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Monotheists clamour for tribal harvest

Monotheists clamour for tribal harvest

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 19, 2004

Europe's civilian revolt against the stranglehold of the Catholic Church  was won by resurrecting its Pagan heritage as exemplified in Greek  philosophy and Roman law. The resultant duality of religious and secular  authority provided space for individual liberty, science, and material  progress. Hindu society, despite civilizational stresses from hostile  invasions, managed to preserve its cosmic worldview and to resist  imposition of a mono-source of political and religious power. Islam has  been consistent in its advocacy of a single religio-political authority.

Of the three traditions, I consider the White Christian the most  treacherous because the First World, despite wrestling personal freedom  from the pulpit, uses the Church as an instrument of imperialism.  Secularism placed Church aspirations for dominion under non-religious  leadership, which is why Western regimes aggressively promote  proselytization and the decimation of non-Christian faiths and cultures.  The US State Department, as the Vigil public forum rightly points out,  views religious freedom an integral part of its foreign policy, which  makes evangelization a political agenda.

As Europe's secularization went hand-in-hand with successful colonial  conquests, the West's post-Second World War thrust for perpetual sales  and profits naturally accompanies the evangelization drive. In my view,  Western secularism resulted, not in separation of religion and politics,  but in Church subordination to politics. As senior partner in the new  equation, the secular polity assumed responsibility for facilitating the  twin evils of Christian conversion and market domination (through  cultural subversion of traditional lifestyles) upon the world. Unlike  Islam, the naked sword was hidden by wooing and co-opting academic,  political and economic elites in a grand alliance for "progress" from  traditional moorings. The White Christian world is thus far more lethal  than Islam, which is openly against non-Muslims.

From this perspective, the All India Christian Council's agitation at  the rising stature of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in the tribal belt  spanning Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and  Orissa, makes perfect sense. Mr. John Dayal, general secretary,  typically rants against VKA social service activities amongst tribals  and shows disrespect for tribal resentment against missionary activities  and the loss of cultural identity caused by loss of faith. In an article  posted on the www.pakistanchristainpost.com website, Dayal alleges  coercion and violence in VKA's Ghar Vapsi (return to roots) programme.  He claims that the RSS distributes arms and that this has polarized  tribals, stimulating the violence witnessed against Muslims in Gujarat's  tribal areas after the Godhra conflagration.

Ghar Wapsi is essentially the brainchild of former Union Minister Dilip  Singh Judeo, erstwhile ruler of Jashpur in Raigarh (Chattishgarh) and  hereditary royal guardian of the Korwa tribals of Sarguja. Apart from  resisting the tide of conversions, what rankles with missionaries is  Judeo's determination that village communities regain land appropriated  by missionaries for schools, hospitals and churches. Judeo, who is well  acquainted with missionary tactics through several decades of hard work,  wittily advises tribals to accept the services offered by missionaries,  but on no account discard their traditional faith and culture in lieu of  these services.

Irritated at the success of this advice, Mr. Dayal is further enraged  that Ghar Wapsi has succeeded to the extent that conversions have  virtually stopped and the 'homecoming' movement is gathering momentum.  No doubt Judeo's impressive personality and colourful language have  contributed to his substantial success. He first came to national  attention in 1992, when he told a popular magazine that he had issued a  "manifesto to the missionaries" which stated that "we" (tribals) would  eat up anyone who ate a cow, and would clip two throats for every choti  (tuft of hair on a shaven head) clipped. It bears mention that though  evangelists routinely quote this statement, not a single incident has  occurred under Judeo's jurisdiction.

The All India Christian Council has also picked up a quarrel with the  Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Mr. Tarlochan Singh,  for having asked Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao to refrain from  evangelization among the Sikh community. The Archbishop sent Mr. Singh a  loaded missive on Christian theology, individual freedom of conscience,  and the power of the Holy Spirit, adding sharply: "We certainly want  inter-religious harmony and peace..But this harmony cannot be achieved  at the cost of the individual citizen's freedom of conscience, which  every other citizen has to respect." The Archbishop smugly reiterated  the Church's old ideological deceits that conversion is an adult choice  of a chosen way of life; that nobody can convert another person; one can  only present a way of life to another person, who is then free to decide  his response.

If this is indeed true, conversions to Christianity should normally  occur in driblets of one and two, and not in the form of the mass  conversions that accompany sustained pressure from evangelists. More  often than not, the neo-converts have little idea of Christian theology  and its anti-Jewish bias, the schisms and purges caused by fanatical  Popes and Bishops, and the myriad changes wrought in the Holy Bible due  to the political exigencies of prevailing elites. Conversion of the  illiterate and uninformed does not meet my standard of a "free  interaction between God and man in the sanctuary of an individual's  conscience," as the Archbishop so loftily claims.

That tribals on their own have little time for Christ or the  pious missionary can be seen from the fact that the merciful exit of  Mrs. Gladys Staines (widow of Australian missionary Graham Staines) from  India led to a massive homecoming of converted tribals. In Orissa's  Mayurbhanj district, seventy-five Christians returned to the Hindu fold  last month and more are slated to re-embrace their native faith. The  cognoscenti would be aware that acute resentment at Graham Staines'  conversion activities had resulted in his sensational murder some years  ago.

Of course, Christian activists do not believe in a level playing field.  Hence the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, which merely facilitates tribals  wishing to live according to their traditional mores, received  unexpected flak when it observed its golden jubilee in the capital's  Mandoli village recently. Even as delegates debated problems of the  country's eight crore tribal population, leaders of the minority  communities raised Cain on the ground that VKA was bringing tribal  hamlets back to the Hindu fold (The Telegraph, 3 October 2004).

Objectively, VKA is by no means as pervasive as its critics aver.  Organizing secretary Gunwant Singh Kothari claims that out of the 698  tribes in the country, VKA has established contact with 380 only. From  humble beginnings in Jashpur (royal estate of the Judeo family) in 1952,  VKA today has a presence in twenty-seven States and Union Territories,  including all States of the sensitive north-east; but it does not have  even a toe-hold in areas like Goa, Lakshadweep, Ladakh and Pondicherry.

The VKA operates on the premise that loss of culture is loss of  identity, and strives to help the myriad tribes to preserve their  distinct identities. This is also the keynote of the first ever Draft  National Policy on Tribals prepared by the NDA Government to bring  tribals into the national mainstream, which is currently being debated  nation-wide. The Draft National Policy was prepared as it was felt that  despite pious statements of intent made in the Constitution in 1952, the  majority of Scheduled Tribes even today live below the poverty line,  have poor literacy rates, are prone to malnutrition and disease, and are  vulnerable to displacement.

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