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The attacks could be politically motivated

Parvathi MENON ; Interview with Alan de Lastic, Archbishop of Delhi.

Wednesday 3 December 2003, by MENON*Parvathi

Article paru dans Frontline, vol.15, n?26, Dec.19, 1998 - Jan. 01, 1999.

Archbishop of Delhi Alan de Lastic has thrown the weight and authority of the Catholic Church behind the increasingly assertive public mobilisation against the spate of attacks on Christian groups and institutions by Hindutva gangs, particularly in BJP-ruled States.

In an interview to Parvathi Menon in Bangalore, the Archbishop discusses some of the reasons for the attacks and the linkages between them and the growth of Hindutva as a political force. Excerpts:

This is for the first time in India that there has been such an overtly communal onslaught against the Christian community. What in your view are the reasons for this?

There is more than one reason. I think it is because of the jealousy of these fanatics who cannot do what we are doing even though they are quite powerful. Secondly, they claim that they are angry with us because of conversions, Hence I would like to explain what I understand by conversion. For me, conversion is a free, personal and consequently responsible act. A forced conversion is therefore a contradiction in terms. In the Christian belief, conversion is a gift of God. It is not something that can be acquired by right, still less can it be acquired by inducement, or by the offer of rice or jobs. In fact, the law makes illegal all types of inducement or enticement given to people to change their religion.

On the other hand, I feel that conversion is not their main concern. Why have they suddenly woken up and become so spiritual as to worry about someone’s spiritual destiny? In all these 50 years we did not hear this. I do not mind a revival in any religion but not a fundamentalist, violent revival. Conversion therefore is only a camouflage to stop or hamper the work of Christians, especially the priests and the nuns who have dedicated their lives to changing the structures of society for the better - sinful structures, such as caste and financial mafias or moneylenders who force such an exorbitant rate of interest on the people that all their lives they can never repay their debt. There are feudal lords who grab the land of the weak and keep them in bondage. This is the main reason why they are against those Christians who are changing the evil structures of society.

Do you think there is a connection between the spate of attacks on the Christian minority and the political changes at the Centre?

The Government, which is supposed to enforce law and order, stop these wild attacks and try and redress the injustices done, is not doing its duty. It is doing something, but in my opinion not too much. Why is it, for example, that so many outrages have taken place one after another in Gujarat? Recently the Chief Minister has even penalised schools for remaining closed for a day of peaceful protest. What are they protesting against? They are protesting against the attacks on Indians, their own sisters, against rape, against the desecration of their minds and hearts and lives. This is anti-Indian. It goes against the ethos and spiritual heritage of all Indians. So it is very sad that the Chief Minister of Gujarat takes action against them, and takes hardly any action against the burning of the Bible, the breaking down of churches, the exhuming of bodies and so many other such acts. This is very alarming.

Do you see a linkage between these attacks and the growth of Hindutva as a political force?

It would appear to be so, but when you are in government you must forget your ideologies and follow the Constitution. If the Government, irrespective of ideology and party, does not do its duty and bring about a reign of peace and justice, and put an end to poverty, then we must act as the conscience of the nation. I find that these attacks on the minorities could also be politically motivated so that people’s attention is diverted. Issues such as the Government’s failure to redress the evils of poverty, corruption and attacks on the defenceless and weak sections of people, and the financial mess we are in, are not being tackled. We are always told to fight against Pakistan and be careful about China... necessary perhaps, but sometimes I think it is diverting the attention of the people.

What is your response to the assurance given by the Prime Minister to the Christian community?

Well, I take him at his word and I hope that he will do what he promised. I feel that he will do his best, although I would expect something more from the Central Government in this matter. I would expect an all-out condemnation, a call to stop all attacks on any religion, not only Christianity.

Do you see any pattern in the attacks?

We do see a pattern and we see the linkages. I think this is a national-level strategy - to try and stem the influence of Christians. It would seem more pronounced where Christians are in small numbers and where there is a government in power which has a particular ideology. This seems to be the pattern. You find very few incidents in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Their strategy differs according to the situation, for the towns there is one type of strategy, for the villages another. For tribal areas there is yet another strategy. In the towns they try to put obstacles in the functioning of Christian educational institutions and institutions of medical care and development. That is, by trying to control the administration and finances - we can see it happening in Gujarat. Instead of appreciating the work we have done there, the Chief Minister is trying to penalise us.

Do you see any direct political backing for fundamentalist groups in States ruled by the BJP?

It is very difficult to find a direct political link. But why does it not happen in Mizoram and Nagaland? I would say the Government here is not doing its duty. Those in power want to remain in power because of the vote. So they have to make a choice: do they stand by the Constitution, or do they stand for the party even though its ideology conflicts with the Constitution?

Given the linkages between the ideology of the party in power at the Centre and the atrocities against Christians, will the Church now assume a more overtly political role?

That is a very delicate question. I would say we are slowly finding our way. Where there is a question of justice, of morals, of human rights, there I think we have to speak out.

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