Sometime back, my attention was drawn by a Face Book post written by a Hindu friend which read, “I had great respect for Mother Teresa for her humanitarian services, until I came to know that she was doing all that with the objective of converting.” It was quite unlike one expected of a person I knew so well, whose objective and liberal outlook I had always respected. I therefore text him a message to enquire what made him think that Mother Teresa was converting people to Christianity? In a quick response, he wrote back, “it was admitted by her to Navin B Chawla, her Biographer, and wrote within quote, “She replied, ‘Yes I do convert’. I realised that the gentleman had formed his opinion based on the first sentence of Mother Teresa’s response to her Biographer’s query. I sent him the entire text of the Navin Chawla’s comments which reads, “I once asked her whether she tried to convert people? She replied, ‘Yes, I do convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, a better Christian, a better Sikh, and a better Muslim. When you have found God, it’s up to you to do with him what you want.” Weeks later, the gentleman wrote back saying, he was misled on the conversion story by a leaflet circulated by a certain group, wherein Navin Chawla was quoted as saying Mother Teresa converted people.
This is just one example how people make stories about alleged conversion activities by Christian missionaries, and in the process didn’t even spare Saint Teresa of Kolkata, who in her life time, was adored by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, Parsees and Christians. People and organisations cooked up stories based on conjectures, and made them appear so real that at times even Christians are psyched into believing them as true. The good news however is, these smear campaigns by elements having scant regards for the spirit of Indian Constitution, and the colourful mix called ‘India’, are often beaten hollow by facts and figures. In a recent article that appeared in the Print – “Don’t listen to VHP and panic. Christianity is a failed project in India”, a senior Journalist and Author, Dilip Mandal, outlined some key reason why he thought Christians may never be a threat to India as perceived by the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and their offshoots. Amongst reasons put forth by him to arrive at such a conclusion was the static or the declining Christian population in India. Contrary to claims made by the likes of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal about Christians going all hog converting Dalits and other low caste Hindus, government data presents a different picture. Take the case of Census 2001 and 2011 – In 2001, Christians accounted for 2.34% of India’s population, which declined to 2.30% in 2011. This shouldn’t have been quite the case had the allegations been grounded on some credible facts.
Similarly, when one looks at the population figures of tribal Christians in states where the loudest noises on conversion were raised, Christians have not multiplied as alarmingly as projected by them. In Jharkhand, Christian population stood and stagnated around the 4% mark (4.3% to be precise), 2.71%, in Orissa, 1.72% in Chhattisgarh, 0.29% in Madhya Pradesh and 0.52% in Gujarat as per Census 2011. Once again all those charges of luring people with money and favour to accept Christianity were equally beaten hollow. The maverick few therefore need reminding that Christians still are minuscule in this huge landmass called India, with a population well above a billion. However, despite small in number, Christians and Christian institutes have played a positive role in supplementing India’s post-independent effort for social change and reconstruction. Though founded by the whites who brought the faith to this country, their institutes enlightened the sons and daughters of this country from all faiths because the objectives were to educate, and not to convert. Besides imparting basic education, tuning the young on social values, democracy, human rights, justice and respect for fellow human beings, their culture and beliefs, had always been the cornerstone of every Christian institutes in this country. Incorrigible few amongst them who run institutes for personal gains are microscopic minorities.
Also it is bizarre and unfortunate that Christians in India are projected as lesser patriots by people and groups that believe in unity through similarity, and not through diversity. Once again, they need reminding that Christians were as ecstatic as any Indian when this country did away with foreign rulers in 1947 and were very much a part of architecting India’s republic model. Soon after India was declared a “Republic”, Bishop Lakdasa of Calcutta wrote, “The finest hour of Indian Christians came with independence and the writing of Constitution of the Republic….. Christians fully trusted the principles of equality and justice that were enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution and would need no special privileges, or safety clauses, to survive in a free India”. These comments from one of the tallest Catholic leaders of that time summed up the collective sentiments of Christians in India. In independent India, Christians have held high and sensitive positions in Constitutional bodies, Ministries, Defence, Judiciary, the Police and the Para-military, while many have even sacrificed lives while defending India’s sovereign territory. They therefore needed no certification from any organisation, party or group for their patriotism – for they are Indians first, then Christians, and the Constitution is the pristine space that provides them the safety and security net.
Last month, citizens of this country – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, Parsees and Christians, all stood together in an unprecedented show of solidarity for a Priest, Rev. Fr. Stan Swamy, who was alleged to have been framed for speaking out in favour of those deprived and neglected. This in itself was a speaking testimony to the contributions of Christian institutes in India on how the citizenry have been molded into a society that believes in justice and equality. The effort therefore must continue, no matter what divisive forces say. In a time when tried and tested social harmony through a colourful mix of India is facing threats of distortion, the need to convert people to become better human beings if felt even more. Therefore, the efforts needs to be taken up a notch higher up than usual.
The writer is a retirned IPS officer from Manipur, and author