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May 15, 2011

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Home > 2011 Issues > May 15, 2011

Proselytising in the name of social service—II
Of fear, iconoclasts and saints

By Anirban Ganguly

FEAR has always been one of the principal weapons of Christian proselytisers. In India these have been effectively and extensively applied on the unsuspecting Hindu, especially in the rural setting. The instilling of fear, the use of violence to occupy material and mental spaces is a method that soldiers of the Gospel have often used and continue to use to this day while operating in this country. What is intriguing – or perhaps not as intriguing – is that human rights organisations, fronts and official bodies have ignored this manifestation of violence and assault on human life and dignity.

This habit of instilling fear, using coercive methods, threat of violence and intimidation is evident in the areas where the proselytisers or their front agencies operate to create the ground for a rich harvest. The role of various church denominations in the abetment and sustenance of insurgency in India’s northeastern part is well documented. I shall not enter into its history but simply put forward a few examples of how the work is carried out even today. This would perhaps be relevant in the backdrop of the central government’s recent ‘grand gesture’ of extending the ceasefire with the NSCN (K) outfit which operates mainly in the districts of Tirap and Changlang in Arunachal Pradesh. Wherever proselytisers operate they energetically work towards ending diversities – of living, of culture and of belief. They begin decimating these diversities through violence, coercion and intimidation. The NSCN (K), like its more illustrious ‘factionpart’ the NSCN (IM) in fact carries out this task of diversity-eradication in these two districts of Arunachal Pradesh without check. The followers of the indigenous faith tradition in the area have been repeatedly threatened and assaulted just because they have displayed the will and temerity to love and worship their gods and religious symbols. In a land that is being claimed for Christ, his sons on earth brook no divergence or variety of faith.

In a memorandum, submitted earlier this year (no. RFPS/CHG/CORR-01/09-10/ dt. 15th Jan 2011) addressed to the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh with copies to the President of India, Prime Minister, Home Minister and the secretary general of the Rangfraa Faith Promotion Society made a moving appeal against this very coercion and fear – reading the details one would almost believe that the writer was perhaps living in a fascist society, leave alone the largest democracy. But the term fascist is obviously reserved by the secular politico-intellectual for exclusive use against those who speak for the traditions of India and especially for the Hindus. The memorandum said that the Central Rangfraa Administrative Council received an order from a ‘Central Intelligence Officer of the Government of Peoples Republic of Nagaland NSCN (K)’ to ‘stop the activities of Rangsomhum (Rangfraa Temple) of Kothung village’ in Tirap district and the whole of Changlang district w.e.f. January 9, 2011.’ 75 years old Shri Wangjam Chatkey, priest of the Rangfraa Administrative Council (RAC) of Kothung village, who refused to follow the diktat was tied to a post and tortured for four hours from 11.00 am to 3.00 pm on January 11, 2011. (Letter of ER L Khimun, secretary-general Rangfraa Faith Promotion Society, dt. 15th January, 2011, Changlang, Arunachal Pradesh).

Shri Khamjam Hangphuk, secretary of the Kothung village RAC was abducted on February 1, 2011 and tortured for six days in a NSCN (K) camp and was released only on payment of a ransom of 65 thousand rupees. Both the insurgent factions have quarantined the villagers and have restricted their movements and even prevented them from attending to their fields. And both, it may be reiterated, claim to fight for a greater ‘Nagaland for Christ.’ Last summer a self-styled area commander of the NSCN (IM) convened a meeting of villagers in the bordering areas of Arunachal’s Changlang district and warned them of roasting in ‘eternal hell fire’ if they worshipped the Buddha and asked them to convert to Christianity or face dire consequences. The celebration of the auspicious Buddha Purnima was banned under the threat of death. (BB Jamatia, Socio-Cultural Destabilisation of Arunachal Pradesh by Insurgent Groups and other Anti-national Forces, VIF, April, 2011, New Delhi).

Surprisingly no human rights activist or organisation, no writer or columnist hell bent on discovering Gandhian virtues in armed insurrectionists, no civil-society member perpetually stuck in a Gujarat of 2002 did even as much as shed an alligator tear for the badly bruised and nearly dead old priest and his terrorised co-religionists! The old man was not even a Hindu priest – at least the habitually communally conscious members of the supreme NAC should have raised a banner of protest, at least the leaders of the church in India, so disturbed by the spectre of violence in the name of religion, should have vocally condemned such acts as barbaric! The Rangfraa letter, drafted in a far corner of this land, ended with words that contradict the belief and stand of the proselytisers and their message of religious-unilateralism and intolerance – ‘Religious practice, according to Rangfraism, is a God-given birthright hence it is purely a personal matter. If we don’t have the right to practice our indigenous faiths and cultures in our own land; where is the land for us and where is our freedom?’[sic] It is this freedom that proselytisers have continuously undermined through fear and manipulation. The vast majority of simple Indians who are rooted to the soil and psyche of this nation have instead always encouraged, welcomed and perpetuated this freedom; and see it as essential for a united national living.

Historically the proselytisers have been a violent lot. And in stepping onto the soil of India and on surveying the extant religious freedom all around they adopted manipulative – fear instilling coercive methods to propagate their ‘truth’. Every proselytiser was and remains an iconoclast – one who thrills at violently denigrating other faiths and revels in destroying their religious symbols. In fact this has been and remains their essential motivating force in the work of foisting their ‘religion of peace’ on an unsuspecting population long used to the widest liberty in religious practices and expressions. One only needs to refer to the ecstatic expressions of their ‘great’ ‘Saint Francis Xavier’ while baptising ‘heathen’ Indian villagers and then asking them to destroy the symbols of their old faith. This is not the construct of some ‘Hindutva or right-wing historian’ the great ‘saint’ passionately describes them himself in a letter dated January 27th, 1545, Cochin, ‘After their baptism’, wrote the ‘saint’ ‘the new Christians go back to their houses and bring me their wives and families for baptism. When all are baptised I order all the temples of their false gods to be destroyed and all the idols to be broken into pieces. I can give you no idea of the joy I feel in seeing this done, witnessing the destruction of the idols…’ (Henry James Coleridge, The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier, vol.1, Burns and Oates, London, 1881, p.281) Through this destruction ‘saint’ Xavier saw the harvest giving its best yield, ‘This part of the world is so ready’, he gushed, ‘so teeming with shooting corns…that I hope within this year to make as many as hundred thousand Christians. (Pray the Lord of the harvest that He send forth labourers into His harvest (rogate Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam)’ (Ibid., p.283).

It is these labourers of the harvest who have repeatedly destabilised the religio-cultural fabric of this nation, decimating with impunity local variations of lifestyles, cultures and religions and yet the church has repeatedly, throughout history, elevated these very scythe-wielding ‘labourers’ into the status of saints!

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