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The Rediff Special/Chindu Sreedharan
The fourth part of a series on the attacks on Christians in the Hindi heartland.
Inside one of the few concrete buildings in her village, momentarily cheating the blistering sun, Sarada is telling you why it doesn't pay to be afraid.
"Marna to marna hai. Everyone has to die one day. So why be frightened?" she asks.
"Take it from me, I am speaking for the whole village. Nobody here is scared. If that was the case, we would have run away long ago."
Some 15 kilometres from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, you are in Anupnagar. It is what you would call a 'Christian village', one of the very few of its kind in the Hindi heartland. Navada, where Brother George Kuzhikandam was brutally killed last month, is not far away.
That incident has, of course, left its mark on this backward village. Yet, despite continuing attacks on Christians across the country, the villagers say they will not falter. Vulnerable as they feel, surrounded by the majority faith, they reiterate that they will not move to a 'safe place'.
Nor change their religion, come what may.
"That thought has never even crossed our minds," says Chandrapal, who enacts the role of spokesperson for his fellowmen. "Isi dharam main rahenge hum marne tak. We will remain Christians till we die."
In view of the increased threat to the minority community, all Christian institutions in Mathura district have been provided police protection. Thus Anupnagar, housing a chapel and a convent, has armed personnel camping on its soil.
The village has an interesting history. It came into being 25 years ago, with help from Franciscan missionaries. They bought 200 acres of land, registered it under the name of Anupnagar Cooperative Society, and relocated to the plot 47 families from different parts of Agra.
"Those people," says Father Amritraj, freshly posted to Anupnagar, "were people of the scheduled castes, landless labourers who had converted to Christianity. They were being ill-treated by the upper castes."
The land was divided among the inhabitants; but they could not sell it. The co-operative society has since been dissolved. The village now falls under Usper gram panchayat. It boasts of 75 families, a chapel, a convent and a primary school. There is no electricity. The population is not entirely Christian today, thanks to inter-religious marriages.
"There was a lot of tension immediately after the brother's murder," says Sister Annie, one of three nuns in Anupnagar. "We felt very threatened. That feeling has now reduced, but we still don't feel safe. Anything can happen."
More than the members of the flock, it is the shepherds that are under threat: all anti-Christian attacks to date have been on missionaries and Christian institutions. In consequence, the sisters have cut down on their visits to neighbouring villages.
"We used to go over regularly. No, our aim was not conversion. We never preached conversion," says Sister Aruna. "We were working on projects for the development of women. But now, we don't venture out."
In Anupnagar, they feel moderately safe. Sister Annie says she is sure that the villagers would protect them if the need arose.
"Darne se kuch nahi hota hai," Sarnam Singh, one of the original inhabitants of Anupnagar, tells you a little later. "We don't believe that the attacks have ended. We will have to make arrangements for our own safety. Let them [the Hindu fanatics, who are reported to be behind the attacks] come. We are ready to fight in self-defence."
"Actually, we have faced this situation before," he continues. "Years ago, when we converted from Hinduism, people of the Arya Samaj had attacked us. They tried to force us to reconvert. We refused to do so then, and we refuse to do so now."
"The question of leaving Christianity does not rise," he asserts. The others around him nod in agreement.
"The only fear we have is that we will be victimised by the government," says another elder. Till now, he explains, the villagers had been receiving the entitlements for scheduled castes. "Now they know we are Christians. They may stop our allowances."
Fortunately, despite the anti-Christian hate literature that has been distributed in Mathura, Varanasi and other areas, despite the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's stand that Christians are 'enemies of the country' and 'are indulging in forced conversions', there is no tension between Hindus and the minority community - at least, not in this area.
The Hindu on the street has no animosity towards the missionaries. And the Christians feel they have nothing to fear from the majority community. The threat, they say, is only the black sheep, the fanatics. True, the police have arranged protection against such elements, but how long will that remain?
"We will not remove it till we are sure they are safe," says Mathura Senior Superintendent of Police Ashok Aggarwal. "Besides, we have requested the missionaries to apply for gun licenses."
That suggestion has not gone down well with them. Expectedly the priests are reluctant to own firearms, though that is not too uncommon in this infamous state.
"That is not our path. It is against our mission," says Father Dabrey of the St Dominic's church in Mathura, voicing the opinion of many. "God will protect us."
"It is for the government to ensure our safety," says Father Thomas of Kosi Kalan, a village on the Delhi-Mathura road. He was the victim of an anti-Christian attack in April. "At the most, we might think of employing armed security guards. But not owning or moving around with firearms."
"If they want to kill me they can come. I have no fear in me," he adds. "If God wants me to live, he will protect me."
For now, however, both Father Thomas and Brother Emmanuel, who succeeded Brother Kuzhikandam in Navada, have unchristianlike protection: police gunmen who follow them everywhere.
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