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'There is nothing illegal in evangelisation'

Last updated on: January 16, 2012 14:54 IST

'There is nothing illegal in evangelisation'

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Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru

The Evangelical Fellowship of India's annual report, identifying Karnataka as the most unsafe place for Christians, has set the cat among the pigeons. Amidst intense debate on the controversial report titled Battered and Bruised... came reports about incrimination of pastors Jim Borst and C M Khanna by a Islamic Shariat court in Srinagar for their alleged involvement in luring Kashmiri Muslims to convert to Christianity.

The All India Christian Council has cried foul and states that such orders are only provocative and affects the safety of Christians.

In an interview with rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, Dr John Dayal, member of the national monitoring committee for minority education, government of India, and secretary general of the All India Christian Council, says that the Constitution gives the community the right to practice, profess and propagate its faith.

So there is nothing illegal in
evangelisation, he says.

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Image: File photo of Christians protesting. (Inset) Dr John Dayal


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'There is a myth that Christians are better off'

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How do you view the living conditions of Christians in India today?


We have demanded that the government set up a commission on the pattern of the Justice Rajinder Sachar committee that went into the condition of Indian Muslims. There is a myth that Christians are better off and highly educated. This may be true in the case Delhi or Mumbai only.

Over 60 per cent of all Christians are of Dalit origin. Many are poor tribals. Very few are highly educated (graduate or post graduate). Most are under employed.

This is from our analysis of the data from the National Sample Survey. It is true that in national statistics, Christians are just above the national average in education, but in the rural areas, the story is different.

Please remember that even apart from the Dalits, there are Christians who are small farmers, landless peasantry, and even manual labour. There is some evidence that in some states like Gujarat and Punjab even manual scavengers include those professing the Christian faith. Let there be a formal study so that the church and the government can both devise appropriate policies.

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Image: A Christian devotee prays


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'Rehabilitation has been tardy, and justice a far thing'

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Attacks against Christians and churches were reported in Orissa and Karnataka. What are your views on this?


In 2007-08, there were attacks in 14 different states, including New Delhi.

Orissa and Karnataka led the list, with Kandhamal in Orissa being the worst.

Over 5,600 houses were burnt, 400 villages were purged of all Christians, at least a hundred were killed, about 300 churches were destroyed, over 56,000 were forced to flee to the forests for safety and over 30,000 stayed up to a year in government refugee camps and shanty towns.

Rehabilitation and relief has been tardy, and justice a far thing.

The National Peoples' Tribunal held in 2010 has just published its full report on the situation.

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Image: File photo of a church ransacked during violence in Orissa


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'The political party in power does not matter'

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Under which party do the Christians feel safer?

The political party in power does not matter. Orissa was jointly ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Biju Janata Dal. Karnataka is a BJP-ruled state as is Chhattisgarh. They top the list of guilty states in the matter of Christian persecution.

It also happens in Congress-ruled states. Perhaps the few Marxist states in the past did not have violence of this nature. In fact, the Congress has also been guilty of passing the so called freedom of religion laws, which are directed against the Christian faith.

But the aggressors are the same. They belong to the many branches of the Hindutva Parivar. Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Ram Sene, Vanvasi Kalian Ashram and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh -- all are guilty.

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Image: A worker cleans the statue of Jesus in New Delhi


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'The Constitution guarantees every Indian the right to change his faith'

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Why do you think the attacks against Christians have increased in the recent past?

The attacks on Christians started increasing after 1995-96, which also marks the time that the RSS-BJP launched its movement to get to power in New Delhi and major states. The Sangh policy of India for Hindus finds all other religions as aliens.

It has a Hitlerian solution for aliens, as it defines us.

Conversions are often the reason cited for attacks against Christians. This has often been denied by the Christians.

Let us make it clear that there cannot be forced conversion in India where every policeman and judge, as also the vigilante groups, are all staunch Hindus.

They will stop it even if it were to take place. And regarding fraudulent or money induced conversion, it just cannot take place. With neighbours watching over each other, it remains impossible.

For the record, I must say it is the Constitutional right of every Indian to choose the faith he want to profess. The Constitution also guarantees him the right to change his faith.

The Constitution also gives us the right to practice, profess and propagate our faith. So there is nothing illegal in evangelisation.

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Image: A worker cleans the windows of a church in Orissa


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'There is no large scale Christian baptism'

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Would you say that conversions are not a reality?


Conversions are a reality. Tibet became Buddhist as did Sri Lanka and Japan by conversion. Manipur became Hindu. All of us became Christians by conversion -- two thousand years ago.

New Christians happen every year all over the globe, and they do so in every state in India of their own free will, without coercion and without being tempted.

Conversion is an act of God. Baptism is just a physical manifestation of the spiritual experience, and it is also a rite of admission to a Christian society.

It is perfectly legal and constitutional.  But there is no largescale Christian baptism. That is why we remain so much less than 3 per cent, perhaps around 2.3 per cent or so, which we will see when the detailed religious data is available from the 2011 census.

In the Kashmir Valley, there are just about 400 Christians -- a little more than one hundred families and most of them are not of Kashmiri ethnic origin.

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Image: File photo of a demonstration seeking safety for Christians


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'We are just victims'

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What is the issue between Muslims and Christians in Srinagar?

There is no issue. There are so few Christians. But the hardliners among the Muslim clergy, for their own political ends, are making an issue of it.

The clerics have no right to impose the Shariat laws on us. I don't understand why the government allows these Shariat courts to run in Kashmir. Are they part of the legal process? The government should clarify.

 

You say that the indictment of the two pastors would encourage violence in Jammu and Kashmir. Why has this tussle broken out in the Valley?


It is a part of the power struggle between local extreme political groups. We are just victims.

The so called indictment gives the signal to terror groups to become violet against Christians too.

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Image: A protest in Kashmir


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'There is gross intolerance among sections of Hindus and Muslims'

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Are Christians threatened more by Muslims or Hindus?

All over the country, Christians work closely with Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus on issues of development, communal harmony, peace and human rights.

We are not threatened by people of any religion. We are threatened by extremists of every religion. There is gross intolerance among sections of Hindus and Muslims.

The church says that conversions by force or fraud are not permitted. Is this followed everywhere in India and the rest of the world?

We have repeatedly said there is no conversion by force or fraud. That is the law of the church. Theologically such conversions, if ever they take place, are illegal and abhorrent in the sight of God.



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