I am a Christian, a Roman Catholic to be precise. I have suddenly realised this. It is quite amazing that I did not think of myself as a Christian all these years! I was an Indian. Religion was in the private domain. No one made me feel that I was different and I never felt different. On one occasion in a temple in Punjab even the VHP's Ashok Singhal seemed well-disposed!
Why did it suddenly occur to me that I was a Christian? I really do not know the answer. I only know that I am sorely disappointed with the BJP (a political party that wants all Indians to be Hindus) for not reining in the VHP and Bajrang Dal, who like the SIMI and its offshoot, the Indian Mujahideen, feel that the best and only way to attain peace is to kill those who they think are different.
My ancestors, like those of most Christians in India, were Hindus. True, I have a strange name. It is Portuguese in origin, but neither I nor the numerous other Christians sporting Portuguese surnames like Fernandes (George is a friend of the BJP) have any Portuguese blood. Our ancestors got these surnames when they were baptised and the surnames were those of the different clerics who officiated at their initiation.
Was force or coercion used? I dare say it was. If not force, then certainly coercion. Lure of land, I learn, was the main instrument of that coercion. All land was appropriated by the conquerors and only those who converted retained their share. This, I dare say, was a powerful attraction. Even today, ownership of land is a dominant craving.
Times were different in 1540 when the Portuguese landed in Goa. There was the Inquisition and the fervour of religious conviction. But I refuse to believe that force can be an option in this day and age.
Can anyone be 'forced' to convert as the fanatics suggest? Possibly, there can be inducement. But how far can one go with inducements? Money, land, jobs, education? If money and land were in plenty to distribute, all or most converts would be immensely affluent. But that is hardly the case.
Most Christian missionaries concentrate on education, health, social welfare. This may tempt some marginalised families to cross over, but the answer to that would be to undertake such efforts yourself and not kill those who are doing what you yourself should have done long ago.
The empowerment of the marginalised threatens the vested interests of the upper classes. For generations, tribals and scheduled castes have been kept down. Christian missionaries, with their stress on education and health, have challenged the foundations of this social order. That,
I believe, is the cause of the present upheaval.
The Christian missionaries do believe that their own religion is the only true one. All the three Abrahamanical religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, grounded in the theory of creation, believe that theirs is the only true religion. Judaism is not known to convert. The other two do. In this
day and age, it is difficult to support the notion of conversions. I, for one, do not. To my mind it is not necessary to convert anyone. Even the Catholic Church to which I belong has accepted that good human beings, irrespective of religious belief, can attain salvation.
But there are those who think otherwise. Should they be butchered? It is not only unlawful to kill. It is also immoral. And if the VHP and Bajrang Dal, like the SIMI and the Indian Mujahideen, do not understand this simple rule, it is the duty of the Indian State to make them aware of it. No excuses
should be advanced to mitigate the horrendous nature of their barbarity, as some BJP leaders have done. Because excuses are quickly turned into mandates.
Personally, I do not believe that many Hindus have been converted to Christianity in recent times in Karnataka or even in Orissa. In Kerala, the Christians have been around for the past 2,000 years. But if some conversions have taken place, there are legal remedies available. Surely no one can be permitted to take the law into his own hands and become prosecutor, judge and executioner rolled into one.
And this is why I am disappointed with the BJP. The party has not come out strongly against the atrocities heaped on the Christians of Orissa and Karnataka. L K Advani (one of the leaders of the BJP) himself studied at St Patrick's, a Jesuit school in Karachi. Nobody tried to convert him or other boys and girls who have passed out of Christian schools and colleges in India. He and they continue to be good Hindus, or Muslims or Sikhs.
More important, they continue to be good human beings. And that is what true Christianity is all about. That is what I look for in my religion and what I admire in the teachings of Christ. Love, compassion, justice. These are universal values taught by all religions that the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, SIMI and the IM should try and imbibe. If they do not they should stop calling themselves Hindus or Muslims.