Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Christianity and the great Indian civilizations


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By Dr Nsungbemo Ezung

For the Christian minority of India, the 2023 Christmas was a mixed bag of feelings as their fate of existence in India hangs under a vulnerable thread of secularism; this very secularism, which is supposed to be the foundational principle of India as a nation and society, has been threatened to be demolished by the rising powerful majoritarian communal elements.
On the eve of Christmas, the Tripura unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had launched a campaign to demand from the government authorities to “delist” the tribals of the state who had embraced Christianity from the Scheduled Tribe category. This effort by the RSS in the easternmost and one of the smallest states of India to dispossess the right of the tribals just because the latter did not share their faith with the former is not insignificant as this in recent years had become a pattern all over the country with the right-wing communal elements in the country waging an aggressive campaign to discourage, if not threaten, the religious minorities of the country to abandon their faith, and return to the fold of the majority religious group. This coercive politics/tactics adopted by the majority religious group of the country not only undermines the rights of the religious minorities but threaten the very foundation of modern India.
However, on Christmas day, in a rare reach-out gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hosted a Christmas event in his official residence in New Delhi which was attended by a good number of Christian leaders and priests representing different Christian denominations. In his Christmas message, Narendra Modi invoked Jesus Christ as an ideal that “serves as a guiding light for developing India”. He had showered praise on the Indian Christian community for playing a consistent and vital role in guiding Indian society and always being at the forefront of serving the poor and marginalized, and further urged Christian educators and medical professionals to take the lead in raising awareness of nutrition, mental health and anti-drug movement in the country.
Well, I don’t know whether any other Indian prime ministers of the past had ever hosted a Christmas event at Prime Minister’s official residence, but this year’s historic Christmas event at 7 Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi and Narendra Modi’s special Christmas message for the Indian Christians should reassure not only the Christian minority but also all other religious minority groups of the country that the central government and the state governments across the country will take care of the welfare and well-being of the religious minorities, and that the government, both central and states, will not only protect their right to practice their religious faith, but also will not tolerate any communal fringe elements in their motives to disturb the communal harmony in the country by undermining the rights and privileges of the religious minorities.
Narendra Modi was right; the teaching and ideal of Jesus Christ has not only been serving as a guiding light in modern India but also for the past two millennia. Christianity, in the Indian context, is not only a religion followed by a minority of more than 26 million Indians. It formed an important component of the great more than two thousand years old Indian civilization. Albeit being a minority the place of Indian Christians in Indian history is not insignificant. Ever since Christianity had taken its root in Indian soil in the first century AD, the Indian Christians took part and witnessed the major development and transition of India. Prominent Indian Christian leaders including KC Banerjee, founding member of Indian National Congress (INC), Mother Teresa, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Harendra Coomar Mookerjee, vice-president of the Constituent Assembly of India, took a leading part in the social and political transformation of India.
In fact, the survival of Christianity in India, as a religion followed by a negligible number of followers, along with other religious minorities like Islam, Buddhism and Jainism for more than two thousand years is a mighty testament to India’s unique and inspiring tradition of tolerance and social harmony, and further cemented India’s status as a plural, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation/society where different groups of people adhering to different religious faiths co-exist in perfect harmony. The social and political upheaval in India in the last two thousand years that had brought so many changes in India did not affect this fine social harmony in the country. It makes us wonder how a Christian religion established by a few Roman Christian converts, who had escaped from persecution under their oppressive Roman regime, could take such a firm root, and thrive and survive for more than two millennia. It can happen only in a tolerant society like India. And that was India’s glorious past. And it’s up to present-day Indians and the Indian government to choose whether to continue to live with that past reputation, or abandon it by giving in to the pressure of a few fringes.
The RSS leadership may not have been aware, or chose to ignore, this great glorious past of India when they tried to project Christianity as something alien and a threat to Indian culture when in reality Christianity very much was and continues to be an integral part of Indian culture and society. By trying to delete Christianity and other minority religions from Indian history, the RSS and its associates are only distorting the history of the great Indian civilization which they are trying to promote and glorify.
One can called Indian civilization and Indian society great only when Christianity and other minority religions can find their place where it is due, and when the religious and ethnic minorities can freely practice and propagate their faiths and ways of life without any discrimination from the authority and society at large; because the greatness of India cannot be attained by uprooting the more than two millennia of Christian religious faith and tradition that had already been firmly rooted in the country. India’s greatness lies in the fact that India is a land of minorities where many religious and ethnic minorities formed an integral part of the Indian ways of life.


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