By Albert Thyrniang
The letter entitled “A noise competition” was published by this newspaper though the person withheld his identity because the editor probably saw that the letter has a point ((ST Oct 7, 2022). The writer was drawing his/her attention to the supposed fact that churches organised their own programmes on Durga puja days this year. The singing and the prayers and the preaching were on loudspeakers while the puja celebrations, accompanied by drum beats and chants, were going on. This, according to the letter, ‘spoils the tranquillity and joy’ of the festivity. The author also wonders as to how the Christians would feel if Hindus beat their drums and sing bhajans on Christmas Day. There is nothing wrong with parallel celebrations but quite obviously there is a bit of disrespect for each other here.
I know for certain not only in Shillong but in other places as well that churches arrange religious programs during Durga Puja holidays. As pointed out above these pious packages are fine but the main intention is to prevent the flock, particularly the youth, from visiting puja pandals fearing that the faithful might be in influenced in some way. I have advice from leaders like, “Don’t visit the idols”, “Hindus are idol worshipers” (‘nongmane blei thaw’ in Khasi and ‘mite olakigiparang’ in Garo). If functions are for spiritual growth they are blessed occasions. But if the main reason is only in view of Durga or Eid or any other faith’s celebration then a bit of introspection is needed. If visiting a Durga Puja pandal or others’ place of worship is to be shunned then one is really unsure of oneself. Branding “Hindus as idol worshipers” is certainly a disrespect and an acute lack of understanding of Hinduism.
Though we see Hindus worshiping ‘gods and goddesses,’ Hinduism teaches that there is only ONE Supreme and Ultimate Being, Brahman. The multitude of gods and goddesses are only an expression of the Supreme Reality. As ordinary human beings cannot comprehend the abstract Being, God reveals himself concretely in the form of gods and goddesses; the most common of which are Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva or Shakti. Durga, meaning “the Inaccessible” in Sanskrit is one of the principal goddesses who represents Shakti or the strength of the All Powerful. Besides power she stands for protection, motherly care, victory over evil forces, liberation of the oppressed – all Godly qualities. Someone wrote a piece on the significance of Durga puja so a repetition is redundant. My point is: we often label people without making an inch of effort to know their faith, belief, culture and background.
Catholics are often accused of being ‘idol worshippers’ for ‘worshipping’ Mary and the galaxy of saints and their statues and images. Even the cross and crucifix is seen as an idol by detractors. Catholics, of course, vehemently deny such charges. We staunchly defend that we only show respect to Mary and the saints and do not worship them. Kneeling before their statues and images is like bowing before the pictures of our parents and elders. Paying respect to statues of the Virgin Mary and the saints is akin to bowing to statues of great leaders and personalities. Esteem is paid to the persons. Statues are only their representation. Veneration is done because these persons represent the holiness and virtues of God. They are in a sense His manifestation. Hence they are worthy of reverence. It is not worship. Worship is reserved for the Almighty alone. Then why find fault with the adherents of Hinduism? Why condemn them as idol worshippers?
The Trinity in Christianity is the greatest mystery. It is a complicated dogma. How do we try to understand it? One way is through imagery. Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva or Shakti are compared to the Three Persons of the Trinity. Do we mind it? We at times mock when the goddess Durga is taken in procession to be submerged in water. According to the believers the goddess is really and truly present from the time the idol is installed in the venue of worship till the time when it is taken out to be disposed of. According to some Christian denomination Jesus is present in the ‘bread and wine’ (Eucharist) as long as the ritual lasts. Thereafter, Jesus vanishes from these two species. The species cannot be preserved for future use. This is one similarity among many others.
The concern that the writer cited is appreciated. But one hopes that people like him or her speaks for Christians in other part of India as well. In Meghalaya and the North East people had a peaceful celebration. There was no report of any untoward incident. In Shillong politicians were seen dancing and singing with the Hindu community. Their videos have gone viral. Political patronage was visible. Can the same be said for Christians in the ‘mainland’ India particularly in states where Hindutva fanatical groups rule the roost? In Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh on 3 October the RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP activists stopped buses carrying Christian tribal youth alleging baseless religious conversion. It was never a conversion convocation. It was an annual youth convention. The administration and police even forced the program to be cancelled, apparently at the behest of the saffron clad goons.
In December last year anti-Christian protests, ruckus and misdemeanours were perpetuated by right wing Hindutva groups across India. The setting on fire of an effigy of Santa Clause in Agra, Uttar Pradesh on Christmas eve, the protest in Varanasi, also Uttar Pradesh outside a Christian institution Matridham Ashram, the threat to schools who would dress children as Santa Claus in Haryana, the playing of Hanuman Chalisa on the loudspeakers at a Christmas celebration venue in Kurukshetra, Haryana, the tearing down of a statue of Jesus Christ in Ambala Cantonment, Haryana on Christmas night, the barging into the premises of a school in Pataudi, Uttar Pradesh during Christmas eve celebration, the disruption of the Christmas midnight mass in Silchar, Assam are a few instances of the activities of the Hindutva fundamentalists. Their intimidation and threat is always accompanied by chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan and their favourite ambiguous allegation is conversion.
Barnes Mawrie the other day enumerated the rising cases of persecution of Christians and Muslims by people who proclaim to be passionate followers of a particular religion. They are emboldened not only because of the tacit blessing of the establishment but also Hindus do not speak loud and frequent enough against such religious bigots. Rarely is condemnation heard. Then why take aim at church singing and preaching that coincide with the Durga festivity? Church programs on Durga vacation might not be a competition. There may not be any ill-intention. They could be just a matter of convenience. The Durga puja days may the only available and suitable days. The Durga Puja break is utilised for religious purposes. Non-Christians may do the same during Christmas days off. There is no issue. But Christians have issues if their celebrations during Christmas and pujas are disrupted. We have concerns if we are attacked for no fault of ours. We want the larger community to stand for us and for all minorities.
Even if the majority of the majority community do not agree to be counted, the Church should. But has it been so? What happened in Khandwa has not been condemned by the Church authorities. Only the leadership of Indian Catholic Youth Movement (ICYM) has expressed outrage. This is not strange any more. Even the series of attacks during Christmas last year did not wake up the Church from its slumber. The Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI) was a mute spectator. In the North East not a single organisation had a word of denouncement. The powerful bishops’ body in Kerala had nothing to say against the anti-conversion law in Karnataka because some of its members are in league with the Sangh Parivar. The Church in the southern state had to fight its battle alone.
The soul of this article is not about condemnations. It is about our mutual respect. Ideally nothing should happen so that the word condemnation disappears from the dictionary. Christians believe in one God, Muslim in Allah (God), Hindus worship the Supreme Being. Buddhists have no object with that. Then ultimately all have the same faith. All the drama that is going on in the country is more political than religious, much less spiritual.