Musings: Christianity’s social message of Love conquers all still remain most powerful

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

I never got the luxury of studying in the schools owned by the Christians but learn a few things about them when my daughter got the opportunity to study there.  Most of these schools are purely commercial and cater the middle class upper castes. The children will learn values of different faiths in these schools and even if they are teaching Christian values, it is because they are not government schools and hence comparison cant be made but today the Sangh and its PR agents have made all the sarkari schools as Hindu schools and then want the minority institutions not to follow their value system. Though all these institutions have to follow law of the land and there is nothing like an autonomous zone outside the constitution of India. So the farcical narratives emerging from the whatsapp universities of Sangh Parivar must be countered.

This is my narrative of 1999 when we wanted the non-faith school for my daughter also but perhaps atheists and seculars don’t have a space or the schools there were beyond our reach, we zeroed in for a school owned by Christians but in the first year my daughter was denied admission when my wife wanted to push being atheist as our faith. It is not possible, said the father, an adamant, my wife walked out though my daughter got admission next year studied there, none forced anything in terms of religion on her.  I too had a small period of association with a noted Christian institution in Delhi when I enrolled for the mass media courses in the 1990s and most of the staff assigned for us had absolutely brahmanical minds except for very few. In my project report, I decided to analyse the role of media in spreading anti Mandal violence in Delhi and other parts of northern India but later realized that it was a bad subject to do so given the nature of the journalists who were consultants there but to my surprise the guide was happy with the subject and wanted me to explore more. I told him my fear in writing the report and he nodded.

The fact is that Christian institutions in India are not making the best Christians but creating sophisticated Brahmins. Most of the RSS and Sanghi ideologues today must have their background in the elite St Stephens College of Delhi. Whether it is a ‘secular’ Mani Shankar Aiyer or ‘communal; Swapan Das Gupta or middle class Anglican deshbhakt, Shashi Tharoor or business friendly Sangh ideologue of yesteryears, Arun Shourie or BJP spokesperson of past Chandan Mitra, or all have one commonality and that is that they belong to St Stephens College in Delhi and can ‘proudly’ claim being superior to any other institution in India as Mani Shankar famously said about Ajay Makan, who hailed from Hansraj college in Delhi. I don’t know what would be the fate of those like me who never got the opportunity to study in these ‘famous’ institutions as well as hail from not only nondescript places. Most of the Christian Institutions cater the upper caste upper elite and have been best used by them. They are outside the purview of a majority of Dalits, OBCs as well as adivasis except for a few cases which can always come through their own connections.  So, how can these institutions ever raise the issue of social justice and secularism when they are trying to be the B copy of the Sangh school. I can bet now Gayatri mantra, Bharat Mata, Yoga, Vivekananda, Gandhi, Bankim Chandra and hopefully in the coming days, Savarkar, Hedgewar and Deen Dayal Upadhayay too will become part of the cultural assimilation of the Christian Institutions. We have seen it. We blame on Rahul Gandhi as why is he trying to project as a Hindu but the thing we can ask these questions to all those who are not in politics and should have no compulsion. Why are Christian Institution being brahmanised ? Have the RSS succeeded in doing so? I think much before that the brahmanical forces controlled Christian institutions otherwise where are the tenants of liberation theology if the institutions have failed to educate the Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis. Have they provided any reservation for them in their institutions? On an NDTV debate we heard Christian educationists that they provide 40% of education to students outside the government bodies. Now, the question is how much reservation is granted for various students of marginalized communities. Has there been any interest shown by them? As far as I know the same St Stephens college went against the reservation policy of the government under the garb of minority institution and never wanted to provide that to SC-ST students.

The work of Christianity in India cannot be really understood in terms of the elite institution it occupies. It wide work has to be appreciated what thousands of unknown soldiers have worked in remote villages of India where education and health failed. The social message of Christianity has delivered to some of the most marginalized people in India. There are a lot of things to learn from them. The point I wish to make it that while Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and all other faiths in the world are not exactly birth based unlike the manuwadi brahmanical system where your future is caged in the category of caste that you are born. Religions have their own problems and I have fiercely critiqued most of them yet there are commonalities and good points too. There are things which evolve and Christianity has evolved over a period of time. Of course, like any other organized religion, the dominance of the religious right would always be there and a fight between religious supremacy and democratic spirit and values will always be there.

I had no earlier relation with Christianity in childhood except once I saw a congregation of the Sangh parivar who forced a pastor become a Hindu and converted him in a big ceremony. He was asked to chant Hanuman chalisa for several days and asked to reject Christianity but we found out that after some days, he returned to Christianity.  Those were period of early 1980s and I was just a school student so not much known as how did and why it happened. There were two Christian students with us but not much interaction with them during our childhood days. But my real relations started with Christianity after I left home in 1990 and came to Delhi. I wanted to narrate this in the first persons account because it is important that I have never witness any one compelling people to embrace religion. As an Ambedkarite, I have seen the philosophy of Buddhism through embracing new ways of life. Why should one live at a place which has no social message of equality in opportunity. Those who have read Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar would definitely not need to get it explained through those elitist writers who talk of sarv dharm sambhav and therefore create an illusion of tolerance in Brahmanism.

Today, I am a humanist but my journey to become a radical humanist pass through various phases. I grew up in a family where religion was not that hardcore yet my mother was definitely spiritual. She might have been conservative in following certain unharmful rituals but never hardcore orthodox. I won’t go into the details but there was one fact that my childhood to youthful days were in denial mode. In 1990, I was brought to Delhi by one of the best known Indian authors in English language and I felt that a change would come to my life but here his so called family made my life a hell. That was the time when I came in touch with Ambedkarite writings and that of other revolutionaries like Periyar and Jyoti Ba Phule but my social life in Delhi was that of isolation and neglect. The family that I was into ensured that I should not be treated more than a domestic servant and that too like a bonded labour who was not allowed to move out of the home. Frustration started coming in as I had none to look towards in this vast Delhi when the place I was living gave me just a Pahadi identity and an innocent village boy. My ambition to study further never happened. There was none with who I could share my thoughts and pains. Suddenly, a friend in the nearby vicinity, asked me to join with him to a south Delhi free- Church. And then it began a journey which I can’t forget.

Initial days, I would sit in the back of the church because it was the upper middle class kind of church. Because of my pahadi nature, I was more like an introvert. Secondly, hailing from a background of miserable childhood, I had not seen many things and cultural taboos were big problems. At the green park church, I would rarely understand what the pastor was speaking in his typical Malyali English.  Also, it was difficult to understand the theological references for an entirely novice like me but nevertheless, it was a refreshing thing for me that nobody ever asked me as who I was and why I am there. My background never mattered. One day, sitting in the church, one Mrs Marfatia came to me and inquired about me as why I am so alone. I wanted someone to listen to me and she was so happy. For her, it became a kind of idea of offering to help the needy, disillusioned. Slowly, I gained confidence.  In the coming days, I came in touch with another noble soul who was absolutely a wonderful human being. After many days, I decided to take theological classes that she was delivering and thought that I must convert because I felt absolutely lonely and unwanted.  I started taking classes. I was deep in love with Christ and felt that he would resolve my issues. Once inside the church, I felt wanted and not forlorn soul. Interesting part of loving Christ was that love conquer us all unlike the violent gods and goddesses to justify ‘victory’ of ‘dharma’.

In Lucknow, my friend, Namita was already going to Methodist church as Lalbagh. She was another unwanted child at her home. Victim of neglect at just second month of her birth, she had a polio attack which paralyzed her one leg thus compelling her to walk with the help of crutches. Bold, as she was, every step of her was met with equal resistance from the family. Discrimination began at home when a physically challenged girl was working to earn for herself from her graduation days and staying at the girl’s hostel when the family had the big house. Pastor Kuruvilla Chandi and his wife Roshini came as a big support for her. She would park her Kinetic Honda in the church compound to go to her school. It was the Chandis who offered me their hospitality in the church when I used to come to Lucknow in those days to meet Namita. The backyard of the Lal Bagh church was the place where we often met and enjoyed our Sunday mass. Pastor Chandy was an excellent orator and a wonderful human being. The Chandis encouraged Namita and the relationship grew. Namita never converted to Christianity but in thought she was. There was never a force on her to convert but we always felt at home at the house of Chandis and the relationship is still there.

In Delhi, my involvement with Ambedkarite movement made me question many things inside church particularly the issue of the treatment to blacks and Dalits. An issue of black is evil could not convince me and I decided against converting to Christianity. Somehow, I felt, it was more based on faith of miracle than a powerful philosophy. There was no heartburn when I said that I don’t want to convert. The Punjabi Brahmin boy, son of a big man in Haryana, who was my friend those days, converted. After reading Baba Saheb Ambedkar, I realized that religion was not my cup of tea and I can’t sit in organized ignorance of faith but my relations with all the friends remain the same.

I might not have agreed to philosophy of the Christianity but I can say that their social message, their love and affection matters. Years ago, many humanists would quote Tariq Ali’s famous ‘Hells Kingdom’ on Mother Teresa’s work but I only felt that it was a typical western way of looking at things. There was nothing hidden about Mother being a religious woman. People made her Saint and miracle provider and we disagree on both points but for those who believe in miracles that was reality. I also drew closure to Christianity in the initial days because of miracle. I wished to get Namita healed through ‘miracles’ and for that I even paid for Paul Dinanakaran’s special services. I went to attend his huge congregation at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium and realized the farce but that never changed my understanding of Christianity and the people. I don’t want to respect Mother Teresa for her miracles but for her love for the most marginalized, for those who are rejected. A country where touching someone is a crime and in that society, she touched and hugged those who were denied dignity, gave them hope and feeling of acceptance is a huge thing which those who have not faced discrimination perhaps won’t understand. I don’t care if these suffering from various ailments embrace Christianity or not. It is upto others to think as why people convert and I can definitely say that if upper castes might have been converting for money and power, the poor, marginalized in India, convert for dignity and self-respect which has been persistently denied to them in the varnashram dharma.

My wife Namita I came from two diverse backgrounds and places. We had known to each other only through letters those days and it was the church that helped us to unite. We never converted as we felt that God has no space in our personal lives but we always remained in touch with friends and receive all their messages and good wishes. On the other hand, Namita and my marriage had heart burnt among all the friends and my so called relatives. They would come to our place to see her work and make fun of her. Both of us went to my ancestral place nearly after 10 years of our marriage and that too when we could not enter our traditional house. We were virtually boycotted. I never felt that much of isolation in my life. We still live the same kind of isolation even in Delhi but now we enjoy isolation as it has become part of our life. Namita’s self-respect has made her isolated more particularly when the middle classes societies that we live have turned religious and you are expected to participate, donate and devote for all the idiotic things which are happening in the name of religion. We have kept ourselves away from that but face tremendous pressure. It is a difficult journey yet we enjoy it today but we know we are monitored.

I have criticized the church and its elitist attitude but I can say at the common place, the contribution of Christians in India is enormous. All the people born in India embraced various religions because of different reasons. A majority of Christians in India are poor and marginalized communities but those who own Christian institutions are upper caste Christians. Anyway, the community has contributed to India’s strength and none can ignore the three important sectors that Christians actually strengthened in India: civil society, health and education. We hope they will continue to do so.  As a secular humanist, I will oppose too much religious education but I never found that in these institutions. The most important part should be how our education, health and civil society become inclusive and Christian community can help with its vast commitment to social causes as well as the wider network that it has all over the country. The more they spread their outreach the caste forces will be upset with them. We feel at the end it will be Satyamev Jayate and forces of evil and destruction will be destroyed.  It is time people must speak up their own experiences with the community so that the false propaganda is exposed in the greater interest of our combine cultural heritage as well as unity and integrity of the country.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

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