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The Saffron Book

Christians are first class citizens. How much better would it be if there no proselytisers.

48. Proselytising Unwelcome

Dear Mariamma
I can quite appreciate why you were so worked up about the alleged atrocities on Christians in Gujarat. Several of the English language papers had reported from the state as if pogroms were being perpetrated. The pogrom was an organised massacre of Jews which was not uncommon in Russia until the twentieth century. More recently, the word pogrom brings to mind what the Nazis led by Adolf Hitler did to six million or more Jews.

With the advent of glasnost initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev, more Jews have emigrated from Russia to Israel than from anywhere else.Which is the reason why I am keen to erase propaganda distortions from your mind. You will be surprised to know that most of the correspondents who had reported the alleged atrocities in Dangs have, to this day, not visited the district.

Dangs is a tiny district comprising 311 villages with a total population of approximately one and a half lakh Adivasis and some settlers from neighbouring areas. It has one member of Legislative Assembly and being so small it is, by no means, at the centre of politicsin Gujarat. These villages were originally owned by five rajahs and were not annexed by the British. These villages were taken over by lease agreements. The descendants of the rajahs still get salyanas orcompensation pursuant to the leases.

I met a descendent of one of the five called Bhilraja Bhanwarsinh Hasusinh Suryavanshi. He appeared neutral between religions. He felt, as incidentally I do, that worship was a personal matter and each individual was free to choose his own path. Explaining the causes of the tension then prevailing, he said that the preservation of the bhil identity was important. His conclusion was that the more bhils became Christian, the less bhil the community remained. If the trend continued, eventually the tribe would cease to be bhil his people would turn into non-descripts.

Talking to younger people in Dangs, it became more and mord evident that there was an identity crisis. The conditions were different in the days of their grandparents who were very poor. For any substantial favour they could receive, they might have exchanged their religion. The economic situation was nowhere as desperate at present. At the same time, the awareness was much higher, thanks to education as well as exposure to the media. Everyone now needs to be proud of something. Bhil identity is one such thing.

A few months earlier, an old lady died. Since she had lived with her elder son, he felt it was his right to cremate her according to his tribal tradition. Her younger son, however, would have none of it. He had been converted to Christianity and strongly felt that the old lady should be buried. He claimed that his departed mother had loved him more than his elder brother. He therefore should have the veto.

This is one example of conflict. Much worse had happened to a family living in the neighbourhood of the Dangs. The Christian husband kept insisting on his Hindu wife to attend church every Sunday with him.Her resistance ultimately climaxed into her drinking phenol. When she had drunk half the bottle, her husband became emotional, snatched the bottle and drank up the remaining half of the phenol. They were rushed to hospital where the doctor commented: thank God they both drank half each and could therefore be saved!

There are some serious problems. The Adivasi tradition is that all property belongs to the clan. Yet, when a person turns Christian he tends to demand his separate share which creates conflict. When an Adivasi happens to borrow money from a professional lender, he would deposit the title deeds of the land as security. If there were to be a default, the lender could demand that the property be transferred to him. The protection to the borrower on the strength of being an Adivasi or a scheduled tribe becomes problematic.

This threat of property transfer to a non-Adivasi was aggravated in the weeks following 1 September, 1998 when a farmer's rally was held at Ahwa, the district headquarters of the Dangs. It was reported that one or two nationally known leaders, after the rally, assured some petitioners that they would take up their request for property transfer with the district Collector.

The resultant anxiety played its part in inciting some of the scuffles which took place on the day of Christmas in 1998. Several chapels made of bamboo and hay were set on fire. The asbestos roof of a school hostel in Ahwa was broken. A few Hanuman shrines were profaned with excrete but fortunately to this day no one has been killed or even seriously injured.

A point that hurts the Adivasi sentiment is that the missionary calls him an animist, if not also a pagan in private. When I chatted with a padri in the area he explained that there was nothing insulting about calling anyone an animist so long as he worshipped natural phenomena.

True, the bhil worships a tiger which, incidentally, is the carrier or vaahan of Marri, another avataar or personification of Ambaji or Durga, a leading deity in Hindu mythology. The bhil also worships Hanuman which could be distorted as praying to a monkey. But then most Hindus pay obeisance to Hanuman.

I could go on with my interactions with missionaries and the Adivasis. As you know, I have by now spent over four decades in tea gardens. On the gardens of north east India work lakhs of Adivasis who originally hail from the Jharkhand region. But I know that you are busy with your studies and time is therefore short. Let me therefore take you straight to my conclusion, which in turn, may well be coloured by my owing a great deal of my formal education to Christian teachers, mostly Catholic Anglo-Indian ladies. Since I had not been to school until I was nearly eleven, I do not know what would have happened to me had these kind teachers not gone out of their way to help me make up for lost time. You could well imagine how much they must have helped when at the age of 15, in a matter of four years, I was able to matriculate.

One lady, Mrs. Joan Cameron straightened out my English grammar in a matter of six weeks. If you find grammatical mistakes in this letter, be assured that the fault is not that of Mrs. Cameron. They would be a part of the bad habits I have picked up subsequently. About Mrs. Phyllis Hartley, here I can only sum up. Being associated with her as a pupil for four years, I did not need the proof of God. If one could meet an angel on earth, she certainly was one.

Because of such a background, many have teased me of being pro-Christian which, perhaps, I am. But I am not pro-conversion. A proselytiser is quite different from a worshipper of Jesus. A devout follower is quite different from a person whose mission in life is converting people to his faith, especially needy people who might be tempted to change their religion for favours even as important as free education or medicine. One is a good citizen. The other is a social aggressor. One wants peace and prosperity. The other spends all his time persuading innocent people to his religious fold at the cost of the rest of the society.

What many a Hindu finds galling is that a proselytiser only targets his co-religionists. One hardly ever hears of a group of Muslims having switched their loyalty to Jesus. I have never come across any Christian who him self, or whose parent, was a former Muslim. Is it because the Muslim is not considered a heathen whereas the Hindu is or, is it because the missionary is afraid of the mullah? Are there no Muslims who are poor, or have children in need of education?

The Saffron Book
Prafull Goradia
1. Awake and Unite!
2. Why The Saffron Book?

10. Small States
3. Vision
4. Economic Face
5. Abolish Casteism
6. Bride Burning, Divorce
7. Rape, Prostitution
8. Revolutionising Education
9. The Constitution

11. Nationalism
12. Pan-Islamism
13. Communism
14. Subnationalism
15. Casteism

16. Hindutva is Dialectical
17. Origin of Hinduism
18. Medieval Phase
19. Modern Resurgence
20. Not Fundamentalism
21. Not Fascism
22. Tolerance
23. Strengths
24. Weaknesses
25. Opportunities
26. Threats
27. Individual Brilliance

Hindu Paradoxes
42. Idolatry
43. Fatalism
44. Double Standards
45. Masochistic Fringe
46. Fifth Column
47. No Soul before Birth

48. Proselytising Unwelcome
49. Myth of Divide and Rule

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