Darkness Over Light: Persecution in the Indian Context

“Cross is a problem but crucified Christ is the answer,” said Fulton J. Sheen.

“Today we should think of those who are suffering from persecution, and to be close to them with our affliction, our prayers and also our tears.” The Pope Francis invited the faithful when he was reflecting and praying on the feast of St Stephen, the First Martyr.

Why does the world hate Christians today? Among those several reasons, one good reason is the same reason for which the world hated Jesus, the Son of God. Because He brought light of God to the world. The world preferred darkness to light as St. John writes in his gospel (Jn 3:19). Because the spirit of the gospel and the mentality of the world are different. Therefore, the worldly power would always try to do away with the followers of the gospel and of Christ. According to recent reports, there are various measures taken in China to eradicate Christianity and anything that is Christian in China. And lots of Christians face suffering, persecution and imprisonment in the country even for simple reasons like keeping a crucifix at home, even when it is not publicly kept or faith publicly practiced. And we are aware of such cruel and inhuman measures taken against the peace-lovers in many countries around the world, like Saudi Arabia, North Korea and some of the African countries. The situation is not very different in India either, though it is a secular country which was once known for its religious tolerance.

Some facts and factors

The Indian constitution allows every citizen of the country the freedom to choose any faith and practice it. This is definitely something that should make every Indian citizen proud of the broadmindedness of our constitution and its religious tolerance. I would like to call your attention to the India’s position on the question of religion:

  1. India has no state religion,
  2. State does not discriminate between religions,
  3. State cannot impose any tax to promote a religion or to maintain religious institution,
  4. Religious instructions cannot be imparted in educational institution run by state funds and
  5. In educational institutions recognized by the state and receiving aid from the government, religious instructions cannot be compulsorily given to an unwilling students. In educational institutions run by religious establishments, religious instructions can be given only to students willing to receive it. Religious instructions can be given to the minors only with the express consent of their guardians.

Moreover, Article 25 of Indian Constitution grants freedom to every citizen of India to profess, practice and propagate his own religion. The constitution, in the preamble professes to secure to all its citizen’s liberty of belief, faith and worship.

Article 25 (1) allows every citizen to freely follow his own religion, subject to public order, morality and health.

It is sad to note that more often than not efforts have been made by the major group of India to suppress this freedom offered by the constitution. Since May 2014, India has been governed by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As a result, radical Hinduism has increased steadily. While the level of intolerance continues to increase, Christians are regularly attacked by radical Hindus. The level of impunity has gone up evidently, with communities of converts to Christianity from Hinduism bearing the brunt of the persecution. They are constantly under pressure to return to their old beliefs, and are often physically assaulted and sometimes killed. The native Christians also face the same situation in some part of the country.

Several world leaders at various platforms and various occasions have tried to send their alerts to the India Government in connection to the persecutions that have been taking place against Christians and other minority groups in India, but bearing little fruit. At a speech in New Delhi, US President Barack Obama sent a strong message warning of the dangers of religious intolerance and urging the government to uphold religious freedom. In May, the US ambassador to India expressed concerns over the challenges faced by civil society organizations in the country and the “potentially chilling effects” of the “regulatory steps focused on NGOs.” There have been several appeals made to the Prime Minister by the significant Christian Leaderships on various occasions but with no result.

According to the Catholic Secular Forum, attacks rose more than 20 percent from 2014 to 2015. Christian rights groups monitoring the violence say the attacks have coincided with a strong rise in Hindu nationalism, which encompasses a broad spectrum of Indian political movements, but centers around the idea that Hindu traditions and beliefs should serve as a guide for the state and its citizens. The more extreme Hindu nationalists are to be accused of mounting the attacks.

Fire with dark flames

Persecution in Kandhamal, a district of Odysha in India a few years ago, had caught the attention of the world. This was the worst of its kind in the recent times in India. It was too cruel and inhuman that even today the picture of the riot is brightly visible in the eyes of the world and the cry of the innocent traumatically intense in the conscience of the world. In the riot, according to reports, about 100 Christians were killed, about 300 hundred churches and 6,000 houses were destroyed. Besides, several Churches, Institutes and houses were robbed; and about 56,000 people became homeless. The Christians in the locality have not come out of the trauma caused by the riot and they still experience its after effects. Yeah, the flame was dark….

A very inspiring factor was their strong and deep faith in Jesus Christ even in the midst of all these struggles, pain and traumatic experience. The faith and conviction of the people I experienced there during my ministry was not a faith that one would just profess on Sundays or on festivities at the comfort and security of a Church, not a faith that one would acknowledge when in need of some privileges, not a faith that one might conveniently forget for fear of losing a benefit; but a profession of faith at the point of losing their family, house and properties, and even their life. Indeed, it’s a courageous confession and fearless profession of their profound faith in the Lord Jesus Christ at the face of the poison-edged sword of the nasty politics of the coldblooded fundamentalists of the country. Many of them had to pay heavy price for their faith. They were neither liturgists, nor canonist, nor degree-holders in theology or spirituality or psychology. They were people who struggle for their hand to mouth existence and live their life by their own sweat. What a great faith indeed from such simple people! I was challenged and my faith questioned. But we know darkness cannot outdo light.

To conclude, a Christian is one who follows Christ thru his or her life by being a disciple of Christ. A disciple is one who translates the message and life of Christ in today’s living context thru one’s life and not just imitating Him. Some might listen to the disciple and learn from him, some might ignore, some might try to oppose strongly and sometimes even violently and try to stop him, still some religious, political or social fanatics might go to the extent of killing the disciple of Christ for fear of the message of brotherhood, equality, justice, peace, forgiveness, faith, truth and love. Jesus says, “…you will be hated by all.” (Lk 21: 19). We and those facing persecution need to be strengthened. It is my belief that it is innate in the Trinitarian vocation to work for those persecuted for the sake of their faith in Christ. Let us look at Him, the Captivated and Crucified and we shall find the answer and we shall be brightened up by the Divine Light so that we can light up the world of darkness. Thus, a brighter society, brighter India, a brighter world, a brighter humanity and a brighter cosmos; …. light over darkness.

An ancient Indian saying, “When there is righteousness in the heart there is beauty in the character; when there is beauty in the character there is harmony at home; when there is harmony at home there is order in the nation; and when there is order in the nation there is peace in the world.”