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The Two faces of Persecution - Part 1

10/31/2006 - 5:29 AM PST

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Catholic Online is publishing this 2 part article series keeping the identity of this brave author from harm for telling his story.

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Let me introduce myself, I am an Indian living in Canada. I immigrated here 2 years ago to get married to my girlfriend who moved here 8 years ago.

For 25 years, I lived in India, a democratic multi-religious nation. Although there is no state religion, Hindus make up the largest population group numbering over 80.5% of the total population followed by the Muslim 13.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other 1.8%, unspecified 0.1% (Jews, Zorastrians etc). As a child growing up in Mumbai (Bombay), I had friends from different religions and was unaware of any form of religious persecution. We did study about the British policy of 'Divide and Rule' which led to partition and the formation of the countries of India and Pakistan (Islamic nation run on Islamic laws), but we were taught that as a nation we had learnt not to repeat mistakes from the past.

The first persecution that I can recall, during my life time, was the Babri Masjid issue (December 6 1992); where radical Hindus led by certain politicians tore down the Babri Masjid. Babri Masjid was a mosque built on the site where Ram (Hindu Deity) was born. What followed were the most gruesome riots across the whole country. I was 13 at the time and Bombay was in the grip of a religious violence with Hindus killing Muslims and vice versa. At the time there was a city wide self imposed curfew. Self imposed only by fear that if you stepped out of the house you would probably not come home alive. This went on for a while and the repercussions of that event can still be felt in India even today. From that day onwards, minority religious groups became very aware of their position in a Hinduized society and for the first time we felt the weight of being a minority and what it meant to be a religious minority.

The second experience with persecution was much closer to home as it affected the Christian community directly not in Mumbai, but in Gujarat. The history of this is complex but I shall try to summarize it.

India is a largely agrarian economy with three fifths of the population involved in agriculture. India also has a social system based on Hinduism called the Caste system which promotes untouchability. A small percentage though significant ( 14.9%) in Gujarat are tribals who do not fit into the Hindu caste system. Gujarat has some fertile land in the southern part of the state which is owned by rich landlords. To run this land, these landlords need a cheap supply of labour which they could exploit by paying less than minimum wages.

The Dalits (untouchables in the caste system) and tribals make up the perfect cheap work force as they do not have any rights (though they are granted all rights by the constitution). The reason they don't have rights is because politicians are in collusion with the rich land lords. To remain in power the politicians need the rich landlords for monetary support and the landlords use their power to coerce the dalits and tribals to vote for the politicians.

Christian missionaries run schools in tribal areas for the tribal and dalit population and over time, some dalits have begun to speak up against the oppression. Many of the tribal and dalit children no longer work in fields (child labour) but go to school. The missionaries also provided health care and other services for the tribals and dalits.

This is a thorn in the side of the landlords and the politicians, as now the educated tribals and dalits make their voices heard and could no longer be oppressed so easily. Hence the landlords and politicians raise the bogey of forced conversions saying that Christian missionaries forcibly convert tribals and dalits away from Hinduism (the first group are non-Hindus and the second group are treated as outcasts in Hinduism). A fringe group amongst the Hindus who also happen to support, and in turn get support from a major political party proceeded to conduct many attacks on Christians and Christian missionaries in Gujarat including the killings of priests, raping of nuns and destruction of Christian schools and institutions in 1998.

An example from the Human Rights News Website:

Jamuna Bhen, a thirty-year-old agricultural laborer in Dangs district, told Human Rights Watch, "The Hindus removed the ornamentation from our church on December 25 [1998]. They threatened us by saying that they will set the church house on fire. Then they started taking down the roof tiles…. There were one hundred to 200 people who came from other villages. They said, 'We will burn everything.' We begged them not to. We said, 'Don't do this,' and said we will become Hindu."

In January 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were trapped in ...

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