in observations

A response to NYTimes’ OpEd on Religion in India

The New York Times has published a Christmas OpEd piece (yesterday online and today in print) that talks about religious intolerance in India and how ‘hindu militants’ are forcing conversions of Muslims and Christians and has blamed our PM, Narendra Modi for not doing enough to stop this and other attacks.

Initially, I wanted to write a long and deeply researched rebuke of this kind of hypocrisy, but I’d rather let a picture say a thousand words –

Christianity has been the most active religion in history, going so far as attaching ‘missionaries’ to maritime exploration missions just to get a jump on converting the world to their flavor of God. Thus, calling these conversions in India the acts of Hindu militants is particularly paradoxical.

A story that comes to mind in this context is an essay written by American essayist James Baldwin titled, “Stranger in the village”. It is an eloquent study of how a black man from the US (Baldwin himself), finds himself so out-of-place in a small village in Switzerland. He finds the people to be innocently ignorant of the great victories that black people have had in the US against racism. The children, never having seen a black person before, run around him, chanting, ‘neger, neger’, not knowing if the word is considered offensive by him or not. Perhaps the more poignant part of the story is when the author finds out that the local church asks for donations for missionaries in Africa and the adults proudly inform him that they ‘bought’ six or eight African natives last year. It clearly means that those natives were, thereafter, converted to Christianity in order to ‘save’ them from hell.

I have one more probably unpopular opinion – I believe that religion is a luxury for the richer and a necessity for the poorer. The poor have far greater worries in life than to think about which God to worship to at the end of the week. Thus, when the bribe of a ration card can make someone convert from one faith to another, I say that it’s a good thing. I say that if they are uplifted by even one factor of social standing by changing religions, then it is well and good. I myself have been a product of third generation religion change and that has done nothing but made me better as a human, since I now have more inquisitiveness for religions and their histories than I daresay I would have, had I been a Christian in a Christian household. This might seem contradictory to the tone of this post, but here’s how the two go hand in hand – I believe in religious freedom, but if your faith can be moved by a ration card, then that is a freedom too.

I do, however, think that burning down churches and destroying mosques is a bad idea. I would like the suspected arsonists of the St. Sebastian’s Church in New Delhi to be caught as quickly as possible. Also, changing someone’s religion forcefully is the worst possible infliction on someone’s identity by another human. But using such events as the backdrop to label a people as ‘militants’, while talking about another such group as missionaries is fraud.

The NYTimes itself has often noted that Christian missionaries in Africa have had a rather negative effect on the culture there, yet those are missionaries while Hindus with similar goals are militants? Now that’s hypocrisy in the most manifest form.

What do you think?


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