The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Christ and the Northeast

By Francois Gautier

Jesus Christ was a great avatar of Love and his message of compassion, charity, of caring for one and other, is even more relevant today, in these fast and merciless times of ours, than it was 20 centuries ago. Indeed, there are Christians today who try quietly and unobtrusively to put into practice Christ's precepts -- and you can find missionaries in India, such as Father Ceyrac, a Jesuit who has lived for more than 60 years in Chennai, tending to the poorest sections of society, while respecting their culture.

Unfortunately, there has crept into the purity of early Christianity an exclusiveness, a feeling of sole ownership of the Copyright of God. This exclusiveness, this feeling amongst Christians that "we are the only true religion, all other gods are false gods", has had the most catastrophic and bloody consequences: millions have been killed in the name of Christ, entire civilisations, such as the Atzecs and Incas, have been wiped out, in order "to bring them the word of Jesus" and Christians have even savagely murdered each other, whether in France or England.

One would hope this intolerance, this fanatical drive to convert, forcibly or otherwise, pagans to the "true" God could cease in this new millennium of "enlightenment". Unfortunately it is not so. For nearly three centuries, India has been the target of a massive conversion drive. It is even more so today, as Christianity is dwindling in the West -- there are less and less people going to church and very few youth willing to become priests and nuns. The church is thus looking for new converts in the Third World, particularly India, where people have an innate aspiration to spirituality.

Indeed, the Pope has earmarked the new millennium for "the evangelisation of Asia". And it is in the Northeast that this evangelisation is meeting with the most success, as it is peopled with simple, poor and uneducated tribals, who make easy targets. In Tripura, for instance, there were no Christians at Independence, the maharaja was a Hindu and there were innumerable temples all over the state. But from 1950, Christian missionaries (with Nehru's blessings) went into the deep forests of Tripura and started converting the Kukis. Today, according to official figures, there are 120,000 Christians in Tripura, a 90 per cent increase since 1991. The figures are even more striking in Arunachal Pradesh, where there were only 1,710 Christians in 1961, but 115,000 today, as well as 700 churches! What to say of Mizoram and Nagaland, where the entire local population is Christian!

The amount of money being poured by Christians into the Northeast is staggering: Saint Paul's school of Tripura, for instance, gets a Rs 80 lakh endowment per semester. Which Hindu school can match this? No country in the world would allow this. France, for instance, has a full-blown minister who is in charge of hunting down "sects". And by sects, it is meant anything which does not belong to the great Christian family.

Isn't it also strange that many of the Northeast's separatist movements are not only Christian dominated but also sometimes have the covert backing of missionaries? The Don Bosco schools, for example, which are everywhere in the Northeast, are known by the Tripura Intelligence Bureau to sometimes harbour extremists at night. But the Tripura Marxist government chooses to close its eyes, because in India Communists often walk -- for their own selfish purpose - hand in hand with Christians. Does the common man in India know that the nexus between the separatists and the Church is so strong in Tripura and Assam that temples are being demolished, that people are scared to hold pujas except in strongholds like Agartala, that Hindu social workers do not dare go in the interior? On the other hand, every other day a new church springs up in the Northeast, every week a new Christian school is opened without facing the threat of any extremist attack. Is this the way to treat a country, which from early times, gave hospitality to Christians -- indeed, the first Christian community in the world, that of the Syrian Christians, was established in Kerala in the first century AD?

It's not only that conversion is an unethical custom, but also that it threatens a whole way of life, erasing centuries of tradition, customs, wisdom, teaching people to despise their own religion and look westwards to a culture which is alien to them, with disastrous results. Look how the biggest drug problems in India are found in the Northeast, or how Third World countries which have been totally Christianised have lost all moorings and bearing and are drifting away without nationalism and self-pride.

It is time that Indians awoke to the threat of Christian conversions here. The argument (mostly put forward by "secular" thinkers) that Christians are only 3 per cent of the population in India, and therefore cannot be a threat, is totally fallacious: the influence Christians exercise in this country through their schools, hospitals and the enormous amount of money being poured in by western countries for the purpose of converting Hindus, is totally disproportionate. The message of Christ is one of Love, of respecting other's cultures and creed -- not of utilising devious and unethical means for converting people.

The influence Christians exercise in India is totally disproportionate to their numbers.


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