M.K Gandhi called the new converts “Rice Christians” who, he alleged had been won over by the Christian missionaries by material inducements. For centuries Christian missionaries have worked in India in relatively more backward areas providing the locals with medicine, education and food in addition to spread of their religious reliefs and accepting converts to their religious fold. While the converts themselves viewed their new religion as a mode of social liberation, the Christian leaders by and large described conversions as a spiritual phenomenon.

The opponents, resentful of missionaries’ methods and resources, launched few reformist movements like the Arya Samaj during the late 19th and early 20th century primarily to prevent conversion to Christianity and Islam. The success of these efforts was minimal. In recent decades, the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Virat Hindu Samaj have adopted a more militant approach towards conversion.

The attitude of Hindu fundamentalists towards Christianity can be gauged from their reaction to the visit of Pope John Paul II to India during February 1986. In North India where the influence of such organizations is strong, the Pope faced some hostile demonstrations but elsewhere he was received warmly by large adoring crowds. On arrival in New Delhi, the Pope was greeted by “thousands of militant Hindu demonstrators….. Demanding the expulsion of Roman Catholic missionaries and a ban on conversion of Hindus to Christianity”.

India has about 18 million Christians or about 2.6 percent of the Indian population. Some of them trace their faith back to the year 2, when one of Jesus’s disciples, St.. Thomas landed in Malabar in southwest India. Centuries later the British arrived as traders and conquerors in India with a right mix of soldiers, administrators and missionaries. Christian conversion followed, generally striking at the two sections of the social structure from the privileged and prestigious on the one hand and the backward on the other.

The largest conversion came from the outcasts or untouchables. During the British Raj, most off springs of mixed marriages between the Europeans and Indians adopted Christianity as their religion and were known as the Anglo Indians. Though treated with enlightened disdain both by Europeans and’ Caste Hindus, they enjoyed preferential treatment in relation to other Indians at the hands of the British rulers. They manned security related services like the railways, police, postal and telegraph far out of proportion to their population. After the partition large numbers of Anglo Indians left for Australia, Canada and other European countries.

Today most Christians in India are of the indigenous ethnicity. While: the middleclass and well to do Christians are generally secure and well respected the plight of the poorer Christians, who had originally converted from untouchables, tribal and other economically backward classes, is grave. This is despite the relatively better facilities in education, medical and humanitarian services provided by the Christian missionaries and ‘who as a general rule live and work among the poor or what some cynics call potential converts.

Conversion to Christianity, although not too common, evokes as strong a reaction among tae Caste Hindus as conversion to Islam. A number of Hindu organizations have been active in countering conversions or likelihood of the same. Besides the Hindu Maha Sabha, RSS and Arya Samaj, lately two other organizations — Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Virat Hindu Samaj have joined the resurgent Hindu movement and are now in the forefront in this endeavor along with the RSS. A new organization known as the Bajrang Brigade has appeared in Hind speaking states, where it has under: taken a campaign to whip up communal frenzy.

The essence of the goals and objects of the above organization: is summed up in the statement o Arya Samaj that it is “very much concerned about the activities of the so called missionaries of Christianity, alluring the poor people of the Hindu community by offering; gifts, food and other things….that the aim of the foreign missionaries is not social service but expansion: of Christian religion……and whole sale condemnation of Hindu religion”. Added to this concern is the alleged extraterritorial loyalties c the Christians in northeastern Indian states.

In recent times there are growing instances of communal riots between Christians and Hindu: For instance, in Kanyakumari South India, there were riots spread over a period of eight weeks i early 1982, which resulted in the death of at least 12 Christian fishermen at the hands of violent: Hindu mobs and as a result « indiscriminate police firing. Mar Churches and’ convents were destroyed and Christian houses burnt. On a number of occasions Hindu idols were planted overnight at or near existing Churches. What is ominous is the profile and operation of the violence.

Violence against Christians of untouchable origin in late July, 1985, in Karamchedu village confirms the above pattern and brings out an additional dimension, although symbolic, to the violence that of mutilation of reproductive parts of Christian victims. During this disturbance at least six people hacked to death and 20 others admitted to hospital. Part of the gruesome account is:

“A 3,000strong mob of caste Hindus landholders… assaulted the madigas (Christians) en mass and killed six men and raped three girls… On the fateful night “A mob of 2,000 to 3,000 then gathered in tractors and motor cycles and surrounded the madigas houses from all sides. The surprised madigas ran for life…. Those who ran into the fields were chased and murdered in the fields. The way the 70yearold Moshe was killed is illustrative of the massacre that took place that day. When they started beating him, her into the: fields. They caught up with him, hacked him with an axe, and as he fell down on his back, they dug spear into his groin and twisted it”.

“The women were dragged out of the houses, stripped and molested. Three young girls, Mariamma (11), Victoria (13) and Sulochana were raped, after raping them a stick was dug into the’ private parts and twisted”….“A more realistic question is whether the guilty will be punished. Of the estimated 3,000) assailants, a mere 11 have been arrested till now. Most of those whom the victims have identified by name have vanished from the village”.

 Economic and Political Weekly, August 3, 1985.

“Men in well-organized khaki shirts and shorts arrived in Lorries and tempos well-armed and well provided with diesel oil and other incendiary materials. Over a period of two days, unhindered by any police action, they set out to’ systematically loot and burn 400 of the 700 houses in the village after driving its population of 3,000 into the sea (beach adjacent to the village). The Church in the village and a medical center run by nuns were totally wrecked… The Police sub inspector who ordered the firing (which killed 6 Christian’ fishermen) was lionised”…… Days later, in faraway Kaveripakkam 90 kms from Madras, a Christian convent was attacked. A Church was attacked at Tenkast Economic and Political Weekly, April 24, 1982 a few words about Christian tribal in India. There has been social unrest and low level insurgency in most of the tribal districts of Eastern India since India’s independence. Communal dynamic underlie development and cultural issues relating to the insurgency. “(For) tribals who have followed Hinduism and accepted a low status in the caste hierarchy, there is no cases of religious conflict between the caste Hindus and the tribals. But those tribals, who embraced Christianity, are looked upon with suspicion by caste Hindus. Their loyalty to the country is suspected. Attempts were made, though not with success, to prevent the tribals from embracing. (Courtesy: Churcil)

Article extracted from this publication >> July 8, 1988