that all Hindus leave the place. At other Christmas masses, activists shouted slogans like ‘Death to missionaries’.

Fringe becomes Mainstream
Through the year 2021, several states, notably Karnataka, passed or drafted anti-conversion Bills aimed at Christians. There is scant evidence that people of other faiths, especially Hindus, are being converted to Christianity. It is clear Christians are the target of the extreme right-wing that is abundantly present in the RSS, the BJP and other RSS-affiliated organisations. They are no longer fringe elements; they have become the mainstream and are represented even in the council of ministers of the central government.

The Muslims — and now the Christians — are the targets of what is called ‘hate speech’. Hate speech is part of spreading hate against non-Hindus. Six months ago, an app called ‘Sulli Deals’ surfaced in Delhi and a few days ago, another app named ‘Bulli Bai’ surfaced in Mumbai. The apps put up faces of Muslim women online for auction. The Twitter handle that promoted ‘Bulli Bai’ used Sikh-sounding names such as ‘Khalsa Supremacist’, ‘Jatinder Singh Bhullar’ and ‘Harpal’, perhaps foretelling who will be the next target of the hate merchants — the Sikhs.

The Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are as much Indians as the Hindus. They have a right to practise their religion and, if you have read Article 25 of the Constitution, the right to propagate their religion. The extreme right-wing is challenging their right to practise their religion. This is unconstitutional.

Mr Modi’s Agenda

A sample of what is in store was revealed in Haridwar. Excerpts from the speeches:

“If you want to finish them off, then kill them… We need 100 soldiers who can kill 20 lakh of them (meaning Muslims) to win this” and “Get ready to kill or be killed, there is no other option… Every Hindu, including Police, Army, Politician should start the cleaning like it happened in Myanmar”. This is more than hate speech, it is a call to genocide.

These are not the rantings of mad men, there is a method in the madness. Mr Hilal Ahmed, in an op-ed article (The Indian Express, January 6, 2021) explained why and how Mr Modi has redefined the BJP’s agenda. According to Mr Ahmed, the Covid catastrophe, the farmers’ movement and the growing economic crisis have forced Mr Modi to “consolidate his position as the ultimate leader within the Hindutva fold”. Development and Hindutva are no longer to be separated and, for this purpose, the extreme right wing has cast the non-Hindu religions (and their believers) as enemies of development, besides Hindutva.

The disruptions of Christmas celebrations, the hate speeches and the malicious apps have not evoked a word of condemnation from the Prime Minister. Prepare for the future, bigotry will be unbound. And speak up, or there will be no one left to speak for you.

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