Hindus don’t always have equality with minorities.
An article written by former police officer Julio Ribeiro, initially headlined I am on a hit list, has ignited a debate concerning India’s Christians and their security under the Narendra Modi government. The 86-year-old Ribeiro—who admitted later he “slightly exaggerated” to attract attention—makes a series of scathing allegations against the Modi government, writing, “I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country.”
He points to reports of church vandalism, asserting India’s Christians are threatened because of such incidents. It speaks to the discourse prevalent in India that every incident of vandalism or crime where a minority community is involved is viewed through the lens of communalism and secularism.
Investigations into these incidents have found that they were petty crimes and localized incidents, not necessarily motivated by religious hatred, but those who stoutly believe that minorities are under siege allege the investigations are compromised or influenced. No facts can convince them that there may be no grand design; the assertion of motivated attacks itself serves as proof that there is a conspiracy against minorities, and that assertion isn’t allowed to be undermined.
Ribeiro makes one tenuous claim after another. First, he asserts the Christian community has made significant contributions to India by building educational institutions and hospitals. Second, he proclaims that Mother Teresa was an “acknowledged saint, acknowledged by all communities and peoples”.
It is true that many of India’s leading schools and colleges are run by Christian organizations, and have done yeoman’s service for the country across generations. But this has not been entirely without an agenda. The missionary organizations running these institutions received substantial subsidies from the Indian public; in the British era and even after independence, missionary-run institutions received prime land in city centres at subsidized rates
. More importantly, they were allowed autonomy and freedom in how they should run their institutions.
Even today, top ranked institutions like St Stephen’s College, Christian Medical College in Vellore, St Xavier’s College and countless missionary schools across India clearly declare themselves to be minority institutions and admit Christian students through explicit quotas; all of this is done at a subsidy, implicit and explicit, from Indian taxpayers, who are largely Hindus. For example, Christian Medical College clearly states in its admissions prospectus that its aim is to “train individuals for service in needy areas, especially in Christian mission hospitals”, and “a large number of Christian churches and missions make use of training” it offers in medical education. It has a special “sponsored category” constituting up to 50% seats, reserved for Christian applicants. For the nursing programme, 85% seats are reserved for Christians. The college says that “staff and student retreats led by eminent Christian thinkers are an important feature of the spiritual nature” of the college community. St Stephen’s has a 50% Christian quota and lower entry cutoffs for Christian applicants. Its principal, Valson Thampu, made news recently when a staff member alleged he was being coerced by Thampu to convert to Christianity.
The principal of St Xavier’s College in Mumbai went so far as to issue a political statement to the 3,000 students of his college criticizing the Gujarat government’s economic record and praising the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government during the 2014 general election campaign. Why must a college principal make political proclamations to his student body? When premier schools and educational institutions funded by public money have large religious quotas - and protectionism through government regulation certainly helped these institutions achieve their premier position - it’s a clear incentive for Hindus to convert, for becoming Christian increases one’s chances of getting admission to some of India’s top schools and colleges. The obvious implication is also that India has a system of government-funded Christian evangelism; is that secular?
It’s acceptable that these institutions retain Christian quotas. The problem is the alternatives for Hindus are limited by state diktat because of stifling regulations in the education sector that have created artificial shortages
. By not liberalizing the education sector, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be supporting a quasi-monopoly enjoyed by Christian evangelical organizations. Liberalizing the sector would level the playing field and create a more equal India. By the same token, if non-Hindus enjoy the religious freedom to convert Hindus, Hindus too should have the freedom to propagate their faith.
But these are facts that are well-known to even left-liberal intellectuals. Writing in June 2007, when St Stephen’s College talked of raising its Christian quota to 50%, eminent historian Ramachandra Guha had said, “According to the Union ministry of education, fully 95% of the expenses of the college are met by the University Grants Commission. Why should a college that draws so heavily on the public exchequer be allowed to choose 40% of its students from 2% of the country’s population?”
Today, because there is a government in New Delhi headed by a man and a party they despise, the intellectuals maintain a calculated silence and merrily bandy Ribeiro’s victimhood-filled article as evidence of a state conspiracy against minorities
. Mother Teresa is seen as a saint by some devout Christians. But to assert that she was universally seen as a saint is not just false, but unacceptable to any liberal and secular individual.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comment that Mother Teresa had an evangelical agenda is simply a statement of fact; it is something which she herself proudly admitted
. A staunch Roman catholic, Mother Teresa was opposed to birth control and abortions, calling it “the greatest destroyer of peace” in her 1979 Nobel Prize acceptance lecture - the so-called liberal movie stars who jumped to Teresa’s defence might be blissfully ignorant of her beliefs.
Contrast Teresa’s regressive views on this issue with that of Modi, who said last year in an interview to a television channel, “Women should have every right to take all the decisions of their lives. How much they want to study, where they want to study, when to marry, whether to marry, what work to do, where to work, when to have children, how many children to have, whether to have children - all these decisions should be in the hands of the woman alone.” Yet, Teresa is a secular-liberal icon and Modi is a fundamentalist.
A committed harvester of souls for her God, Teresa received criticism for baptizing the impoverished on their death beds
. It is for such unethical and fundamentalist acts that British writer Christopher Hitchens called her the “ghoul of Calcutta”. “If my DNA is tested, it will not differ markedly from Bhagwat’s”, writes an impassioned Ribeiro. But the reality today is the Indian state treats a Ribeiro or a John differently from a Bhagwat or a Gupta. Christian educational institutions are regulated less strenuously than Hindu ones. Christian places of worship are not controlled by government, but Hindu temples are
. In flesh and blood, Christians, atheists, Muslims, Parsis, Buddhists and Hindus may all be the same - but in the eyes of the Indian state, they are not. Correcting this heinous perversity is the Modi government’s mandate - it is telling that not one self-described solider of secularism ever asks that Hindus be granted this equality.
During the 2014 general election campaign, Modi faced opprobrium from the intelligentsia for declining to wear the Muslim skull cap. Not wearing the cap amounted to an insult to Muslims and a violation of secularism, we were told. But Modi took the firm and principled position that as a practising Hindu, he could not and would not wear a religious symbol only to garner votes. It’s a question that begs to be answered—will Hindus have to circumsize or baptize themselves to prove they are secular and tolerant? It should be revolting to every secular Indian that Hindus and non-Hindus are treated differently by the Indian state.
Under the Nehruvian template, special treatment of minorities in several areas has become the norm in our country. It is equally true that freedom has been denied in areas such as personal laws to minorities. Muslims, for instance, are forced to abide by a religious personal law code. Nehruvian India is a discriminatory, bigoted India that arbitrarily affords more freedom to one religious group and less to the other
. This is immoral and grossly unfair, for the Indian state should not be favouring or disfavouring individual citizens based on their religion. Given his mandate and his clearly articulated stand on religious freedom during and since the election campaign, Modi has a historic opportunity—an India where all citizens are equal in the eyes of the state is within reach.