Christian evangelists must be sensitive to tribals’ Hindu ethos

Evangelists must be sensitive to tribals’ Hindu ethos

The other voice: Praful Goradia | General Secretary, Jan Sangh

The terrible backlash to the Swami’s murder was regrettable, yet indicative of the deterrence methods chosen by the indigenous people after decades of humiliation

Recently, on a visit to Gujarat, I went to Dangs district and called on Bhilraja Bhanwarsinh Hasusiah Suryavanshi. He is heir to the family that owned 84 of the 311 villages of the district which were leased to the British. That transfer made Dangs part of British India and not a princely state. He told me that it did not matter who worshipped which God so long as the essential qualities of the Bhil people, the “Bhilness” as it were, did not get obliterated.

He narrated an incident that had disturbed him. A few years ago, an old lady had died near Ahwa, the district town. Her elder son wanted to cremate her whereas his brother insisted on a Christian burial. Adivasis, the Raja went on, were brought up to believe that their property belongs to their clan and not to any individual. When any one undergoes conversion, he leaves the clan. When he proceeds to demand a partition of the property, this is perceived as a challenge to the Bhil dharma.

A more serious affront to the Adivasis is the proselytiser’s contention that they are “animists” and therefore without a religion. All the five missionaries I met told me so. The Bhils of Dangs worship Hanuman and Goddess Amba on a tiger, an avatar of Durga. The local Christian allegation is that they are monkey and tiger gods — conclusive proof of “animism”. The charge of animism is propaganda, which conveniently overlooks the fact that Animism is a part of the Hindu faith. Moreover, all the Gods worshipped by the Adivasis are members of the Hindu pantheon. Therefore, it is a Hindu’s duty to protect the Adivasis from conversion because they are helpless and vulnerable.

Travelling around Dangs, I collected many accounts which bear out the deception tactics used by the missionaries. In one case, some proselytisers threw the stone statuette of a God into a pond. It sank and was proof enough of the fallibility of their civilisation. Then, they proceeded to throw a wooden cross into the same pond. It continued to float, a sign of the superiority of Christianity. A true God can never sink, the Adivasis were told.

In another case, a sick Hindu was administered a placebo to show how difficult his fever was to control. Afterwards, they gave him an over-the-counter tablet, which brought his body temperature down within minutes. This was cited as a Christian miracle and the poor villagers fell for it. Poverty exposes one to allurement. Free education, and that too in English which comes with free books and uniforms, are irresistible temptations. An English medium is a passport to sure employment. The implied message by the proselytiser is become a Christian and teach your child English. Prima facie, all very legitimate and above the law.

Conversion through deception and conversion through allurement are difficult to prove in a court of Law. Only the use of force is easy to prove, but then before Khandamal, where the hugely popular Swami Laxmananda was brutally killed, when did not realise how murderous these evangelicals can sometimes be. Laws in our country are followed more in the breach than in compliance. Proselytisation is nothing but an act of aggression upon Hindu society. The Hindus have never believed in inducing people to change their religion. Shuddhi was a concept revived by Swami Dayanand Saraswati merely to facilitate former Hindus to return to Hinduism from Islam or Christianity. When Dr BR. Ambedkar decided to change his faith, he chose Buddhism after rejecting the option of Christianity because, in his view, it denationalised an Indian. His loyalty might shift from the land of his birth to a foreign or an international factor.

Yes, there would be a few persons who could wish to become Christians due to a spontaneous change of heart. The Hindu objection is to the change induced by allurement or deception or to the resort to violence as recently perpetrated in Kandhamal against Swami Lakshmanand and his ashram. It is often suggested that the one way to counter the missionary aggression is for the Hindus to organise these activities in those areas where the proselytisers are on the offensive. However, it should not be overlooked that the aggressor has the choice of place and time where and when to attack. India is a large country where it is easy to attack but difficult to defend against evangelists.

Moreover, the diverse nature of Hinduism makes unified resistance difficult. On the other hand, the aggressive missionaries have dollars and dictates of a single authority, whose ideological inspiration lies in the Ten Commandments listed in the Old Testament. The logic that flows from the belief in one God is that, ideally and ultimately, all non-believers must be made Christian.

The only answer to such an agenda is deterrence where the proselytisers realise the prohibitive cost they would have to pay to the representative of the Baptist or Evangelical Mission. The violence that followed the murder of the savant in Khandamal was most regrettable. But it should also be appreciated that the Hindus did not fire the first shot. The more the Church tries to disassociate itself from the responsibility by pinning the blame on the Maoists, the greater will be the risk of future explosions.


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