(As part of the Satyanveshi initiative, we recently interacted with members of the Hindustani Christians’ Manch, a nationalist Christian group where almost all members are Swayamsevaks. We have tried to conduct this interview impartially, to ascertain the perspective and views of Nationalist Christians who are part of the Manch, with the composite responses of Jerome Anto (founder-convenor), Aliot Bhushan Koli, Gloria Joseph and Robert Rozario, as forwarded by the Manch.
The Hindustani Christians’ Manch was convened by Jerome Anto, an active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Mr. Anto is a Swayamsevak himself and an active Christian with the sole intention of integrating Christians who are part of the Sangh Parivar spread across the length and breadth of the country. Almost all members are active in the Sangh as Swayamsevaks or subscribe to the thought process.
The Manch aims to to demolish the false narrative that the Sangh is anti-Christian, to prepare an alternative voice of Christians in India as it is perceived that all Christians subscribe to the false narration of religious persecution currently blown out of proportion and amplified by a few sinister self-proclaimed Christian leaders and clergyman, and to encourage Christians to participate and be part of the Sangh and its ideology and propel nation-building.
The responses by the Manch do not represent the position of Satyanveshi on any of the questions asked)
How did a practicing Christian like yourself end up in the RSS?
I consider myself as an Indian first. All those who care for human welfare and nation building should join the RSS. I am a Christian by faith. But an Indian by heart. Both need not clash.
There is a perception that the RSS is anti-minority.
Your presence in the Sangh seems to be a living testimony that this demonization may be false.
What are your views on this narrative?
I believe my country is more sacred than my religion and many will be furious but this is my opinion. I am because of my country and not my religion. And moreover our ancestors were Hindus. Hence I believe my culture and civilization is more sacred and important.
The perception of the RSS is false, and I can vouch for the fact that the Sangh is not anti-minority. I have freely practiced my faith, while being part of the RSS.
Did you face backlash from the Church or ostracization by your community for your association with the RSS?
Yes at a certain point, I did face backlash. There were people who said that I should be ‘right in my thoughts’. Various Christian fora and channels spoke against Jerome (Anto) for his outspoken views on aspects of being a nationalist Christian.
I feel the perception about RSS in the church has to and will change eventually. One should never fear when one is right. Without wanting to sound presumptuous, Jesus was also betrayed and hanged by his own people, after all.
But here we are only facing ideological opposition! We cannot cower down from what we see is the truth: the RSS works for all Indians.
How does one reconcile the Christian faith with the idea of Hindutva?
“सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः” “सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः”
“Love your neighbors as yourself “
All these are as same as the idea of Hindutva. The word Hindu is derived from the river Sindhu. Not even in Ramayana neither in the Mahabharata the word Hindu exist. What we today know as Hinduism is a coming together of various traditions and schools of philosophy under one umbrella. Hindutva is the essence of this way of life, of society, which is inherently and fundamentally Indic.
And hence you can be a Hindu by your culture and civilisation, and Christian by faith.
There is no conflict between the two.
What are your views on the clause to stand for right to propagate religious ideas in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution and the recent call for anti conversion laws?
I feel in the right to propagate religion there is a contradiction. I see modern organized religions as all about taking away someone’s right to free thinking, free speech and personal liberty, and making them more oriented about what a certain institution of that religion puts forth, without leaving much space for active and independent spiritual engagement. Spirituality may liberate but religion, at times, constrains, in rituals and ideas of what is the ‘right way to God’.
Going by this understanding, if the right to propagate is a constitutional right, then it amounts to the right to take away someone else’s right, according to me!
I therefore feel that a strong anti-conversion bill is highly important and in the right direction towards realizing true secularism and freedom in faith.
According to you, how true is it that the current Modi government and the BJP, in general, is anti Christian, as some like to believe?
It’s absolutely untrue to say that Narendra Modi, his government and the BJP are anti-Christian. Their policies and steps have helped all and sundry, from Ayushman Bharat, recent reforms in agriculture and labour, National Education Policy and various other government programmes. The government has worked at alleviating the problems of people and facilitating their growth, cutting across religions, castes, communities, races, genders and classes.
I feel that there’s not even an iota of truth in this misprojection of the Narendra Modi-led government being anti-Christian.
It is all propaganda.
How do you reconcile the Dharmic element of pluralism and cosmopolitanism with what you see as exclusivist ideas and elements in Abrahamic religions, as a practicing Christian?
I see that as the real challenge for any Christian to strike a balance between dharmic pluralism and religious dogma. Often it ends up in succumbing to dogma rather than go by logical thinking. Hinduism is an older way of life, and has undergone significant evolution and development over millenia. It is often with the flux of ideas into and out of a system of religion and philosophy that religions evolve. I hope that with time, this can also be seen in Abrahamic religions.
Till that happens, however, I don’t see there being any obvious basis or manner of such a reconciliation.
The RSS has the word Swayamseva in it.
For me, the word signifies that which is selfless in that there is no self in this Seva (service), and yet, paradoxically, one is serving one’s higher Self – a universal oneness of all humanity.
How do you see this as a continuation of the ancient tradition of undertaking work and Karma without expectations?
Yes, Swayamseva means working selflessly and without any motives, and only to satisfy one’s own conscience and to do good Karma. Service by various people associated with certain modern religions is with ulterior motive of swelling the size of flock and enlarging the enterprise. You will often see the citation of this good work when discussing religious institutions or calls for support for expansion of resources of these institutions.
Swayamseva is service without any such motives or reasons but simply to help humanity.
As you see it, what is the place of Christians in the idea of India as a Hindu Rashtra?
Any Christian born in India and who sees India as his country, his motherland, and its culture and civilisation as his own, is inherently part of this conception of a Hindu Rashtra.
I see the role of Christians in a Hindu Rashtra as the one practiced by Parsis in India for over a millennium. Reconciliation with all instead of confronting, and harmonious co-existence, alongwith standing by camaraderie, compassion and co-existence.
These are all values and virtues that were taken to be of importance both in the message of Jesus as well as the Hindu way of life.
Organizations like Open Doors and All India Christian Council have shared statistics showing an increased persecution of Christians under BJP, with one reportage pegging attacks on Christians to be once every 40 hours in 2016.
According to you, how factually true are these reports, according to you, and how much of this is propaganda?
These are all false propaganda with cooked up figures. In reality there’s not even a single incident of so called ‘persecution’.
It’s inbuilt in Church doctrine to accuse others and claim to be victims as a part of long drawn strategy of expansionism.
It has been mentioned by one of your members previously that Christianity has always facilitated destruction of civilisations around the world.
How do you reconcile that with your faith of Christianity?
This really is a difficult task to reconcile as a learned person having known the crimes committed by Church leading to destruction of civilization. It often becomes impossible to reconcile this fact, but to live with that burden of guilt and also dogma.
Christian missionaries are seen to claim the ineffectiveness of pagan traditions in various places.
I also always find this curious that God only chose Israel as the land of God and only the people thereof closest to the Christian God. For me, the term is more spiritual and philosophical than necessarily geocentric.
Does the projection of the salvific efficacy of Christianity above Pagan traditions mean the people who undertake this believe that the rest of the world was living in darkness through the ages, ridiculous as that thought is?
This part of the Bible throws light on how ignorant were the persons compiling this document which had the Word of God. Israel has been used in the Bible 2,431 times and is include in 13 of 27 as well as 34 of 39 books of the New and Old Testaments respectively. Israel is the Hebrew name Yisra’el, meaning ‘God contends’, or one who struggles with God. What made Israel unique in Christian and even Judaistic thought is that God seemingly was using the people of Israel to further his plan of redemption for the entire human race. I guess at the end of the day it is a matter of belief. When we look back now, what really looks very awkward and unnecessary is the projection of the rest of humanity as living in darkness.
I am aware that some Christian missionaries used the ploy of showing the ineffectiveness of Pagan traditions, and I outright condemn this. God comes to many in different ways. Jesus died for us on the cross, and his sacrifice led the way to our salvation, as per Christian thought. There were other spiritual luminaries who showed other various paths for redemption and salvation of mankind as well. To reject and speak negatively about other religions, particularly Pagan cultures and traditions, is not right.
Jesus’ message was one of brotherhood, compassion and co-existence, after all.
A profound question that has been debated by various scholars is the veracity of the words of Luke, Mark, John and Matthew in the Gospels.
Even someone like Paul, who is among the oldest sources of the word on Jesus, did not quite meet Jesus, with his conversion being slated at around 31-36 AD as per Geoffrey William Bromiley, Paul Barnett and Richard L. Niswonger.
So, the word of the modern Bible being taken as the exact word and essence of the faith of Jesus may not quite be true. For instance, even the idea of resurrection is taken as a spiritual resurrection by some early Gnostic Christian traditions.
Given these realities, how far or close are we to Jesus’ words when we follow the modern Church and Bible?
I see the current practice as more of Churchianity rather than Christianity. A convenient system to control the minds, and thereby rule over them. You are right in saying that the Gospels were compiled and written significantly after Jesus’ life and times. There have also been interpolations and interpretations that have clouded the true message of Christ, as I see it.
You are also right in saying that there were various Judaistic-Christian strands that had a more Gnostic or spiritual conception of elements of faith like Resurrection.
The Church, unfortunately, sees all this as ‘heretical’.
There were Christian religious leaders like the Bishop of Bangalore who spoke against the CAA, even though it categorically speaks up for Christians in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
According to you, how true is it that this was more since PM Modi brought such a pro-Christian move than nuances of the actual policy? And how did you stand up against this hypocrisy on the part of Christian leaders who did not quite seem to stand up for the interests of persecuted Christians?
Yes, it is hypocrisy of the highest order. When Aasiyah Bibi is made to undergo the worst kind of repression, which spurred the debate on blasphemy laws, where were these leaders? Was she not a Christian? Was she any lesser a child of God? Today Christians are facing persecution of the worst kind in various places in these countries, and the extension of support by the Indian government to them is commendable.
This opposition to the CAA only exposes these particular religious leaders of being working against the interest of own community! We have always stood against this and feel that the CAA is pro-Christian and pro-humanity.
There is this idea that there is no caste system in Christianity and this has often been seen to be a reason for conversion of individuals from backward castes of Hindus. However, the hypocrisy is that the caste system never quite goes, even after conversion. One can still find backward caste Christians. Not only this but the sense of hierarchy seems to linger, with hardly 5% bishops are from backward communities, along with there being no Dalit Cardinal in India.
What are your views on this?
Propagating Christianity among the backward castes in the guise of ‘no casteism in Christianity’ is a well thought over ploy to lure Hindus into Christianity. But the ones who are caught in the cross fire are those who have converted in the hope of equality.
I feel it is nothing less than jumping from one frying pan to another frying pan!
There is no liberation from these identities even after conversion, and as you rightly said, this is seen right from the clergy in India to even day-to-day life in Christian society.
There are subtle, some regressive, ways to lure people into converting, be it the recently seen Yesu Namaskar or the Bhajan like songs on the Ghats of Varanasi that praise Jesus. In the past too, there are purported instances where Christians have appropriated elements of Pagan cultures, such as the festival of Saturnalia and the consecration of temple of Sol Invictus on 25 December being what was supposedly converted to Christmas. There are also things like ‘Jesus Gayatri Mantra’ as well as a ‘Christ Sahasranama’.
How does one stand up against that effectively?
Church has always adopted such tactics even in the past: what can’t be destroyed or persuaded to give up, appropriate it with religion.
I hope educated individuals and grassroot level organisations stand up against this misappropriation and guile.
This is not a healthy practice nor is it one that Jesus would have endorsed, as I see it.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa was a practicing Christian for a little while, and Vedantins have seen resonances between Dharmic traditions and Christian ideas, albeit with elements in slight variance with the Catholic tradition. Some scholars have also seen Christianity as a form of Saguna Bhakti tradition.
In the contemporary age, the whole process of integration of Christian ideas and elements into the larger Dharmic flow has been restricted by certain exclusivist elements, doctrinally.
How does one facilitate an active engagement and discussion between these two major traditions with the broad aim of coexistence, peace and possibly even qualified integration?
I was unaware of the fact that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa was a practicing Christian!
For now Hinduism needs to concentrate in reinforcing its position and pride, and not depend or dilute itself by adapting teachings of other religions (especially Abrahamic religions). I feel adapting Abrabamic traditions dilutes the understanding of the common Hindu, because the majority of Hindus don’t know their own religion, neither do they take interest and are most apologetic when it comes to their own faith because of lack of religious knowledge.
Hinduism is an in-depth way of life, a philosophy that has survived millenia and most of the answers Hindus seek are available in their own texts! By looking into the Abrahamic faith will only dilute the understanding of the Hindus and confuse them.
Religious co-existence means: let each mind their own religion, and live together harmoniously.
That will save India and humanity.
Yes, I never quite spoke for integration or assimilation but rather the broad resonances between the two strands, constrained only by specific elements. I agree with the idea that Hinduism should reinforce its own position. But that may not mean we cannot have a greater engagement, for religious co-existence and acceptance.
Nonetheless, my next question has to do with the message of universal brotherhood in Christianity, and the specific problem of lynching in India. I would like to condemn, in the strongest of terms, this occurrence (of lynching), regardless of who the victim is.
Christian activists, clergymen and other have complained about some ‘Sanghis’ undertaking lynching of Christians in the past. As valid as a stance against any instance of lynching is, when two Hindu Sadhus were killed by lynching in Palghar recently, why was no Bishop or Cardinal or Christian anti-lynching activist speaking up against that?
Where was the idea of brotherhood then? Why this selective uproar? Are we not humans first?
I have already spoken about their hypocrisy in this realm, and this extends to various areas.
For me, as a practicing Christian, all human beings, nay all beings, are children of God. God made them with immense care and love. Even though a Hindu or Muslim may not be from my religion, my faith and religion still tells me that I must stand with them, through thick and thin, for we are brothers and sisters – children of God. Jesus assuaged and gave peace and spiritual nourishment to all those who came to him, not just his apostles or followers. He sacrificed himself for all humanity. So, when religious leaders and ‘activists’ stand against lynching of Christians but not for Sadhus in Palghar, I find a certain element of displacement from the Christian faith.
Funny thing is that they still manage to function with all these contradictions!
What is your vision of motivating, and harnessing the potential of, Christians to help work towards a progressive and modern India that is built on a balance of civilisational foundations and contemporary ideas?
This is a very, very big task, and the Sangh has taken steps in this direction. It has to undertake many programs to back up who I see as the right-thinking Christians, who are already working in this direction but who lack support. I would like to see every Christian in this new India contribute to a bright future that understands the value and worth of being Indian, and has an active sense of belonging and love for it.