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by FR. FELIX RAJ, SJ, DIRECTOR |  « back

Father, forgive them
By Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.

“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This is the prayer of Indian Christians, whose response has been through non-violent protests and repeated representations to the Government while being persecuted or brutally murdered or forcibly stopped from feeding the hungry, by divisive and communal forces. Christianity was born of the Cross and Christians should consider themselves privileged to reproduce in their own lives the death and resurrection that was the central feature of Christ’s life on earth.

This does not mean that the communal forces can be let loose to do what they want and that their challenge, which threatens secular and pluralistic India can go unchecked. While tolerance is a basic tenet of Hinduism, intolerance has become the hallmark of fundamentalist “hindutva” forces that spread hostility towards minorities, dalits and tribals. Their systematic attacks on Christians have increased in the recent years especially while the BJP was in power. The Orissa carnage is yet another demonstration of their fundamentalist strategy. They are making a mockery of the Rule of Law. The Government led by the BJP, which has close links with the Sangh Parivar, is watching disinterestedly. One cannot but doubt the secular credentials of the Government. “ Justice delayed is justice denied”.

The world has witnessed too much bloodshed in the name of religious fundamentalism. To cite a few examples: the crusades in Europe, the Inquisition in the Middle ages, the massacre of the Jains and Buddhists in South India, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the destruction of the Babri Majid, the brutal burning of Rev. Graham Staines and his two minor sons, the cold-blooded murders of Fr. Aruldoss in Orissa and Br. George in Mathura, jihads, holy wars, communal riots, genocide and so on. “ What a disgustingly savage people we are! Politics, progress, socialism, communism, science – where are they before this black, religious savagery?” wrote a deeply disturbed and impatient Nehru in prison in 1935.

It is worth quoting the Mahatma here: “I can never be an enemy of Muslims, no matter what any one or more of them may do to me or mine, even as I can never be an enemy of Englishmen……… My remedy is to deal with the wrong wherever I see it, not to hurt the wrongdoers, even as I would not like to be hurt for the wrongs I do”.

Gandhiji was a deeply religious man and understood the role and impact of religion on individuals and communities. He believed that genuine religion builds bridges of solidarity between peoples of different faiths. He often referred to the religion “which transcends Hinduism, which changes one’s very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which ever purifies”. That was the reason why he was not afraid of religious pluralism or expressions of religious sentiments.

He also knew that the politicisation of religion could lead to unbridgeable tensions in a multi-religious society like ours. The fundamentalist organisations are mixing politics with religion. Hindutva is nothing but a mixture of sacred and secular power in the name of Ram and Ayodhya, which is sectarian and dangerous to national harmony and secular society, and should be checked before it is too late. Otherwise, the worst will happen. Wait till 2001 – when the attempt to build the Ram Temple at the site of the Babri Masjid will be made. This can lead to a communal holocaust, which means that the worst of the religious hatred threatens us.

It is not religion; it is not Hinduism or Islam or Christianity that are at fault. It is fundamentalism. It is those who use religion for their own narrow, vested interests who are responsible for the sad state of affairs in India. It is the outcome of their inadequate knowledge, their institutionalized perception of religion and their fundamentalist attitudes and practices. It is their selective and literal interpretation of their scriptures, which is unhistorical. Religion, as Sri Ramakrishna explained, is like a river leading its followers to the great Ocean of God. When the human relates to the Divine, there flows a process of the human being elevated to the realm of the Divine. ‘To be fully human is to be divine’. No religion preaches hatred. A true religion is transformative having the power to create “ a new heaven and a new earth”.

Christians are blamed for “forced conversion”. But this term is self-contradictory. A “forced conversion” is not a conversion. Genuine conversion is a personal matter. If there are individuals or groups belonging to any religion, who convert by force, or insult or defame another’s faith, or who in the name of their religion betray God, then the law should take its course, not organisations such as the Sangh Parivar - the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the RSS. Who are they? Who gives them the authority to take the Law into their own hands?

No God-fearing Hindu, whether orthodox or liberal, will be comfortable with the ‘hindutva’ strategy. Its rise and consolidation has sparked off a serious existential and relationship problem in the whole country. Hinduism, with its non-Semitic, non-dogmatic, cultural and religious pluralism, needs to be protected from fundamentalist and self-styled crusaders. Efforts of many secular thinkers and academicians in this respect, irrespective of their religious affiliation, are not to malign or degrade Hinduism, but to save Hinduism from the clutches of Hindutvawadis who equate it with ‘hindutva’, which is a strategic syncretism. We need to challenge and strenuously expose the fundamentalist strategy of these communal forces, whose sole aim, as stated in the BJP’s election manifesto of 1998, is: “India is one country, one people, and one nation” (read: one ‘hindutva’ religion). The hindutva seeks to devalue minority identities, and erase constitutionally guaranteed rights, in order to institute the ‘hindutva’ religion.

Accepting the ‘hindutva’ strategy would mean the abdication of everything the freedom movement stood for. From the beginning of this century, the leaders of our country’s freedom struggle proclaimed their commitment to secularism. For Gandhiji, secularism, in other words, the equality of all religions was founded in the doctrine of Sarva Dharma Sambhava. Dr. Radhakrishnan phrased this concept aptly: “ We hold that no one religion should be given preferential status, or unique distinction, that no one religion should be accorded special privileges in national life, or international relations; for that would be a violation of the basic principles of democracy and contrary to the best interest of religion and government…”

We all have a right to our faith and culture, and if our faith and culture are being threatened through acts of violence and calls for assimilation, it is time to think about strengthening religious and cultural rights. The majority/minority issue is a perennially complex problem. While the concept of ‘minorities’ is based on religion etc, the majoritarianism, often misused and misunderstood, was a general formulation for political ends, at the time of freedom struggle in order to widen the anti-colonial base. It was supposed to mean a broad political community, bringing all those who professed a religion other than Islam or Christianity. It was meant to be “an umbrella coalition” not based on any one religion or any one caste. This dimension needs to be stressed and understood in the right perspective. The dalits and the tribals do not belong to this “majority” Hindu community on religious or cultural grounds, as claimed by some. They have their own distinct religious and cultural identities.

It is high time we learn from our mistakes of the past and capitalise on what unifies different religious traditions rather than on what divides them. We must enable each other to establish a community of friends, a federation of fraternity and in short, and “a paradise on earth”. “Where are you searching for God”, said Swami Vivekananda, “when God is in front of you in His various manifestations? He who serves humanity with love and humility is serving God”.




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