“Déjà vu Feeling Once Again!” wrote a user on microblogging social media platform while posting a photograph of Catholic Christian leaders meeting UP CM Yogi Adityanath at his office in Lucknow. The media covered the meeting on April 22, 2017 with the headline, “Catholic priests meet Yogi, request freedom to worship without fear”. The Catholic leader Fr. Gerald John Mathias told the media that, “We requested the chief minister to ensure the safety and security of our places of worship, and the freedom to worship without fear” But what makes that social media user to feel “Déjà vu” in this simple visit? Nothing abnormal in expecting freedom to worship, isn’t it?
The reason behind the sense of Déjà vu is simple, but very hard to find out. Such statements and carefully manufactured narratives are part and parcel of Indian Christian groups’ Perception Management Mechanism. They are masters in developing convenient narratives, manufacturing perceptions subtly demonizing their opponent i.e. Hindu organizations.
BJP registered a colossal victory in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in March 2017 with 325 seats, it was a brute majority in the recent past. Everyone in BJP- NDA camp was celebrating it and opposition was busy in finding all new excuses and developing narratives for the pitiable electoral debacle. But highly professional and ruthless executors- The Catholics in India, were busy in their time tested game of delivering subtle message to their followers and to Hindus in India. The message was loud and clear, that the newly elected BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, headed by Yogi Adityanath is going unleash state terror against Christians in the state. Keeping in mind the same, they met UP CM Yogi Adityanath and ensured ample media coverage was given to the event. The central, but subtle message of the meeting was that the Christians are never safe under a BJP rule and Hindutva groups are likely to attack Christians in UP.
Before we delve into the so called cases of Christian Persecution in India; either under BJP’s Hindutva rule or by Hindutva Groups under non- BJP rule, let us look at the hypersensitive, propagandist and the malicious rhetoric by Christian leadership in India, solely aimed at manipulating perception about the so called atrocious acts and deeds of India’s Hindu groups and BJP.
Whenever, any Hindu organization announces a programme, or any elections approach wherein the BJP is likely to emerge victorious, then the well-established Christian leaders, denominations and groups indulge in aggressive media propaganda, expressing concerns about the safety of common Christians in India. The whole swathe of mainstream Indian media gives prominent place to such manipulative propaganda by Christian groups, helping them to establish clear edge over Hindu groups in the battle of perception. Without proper knowledge and exposure to the issue, the bystanders develop a negative attitude towards Hindu organizations, while simultaneously believing Christians as the poor victims of majoritarian violence.
How Perceptions are manipulated?
With a tight grip on Indian media and Indian intelligentsia, the Christian groups carefully and tactically plant news about religious persecution, which does not always reflect the ground reality. They have a strong global network of media houses and web portals, which they fully utilize to spread the word globally, once the news is published in the Indian media. It makes cascading effect globally, reporting and publishing the same story in a different form. Then, the so called social activists, human rights groups and tribal rights bodies’ jump into fray, to seek stringent action against Hindu groups. Veteran author, journalist and researcher Mr. Arun Shourie has coined a meaningful term to this well-oiled propaganda machinery (Ref: Harvesting Our Souls). He used to call it as the “Eco Chamber”, in which the false news of Christian persecution or anti-Christian violence continues to make rounds locally and globally for months together.
Here we have compiled a list of few incidents wherein the Christian groups have used their propaganda machinery to create a false persecution narrative by accusing Hindu groups of perpetrating incidents in which they had no role in reality. Let us have a brief look into each of these incidents.
Case- 01: When 2004 general elections were approaching and the BJP led NDA under Vajpayee was seeking reelection, The Baptist Press published a report on April 26, 2004 with a heading, “Indian Christians apprehensive as general elections proceed”. The report says, on the one hand, BJP is wooing Christian voters by inducting Christian leaders in its fold, especially in Kerala and on the other hand, it is supporting Militant Hindu organizations like RSS and Bajrang Dal! The article also has strong objection to the BJP manifesto, which makes a reference to legislation of anti-conversion law for putting a stop on unethical conversions. It says, though BJP is seducing minorities for electoral gains, “BJP’s national leadership leaves one in no doubt that the party and the NDA are wedded to the communal politics of the RSS”. Also the report has expressed its reservations to re-conversion programs held by VHP, though there was neither force nor inducement in it and has branded the reconversion programs as anti-minority.
The report also claims that violence against Christians in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh were orchestrated by BJP, interestingly no organizational connection could be established by independent probes and investigating agencies. Yet, Christian groups keep repeating these allegations.
Manipulated Perception: What they wanted to convey to Indian people and the world audience was that BJP and its ideological mentor RSS conglomerate are not safe for Christians and there would be existential threat to Christians if BJP returns back to power after general elections.
Case- 02: Sangh affiliated organizations arranged grand Shabari Kumbh in Dangs tribal area of Gujarat in 2006 to create awareness about rich tribal traditions among tribals mostly falling prey to deceitful conversion tactics of Christian missionaries. The program was on positive note and it had nothing to do with violence or coercion. Yet, the All India Christian Council (AICC) and All India Confederation of SC/ST organizations launched scathing attack against Shabri Kumbh and demanded ban on it
The All India Christian Council (AICC) President, Dr. Joseph D’Souza demanded central government’s intervention to ban Kumbh, since, according to him, Sangh Parivar was conspiring to create another Godhra type disturbance. What does it mean? Who was the perpetrator of Godhra? Who conspired to burn the train packed with Karsewaks? Was it Sangh Parivar?
AICC also created a propaganda saying RSS was trying to “Hinduise” the tribals inhabiting the Dang region, which was a Congress bastion, politically!” Subtle argument in this propaganda was that, if tribals get proselytized then it is OK, but they must not become mainstreamed into larger Hindu society!
To further reinforce their propaganda, they even brought in the non-existing environmental concerns! As per AICC, Kumbh would have inflicted irreparable damage to Dangs environment. They reminded RSS of the noble Hindu tradition quoting that there are only four Kumbh Melas as per Hindu traditions. While at other times, these same people have ridiculed traditional Kumbh Melas, now they invoking the sanctity and traditional validity of the Four Kumbh Melas to discredit RSS Kumbh!
Manipulated Perception: RSS does not respect Hindu traditions, The Kumbh arranged by RSS is going to destroy Tribal culture by forcefully Hinudizing them and the function will cost local environment dearly.
Case 03: The Evangelical Alliance Foundation published a report titled, “Shabri Kumbh Mela threatens 800 Christians in Dangs”.
The said report is concocted assertions, singularly focused at tarnishing the image of RSS and its affiliates. The report says, ‘Hindu nationalist groups and their militant factions will hold Kumbh (Hindu festival) in Gujarat, called ‘Shabri Kumbh Mela’, to deal a death blow to Christian missions’. As per Evangelical Association, the 2 aims of Kumbh were, ‘to convert tribal people to militant Hindu nationalism, and to emancipate them of Christianity, as it challenges the status quo and threatens to liberate the enslaved tribal’. One would like to ask them, who is enslaving Indian Tribal? Which status quo is Christianity challenging? Who has assigned this ‘noble’ task to Christians?
The report notes that RSS has invented whole new mythology of Shabri Goddess and deliberately developing the pilgrimage site in the name of Shabri!
The report further mentions that ANHAD- Act Now for Harmony and Democracy had filed a petition in Supreme court against a CD which was getting sold in Gujarat and Maharashtra, openly appealing for killing and beheading Christians. As per ANHAD petition, the CD was produced by Kumbh Committee. The question is, despite the SC directing the state and central governments to investigate the matter, why did the investigation stop as soon as the Kumbh concluded? Why did ANHAD silently pulled out its SC petition? The answer is obvious.
Let us not forget to mention that ANHAD is the same organization which was vocal during Godhra riot cases and were trying grill then Gujarat CM Modi and Amit Shah. They also share a clear bonhomie with Christian missionaries in Gujarat’s tribal belt.
Finally, the EA report ends with an appeal for urgent prayers to safeguard 8000 Christians of Dang to save them from Hindu Fury!
Manipulated Perception: While reporting the news of Shabri Kumbh, the report repeatedly used terms like fanatic, radical, militant Hindu groups arranging Kumbh in Dang. Uninformed readers would definitely get an impression that the RSS is hunting and killing Muslims and Christians everywhere in India!
Case 04: Let us take another interesting news, third in Kumbh matter. The newspaper DNA has published this news with title, ‘Activists demand ban on Kumbh’. The activist in the report is Shabnam Hashmi of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy who had demanded a ban on the Kumbh, as, according to her, it attempted to forcefully convert tribals into religion! But, the same activist, who apparently feels so strongly about maintaining the different way of worship of the tribal society, never showed similar concerns when Christian missionaries were carrying out conversion programmes in the Dangs region.
Though, the report makes a mention about the RSS’ plans to stop conversions by Christian groups, there is not a single word censuring conversion activities carried by Christian groups.
Manipulated Perception: This is one more example of managing perceptions. The report aimed to create an impression that tribals were different from Hindus and that RSS led Kumbh was trying to convert them to Hinduism.
Case 05: Christian Today portal declared that “Church fears BJP coming to power” before 2009 general elections, in which BJP actually failed to perform. The apex body of Catholic Christians in India, Catholic Bishop Conference of India- CBCI declared, “The Catholic Bishops Conference of India expressed apprehensions over the electoral victory of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which it fears might continue its ghastly attitude over minorities”. What is the basis of these apprehensions? Which factors really compelled Christians to fear about BJP’s possible electoral victory? The CBCI statement says that BJP is accused of fanning communal feelings and pursuing Hindutva agenda, which instigates violence against minorities, the Kandhamal violence against Christians being evidence of it. The CBCI conveniently ignored the fact that it was the brutal murder of Hindu saint Swami Lakshamanand Saraswati, the most revered figure among Kandhamal tribals, which triggered the violence that broke out in the aftermath of his murder and BJP was nowhere in the picture..
Another allegation made by CBCI was that Hindutva groups tried to amend the constitution to take away minority rights during the last BJP rule. The fact that BJP neither had majority on its own in the parliament nor had any tight hold over its alliance discredits any such allegations about ‘amending constitution’!
Manipulated Perception: CBCI, which boasts of being a responsible body, carefully spreading lies that every incidence where a person belonging to minority community is a victim is due to RSS-BJP! At a time when BJP did not even have political strength in the parliament to touch the constitution, CBCI blames BJP for trying to tamper with the constitution. The CBCI openly blames RSS for violence against Christians in the Kandhamal region ignoring the fact that the violence was actually triggered by the murder of a Hindu religious leader and was a spontaneous and unorganized response. The underlying message in their report was that BJP and RSS commit violence against minorities and do not honour the constitution and hence defeating them in the 2009 elections was the need of the hour to safeguard Indian Constitution and minority community!
Case 06:- After Sonia- Manmohan led UPA alliance wrested power for a second consecutive term in 2009, the portal of Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, CathNews declared, “Indian Christians rejoice at election of secular government”! On day one itself, Catholics declared UPA government as secular government, despite the fact that the Congress party has a dubious track record of tampering with the constitution in the famous Shah Bano case to appease minority vote bank.
But, the Catholics portal declared that UPA is a secular government, for the singular reason that they would turn a blind eye towards the rampant evangelization of the poor and gullible Indians by Church!
The ecumenical (Apex Body) All India Christian Council (AICC) joyously saluted the Indians for their “consummate and decisive” rejection of divisive and sectarian (Read BJP) political forces in the elections. Another Christian leader Fr. Hector D’Souza, who heads the Jesuits in South Asia, expressed hope that the new secular government would stop atrocities and persecutions of religious minorities in India, such as attacks on Christians in Kandhamal- Orissa and other states. Which are these “Other Sates” where Christians are attacked? No mention of the incidences and states where it happened. To create fabrication, ambiguity is a must! It keeps people guessing.
Manipulated Perception: Through this report, they conveniently portrayed the Congress led UPA as the ‘secular’ front, while insinuating that RSS-BJP were communal forces. Despite the fact that the Kandhamal riots happened when the UPA was at the centre, they manipulated the message to portray BJP as the culprit and to convey that minorities will not be safe under BJP, since RSS conglomerate is anti-minority with deep hatred for Christians and Muslims!
Case 07: When Narmada Kumbh was organized in Central India’s tribal belt of Mandla, the Christian Today in one of its story warned people to be “Beware of Sangh Kumbh Melas”. Since Narmada Kumbh, which to create awareness about the rich tribal culture, posed a threat to conversion activities of Christian missionaries, they declared the Kumbh as a political gathering and demanded the enforcement of anti-conversion laws against those doing Ghar-Wapasi!
Another argument in the report was that Hinduism ‘came’ from outside and thus making a reference to the controversial Aryan migration theory, which has been repeatedly challenged by many scholars and archaeologists!
Yet another point made in the article is that the Sangh Parivar organizes all kinds of Melas in areas legally protected to preserve the traditions and cultures of tribals and other aboriginals under Scheduled Five of Constitution. The question is, if that is the case, then what are Jesuits and Christian missionaries doing in those Protected lands?
Manipulated Perception: While Christian missionaries in India are encroaching upon traditional tribal areas and values by deceitfully evangelizing them in day light, they have developed a strong propaganda machinery and a tactical use of media to camouflage their own proselytization activities and instead create a perception that it is the Hindu organizations like RSS who are involved in unconstitutional and communal activities!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
The author is the Director of ICRR- Institute for Conflict Research and Resolution; Defense and Security think tank based in Guwahati.