India’s home ministry has suspended licenses of four Christian groups under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, or FCRA. According to a report in The Hindu, these organisations won’t be eligible for foreign funding for the next six months, post which their license will be either cancelled or reinstated based on their response. In 2017, US Christian group Compassion International was asked to stop its operations in India. Earlier this year, a Chennai-based NGO Caruna Bal Vikas was booked by the CBI. The FIR claims that the NGO was getting huge finances from abroad to convert people to Christianity. There is a long list of Christian groups that have lost their FCRA license during the NDA rule.
This tells us two things: 1) International Christian donor organisations think that by pumping money into India, they can succeed in their alleged aim of converting people to Christianity. 2) The government of India and organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its offshoots like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) also think that with the help of foreign money, Christian organisations can convert Hindus. And so, they spread narratives like Indians need to be saved from missionary mafia because “the evangelical army has multi-billion dollar resources.”
Both these suppositions are wrong. In India, Christianity has no future and there is no reason for the RSS or the VHP to spread false alarm or panic about proselytising capacity of Christian missionaries.
Threat to India’s integrity today is from Christian missionary organisations who use induced conversion to Christian faith to subvert the nation. Islamic terror is a more manageable threat and is mainly from within India. Amending security & foreign policy is accordingly needed.
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) January 25, 2019
Christian missionaries coming to India and trying to convert people is a historical fact. There is no central registry that tracks foreign missionaries and evangelists, so it’s not possible to know their exact numbers. But it’s a commonly held belief that thousands of nuns and fathers arrived in India, remained unmarried, and worked to convert people. Similarly, Christian donors invest a lot of money, allegedly in the garb of social work, for their proselytisation projects. But all these are suppositions. Available data, meanwhile, gives us a clear picture.
The simple fact is that making India Christian is a failed project. The Census data shows that the Christian population in India is either static or dwindling since 1951. In the 2001 Census, Christians’ share in Indian population was 2.34 per cent; in 2011, it fell to 2.30 per cent. The decadal growth of Hindus during the same period was 16.8 per cent, higher than the increase in Christian population, which was 15.5 per cent.
If the Christian missionaries have any system of KRA, then they should be either dismissed from the job or given warnings about their bad performance, especially because the gender ratio of Christians (1,023) is far better than Hindus (939). It will not be easy for them to explain the decreasing proportion of Christians in Indian population.
For several decades, it is alleged that Christian evangelists are hyperactive in the tribal belt of central India. This is the area where many people were killed (Graham Stuart Staines was one of them) and many churches were burnt by fanatics who accused them of luring tribals to covert.
Even if one accepts the assumption that Christian missionaries in India lure people to convert them, looking at their success rate after more than three centuries of allegedly indulging in such activities should make clear.
The conversion claim
Let’s start with the Christian population in some tribal-dominated states in central India, keeping in mind that conversion does not change the legal-constitutional status of members belonging to Scheduled Tribes (STs). Muslims or Christians can still be STs, but not Scheduled Castes (SCs). Constitutional order of 1950 applies only to SCs. Hindutva forces and various social media influencers use the term crypto-Christian for converted SCs, who register themselves as Hindus to continue getting reservation benefits.
From Thomas Christians to Crypto Christians – John Dayal. Conversion at all time high!official figures of 3% too low:could be 5.8-9%,May be 71m against 30m
@NupurSharmaBJP @TimesNow Article by John Dayal! @TheJaggi https://t.co/KaedQaxshr
— Mohandas Pai (@TVMohandasPai) June 11, 2019
For almost three centuries, Christian missions are active in the state of Bengal, Kolkata was the seat of power of British colonialists until 1911, and yet there are only 5.15 lakh people in West Bengal who profess Christianity, as per 2011 Census.
People say if the nuns and fathers had decided to marry and have children, the number of Christians in West Bengal would have been higher than this.
Even in other power centres during British rule, Christian population, according to the 2011 Census, are quite meagre — Delhi (0.87 per cent), Mumbai (3.27 per cent) and Chennai (7.72 per cent). In larger states, only Kerala has more than 10 per cent Christian population.
This raises two questions. First, why has Christianity failed in India, despite Christians ruling it for nearly two centuries, lakhs of missionaries putting all their efforts, and organisations spending billions of rupees into the proselytisation project? Second, why does Christianity have no future in India? Here are five reasons that answer Christianity’s failure in the past and why it will continue to be a filature in the future too.
Christianity’s social failure
First, in India, Christianity has never been a liberation theology. Spending money or doing social work or helping people in need to proselytise them is in itself an immoral act and no god will perhaps approve of this act. Even the book of law agrees with me. The first anti-conversion law was enacted in Odisha and under the Act, “inducement” includes “the offer of any gift or gratification, either in cash or in kind, and shall also include the grant of any benefit, either pecuniary or otherwise.” So, seeking to convert people in need of financial help or aid is immoral but not the other way round. People can accept money or other means of help and revert or cling to the religion of their choice. This is not at all unethical.
Second, Christianity in India never played any role similar to the one Black Church played in the Civil Rights Movement or as in the case of Latin American Church and priests who became part of the anti-colonial struggle there. In its early days, Christianity was seen as the religion of the colonialists and the oppressors. It never played the role as argued by Karl Marx – “Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification….Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions….”
Third, Christianity failed to transcend the barrier of caste. Becoming Christian does not absolve an Indian from the shackles of caste. Though this is true for all religions in South Asia. Religion can be changed but caste identity remains. In that sense, becoming a Christian has never been any incentive for people of lower caste Hindus. Just like upper caste Hindus treat those ‘lower’ in the caste hierarchy, upper caste Christians have similar apathy and hatred for lower caste Christians. As the leadership of Churches in India remains in the hands of upper caste Christians, and they also claim the caste ancestry, situation for the lower caste remains the same with caste subjugation continuing for them even after conversion from Hinduism to Christianity. Arundhati Roy says that her mother was a Syrian Christian (Kerala Brahmins, who converted to Christianity) and her father was a Bengali Brahmin who took the membership of Brahmo Samaj and later converted to Christianity. According to her, this ancestry makes her casteless. This argument is entirely bogus. Even making this claim is a privilege that only a Brahmin can exercise.
Becoming a tool for Brahmins, elites
Fourth, early Christian preachers took the wrong path in India. Upon arriving here, they first tried to convert the Brahmins. The idea was that since Brahmins are the intellectual leaders of Hindus, if they convert, others will automatically follow. This never happened. It’s a fact that in Kerala, West Bengal and also in Maharashtra, early converts to Christianity were mostly urban educated Brahmins. They were early entrants in the English medium schools mostly run by the missionaries and came in touch with the British and other Europeans. In Hinduism, the lower castes accept the leadership of Brahmins because in Hinduism, Brahmins have been ordained the higher position. But upper caste Christians don’t have this superiority sanctioned by their religion.
Fifth, English-medium Christian schools symbolise the problem Christianity in India faced. The Bible says: “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of God.” Serving the poor is the religious ethos of Christianity. But in India, the most important Christian institutions — the English-medium schools and colleges — hardly practised this. They largely became the hub of social and economic elites of the country. In most of these schools, located mainly in urban areas, poor kids can’t enter. This is true for such schools in metropolitan and big cities.
The worst sin these Christian schools have committed, and continue to do so, is that some of them have a system where rich kids are taught in English medium with a separate shift for poor kids for whom the medium of teaching turns vernacular. It wouldn’t be wrong to say these schools have made the upper caste-upper class elite more powerful and dominant, helping make the caste system more hegemonic. Just imagine what difference it would have made if thousands of such Christian schools had decided to follow the diktat of the Bible 300 hundred years ago and taught English to millions of Dalits, Tribals and poor kids. Instead, the fathers and nuns in these schools taught the likes of Lal Krishna Advani, J.P. Nadda, Arun Jaitley, Piyush Goyal, Vasundhara Raje and such personalities.
A government led by a party whose president J.P. Nadda had his education at St. Xaviers School, clamping down on the financial sources of Christian missionary activities is the poetic justice happening to Indian Christianity.
Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.