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Victims of conspiracy phobia

Author: Priyadarshi Dutta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 18, 2015
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/victims-of-conspiracy-phobia.html

The response of church authorities in Delhi and elsewhere over the targeting of church property by miscreants, has been lopsided and driven by bias. They are bent upon believing that Narendra Modi’s elevation has triggered the attacks

 No matter what happened to the building, the church survived.” That was how David Gossett, the Pastor of Arlington Church of Nazarene (Arlington, Oregon) reacted on the wintry morning of November 12, 2013, after a great fire had burnt down the church edifice built in 1899. The community suspected foul play because it was the second incident of fire in the premises. But Pastor Gossett said forgiving “allows you not to dwell”. He added, “It is letting off that weight of something that is burdensome.” He promised to erect the building anew, because the church (community of worshippers incorporated) survived. Within one year, before Christmas 2014, he had kept his promise. The new church building was inaugurated with the lighting of candles.

 But Christian leaders of New Delhi would lead their flocks in a different way, as they did twice recently. Fire at St Sebastian Church at Dilshad Garden made Christian leaders breathe fire and brimstone. The issue was immediately converted into an act of ‘persecution of a minority community’ without any forensic evidence. Delhi Police headquarters were surrounded on a week-day. Another incident of trespassing into the relics of a church in Vasant Kunj led to a bigger mayhem. Union Minister for Home Affairs Rajnath Singh met Christian community leaders led by John Dayal to assure them of swift action.

 The ilk of John Dayal wants an amendment to the Indian Penal Code to categorise such incidents as ‘hate crime’. Thus, any burglary of a church would become ‘provocation with intent to cause riots, hurting religious sentiments’. Such provisions had to be applied against ‘unknown persons’. There had been a series of stray incidents related to churches in the NCT of Delhi. Except in the case of Vikaspuri Church vandalism (where a Sikh was involved, as CCTV footage showed) they appear obscure.

 The Christian leaders’ oblique reference appears to be Mr Narendra Modi. They are linking the incidents with Mr Modi’s anointment. But such imputations make the incidents more suspicious. It is problematic to assume these to be the handiwork of fringe Hindutva elements, emboldened at Mr Modi’s elevation to power. Why would the ‘emboldened’ people hide behind the clouds?   But is it too far-fetched to consider some of these acts as plants to malign the Modi Government?  The Government is reportedly moving fast to screw up flush funds received by many dubious NGOs from abroad. A disproportionate number of the NGOs are overtly Christian outreach agencies.

 Many of the NGOs blacklisted from receiving foreign funds over the last few years are recognisably Christian. The list available on the website of the Ministry of Home Affairs (Foreigners Division) would show many of them have words ‘Evangelical’, ‘Gospel’, ‘Ministry’, ‘Grace’ etc in their titles. Amongst the 60 NGOs that are prohibited currently from receiving any foreign funds there a several explicitly Christian. The stream of ‘milk and honey’ flowing into the cups might soon dry up. Thus, it becomes necessary to put the Modi Government on the defensive on some pretext.

 During FY 2011-12 (as per the FCRA Annual Report, Ministry of Home Affairs), at least eight out of the top 15 recipient associations of foreign contribution were religiously Christian. They include d the likes of World Vision India (Tamil Nadu), Believers Church India (Kerala), Indian Society of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint (Delhi), Caruna Bal Vikas (Tamil Nadu), Gospel for Asia (Kerala), Compassion East India and Missionaries of Charity (both West Bengal).

 On the other end of the spectrum, the list of foreign donors for FY 2011-12 is topped by Compassion International (US), Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saint (US) and the Kinder Not Hilfe (Germany) — all of them committed to vehemently promoting ‘Christian’ values.

 One of the categories foreign contribution is classified into is, ‘Maintenance of Priests/Preachers/other religious functionaries’. Foreign contribution flowing into this category increased steeply from Rs58 crore to Rs153 crore between 2005-06 and 2006-07 within a year of the UPA-I coming to power. For the FY 2010-11, it stood at Rs211 crore (admittedly with the benefit of de-valorisation of the Indian rupee).

 The institutions categorised as ‘minority educational institutions’ are permitted to receive foreign funds. In FY 2008-09, out of 5,273 minority educational institutions (Buddhist, Sikhs, Christian, Muslims) which received total foreign funds of Rs3,987 crore, some 4,871 were Christian organisations who alone received Rs3689 crore. In FY 2009-10, some 4,751 Christian organizations got Rs3,542 crore, out of 5107 organisations getting an aggregate of Rs3,811 crore. In FY 2010-11, the figure was 4,721 Christian organisations getting Rs3,385 crore out of 5,085 organisations obtaining foreign funds of Rs3,683 crore. These figures were revealed in the Lok Sabha on December 18, 2012, by the then Minister for State for Home Affairs in response to an unstarred question.

 Christian leaders want these acts of church fires and vandalism declared hate crimes rather than a breach of law and order. But will they reply why in the Christian majority US, acts of church fires, arson and vandalism are no rarity? The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which comes under the United States Department of Justice, maintains a neat catalogue of church burnings as part of their duty. The arsonists are almost invariably Christians.

 On July 3, 1996, then President Bill Clinton signed the Church Arson Prevention Act, 1996. Thereby, a church Arson Task Force was constituted for investigative purposes. That piece of legislation came in response to increasing acts of church arson in early 1990s. Most of the targeted Churches had belonged to Afro-Americans or Blacks in southern States like Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia and Alabama. Though the Act has made prosecution easier it has not ended of Church burnings. Between 1998 and 1999, the triad of Jay Scott Balinger, Angela Wood and Donald Puckett burnt approximately 50 churches in rural Mid-West and South-East.  Some 11 churches were burnt in East Texas during January-February, 2010 by Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister.

But, often, there are no actual racist motives. The incendiaries are result of pranks played by youth often high on drugs or alcohol. For instance, the nine churches that were burnt on February 4 and 7, 2006 in Birmingham, Alabama (US) were the handiwork of three students who wanted to play a prank. David Rovics’ song, “South Dakota Church Burning”, ends irreverently: “One Man’s blasphemy/For another is a tiny little/Taste of Liberty”.
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