The missionary position: When perpetrator pretends to be victim
Posted on January 10th, 2022

Utpal Kumar Courtesy First Post

The missionary position: When perpetrator pretends to be victim

Nuns and others pray beside the tomb of Saint Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity at its headquarter in Kolkata. AP

The New York Times recently came out with a scathing report on Narendra Modi’s India. In the article, ‘Arrests, Beatings and Secret Prayers: Inside the Persecution of India’s Christians’, it made serious charges that there has been rise in attacks on Christians in India, and these attacks are part of a broader shift in the country, in which minorities feel less safe.

Anti-Christian vigilantes are sweeping through villages, storming Churches, burning Christian literature, attacking schools and assaulting worshippers. In many cases, the police and members of India’s governing party are helping them, government documents and dozens of interviews revealed. In church after church, the very act of worship has become dangerous despite constitutional protections for freedom of religion,” said the NYT report.

This sort of narrative is not new, especially in the last seven years of the Narendra Modi regime. Last year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its annual report recommended India’s listing under countries of particular concern” along with Pakistan, China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Only in the Orwellian world order can the world’s largest democracy be clubbed with some of the most dangerous, fundamentalist and secretive nations.

There’s no denying that there are instances of hate crimes in India. But to loosely use terms like ‘storming Churches’, ‘burning Christian literature’ and ‘assaulting worshippers’ seems a clear case of sensationalisation. For, the India I know is overly sensitive towards minority rights, so much so that even fake Church attacks could very well initiate an intolerance debate, as was seen in Modi’s first term as prime minister.

What the report fails to mention is that these are more of exceptions rather than rules. The charges seem to be based on presumptions that the minorities are unsafe, especially in the wake of the Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). As per the USCIRF report, with the CAA in place, Muslims alone would bear the indignities and consequences of potential statelessness”. To validate these assumptions, there’s a readymade evidence in the 2020 Delhi riots (disregarding the fact that the violence was first orchestrated by Islamists and ‘Break-India’ forces to paint the country black at a time when then US President Donald Trump would be in Delhi) and of course a few hate crimes against minorities and Dalits, howsoever sporadic they might be.

The CAA has nothing against Indian Muslims. It’s about the aggrieved minorities of the neighbourhood. In fact, the CAA was the Modi government’s attempt to fulfil the pledge made by the Indian Union to the minorities of East and West Pakistan at the time of Partition. India was divided in the name of religion. But to dissuade the Hindus of Pakistan from migrating into India, our national leaders led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru assured of safety. Citing the presence of a large number of Muslims in India, they said it would guarantee their wellbeing in the land of the pure”. But when it didn’t happen, wasn’t it the duty of the Indian state to come to their rescue? The CAA was India’s moral obligation towards Hindus, mostly Dalits, who couldn’t migrate to India during and post Partition. Ironically, most anti-CAA protest sites across the country had BR Ambedkar’s life-size photos looming large in the background!

Without wasting time on casting aspersions on NYT’s liberal standing — historically, the newspaper, as Ashley Rindsberg exposes in The Gray Lady Winked, not only sided with Hitler, Stalin and Fidel Castro but also underplayed the scale of the Jewish Holocaust — one needs to look at the accusation of the shrinking liberal space and the persecution of Christians in India. There’s no denying that space has shrunk — but for traditional liberal elites who called the shots in India till 2014. As writer and novelist Amish Tripathi once told me, matter of factly, that the entire intolerance debate in India was nothing but a power struggle between the old elite and the new, aspirational one! As for the growing animosity against Christians, the real issue is conversion, often forceful, deceitful and distasteful, that is bringing Hindus into confrontation with the missionaries.

Conversion is the real issue, especially the manner in which people are being converted in India. As Arun Shourie writes in Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas, the methods used by the missionaries were a combination of manipulations, monetary temptations, medical assistance, and the target groups are Dalits, tribals, poverty-stricken populations, and children — all those who could be lured, coerced and manipulated easily! As the Christian Missions Enquiry Committee, headed by Justice MB Rege, which submitted its report to the erstwhile Madhya Bharat (today’s Madhya Pradesh) in 1956, observed: We cannot call conversions for pure material gain fraudulent in the strict sense of the word; but in our view the preaching of any religion must be based on very strong spiritual and pure ethical foundations and conversions without strong faith must be deprecated as being unspiritual and unethical.”

It’s this nature of conversion that explains why missionaries publish literatures like Spiritual Advantages of Famine and Cholera, and an Archdiocese of Pondicherry tells his superiors in Europe: The famine has wrought miracles. The catechumenates are filling, baptismal water flow in streams, and starving little tots fly in masses to heaven.” It is this nature of conversion that made Mahatma Gandhi regard the missionaries as the vendors of goods” and oppose them tooth and nail. But dare you call names, and you would be branded intolerant, fascist, fundamentalist, and what not! Such has been the hold of the missionaries over Western governments, media and even academia.

The nexus between missionaries, governments and academia is an old one. British historian Niall Fergusson pointed out how evangelical activities overseas have been something the British Empire and today’s American empire have in common”, because even small numbers of evangelical missionaries can achieve a good deal furnished as they are with substantial funds from congregations at home”. Fergusson is right. For, we know how Max Mueller came in the garb of a Sanskritist but in his letter to his wife in 1866, he claimed how his translation of the Rig Veda would help uproot the Indic civilisation.

It is this missionary scholarship, aided and abetted by Max Mueller, that propounded the Aryan invasion theory, which aimed at negating the idea of a colony having a sublime civilisation of its own, especially at a time the colonial masters themselves were barbarians. Later when a few Harappan sites suddenly emerged, they revised the theory to present the Aryans as the horse-riding, war-loving white pastoral community that attacked the civilisationally advanced but non-martial, black Dravidians in Harappa and after their subjugation pushed them down south. Our ‘secular’ historians of the Nehruvian fold took to this theory as fish take to water and gave legitimacy to not just Aryan invasion/migration theory but also the Aryan-Dravidian divide.

In Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan expose a similar missionary toolkit being used for the Rawanda genocide in Africa. They quote Neels Kastfelt as saying, Although the Church did not always legitimise the genocide explicitly, they formed a close alliance with the Hutu groups that carried it out and thus shared an institutional responsibility for it”.

Elaborating it further, Malhotra and Neelakandan explain that the missionaries first sided with the Tutsi, projecting them as racially elevated”, and when political fortunes changed, they switched sides and joined hands with Hutus”. They write, The parallels this process shares with the development of a racial myth in India are striking, and issues a warning we cannot ignore. In India, first the colonial scholars fabricated an Aryan myth and boosted the pride of the so-called Aryans of India, seeing them as their own distant relatives who were now being ‘civilised’ once again. Then they switched sides to build up the so-called Dravidian identity by claiming them to be separate and victims of the Aryans.”

Over the centuries, not much has changed in the manner in which Hindus are being projected by missionary intellectuals. So, if Max Mueller then saw Shiva as a three-eyed monster” riding naked on a bull, Paul Courtright today calls Ganesh the first God with an Oedipus complex”, and Gordon Robertson refers to the Ganga river as Shiva’s sperm! Even Sheldon Pollock, an American Sanskritist seen by many as sympathetic towards the Indic civilisation, saw the Ramayana as a weapon for inflicting violence by Hindus against Muslims. He even blamed Brahmin elitism” for shaping the ideologies of British colonialism and German Nazism. Ironically, these abhorrent images of Hindus and Hinduism are being made in the US where Indians are a minuscule minority. Shouldn’t it be classified as hate literature? What if such intellectual stuff were created against Christians in India? And dare you raise your voice against such outrageous statements, and you would be charged with assault, aggression and even persecution!

This, however, isn’t just a modern phenomenon. Even in the early centuries of the Common Era (CE), there’s enough literature bemoaning persecution, violence and killings of Christians. The most defining image was the crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of Roman governor Pontius Pilate. And all oppression ceased when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire. Just like the NYT report on India, truth was the biggest casualty here too, as the oppressor pretended to be the oppressed, and vice-versa.

We are made to believe that the Romans were waiting to be converted and at the first given opportunity jumped the pagan ship. As British writer Samuel Johnson once said, The heathens were easily converted, because they had nothing to give up.” The fact is many Roman converted happily to Christianity. But many did not either. Many Romans and Greeks did not smile as they saw their religious liberties removed, their books burned, their temples destroyed and their ancient statues shattered by thugs with hammers,” writes Catherine Nixey in The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, a beautiful book that recounts the tragedies behind the ‘triumph’ of Christianity.

Just as the NYT claims on intolerance and persecution in modern-day India, Christians in the early Roman times talked about large-scale killings and persecution. But very few, if any, of these tales were based on historical fact. There were simply not that many years of imperially ordered persecution in the Roman Empire. Fewer than thirteen — in three whole centuries of Roman rule,” writes Nixey. We know of no government-led persecution for the first 250 years of Christianity with the exception of Nero’s — and Nero, with even-handed lunacy, persecuted everyone,” she adds.

The persecution, in reality, and unlike what’s projected in the Church literature, was mostly directed from the Christian side. Nixey eloquently shows in her book how the scale and intensity of persecution of non-Christians gained momentum with each passing year. So much so that in 423 CE, the Christian government announced that any pagans who still survived were to be suppressed. It, however, added with a sense of buoyancy: We now believe that there are none.”

Christians would often be astonished to see their counterparts being extremely tolerant and compromising even at the height of tensions. Augustine found it hard to believe that the pagans were able to worship many different gods without discord, while the Christians, who worshipped just the one, splintered into countless warring factions. Yet, this didn’t encourage him to extend this courtesy to non-Christians. It was, he concluded, the duty of a good Christian to convert heretics — by force, if necessary. Christian writers applauded such destruction — and egged their rulers on to greater acts of violence. No wonder Augastine saw these acts of terror as salvation… Oh, merciful savagery,” he would often be heard saying.

Just like the NYT and other prominent Western media houses refuse to see the excesses of the missionaries and are often seen to be siding with them, with the likes of Augastine being defended with terms like ‘zealous’, ‘pious’, or, at worst, ‘over-zealous’ for acts which would make the Taliban look a shade fairer. It seems their idea of liberalism doesn’t come in the way of conversion. They don’t see the two — liberalism and conversion — as diabolically antithesis to each other. Just like the American way of secularism never forbids a President from taking oath on the Bible. But do that in India on the Bhagavad Gita and all hell would break loose. The UK allows 26 bishops of the Church of England to sit in the Parliament. They not only have voting rights on legislation, but also lead prayers at the start of work. If we were to do anything like that, India would become a land of Hindu supremacists with no place for minorities! And thanks to missionaries and their intellectual sidekicks, Dalits and women would find themselves clubbed with minorities!

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