Once in a while, opinion pieces are published that seek to mollify upper-middle-class Hindu anxiety about rapid conversion by Christian denominations. One such piece by the business journalist turned archaeogenetics expert Mr Tony Joseph appeared in Outlook in 2015, which was rebutted in this Indiafacts article.
In a fresh edition of Church apologetics masquerading as opinion, Mr Dilip Mandal again seeks to allay fears by declaring people should not pay attention to VHP because the Church’s mission in India a failure. To begin with, our position is that the Church in India wields power and influence far in excess of simple headcount. Their ability to influence public opinion has been taken for granted, to such an extent that one may point to such artefacts as the Hindu Civil Laws that largely reflect Christian values and ethical positions.
Be that as it may, we will turn our attention to the specific four claims he makes as part of his argument and examine the veracity in each of them.
The demographic claim
Mr Dilip Mandal quotes figures of Christian demographics in large cities, but ignores the fact that large swathes in the North East of India – Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Eastern Manipur – are Christian majority. Native Meitei of Manipur are facing demographic pressures, such smaller tribes as the Bru-Reang have been ethnically cleansed from their original homelands.
Nagaland went to becoming a 100% Christian State from a small Christian minority in the space of a century. Arunachal Pradesh has seen a rise in Christian population to more than 30% in just a few decades of missionary activity. The forest regions of Central India, South Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh and Central Kerala are regions where local politics, voting patterns and even environmental policy is decided by the Church.
Mr Mandal points to the absence of a liberation theology driven approach of the Church as a reason for it’s failure in India. To posit that liberation theology is a theological approach that builds greater adherence to the Church is to ignore historical facts, especially the history of the last 4 decades.
The Church’s ecclesiastical authorities until the current Pope have been strongly against such theological innovations – both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were conservative. On the ground, one may note that such regions as Chile, Argentina, Southern Mexico and the Andean regions where priests preaching liberation theology, viz, attributing redistributive economic philosophy to Jesus Christ, are the where the Church has seen the highest erosion in congregational strength. On the other hand, in regions where the Church took positions in favour of traditional conservatism such as the United States, Northern Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Philippines and Romania are still strongholds of Catholicism.
All other denominations have not taken such a route to preach. It may also be noted that the elevation of Pope Francis, a leading liberation theologist, to the papacy does not have much to do with winning and retaining congregants, but to do with a sex scandal involving the highest members of the Papal Curia. This claim of Mr Mandal’s is thus a totally irrelevant one. However, Mr Mandal neglects to look at the Church’s role in ethnolinguistic sub-nationalist movements like Nagalim for Christ, the Mizo insurrection, it’s covert support of Kashmir separatism or its recent role in such chaotic events as Kudankulam agitations, Sterlite agitation, Niyamgiri agitation and Jallikattu protests.
Christianity and the Freedom Movement
The leaders of the freedom movement, including the all-powerful Gandhi-Nehru faction, never expressed hostility to the Church. They may have expressed misgivings about conversions, but always held that the Church’s message was one of service and love to fellow human beings. The role of the Church in incubating and fostering the Dravidian movement, which played an obstructionist role in the Indian freedom struggle, has largely remained out of sight until very recent times.
Christianity and Caste
The Church has several tools for take-over of a new region. One such is the rapid conversion of social and political elites. This was the technique that succeeded spectacularly in Europe. However, it largely failed in India, since the first converts in South India turned Christianity into yet another bastion of privilege. Instead, when we look at newer Protestant denominations such as Baptists, Pentecostals and Lutherans, we note that they are making rapid strides in conversion among the downtrodden masses.
Mr Mandal also makes the mistake of taking Christian claims of Brahmin ancestry at face value. Christian converts have carried their caste to their new faith but for a few generations. Oldest Christian congregations often make claims of Brahmin ancestry for themselves, since the advantages conferred by early entry into the Church far outweigh those for new converts. They utilize their superior educational attainments and economic status to create a Brahmin or Kshatriya origin for themselves. The claims of Catholics in Central Kerala or that of Goan Catholics must be seen in this regard.
Schooling by Christian Church
Mr Mandal’s final claim that the Church runs separate schools for elites and the poor is indeed true. In recent times the Church’s dominance in elite English-medium schools is being challenged by private schools run by education entrepreneurs. But a quick glance at the list of aided Tamil medium schools in Pondicherry demonstrates a near-total dominance of schools run by Christian denominations. It is obvious that education for poorer people is in the hands of the Church
Specious claims such as Mr Mandal’s are done with a view to discredit and vilify organizations such as VHP and RSS that are doing a service in alerting the general Indian public of possible threats to India’s secular fabric.