Witnessing to the Gospel:
A Gift and a Task in the Present Day India
The year 2014 witnessed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), regaining power at the centre. There is a lingering threat of the Hindutva forces weakening the secular fabric of the Indian society and polarizing the communities on religious lines. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, in his recent comments declared that “India is a Hindu state and citizens of Hindustan should be known as Hindus.” The same forces are even contemplating changing the ‘socialist, secular’ ideals enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. Mr. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, had tactfully and diplomatically abstained from condemning any of these incidents, until after the thumping victory of Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Delhi.
In this context, Vidyajyoti College of Theology organised a two-day national seminar on “Witnessing to the Gospel: A Gift and a Task in the Present Day India”. It was held during 16-17 February 2015 at Vidyajyoti College campus and attended by the entire College and also the staff and student delegates from all its Regional Theology Centres. A few other guests from Delhi were also present. The eminent scholars Dr Rudolf C. Heredia, Dr Mukul Kesavan, Dr Ambrose Pinto and Dr Jacob Parapally presented the different papers.
The first day of the seminar began with a short prayer which was followed by greetings from Dr. Joseph Sebastian (Rector) and Dr. Leonard Fernando (Principal). Dr. PR John, the Coordinator, introduced the dynamics of the seminar.
The first paper, ‘Hindu Rashtra and Religious Minorities’, was presented by Dr. Rudolph Heredia. Here is a gist: It Over the decades there has been a sustained erosion of the transformative agenda of our Constitution. The new politics leaves the poor increasingly vulnerable at the bottom of a dangerously inegalitarian society and the minorities alienated to the margins of our society. In tandem with this is a continuing advance of an aggressive, majoritarian religious right that provokes a defensive minority to its own religious fundamentalism. Extremist communal leaders on both sides are now setting the agenda for both the majority and the minorities in this land. Already this government is using its electoral mandate to pursue the free market-driven ‘development’ it promised, while keeping communal cauldron on a slow boil to be put to use when needed for the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ it envisages. This adds up to a neo-liberal capitalist development with shades of saffron. The paper was rich in its thoughts, and cogent in its line of argument. Dr. Denzil Fernandes, while responding to the paper, brought out very strongly that the Delhi elections proved that the May 2014 mandate given to Mr. Narendra Modi was not a ‘saffron wave’ but a mandate for national development. Unfortunately the people felt let down on the promises made by Mr. Modi.
Dr Mukul Kesavan spoke on “Nationalism at Crossroads: The struggle for Political ‘Commonsense’” In his talk, he stressed the urgency of the need to re-think ‘nationalism’. He said that the majoritarian voice led to cultural nationalism which in turn meant militant majoritarianism resulting in vandalism. The BJP’s version of nationalism borders on Europe’s understanding of the nation-state which is based on the principle of homogeneity, most often linguistic homogeneity. But India’s nationhood cannot be built on such a principle of homogeneity because of its composite culture and plurality of languages. Dr. Victor Edwin responded to this talk.
Dr. Ambrose Pintov started his presentation on ‘The Challenges of Hindutva to Minorities, Christians and Dalits’ by highlighting that the Indians acknowledge the Christian contribution to nation-building, especially in the fields of education, health care and social sector. However, the Christian community has been systematically sidelined by the Modi government. The core values of Christianity are starkly in contrast to those of Hindutva. Christianity stands for equality, community and justice whereas Hindutva is hierarchical and holds on to the notion of ‘pure and impure’. To the Hindutvavadis the Indian Nation is ‘Hindi, Hindu and Hindustan’. This is a threat to national unity. Narendra Modi is a Hindutva icon and the media collaborated in promoting him. Christians are considered a threat because Christianity tries to empower the weaker sections of the nation which is perceived as detrimental to the ideology of the Hindutvavadis and their socio-economic interests. An adequate response to the threat of Hindutvavadis must begin with creating awareness on the divisive nature of the Hindutva forces. Dr. Maria Arul Raja, in his inimitable style, complemented the presentation with his elegant response. He cautioned us to go slow with the Semitic model of proselytization and get down to the more Indian model of witnessing to the gospel values.
On the second day, Dr. Jacob Parappally presented his paper. Its title was identical to the theme of the seminar: ’Witnessing to the Gospel: A Gift and a Task in the Present Day India’. He urged us to be proactive rather than reactive, to show the all-embracing face of ‘bada‘ Christ rather than the narrow, Christianized version of Christ. He emphasized the need for witnessing to the gospel in a fragmented society ‘which does not allow humans to live in harmony and peace for their unfolding as humans. “ In the BJP regime we are witnessing how society is slowly moving ‘from inclusivism to exclusivism, from cooperation to competition, from concordance to discordance and from tolerance to intolerance in all aspects of life.” Christianity is supposed to be the good news in contrast to the bad news of Hindutva. We are supposed to foster a culture of communion against the Hindutva culture of division, integral development of everyone against the exploitation of the masses by a few. He urged us to promote the gospel values contained in the Indian Constitution. Dr Francis Minj, in his response, reiterated the gospel values from the Adivasi cosmotheandric perspective.
In the theologizing session was facilitated by Dr. John Mundu, Dr. Stanislaus Alla and Dr. Shalini Mulackal, Dr. John Mundu recaptured the proceedings of the entire two days; Dr Shalini Mulackal, quoting Paulo Freire, said how in an unjust society both the oppressor and the oppressed were both dehumanized and how we needed to humanize them both. Finally Dr. Stanislaus Alla played the devil’s advocate and argued that satan would have the last laugh, if all that was spoken during the seminar was not followed by any concrete action. He advocated that reflections needed to start from human, lived-in experiences. He also highlighted that the Christians were attacked not because they were Christians but because they were upsetting the status quo of society.