Tag Archives: Christian conversion

Church Priority over Last 400 Years: Social Justice or Conversion?

Christians across the world decry evils of the Hindu caste system and lose no opportunity to blame the Hindu religion for the same, ignoring that caste, segregation and untouchability were given sanction by the Pope

On December 3, 2020, protests erupted in front of the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore at Puducherry as Dalit Christians demanded justice in the appointment of Dalit priests and total exclusion of Dalit Christians from the management of church affairs. The very word “Dalit Christian” is an oxymoron as Christianity boasts profusely about its egalitarian nature with no scope whatsoever for any discrimination.

“We have come here to dialogue with the diocesan administration to eradicate caste discrimination and the untouchable practices in the archdiocese especially in the appointment of the Dalit priests,” —Mary John, Tamil Nadu State Leader for Dalit Christian Liberation Movement

Protests like these expose the naked discrimination these converts from Hinduism endure after embracing Christianity. This brings to the question of whether the focus of the Church in India is social justice (as professed) or conversions? Has Christianity ever tried to ensure social justice even as it went about converting Hindus in India?

Was Christianity ever egalitarian?

The earliest Christian clergymen to arrive in India were from Europe. 16th Century Europe was not a society well known for its egalitarianism. On the contrary, several sections of the society were ostracised, treated as outcasts. The treatment of Roma gipsies, who had migrated from India to various parts of Europe around 600-800 years ago is a case in point. Their discrimination continues to this day with massive pogroms and attacks. Under Nazi Hitler, at least 15 lakh Roma were put to death.

The Cagots of Europe were treated as outcasts and forced to live on the edge of the villages. The Cagots were subjected to hate-filled discrimination for nearly 700 years. Shunned as lepers, pagans, and even cannibals, they were forced to live in ghettos called cagoteries where they were only permitted the occupations of carpenter, butcher, or executioner. When they were permitted entrance to a Church (in many cases they were refused admittance), they were segregated from the rest of the congregation, and the Eucharist was handed to them at the end of a long stick. They were compelled to wear the sign of a duck or goosefoot in red.

Church’s cruel history in India

European clergymen arriving in India were part of a society, which openly practiced discrimination against certain sections of the society, where hanging to death of non-Christians was officially sanctioned and where women were routinely executed for practicing witchcraft (last witch execution took place in Scotland 1727). Execution of those practicing non-Christian beliefs continued till 1826. Intolerance of non-Christian faiths, social discrimination were an integral part of European society at the time of arrival of the earliest Christian missionaries were landing in India. It is no wonder that they never tried to create an egalitarian Christian society in India. On the contrary, they used caste divisions in Hindu society for furthering their objective of conversions into Christianity. One such Christian missionary was Robert de Nobili.

Deception as a method to convert gullible Hindus

The methods adopted by Robert Di Nobili to convert Hindus and expand Christianity in India are a case in point. Born in 1577 in Italy, he came to India as a priest of the Society of Jesus. He arrived in India in 1605 and moved to Madurai in 1606. He found that existing methods of converting Hindus were not effective. He adopted new ways which bordered on deception to convince Hindus to convert. He donned saffron robes, shaved his head, leaving a tuft of hair, wore wooden sandals and called himself ‘Tattva Bodhagar’ – Teacher of Wisdom. He called himself a Roman Brahmin and wore the sacred thread. The Bible became Vedam, Church became ‘Koil’ (Tamil word for Hindu temple). The pastor became ‘Guru’. He mastered Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu languages. This attracted a large number of Hindus who genuinely believed that what Robert De Nobili was teaching was yet another branch of Hinduism. He appeared as the Teacher of the fourth Veda, a Veda revealed indeed by God not to the Rishis of India, but to the messengers of God’s only son. He insisted that he was a Sannyasi from Rome. He called Christianity ‘parangui kulam’ (Parangui = Firangi or Foreign).

Robert di Nobili practiced blatant caste discrimination to further his objective- convert Hindus into Christianity. Since he was pretending to be a Roman Brahmin, if a Paria got sick, de Nobili would not see him in his wretched hut, but he insisted that he should be brought out of the house. He used to meet fellow Jesuit priests only at night, in total darkness.

Inquisition of de Nobili and approval of Pope

The methods adopted by De Nobili viz., creating caste-wise missionaries, churches and allowing Hindu caste marks to be used even after conversion to Christianity attracted the attention of church authorities and an Inquisition was held against him. Archbishop Menezes declared himself in favor of the new methods and said ‘he would be ready to allow wearing 100 Brahmin chords for the salvation of one soul’.

One hundred and eight learned Brahmins added their testimony to de Nobili’s testimony and fully confirmed his interpretation of their marks and customs.

In January 1623, the methods and tactics of de Nobili were approved by Pope, Christianity’s highest office…! Caste and caste marks were officially allowed in Christianity. A more amusing aspect of the Papal sanction was the creation of Christian yagnopaveetam (janeu) and “Christian Upanayanam” or sacred thread ceremony which will be performed in the Church…!

The Cagots of Europe were treated as outcasts and forced to live on the edge of the villages. The Cagots were subjected to hate-filled discrimination for nearly 700 years. Shunned as lepers, pagans, and even cannibals, they were forced to live in ghettos called cagoteries
The approval letter reads: “The chord should not be received in the temple, or from one of their priests, but from a Catholic priest, who upon conferring it, should recite the prescribed prayers”. The pagan prayers and mantras which used to be learnt upon receiving the chord, should not be learnt, but rather should be confined to perpetual oblivion… The chord, made up of three strands, should not be made so in honour of their idols, but rather in honour of the Blessed Trinity. The converts, who have already received the chord, should burn the old one, and receive a new one from the Catholic priest. Thus untouchability which finds neither mention nor sanction in Hindu religious scriptures just got the seal of approval from Christianity’s highest office – The Pope! This clearly demonstrates that social justice and social reform were of little importance to the Church when the goal is to harvest souls. The Inquisition against him concluded “We judge it altogether expedient, in order that our holy religion may be propagated in those lands, that the Brahmins and others, who are being initiated, be allowed to wear those marks, which more than religious signs, may be deemed to be signs of caste, nobility or wisdom. If something superstitious has been added, let it be dropped, and let the intention be purified.”

All the while, the Hindu religion was going through a phase of internal renewal and renaissance with the rise of a number of great social reformers like Basavanna, Ramanujacharya and the rise of the Bhakti cult. These reformers and saints strived to eliminate undesirable customs and social practices that had crept into the Hindu society. No such efforts on the part of Christian missionaries in this direction are found. Even the temple entry movements, the abolition of untouchability movements were led by Hindu social reformers themselves.

The invention of ‘Brahmin’ and ‘Pariah’

Robert de Nobili created two distinct classes of native missionaries- Brahmins and Pandaraswamis. The latter were drawn predominantly from what is described as ‘Pariah’ castes and used to proselytize amongst them and prepare catechumens from amongst them. The first of these Pandaraswamis were Father Balthazar da Costa and Emmanuel Alvarez. The Brahmin missionaries sporting Brahmanical attire with sikha and sacred thread used to proselytise amongst upper-caste Hindus. The first Brahmin missionary was Father S. Maya. He always accompanied di Nobili whenever the latter went to meet royals, nobles and Brahmins. Di Nobili was always attired in saffron robes, sacred thread, carried Kamandala, while his disciple carried the deerskin and the umbrella of honour.

A ground plan of the Church constructed by di Nobili shows how caste and untouchability were made part of church architecture. The plan shows that the main church entrance was reserved for high castes, while the pariah castes had to use a different entrance. Every aspect of worship – altar, communion, confession room, common space, kitchen and even courtyard were strictly segregated for high castes and pariahs. The pariahs had to listen to the mass through an opening in the wall which segregated them from high caste converts. This is extremely shocking even by standards of the day and reveals the complete indifference of the Church towards social inequalities. On the contrary, such inequalities were skilfully exploited to further the cause of conversions.

Thus for more than 400 years, the Church has given priority to conversions rather than social justice. Caste inequalities were exploited for furthering soul harvesting. The result is there for all to see. In 2008, violent clashes broke out in Eraiyur in Tamil Nadu between Christians from OBC and SC castes. The clashes were a fall out of Dalit Christians starting their own Church in protest against discrimination and practice of untouchability in churches and seeking recognition from the Diocese. In the police firing that followed, two people were killed. Several churches in the area were locked up by Dalit Christians. There are many instances of walls inside churches and cemeteries. In 2011, clashes erupted in Thachur village, 80 km from Chennai on the issue of burial of Dalit Christians to which the Reddy Christians objected. According to an article published in The Frontline magazine, the Church is constructed with a star shape. The central portion is reserved for Reddy Christians who manage the Church while the sides are earmarked for converts from SC castes like Adi Dravidars and Arundathiyars who have no role in the management of the Church. In another cemetery in Trichy, the deceased Christians are buried on either side of the wall depending upon their caste.

A ground plan of the Church constructed by Di Nobili shows how caste and untouchability were made part of church architecture. The plan shows that the main church entrance was reserved for high castes, while the pariah castes had to use a different entrance

Christians across the world bad mouth evils of the Hindu caste system and lose no opportunity to blame the Hindu religion for the same, completely ignoring that caste, segregation and untouchability were given sanction by the Pope as seen earlier. The Church does not object to the continuation of the use of Hindu caste suffixes as part of the name, several generations after conversion to Christianity. In Andhra Pradesh, one can find third or fourth generation Christian converts using suffixes like ‘Reddy’ ‘Chowdary’ etc.

In the 21st century, if people like Mary John are forced to launch agitations through like Dalit Christian Liberation Movements, it is because the Church did not work towards social justice but exploited social inequalities to further its cause of conversions.

(The writer is a Sr. Associate at Centre for South Indian Studies, Hyderabad)

Source: https://csisindia.com/2021/05/05/church-priority-over-last-400-years-social-justice-or-conversion/

Arrest of Ranjan Chutia and Christianity in Assam: An Existential Danger

By: Dr. Ankita Dutta

The World Healing Prayer Center at Doomordolong, Moran, in Dibrugarh district has become a hotbed of Christian conversion activities in Assam. Recently, a video went viral in social media which showed that Hari Naam-Kirtan of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva and the Assamese Bihu dance was distorted by Ranjan Chutia and his group to convert emotionally naïve Hindus into Christianity. Ranjan Chutia has been instrumental in spearheading the conversion of Hindus from both Upper Assam and Lower Assam into Christianity by faking his Church as a Namghar (religious prayer hall-cum-cultural centre of the Assamese Hindus). The FIR against Ranjan Chutia was initially lodged by Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad on July 25 at the Moran Police Station in Dibrugarh.

On receipt of further inputs, a high-level team of Police was deployed from Guwahati to Dibrugarh around 3 A.M. on Tuesday night. He was arrested in the wee hours of Wednesday, i.e. July 28. Ranjan Chutia is also a prominent YouTuber who has been using his channel for a long time to propagate the teachings of Jesus and claiming to cure life-threatening diseases through miraculous prayers. It was on July 19 that Srimanta Sankardeva Sangha, the largest Vaishnavite religious organisation of Assam, had requested the Government of Assam to initiate an enquiry into the issue, saying that the use of songs and musical instruments associated with the Mahapurusiya Naam-Dharma tradition of Srimanta Sankardeva to spread a foreign faith is unpardonable.

It needs to be mentioned here that the World Healing Prayer Centre at Moran has been functioning since the last 17 years. Ranjan Chutia claims himself to be a messenger of Jesus and seeks to cure people of all illnesses and worldly troubles. Numerous videos that had been circulating in social media since the last few days brought to light certain shocking incidences of religious proselytisation. Distorted copies of the Bhagavad-Gita, Naam-Ghosha and Kirtan-Ghosha replaced with the name of Jesus in place of Bhagwan Krishna, could be seen lying inside the Prayer Center. The Dibrugarh Police has booked the accused under Sections 153 (A) and 195 (A) of the IPC. It was after his arrest during the mandatory health check-up that Ranjan Chutia tested positive for COVID-19. The Police later admitted him at a local COVID hospital.

It was earlier in November 2019 that the Legal Rights Observatory (LRO) had requested the Assam Government to take swift action against Ranjan Chutia for illegally occupying Government grazing land near the village Doomordolong at Moranhat to construct a Church. Entire Upper Assam is today in the dangerous grip of Christian missionary mafias like Ranjan Chutia. Since the Namghar is the pivotal centre of worship and identity for every Assamese Hindu, the Christian missionaries have very cleverly made use of this institution and the different aspects associated with it from songs to lyrics to dance and festivals to convert the people. The place where Jesus is worshipped, a Chandrataap (a red and white coloured cloth hanging above the sanctum-sanctorum of the Namghar) is used so as to give it the appearance of a typical Namghar.

To understand the root of this problem, we briefly need to revisit history. Although the British Government in had adopted a policy of non-interference in the social and religious affairs of the Hindu society after the Revolt of 1857, but, in the context of Uttar Purba Bharat, this never actually happened. The Church continued to flourish with the aim of helping the British secure their rule in this extremely resource-rich part of the country. The post-Independent Indian state too, under the garb of “charity”, actively facilitated these sinister activities of the Christian missionaries that have only expanded with time. It has been a strategically engineered agenda such that entire Uttar Purba Bharat was eventually made to appear among the people in the rest of Bharat as a region that had always been Christian-dominated.

Of the 2.78 crore Christian population counted in the Census of 2011, 78 lakh are settled in Uttar Purba Bharat alone. According to a report published by the Centre for Policy Studies titled, The Christianisation of the Northeast: It All Began on the Eve of Independence, this is the largest concentration of Christians in India after the coastal region beginning from the southernmost part of Tamil Nadu to Kerala, and stretching through coastal Karnataka, Goa, and Maharashtra. Christianisation of Uttar Purba Bharat has largely been a result of political and strategic considerations, and thus cannot be said to be an entirely religious phenomenon. E.g. in an agreement that was reached in the 1960s between Jawaharlal Nehru and “noted” anthropologist, the late Dr. Verrier Elwin, the entry of sadhus was formally banned into the state of Nagaland.

The Christian population in Nagaland increased from a mere 20% in 1947 to a whopping 88% as per Census data of 2011. Nehru had also appointed Elwin as the Anthropological Adviser to the Government of NEFA (today’s Arunachal Pradesh). Elwin was of the belief that Bharat was never a nation of one people with a shared heritage and culture, and that the different janajati communities were the “original aborigine inhabitants”. It was this exclusivist preservation policy of Elwin that gave a free hand to Christian proselytizers in Uttar Purba Bharat, leading to inter and intra community hostilities with the subsequent decline of Hindu Dharma and the rise of separatist movements.

Assam had acquired a significant Christian presence already in 1901. These early Christians mostly belonged to the migrant communities who had come from the present-day states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and settled in the tea plantations of Upper Assam. It was especially during the 2nd half of the 20th century that Christianity widened its reach and spread among several janajati communities of the region. Today, the share of Christians in the districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, and in some of the Bodo-dominated districts too, such as Kokrajhar and Udalguri, is much higher. In the present times, Christianity is one of the fastest growing religions in Assam after Islam, with Christians constituting around 3.74% of the total population of the state as per the Census of 2011. Dima Hasao district accounts for the largest population of Christians (30%) followed by Karbi Anglong (16.5%).

The entire region of Upper Assam covering the districts of Jorhat, Golaghat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, and Tinsukia share a border contiguous with the Catholic Christian-dominated states of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Christian educational institutions have become one of the most favourite destinations for educating the young kids. The chief factor behind such a preference has been the usage of English as the primary language of instruction in these schools. The importance given to the English language grew continuously during the period of British colonisation of Bharat. But, it became an obsession after 1947 when the colonial masters left the country. It suited the colonised minds of the Indian elite to continue with this colonial hangover, owing to the obvious advantages of social and political capital that accrued from such an arrangement.

Christian missionaries have been quite successful in being able to project their religion as the only saviour of the poor and the sick. “Charity” in the garb of social service is used by them as a cover for their immoral and deceitful practices, luring the poor with financial and other material aid. They have utilised the economic backwardness of the poor to their maximum advantage through numerous allurements and inducements, with the promise to release them from the clutches of poverty. In various YouTube videos from the World Healing Prayer Center at Moran, it can be observed that Ranjan Chutia has explained the reason behind all epidemics, diseases and natural disasters inflicting the world as God’s curse on the poor, and which can only be cured through prayer and the worship of Jesus.

Christian missionaries zealously believe that they have been decreed by Jesus himself to spread Christianity all over the world; hence, unless every group and community of people in the world becomes Christian, Judgement Day will not arrive. The strategic tactic of religious proselytizers like Ranjan Chutia has been to enmesh morality and charity together with faith. In this way, their message has been marketed widely without raising an iota of doubt both among the newly converted ones and as well as the common populace of the region. As argued by Rajiv Malhotra in his famous work Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, Christianity is popularly marketed in America today as an act of saving the heathens from a lifetime of fear and demonic oppression. The target includes Hindu deities, gurus, society, rituals and any spokespersons who speak up on behalf of Dharma.

This same tactic has been employed in Bharat too. An interesting aspect of the religious conversion activities undertaken by the missionaries is that the converts, most of whom are largely poor and unsuspecting Hindus, are allowed to carry on with their cultural-identity markers which differentiate one religious community from the other. In the context of Assam, this includes the wearing of sindoor and bindi on the foreheads of converted Christian women and dhoti-seleng saador among the converted Christian men when they visit the Church for prayers. Cultural appropriation of religious names and symbols can at best be seen in the nomenclature of the Church which is referred to as ‘Jixu Krisno’r Namghar’ by the people who regularly visit the World Healing Prayer Center at Moran.

It is because the symbolism associated with a particular culture and its rituals (not necessarily religious) is so powerful that it is able to leave behind a significant amount of cultural memory among its followers, for whom it is not completely easy to forego the distinctive traits of that culture, passed on to them over several generations. The Christian missionaries have well understood this fact. Accordingly, Christianity has indigenised itself in the region by first borrowing and then appropriating important cultural aspects from the local Hindu traditions. Eventually, this appropriation becomes normalised in the regular day-to-day lives of the people. It poses a serious danger to the unique and diverse cultural and religious practices and belief systems of the Hindus, which have been diluted of their original Vedic essence through co-option into Christianity.

In order to eventually Christianise the Hindus, the initial attempt of the Church is to establish separate identities among them, by showing their linguistic separation from devbhasha Sanskrit. The next important step is to reinterpret their oral narratives, stories, and diverse forms of nature worship in a manner that maximises the difference from or opposition to Sanatan culture and civilisation. Eventually, those aspects of Hindu Sanatan Dharma that can be accommodated within Christianity are credited to Christian influences, whereas those that contradict it are denigrated as the distortions by greedy Brahmanas. A separate history is then developed to show that the ancestors of these communities (especially janajatis) were the inhabitants of the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation, prior to the hypothetical colonisation perpetrated on them by the ‘foreign Aryans’.

This represents the beginning of the formation of a politicised sub-national identity among these communities, who then position themselves as historical victims in their relationships to the rest of the Indian population. It becomes a trigger to the eventual rise of secessionist movements, as we have seen in the states of Nagaland and Mizoram in particular, in Uttar Purba Bharat. The Constitution of India declares that the ‘Right to Propagate’ one’s religion does not include the right to convert another person through means, fair or foul. It is because religious conversions impinge upon the ‘freedom of conscience’ guaranteed to all persons alike, i.e. the inner freedom of an individual to mould his/her relationship with Ishwar or other living/non-living creatures in whatever way he/she desires.

We need to understand that a very well-organised and powerful global machinery is in operation behind people like Ranjan Chutiya and many others. Both Islam and Christianity are non-Indic faiths that have imposed themselves on Bharat through military conquest and political domination. The grand narrative of our country is rooted in Hindu/Indic values based on acceptance (not tolerance), rather than a copy-cat version of Western (European) secularism. In the matter of religious conversions, what is ‘forcible’ and what constitutes ‘voluntary’ is a rather shady area that is very much dependent upon people’s subjective feelings and emotions at a particular point of time with regard to a matter as sensitive as religion. ‘Forcible’ relates to against one’s own will, while ‘voluntary’ comes closer to individual choice.

Although some sections of the Christian converts in Assam and elsewhere claim that they voluntarily chose to convert into Christianity, but the irony remains as to whether such a choice has really been an informed one. The issue is whether the religious belief systems of one community have been critiqued in an honest and comprehensive light or always portrayed in a disparaging manner by the other. If the idea is to prove the superiority of one faith by projecting it as more simplistic, less complicated and less time-consuming than the other, the targeted person lacking a proper understanding of his own faith is ultimately made to feel apologetic about it in his subconscious mind. Understanding religious conversions in the light of freedom of choice, but re-conversion back to one’s original faith as communalism and a divisive policy has, for long, been a tactic of the Church to tap into the fault-lines of caste and community divide of the Hindu society.

References:

  1. Census of India, 2011. Ministry of Home Affairs. Government of India.
  2. Malhotra, Rajiv & Neelakandan, Aravindan. (2011). Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines. New Delhi: Manjul Publishing House.
  3. Sahat, K.N. (1990). A Theoretical Model for the Study of the Christianization Process among the Tribals of Chotanagpur, in Buddhadeb Chaudhuri (ed). Tribal Transformation in India (Five Volumes). New Delhi: Inter-India Publishers.
  4. https://www.google.com/amp/s/swarajyamag.com/amp/story/culture%252Fhow-northeast-india-was-christianised-in-the-last-100-years/
  5. https://www.dharmadispatch.in/amp/story/history/how-nehrus-fascination-for-verrier-elwin-helped-christianise-indias-north-east?

(The writer holds a PhD in Political Science and regularly writes on issues related to Assam and Uttar Purba Bharat).

Payment of monthly honorarium to religious workers by Govt. of AP –Will it stand Judicial scrutiny

By: K. Sahadev

The Government of Andhra Pradesh has issued orders vide GENERAL ADMINISTRATION (SC.I) DEPARTMENT G.O.MS.No. 52 Dated: 14-05-2021, enhancing financial support to the religious workers in places of worship of two important religious communities of the State viz., Hindus, Muslims. In the case of Christians, it is a new scheme. It leaves out three other minorities- Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.

The present G.O cites “ensuring religious harmony” in the state as the main objective of payment of monthly honorarium to religious workers of different religions. The G.O. further mentions extension of payment to functionaries working in churches is similar to the support being given to the Archakas working in temples and Imams/Muezzins working in mosques. However, this is a false comparison as the G.O. very clear states that quantum of payment to Archakas is based on grade of the temple, which in turn depends upon income generated by the temple. It clearly means that Hindu temple archakas are NOT paid out of public exchequer.

The Scheme for Payment of Honorarium to Imams and Muezzins of Mosques in Andhra Pradesh commenced in June 2016. The G.O. mentions that:

The scheme for payment of Honorarium to the selected Imams and Muezzins of the non-income earning Masjids in the State of Andhra Pradesh is intended to support the Andhra Pradesh State Waqf Board since the Board is not in a position to meet the expenditure. The Andhra Pradesh State Waqf Board shall take steps to strengthen the respective Waqf institutions to attain self-sufficiency to meet the expenditure.

The latest order marks the beginning of state funding of religious workers in Andhra Pradesh. Promoting communal harmony was not the objective stated at in 2016. The new G.O. not only increased the quantum of payment for Muslim religious workers but also introduced payment of monthly honorarium for Christian religious workers. But by including the enhancement of honorarium for Hindu archakas in this G.O., an impression is sought to be given out that even they are being paid out of state exchequer, which is factually incorrect. State is yet to show any concern towards Hindu archakas rendering their services in temples without any income. On the contrary, state is meddling with Hindu religious institutions through legislation and administrative actions by arbitrarily fixing the remuneration of Archakas, grading of temples, appointing Executive Officers, interfering in dharmic rituals of temples, disposing off temple assets etc.

CAN PUBLIC FUNDS BE USED FOR PAYMENT TO RELIGIOUS WORKERS?

This raises the larger question whether the public money can be used to pay individuals of a particular religion with the purported objective of ensuring communal harmony?

In 2012, the Government of West Bengal issued instructions for payment of monthly honorarium to Imams in mosques. The decision was challenged in Calcutta High court (W.P. No. 358 of 2012) and the decision of the government was quashed. The highlight of the judgement are:

1) The State Government cannot spend any money for the benefit of few individuals of a particular religious community ignoring the identically placed individuals of the other religious communities since the State cannot discriminate on the ground of religion in view of the Article 15 (1) of the Constitution of India.

2) The State Government by providing funds for making payment of honorarium to the Imams and Muezzins has acted in clear violation of the provisions enshrined under Article 14 and 15 (1) of the Constitution of India.

3) No exercise has been made by the Competent Authority of the State Government to ascertain the financial condition of various other members of the Muslim community as well as members of other religious communities before taking the decision for issuing the impugned memorandum.

4) The public purpose mentioned in Article 282 cannot be a purpose which offends the provisions of Article 14 and 15 (1) of the Constitution of India.

5) Imams and/or Muezzins are few individuals of the Muslim community and attached with the mosques. Decision to provide honorarium to the said individuals cannot serve the general interest of the community as a whole.

6) We hold that the impugned memo issued by the State Government is not only discriminatory in nature being violate of Article 14 of the Constitution of India but the same also discriminates on the ground of religion which offends Article 15 (1) of the Constitution of India.

7) We are constrained to hold that the grants made by the State Government for providing honorarium to the Imams and Muezzins were not for the public purpose as mentioned in Article 282 of the Constitution of India

8) Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Sri Divi Kodandarama Saram & Ors. Vs. State of A. P. & Ors., reported in 1997 (6) SCC 189 considered the payment of salary to ‘Archaka’ of Hindu Temple. In the aforesaid decision, Hon’ble Supreme Court made it clear that public fund cannot be utilised for the purpose of making payment of Archakas and trust looking after the temple was advised to collect donation from the public to defray the expenses.

9) No provision has however, been made in the Constitution authorising the State Government to make payment of the honorarium to few individuals of a particular religious community. As a matter of fact, Government cannot spend any money for the benefit of few individuals of a particular religious community to the exclusion of the members of the other religious communities in view of a specific provision of Article 15 (1) of the Constitution.

10) The concerned Executives of the State Government have squandered public money by releasing funds to the Wakf Board for the purpose of making payment of monthly honorarium to the Muezzins even in absence of any government order under Article 166 of the Constitution of India. We take strong exception for spending money even in absence of appropriate government order under Article 166 of the Constitution of India.

Thus it is very clear that payment to religious workers from public funds has been held to be “squandering of public money”. The objective cited in the Govt. of AP G.O. i.e., “communal harmony” also fails to stand judicial scrutiny in view of observation (5) cited in the above judgement. The judges have clearly held that payment to few individuals of a particular community does not serve the interests of all members of that community, leave alone serving promotion of inter-faith communal harmony.

The judgement also referred to a judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in a matter of payment of honorarium to Imams. The hon’ble court clarified that the scheme formulated by the SC was for payment of a uniform scale of salary to Imams from the income of the respective state Wakf Boards and not public funds.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the aforesaid decision never directed the State Government or the Govt. of India to take the responsibility for making payment to the Imams who are admittedly performing the duty of leading the community prayer in the mosques.

KERALA HC JUNE 2021:

June 2021, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday asked the state government, why they were financing a religious activity while considering a petition against the former’s decision to provide pension to madrasa teachers in the state. The order was  issued on a petition filed seeking to quash the Kerala Madrasa Teachers’ Welfare Fund Act, 2019, which is passed for disbursing pension and other benefits to madrasa teachers.

This is an ongoing case but it is pertinent to note that courts have consistently upheld the view that governments cannot finance any religious activity and such actions are unconstitutional. Article 46 of the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution of India call upon the state to “promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people”.

Anomalies observed in recent payment of honorarium to religious workers in Andhra Pradesh:

In May, 2020, the Government of Andhra Pradesh made a one-time payment to religious workers who are facing hardship and distress of various religious institutions, as a measure of relief arising out of break out of COVID-19 Pandemic. A sum of Rs.33.92 crores was sanctioned out of Disaster Relief funds. The ratio of religious workers to population of that religion as per 2011 was highly irrational. While Christians constituted 1.39 % of the population of AP, Christian religious workers received 43.99 % of total amount paid out. Every 24th Christian in the state is a religious worker, if we go by 2011 census figures for the state of AP.

ANDHRA PRADESH – ONE TIME PAYMENT FROM DISASTER RELIEF FUNDS TO RELIGIOUS SERVICE RENDERERS – RELIGION-WISE FIGURES OF BENEFICIARIES VIS-À-VIS STATE POPULATION

POPULATION OF AP as per Census 2011% OF POPULATON% OF BENEFICIARES: TOTAL BENEFICIARIESTOTAL BENEFICIARIES
HINDUS4,48,75,69890.86 %45.70 %31,017
MUSLIMS36,17,7137.33 %10.31 %7,000
CHRISTIANS6,82,6601.39 %43.99 %29,841
OTHERS2,10,7280.42 %0.00 %0
TOTAL4,93,86,799100.00 %100.00 %67,858

This lead to a peculiar situation wherein, in some areas, the number of Christian religious workers was more than the actual number of Christians in the area. Sample figures from Prakasam district:

MANDALCHRISTIANSNO. OF PASTORS
Naguluppalapadu8475
Ballikurava8449
Pedda Aravidu1633

In addition, data obtained through RTI queries on the details of Christian religious workers who were paid honorarium showed that 60 % of Christian pastors in the sample were holding Hindu community certificates. This raised many questions and exposed a lack of strict scrutiny in the processing of applications for sanction of honorarium to religious workers.

RELIGIOUS COMPOSITION OF CHRISTIAN PASTORS WHO RECEIVED ONE TIME HONORARIUM FROM GOVT. OF AP

(Sample size 347)

CHRISTIAN39.19%
HINDU-SC42.94%
ST1.44%
HINDU-OBC9.51%
HINDU-OC4.32%
NA2.59%
TOAL100%

The present G.O. has laid out 3 eligibility criteria that have to be fulfilled by the applicants to be considered under the scheme.

(a)  Church should be registered under the Societies Act;

(b)  Land should be registered in the name of Church;

(c) The institution should not have any other source of income.

This is in addition to the existing conditions of the Christian religious worker holding a Christian community certificate and being a qualified Christian religious worker. However, the additional eligibility criteria have not gone down well with the Christian religious worker community. In videos and social media posts, they have been pointing out that most of the churches are not registered as societies and they have been functioning from premises owned/taken on rent by the religious worker on an individual basis. In some cases, the churches are functioning from structures raised on public land.  Christian community elders expressed the opinion that not more than 1,000 Christian religious workers will meet the criteria and thus eligible to receive a monthly honorarium. Well established churches, popularly known as mainline churches pay monthly salaries, have regular postings/transfers and promotions. Religious workers from such churches will be out of the purview of the present scheme.

Thus it will be interesting to see whether the present scheme, as outlined above, will stand judicial scrutiny if and when challenged in a court of law. Also, it will be keenly observed whether the government will heed the concerns raised by the Christian community and relax existing eligibility criteria.

Source:

https://www.organiser.org/Encyc/2020/9/10/Andhra-Pradesh-70-percent-Christian-pastors-who-received-govt-honorarium-hold-SC-OBC-caste-certificates.html

Returning Home: My Reconversion Story – by Shimtihun Lyngwa

No, it’s not the immediate “Ghar Wapsi” effect; nor has the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have an impact in my life. My decision to leave the Christian faith and return to Niam Khasi didn’t just happen because of a few negative conversations, or a few isolated events — my decision was made because I realized I’ve been staying in the “wrong house” all these years. Two years ago, there would be no way in fiery hell that I could ever conceive of leaving the Christian faith. But here I am today.


I have received a lot of mixed reactions from being honest about my religious beliefs. For over a year, I had been terrified to tell anyone that I wasn’t a Christian anymore, because I was afraid of all the relationships I would lose, and all the people that would distance themselves from me. To me it feels like there’s a tremendous stigma in a lot of Christian circles about people leaving the church, and this assumption that I’m not a good person, or a person Christians can be friends with, because my views are now so different.


A lot of Khasi Christians I had met would refer to other Khasis who still followed the indigenous faith as “non-believers” and talk about them in a sort of vernacular that reflected an “us versus them” attitude, as though these “non-believers” were a part of the community, and that the community was a dirty and unreligious place filled with all sorts of depravity. “We are of the Khasi Community, but not of the Khasi Community,” is a catch-phrase I often heard, and while I appreciate holding onto certain Christian values about one’s conduct in life, I didn’t want people to think of me as “of the Khasi Community” — when they were thinking of the Khasi Community as such a terrible, unreligious place.

I was really scared of telling people. What I started to realize though, is that people had been distancing themselves because of my religious views, and that I didn’t want those kind of people in my life. I would rather be friends with people who would love me, regardless of my religious beliefs. And I am very happy and grateful to say that I do still have friends that are Christians, and our beliefs and views are very different, but that hasn’t had an effect on our friendship. That was very huge and important to me, Other people have, yes, chosen to distance themselves from me, or let our friendship “fade away” or have told me they were disappointed in me, or even worse, call me a hypocrite or tell me I’m going to hell, or try and “re-convert” me.


A lot of Christians I know have used the bible to justify slavery. And I have no idea how to interpret the stories in the Bible where God commands people to commit genocide, or God destroys populations and wipes out cultures, and tears entire cities to the ground, or floods the world sparing only one family and a bunch of animals. But even fast-forwarding to today, it feels like so many Christians I met were content to pick-and-choose the parts of the Bible they would follow.


There is a clear double standard in many Christian denominations in this Christian State, and because of that, churches are actually not a place for fellowship for everyone. One person told me, in a conversation we were having about abortion and human rights, that if a child gets raped, she has to keep the baby. I know that these attitudes are reflective of the extreme and fundamentalist side of religious belief, but regardless, these were people I personally knew and connected with that said this to me, and I never thought I had come from a place and had relationships with people who could demonstrate such intolerance.


Morally and ethically, I cannot follow a religion that would advocate such hate, judgment, and ignorance. I know that a lot of Christians do a tremendous deal of good things in society, and advocate on behalf of many oppressed people, but I still really sorely miss the critical conversations where these double standards exist in the Bible, the interpretation, and how that enacts itself in the world, and wish for more Christian leaders to speak about these issues. So maybe it should be up to me to fix the church, but it got to a point where I started to realize this kind of hate is larger than just a problem that needs to be fixed, but that it is ingrained into a really big part of Christian culture in the so-called “Christian State” of Incredible India.


So many church denominations are content to split up if they disagree; people believe so strongly and fervently in their interpretation of the Bible that they would sooner split up their church denomination than actively dialogue and try to understand one another. And for all of the things I can do, I cannot go up against that kind of strength of belief — to many, it is church doctrine, and not something that simply changes.
But why did I decide to return home to Niam Tynrai? I could recall the time where I “was moved by an overwhelming presence” during a climb to Lum Sohpetbneng, where everything felt very different, and I clearly felt a “sacredness” to everything and everyone gathered there. I could feel that “holy presence” every time I’m at the sacred Lum Sohpetbneng, and I can never seem to forget that feeling. But I believe I’m not the only one. There are a lot of Khasi Christians out there who weren’t given a “choice”.

There seems to be an assumption that because I’m not a Christian anymore, I no longer believe in God, but I do very much, and still wish to be included in the dialogue. There is a very fine and delicate balance between the relationship of people based on their religious beliefs, allowing room for dialogue, and the opportunity to learn from one another. Like the lesson I learned so long ago, it is difficult, but so right to exist in the liminal experience that is being able to be wrong, and being willing to learn from one another, and, like that speaker who spoke at Lum Sohpetbneng, have the courage to hold your true faith and ideas in an open hand, and truly see what it is they are made of.


Mahatma Gandhi once asked Christian missionaries, “If you feel that only conversion to Christianity is the path to salvation, why don’t you start with me or Mahadev Desai? Why do you stress on conversion of the simple, illiterate, poor and forest-dwellers? These people can’t differentiate between Jesus and Mohammad and are not likely to understand your preachings. They are mute and simple, like cows. These simple, poor, Dalit and forest-dwellers, whom you make Christians, do so not for Jesus but for rice and their stomach.”

This quote on religious conversion by the Father of the Nation got the hackles up of the Christian community. If we would have asked a similar question to Christian missionaries who came to the Khasi Hills early in the 19th century, we could have avoided this mass religious conversion altogether. But it’s never too late to return back home. I have; so should you.


(Email: shimtilyngwa@gmail.com)

Source: The Shillong Times (https://theshillongtimes.com/2020/09/01/my-reconversion-story/)

State assisted conversions in AP? 70% of Christian pastors who received govt honorarium through Disaster Relief Fund hold SC/OBC caste certificates

In a startling revelation by Legal Rights Protection Forum (LRPF), 70% of the 29,841 Christian pastors who received one-time government honorarium of Rs.5, 000 through Disaster Relief Fund hold SC/OBC caste certificates. LRPF obtained the relevant details through an RTI which revealed that a large percentage of Christians who have been baptised and have undergone Pastor Training courses but holding Hindu Caste Certificates have obtained one-time relief honorarium of Rs. 5,000/- each.

The honorarium was given by the Andhra Pradesh government to all ‘Religious Service Renderers’ which includes Archakas, Imams, Mouzzams and Christian Pastors who were facing hardship and distress of various religious institutions, as a measure of relief arising out of break out of COVID-19 Pandemic. The AP government has spent close to Rs. 34 crores on the one-time honorariums on 31,017 Archakas, 7000 Imams & Mouzzams and 29,841 Pastors which was credited to the respective beneficiaries’ bank accounts.
 
LRPF investigation revealed that while the official estimate of population of the Christians in AP is 1.39%, 43.99% of the honorarium beneficiaries are Christian Pastors. The data clearly shows that a large percentage of Christians who have been baptised and have undergone Pastor Training courses continue to hold Hindu Caste Certificates only to obtain government benefits like the recent one-time relief honorarium during COVID lockdown. 

Since holding of dual religious identities for government benefits is punishable under law, LRPF has complained to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to take action and immediately order Government of Andhra Pradesh to submit to the Commission the complete list of Christian Pastors who have received Rs. 5,000/- as one-time disaster relief as mentioned above, together with religion/community details of all the 29,841 pastors.
 
LRPF in its complaint letter says that their sample data has revealed that 58.14 % of Christian pastors are actually holding Hindu-SC community certificates and 13.37 percentage of the Christian pastors are holding Hindu OBC Community certificates. On a conservative basis, if it is assumed that 70 percent of the pastors listed above carry Hindu community certificates (sample data reveals 80.81%), the total figure of such pastors come to 20,900. The amount received by them at Rs. 5000 per head comes to Rs. 10.45 Crores which is clearly fraudulent misuse of public money, says the LRPF complaint. 

@lawinforce

LRPF has requested the commission to initiate appropriate action to safeguard the interests of Scheduled Caste communities of Andhra Pradesh and weed out converts who have illegally obtained SC/OBC Communities certificate through fraudulent misrepresentation of facts.

“We once again fervently appeal to you to send a fact-finding mission to the state of Andhra Pradesh and initiate steps to save the people of Scheduled Castes/OBC of Andhra Pradesh from becoming culturally extinct. The onslaught of Christian Evangelical lobby with financial support of thousands of crores of rupees through FCRA funds, hundreds of foreign evangelists coming to Andhra Pradesh indulging in brazen conversions, baptisms and a huge army of local native Christian pastors have set up on the ground in AP – all these have crushed the SCs of Andhra Pradesh and pushed them to the brink of extinction. SCs of Andhra Pradesh exist only on paper and in reality, our experience has shown that only 10-15 % of the SCs are real Hindu SCs clinging on to their ancestral religion, culture and civilisation. These people are small in number, politically insignificant and don’t count in vote bank politics. Hence, they require your valuable support”, urges LRPF in its letter.
 
State assisted conversions
 
LRPF complaint letter also shares details of the government appeasement of so-called minorities at the cost of Hindus and the finances of the state. The present government in Andhra Pradesh had proposed regular monthly payment to religious service renderers and applications were called from Christian pastors to apply for the same. Strangely, the state government has not made it mandatory to submit Christian community certificate by prospective beneficiaries while submitting applications.
 
“This has enabled a large number of Christians holding Hindu community certificates to apply and benefit from the one-time payment of Rs. 5,000/-. As and when the government fulfils its election promise of monthly payments to pastors, all these people will enjoy the benefit every month. This is serious abuse and defrauding of public exchequer”. Says LRPF. “This is direct encouragement of the present government to SCs to convert to Christianity yet corner all the constitutional benefits of SCs without any hassles”, says the letter to the SC Commission.

It can be recalled that the AP government recently released funds for construction/repair/renovation of 76 Churches at a cost of Rs. 5.00 lakhs each. The earlier government of Andhra Pradesh has, during the period 2014- 19, funded construction of 817 churches. Most of these are located in SC colonies or where large number of SCs are living. This is direct encouragement of conversions of SCs into Christianity. It is a matter of deep concern to us that successive governments have resorted to supporting conversions into Christianity.
 
LRPF data also reveals that recently an NGO – Samarasta Seva Foundation conducted a survey of SCs at Chilukuru Village, Ibrahimpatnam Mandal, Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh. The following are the telling statistics from the village.

Though the figures are shocking, the situation is more or less same across the districts of Krishna, Guntur, East Godavari and West Godavari in AP. “Today a pathetic situation has arisen wherein officials and common man have concluded that ‘All people of Scheduled Castes are are Christians unless proved otherwise’. Identity of the people of Scheduled Castes as Hindus has been washed away in the deluge of Evangelists’ tsunami.” says LRPF.
 
“We are deeply concerned at this development as the SCs/OBCs of Andhra Pradesh with thousands of years of cultural heritage, civilizational achievements and deep religious practices now face extinction. Their way of life, their daily religious worship, celebration of festivals – all are being wiped out in front of their own eyes, with active financial/administrative support from successive governments”, says LRPF.
 
LRPF investigation also reveals that there is a huge jump in population of SCs while there is sharp decline in number of Christians. This is possible only when large number of Christians have started declaring themselves as Hindu-SCs and obtaining relevant community certificates enabling them to illegally corner all the benefits designed to uplift the livelihood of SCs. Such a large-scale misuse is not possible without active connivance of the administration in the state.
 
LRPF says that not just the present regime in AP, but all previous governments from the past 5 decades are to be blamed for the same as they turned a blind eye or actively assisted such misuse of benefits of Scheduled Castes.
Urging the SC/ST commission to launch an immediate inquiry into the whole issue, the LRPF requests them to send a high-power fact-finding committee to Andhra Pradesh to study the issue of large scale misuse of reservation benefits of SCs/OBCs and help the genuine SCs to utilize their legitimate constitutional benefits.

Reference: https://www.organiser.org//Encyc/2020/9/10/Andhra-Pradesh-70-percent-Christian-pastors-who-received-govt-honorarium-hold-SC-OBC-caste-certificates.html