Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Concern for citizens of Hindusthana -- Javed, condemn islamist jihadi terrorism.

Post-Kandhamal, post-Mangalore, the issue of conversions has taken centre-stage. "Christians are a persecuted, hapless minority"; "How can a minority that accounts for less than 2.5% of the population pose a threat to the 84% Hindus of the country?" is the general refrain. "If Christian missionaries had been indulging in large-scale conversions, how has the Christian percentage remained virtually static in the last two censuses" is the seemingly compelling argument.

The Christian percentage that stood at 2.32 in the 1991 census was virtually static at 2.35 in Census 2001. In fact, a state like Andhra Pradesh presents a strange phenomenon in religious demography. Since 1971, there has been a steady decline in the share of Christian population in the state. The Christian population in Andhra had increased steadily for more than a century from the time of "mass movements" in 1860s till 1970. The Christian population increased by 2.5 percentage points from 1.7% in 1911 to 4.2% in 1971.

However, there has been a steady decline in the share of Christians since then, as recorded in every decadal census. As per Census 2001, the share of Christians came down to 1.6%. In fact, the Christian population even declined in absolute numbers, from about 180,000 in 1971 to about 120,000 in 2001. The decline in the share of Christians during 1971-2001 is seen in all regions of Andhra Pradesh, though it is most marked in the middle and southern coastal districts – the largest decline being observed in Guntur district (14.6% in 1971 to 3.0% in 2001).

Yet Hindu organizations routinely allege that Andhra Pradesh has emerged as a hotbed of Christian activities. The annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs, March 2007, lends credence to Hindu apprehensions. According to the report, for the year 2005-2006, three metropolitan cities namely Chennai (Rs. 7530.83 million), Bangalore (Rs. 4640.97 million) and Mumbai (Rs. 4400..47 million) reported the highest district-wise receipt of foreign contribution in the country.

Next in line are two districts in Andhra Pradesh - Ananthapur (Rs. 2880.11 million) and Hyderabad-Secunderabad (Rs. 2360.84 million). In the last four decades, Andhra Pradesh has consistently been one of the top three states to receive such mind-boggling foreign aid. A couple of years ago, Christian organizations had become bold enough to swarm the seven hills of Lord Venkateshwara to hawk their creed, but had to beat a retreat when Hindu society launched a staunch protest. Outside of the north-east, Andhra Pradesh is the only state in India to have a Christian Chief Minister. How does one explain the curious paradox of an apparent spurt in conversion activities and a static, sometimes even declining Christian share in the population?

The answer becomes obvious when one takes the trouble of studying Christian strategy and statistics – statistics provided by authoritative mission documents. Every year Christian churches spend billions of dollars to maintain a head-count of their flock. This aids the massive evangelistic enterprise of global Christianity. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts, brings out the World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press, 1982; 2d ed., 2001) and World Christian Trends (William Carey Library, 2001).

In addition, an annual update of many of the statistics in this report is produced every January in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. The 2001 report states that of the estimated 1..88 billion professing Christians worldwide, an estimated 124 million or 6.2% are crypto-Christians or those who conceal their faith. We need not swallow everything churned out by this seminary. As the report itself notes, "Christian triumphalism – not as pride in huge numbers, but as publicized self-congratulation – is rampant in most churches, agencies, and ministries… some 250 of the 300 largest international Christian organizations regularly mislead the Christian public by publishing demonstrably incorrect or falsified progress statistics." Nevertheless, there is no doubt that a significant number of Christians worldwide keep their faith in the closet.

Concealing one's faith – and double-crossing one's pre-Christian faith – has a hoary Biblical tradition. In the Gospel of John, we come across a character called Nicodemus who was a 'closet disciple' of Jesus Christ. Nicodemus was a Pharisee (a group of Jews whom the New Testament typically depicts as being self-righteous and arrogant because of their disbelief) and a member of the Sanhedrin or the Supreme Court of the ancient Jews which tried and found Jesus guilty. Without renouncing his Judaism explicitly, Nicodemus had met Jesus at night and subsequently took care of his corpse.

In later centuries, Christians have taken recourse to subterfuge to practice their faith. When Francis Xavier brought Roman Catholicism to Japan in 1549, most of the inhabitants of Ikitsuki Island left Buddhism and became Christians. Recognizing the threat that Christianity posed to Japan and her traditions, Hideyoshi and the other shogun all but stamped out Christianity. Adopting a complex sham, the Christians of Ikitsuki worshipped publicly at Buddhist temples, and then slipped away at night to hold secret Christian prayer meetings. At home, they prayed overtly before Buddhist and Shinto altars, but their real altar became the nan do garni (closet god), innocuous-looking bundles of cloth in which Christian statues and medallions were hidden.

For two and a half centuries, the Christian faith was transmitted secretly to illiterate peasants. These Janus-faced people came to be known as Kakure Kirishitan (crypto-Christians). In 1865, when Japan permitted a Catholic church to open in Nagasaki to serve Western visitors, the Kakure, then numbering around 30,000 in the region, suddenly came out of hiding. To this day, at public ceremonies such as Kakure funerals, a Buddhist priest is always asked to officiate, but the Kakure make sure to make a secret prayer to erase the effect of the Buddhist priest!

Crypto-Christians are numerous in places where Christianity gets a taste of the maltreatment it usually metes out to others. Thus, Chinese law requires all churches to be registered with government-run Christian associations. Members of so-called underground churches are imprisoned, 're-educated,' and sometimes executed. China's official census enumerates 10 million Protestants and 4 million Roman Catholics. But reliable estimates place the actual number of Protestants in China at 39 million and that of Roman Catholics at 14 million.

In Saudi Arabia, foreign Christians generally only worship in secret within private homes. They are careful to keep Bibles, crucifixes and religious statues away from public gaze. While the Church-inspired United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a creature of the US State Department, makes routine noises against the Saudis, it is not known to have recommended denial of US visas to visiting Saudi dignitaries!

The existence, indeed proliferation, of crypto-Christians in India is a fact acknowledged by the Church. The World Christian Trends (2001) has placed the number of persons affiliated to the Church in India at 62243546 or 6.1%. In short, the number of Christians in India is nearly thrice the official census figure! The document places the share of crypto-Christians in the total Christian population at a staggering 62%!

In 2002, the American mission agency Global Mapping International asked Patrick Johnstone, author of Operation World, a prayer handbook which documents demographics and mission activity in many countries, to list the seven most encouraging trends of the 1990's. "The astonishing and mostly undocumented growth of the church in India - the official numbers (2.34% Christians in 1991) are far lower than the truth, deliberately hiding the true extent of Christianity in the nation. The true figures are certainly far more than double, and look like only the beginning. The 'untouchable' Dalits have started leaving Hinduism, which could lead to an immense growth of Indian churches" was Johnstone's gleeful reply.

So why do so many Christians in India conceal their faith, given that the rulers are Christian-friendly? The present Constitutional provision that limits the benefits available to Scheduled Castes only to Hindus (including Sikhs and Buddhists) is a major hurdle. This has created a peculiar breed of Christians with dual identity. They attend the Church but are identified by their Hindu names and castes in the Government records.

No wonder Christian leaders are vigorously demanding continuation of benefits to Scheduled Castes even after conversion. Not so long ago, Church leaders heaped abuse on the institution of caste, calling it a strictly Hindu phenomenon and claimed that conversion to Christianity would ensure social equality. That argument is passé. "Scheduled Caste converts face the same social disabilities as their Hindu counterparts" is the new mantra. Another reason to hide conversions is the fear that awareness of the grim reality would jolt Hindus into action. If events in Kandhamal and Mangalore are any indication, the grandiose ambitions of the Church to 'claim India for Christ' already seem doomed.

Dr. Shreerang Godbole is a Pune-based endocrinologist, social activist and author. He has contributed in making http://www.savarkar.org

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