DR ABRAHAM MAR PAULOS is the Diocesan Bishop of Delhi for the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar. Recently, he organised a colloquium of eminent academics and journalists in Delhi in the wake of increasing incidents of intolerance against religious minorities and the allegations of forcible conversions by Hindutva groups. Excerpts from an interview:
Against the backdrop of the government’s harping on development, how do you view the recent attempts by Hindutva groups to convert poor Christians forcibly into Hinduism?
As you suggested, this is a paradox. The present political dispensation rode to power with the agenda of development. But within six months of coming to power, responsible MPs and outfits such as the VHP are making irresponsible statements. This is a great source of anguish for the minorities. There is a motive behind this. We know that the VHP, the RSS and other subsidiary organisations have their own agendas But we believed that under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi this agenda would not be furthered in an explicit way.
This is a test for Modi too. Surprisingly enough, Modi did not come out with a statement in the last fortnight despite demands from the opposition forone. It was only yesterday [December 16] that he admonished his own MPs. But he never came out strongly against these elements. There are several disturbing things that continue. For example, the decision to celebrate December 25 as “good governance day” will only come in way of peaceful Christmas celebrations. They shouldn’t have given any instructions to Navodaya Vidyalayas and CBSE schools to conduct an essay competition, and so on. This may appear very trivial on the face of it. But the intention of the government is suspicious. It sends out a message that they don’t care for the celebrations of the minorities. A majority government is saying we don’t care for the minorities.
On Christian groups receiving foreign funding.
Christianity has been around in India for 2,000 years now. We believe that in A.D. 52, St. Thomas, one of the Apostles, came to India to spread the gospel. We still lay claim to the rich history and heritage of this tradition. We are rightful citizens of this land. Also, the percentage of Christians in India is 2.7 as per the last Census figures. If conversion had been taking place for the past 2,000 years, India would have been a Christian country. Indian Churches are Indian in origin, autonomous in nature, and democratic. Article 25 (1) of the Constitution affirms the right to believe, affirm and propagate religion. Conversion is a private personal decision.
What is your view on the proposal to enact an anti-conversion law?
The constitutional provisions themselves are self-explanatory. There is no need to have any anti-conversion law. This will be the unseating of the provision of constitutional law. I have every right to talk about my faith but it’s your decision whether you are going… [or not].
The conversion efforts come close on the heels of increasing attacks on Christians, especially in States such as Madhya Pradesh. What is your reading of the situation?
In Madhya Pradesh and in many other States, Christians are facing threats and intimidation. In a country like India with multiple facets, plurality is not a danger, it is a beauty. The Constitution provides every community a decent life in this country. In a country which is so diverse, if we do not strengthen the secular character we will only end up in disaster.
How do Christian groups plan to address both the increasing incidents of violence and the issue of forced conversion?
Christians are a very peace-loving people. We do not want to combat an attack with another. We will follow the constitutional provisions and uphold the tradition of law and order. We will take a legal route to redress these attacks. We don’t want to get into a confrontation. There are many peace-loving secular people even amongst the majority. They will definitely stick to this style of solving conflicts.
Are these conversion efforts creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity amongst Muslims and other religious minorities?
People will definitely feel insecure and anguished. The government should root out all such insecurity and anxiety from the minds of the people. If the Prime Minister does not reassure the people, it will have a negative impact on his march for development. We request the government to come out and root out insecurity from the minds of the people.