Five years ago, Christians and a large number of Tribals suffered heavy losses due to riots in Kandhamal. Thousands were displaced from their homes and had to migrate to safer places. Now, however, their lives are coming back on track.
Yet it is not only in Odisha that Christians lack cordial ties with other faiths; this is so even in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and the eastern states.
The major bone of contention between Christianity and other dominant faiths in the country is conversion. But, instead of dousing the fire, a section of the church is continuously trying to serve vested interests by raising the issue in foreign countries. Christians, at this auspicious festival of Christmas, have to introspect how their ties with other religions can become normal and how we can make lives of the people better in India.
Crores of scheduled castes, tribals and other marginalized people converted to Christianity with great hope, but unfortunately, instead of improving the lives of these people, the church is busy in the expansion of its religious imperialism. The church has ample resources but still leaves its flock at the mercy of government. Justice Ranganath Misra Commission is merely a glimpse of the intention of the church. The church wants to kill two birds with one stone.
Christianity has not been very successful in Asia as compared to the western countries and Africa. Though, St. Thomas reportedly came to India just two decades after the death of Jesus, the reality is that Christianity has not been able to firmly establish its roots even after nearly two thousand years in India. Christianity started spreading its wings in this country after the advent of the Portuguese and British.
Thousands of academic institutions, hospitals, social service centres were opened across the country by the church. Due to this, the church controls 30 percent of academic institutions and 22 percent of health services in the country. After the Government of India, it is the church that possesses the largest landed property in the country, and a major portion of this land is in posh areas. The church has given employment to large numbers. Despite this, Christians are suffering from poverty and live in a pathetic state.
Since independence, Christians have been citizens of a secular India. The secular system might have flaws and the democratic system might be less than fully representative, but despite this fact, the church has a lot of facilities here that are not available even in USA and other European countries. For example, special rights to run educational institutions and getting grants from government. Despite this, church authorities look towards the west to solve their minor problems and expect outsiders to solve their domestic problems.
The larger question is: what are the options before an ordinary Christian? Christian intellectuals believe that Christians have not amalgamated with Indian society and its problems. They have not learnt how to fight for their rights in a democratic system. They have sectarian mentality that hides its head in the sand in the storm and thinks it is safe. The church should shun such a mentality and face the real challenges of society. It should integrate with democratic powers and participate actively in the democratic process.
Unless and until the church learns to align its interests with the larger interests of the nation, its existence will be in danger. The church should form a clear-cut demarcation line between religion and social responsibilities. Once the Justice Ranganath Commission report is implemented, the gap between converted Christians and the church will widen. The church will be cornered with the accusations of conversion. At present, the church has messed up religion and social responsibility. As a consequence, converted Christians have been marginalized.
It is a matter of great concern that Christians do not fight or believe in movements in order to get their legitimate rights. They are far away from the winds of development. They will have to integrate with development projects running at block level to national level. Their concern remains confined to their own faith and the boundary of the church. There is a great disconnect between Christians and mainstream democratic concerns. It is to be noted that democracy in India is not due to a particular community. The majority should feel that Christians are with them in the larger development of the nation.
Christian society lacks credible leadership. Whatever leadership it has is having vested interests. The church will have to redefine itself as the growing national tension is largely due to conversion activities and this cannot be denied. It seems conversion has become the last motive of church in India. It is time for Christian society to do a social audit so that it could have a clear idea of why it is deprived of liberation.
The church might get success owing to its large resources and power, but it has distanced itself from Jesus. It is just like the priests who ignored the Samaritan who was wounded by dacoits in the Story of Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus called human being as light and said that the candle is put at the wall so that everybody could see the light. This means nobody should be ignored. Today, the church might enjoy worldwide success, but it has failed to take care of its own people. It is more engaged in its own business operations.
(R. L. Francis is President, Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM)