SCOPE FOR RSS-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE
(Talk by P.N.BENJAMIN, Co-coordinator, Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore, on 13 May, 2002)
"LORD, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is doubt, let me sow faith; where there is despair, let me bring hope; where there is sorrow, let me bring joy; where there is darkness, light. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; not so much to be understood as to understand; not so much to be loved, as to love. For, it is in giving that we receive; in pardoning that we are pardoned; in dying that we are born to eternal life." AMEN.
Nowadays, when I occasionally find myself standing before an audience – one of those bad habits after I have crossed the two score and ten year mark; and never, by the way, in a more educated and enlightened group than this – I always have the feeling as I look around, as I do now, at your faces; a deep, passionate longing to be able to say something memorable, to shed some light. But, forgive me, if I do not come up to that expectation.
I have been billed to speak to you today on the Scope for RSS-Christian Dialogue. But before I go into it, here's a word about my Christian commitment and witness in this troubled times. I have always loved John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, perhaps because its hero remains on the move up to the very end. Even when he is crossing that last river, with Mount Sion actually in sight, he is still assailed by doubts and troubled by the hazards of his journey. I, too, have found no finality in the quest for a sure faith, and do not expect, or even hope to. At the same time, I dare to say as I have plodded on, the light has shone a little more brightly and steadily for me. To make this light shine before men, as Christ exhorted us, has always seemed to me the highest that any communicator can hope to achieve – even if it amounts to more than, as it were, striking a match in a dark cavern, which flares up and flickers out. Such, at any rate, is the purpose of this message, undertaken with no expert knowledge, no sudden Damascus Road illumination; representing no more than the efforts of a typical twentieth century skeptical mind at the dawning years of the twenty-first – to grapple with the circumstances of his life and time.
A peep into the past
India is the homeland of four world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The ancient sages have from time to time formulated different perceptions of the Almighty. Almost all the non-Indian religions set foot on Indian soil right from their very beginning. Even in their own lands of origin, Christianity and Islam faced stiff opposition in the battle for survival. In contrast, in India, these two religions received hospitality. The mainsprings of India's emotional unity did not arise from its religions, but from its very cultural base. The cultural superstructure was supremely capable of containing all religious systems in all their genuine fullness and grandeur.
The modern India is a land, not of one religion, but of diverse religions. The state does not sponsor or foster any one religion at the expense of the others. This is in keeping with the genius of India, which through the ages has followed the path, not of mere tolerance, but of acceptance of diversities of creed and practice. Of course, this process of assimilation has to go on continuously. There have been periods when Hinduism has been mainly on the defensive, building up walls, mostly caste regulations, to protect itself from the inroads of other faiths. But there have also been glorious periods when at least creative individuals have cast aside protective shells and entered into faithful intercourse with other faiths, resulting in significant mutations and advances in the nation's culture and progress.
Kabir, the inspired weaver of northern India, declared that there was neither Hindu nor Muslim, but only man as the embodiment of the Divine. The beautiful legend that his dead body, over which Hindus and Muslims were quarrelling for their respective rites of burial or cremation, was found, when the covering was removed, to have disappeared, leaving behind a bunch of flowers, testifies to the reconciliation that he had urged between the warring creeds. There have been other efforts at reconciliation or assimilation in modern times — like the Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Movement.
But the effort at assimilation has to be continually made at fresh levels. A decadent India under foreign rule failed to work out a creative synthesis under modern conditions and has paid dearly for that failure. The vivisection of India on the basis of religion has been a sad consequence of our failure to embody the peculiar genius of our country in terms of modern thoughts and needs. But the partition has not, as we know, removed the challenges of rival faiths co-existing in this country.
Christians in India are unique
Delivering the first Stanley Samartha memorial lecture last year, Francois Gautier, the India-South Asia political correspondent of Le Figaro said: "Christians in India are unique: not only did the first Christian community in the world establish itself in India but before the arrival of Jesuits with Vasco de Gama in the 16th century, they developed an extraordinary religious pluralism, adopting some of the local customs, while retaining their faith in Christ and accepting the existence of other religious practices. Even though they constitute only less than 3% of the population, they wield an enormous influence in India through education mainly because many of India's top educational institutions are Christian and also because of the quality care in Christian hospitals and nursing homes. Finally, Indian Christians are often gentle, soft-spoken, friendly and God-fearing."
More than anything, Christians in India are alive. Not many of us realize that Christianity in the West is on the ebb: church attendance is often dangerously low in European countries; there are very few boys and girls nowadays who wish to become priests and nuns and thus, many parishes have no ministers, whereas till the sixties, the smallest hamlets had its church priest. Compare this with India, which has such a small percentage of Christians: India has 14,000 Catholic priests, 60,000 nuns, 6 million children being taught in Catholic schools, 126 seminaries and 44 seminarists for 100,000 habitants (against, say in the Catholic France, 3 for 100,000). I do not have the statistics on the Protestant Christians. But do Christians in India realize, then, that they may be holding high the flame of Christ in the world, because of the innate spirituality with which most Indians are gifted, be they Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Jains?
It is true that there seems to have crept a certain rigidity in the thinking of Indian Christians in the last few years. It may be due to the feeling of fear they have experienced after many Christians have been attacked since 1998 by Hindu groups. But these are isolated incidents and are bound to abate ( haven't they already abated ?) if Christians and Hindus sit down and iron out their differences. After all, Christians should not forget that they were able to live and prosper for centuries in a multi-religious India, as Stanley Samartha had remarked: "the extreme tolerance of India, where Hindu gurus had Muslim disciples and Sufi saints had Hindu disciples, where Jews and Zorastrians refugees too came and lived among the Hindus without being disturbed, is unparalleled".
The Christian dilemma
Today the Indian Christian community is in the horns of a dilemma – to dialogue or not to dialogue with the RSS, the Hindu "extremist" organization. A debate is currently raging, and anxiety is spreading in the community on the dangers and desirability of this dialogues. Critics say: "The RSS-Christian dialogues do not seem to be informed by a sense of purpose. One dialogue follows another without any idea as to what needs to be accomplished in the process. Christian groups seem to be competing among themselves in appeasing the RSS. RSS is intolerant to other religions. They demolished Babri Masjid. It continues to propagate religious fundamentalism, communalism and cultural nationalism. Its chief, Sudarshan has questioned the loyalty of churches and called for re-interpretation of Christian scriptures. The admiration of the RSS chief for the Syrian Christians is intended to divide the churches. And above all, RSS does not represent the majority of Hindus".
Dialogue – core of Christian faith
I believe Christians must encourage dialogue. Dialogue is at the core of their faith. The Bible is the story of a dialogue disrupted and restored: the dialogue between God and man. Dialogue is a necessary tool for overcoming alienation and halting the march of misunderstanding. By his example, Jesus has insisted that no one should be outside the pale of dialogue for Christians. It is childish to insist that we should not dialogue with RSS because they are our tormenters and they do not form the majority of Hindu community. Dialogue presupposes differences and disagreements. At the same time, dialogue must stand on the willingness, on both sides, to see and accept the truth; something that cannot be taken for granted in either parties at the present time.
The search for understanding among people of differing faiths is the need of the hour. The role of different religious communities in a common search for justice and peace and in unfolding their theological and spiritual resources will enable followers of different religions to enter into dialogue with integrity and hope. It is not only intellectual understanding that is required of those who encounter neighbours of other faiths but also a need for the courage to be free and open in such meetings. It is a challenge to all of us who live in a country of religious pluralism. It is a call to overcome "the fear of losing one's identity, of being shaken in one's comfortable beliefs, of being confronted with and perhaps compelled to acknowledge the truth in another camp, of recognizing that the stranger at the gate might turn out to be a fellow pilgrim".
To promote dialogues and to encourage reflection on the social, political and religious issues that arise in such encounters we must first of all remove doubts, overcome reluctance and make clear each other's motives. A single theme holds it together – the concern for inter-religious understanding and cooperation in the quest for larger community in a world of tensions and conflicts.
Humility and love
Genuine dialogue demands humility and love. Dialogue is both an expression of faith and a sign of hope. Dialogue also demands a level of consciousness that refuses to take an easy course to the spiritual and so waits for answers, however tentative they may turn out to be. Dialogue does not accept the gulf between religions as permanent, and asks people of each tradition to re-tread the path they have travelled in history.
The alternative to dialogue is coercion. At a time when technology has sharpened the edges of aggression and the erosion of our sense of fellow-humanity has removed all inhibitions, it is imperative that we talk to each other – to our enemies and friends alike. But we must dialogue not just because of the likelihood, otherwise, of hurting or getting hurt. We must dialogue because of our commitment to spread goodwill and to break the spell of misunderstanding. Dialogue is basic to the dynamics of peace. And Christians are mandated to be "peace-makers", which includes the duty to accept the risks and costs comprehended in peace making.
Christians need to practise dialogue. In the past they have done disservice to their duty to proclaim the Gospel by excluding the discipline of dialogue from the dynamics of their proclamations. They have got used to a one-way traffic in communication and have almost forgotten the art of being sensitive to others. The duty to listen has evaporated from the right to be heard. As a result, at times the Good News proclaimed by them sounds like Bad News. So, they need to dialogue, not as experts in dialogue but as novices who have a lot to learn. We all need to dialogue, if only to learn to dialogue.
Spiritual and ethical values
Inter-religious dialogues can eliminate religious conflicts and intolerances. Essentials as between the different religions are few and simple and it is possible to conceive and state these in the broadest spirit so as to exclude no one. It will be easier for one to understand the best in another religion when one understands the best in one's own religion. Thus true loyalty to the best in one's religion is hardly ever in conflict with the best in other religions. Emphasis more on spiritual and ethical values, as distinct from rituals, dogmas or doctrines, will tend to bring devotees of different religions closer together. True religion should be understood as a constant and continuous quest for the fuller and still fuller comprehension of God and Truth and therefore without any end. When such spiritual quest goes on actively, differences and discords will tend to disappear among all such seekers.
Undoubtedly, within any religious community, the web of relationships between the human and the divine, between individual freedom and social discipline, between a partial recognition of the meaning of life and a humble acknowledgement of the mystery of existence, is complex, delicate, and fragile. "Religious commitments go much deeper than intellectual explanations. They touch the total life of the individual and the collective personality of the community. One must tread gently on hallowed ground and be careful not to offend the sensitivities or hurt the emotions of people. The obstacle to dialogue is not so much the absence of a theology of dialogue as a lack of courage to meet partners of other faiths and ideological convictions freely and openly in a climate of openness and freedom". (Samartha).
Christianity in today's India with a renascent Hinduism faces an unprecedented crisis. If it is alive to the situation and sensitive to the signs of time, it has to rethink itself, reorient itself, and rediscover its basic substance and interpret that in terms acceptable to the Indian mind and genius, wrote Prof. S.K.George, in the Niyogi Commission Report in early 1950s. His words are relevant today more than ever before.
Christians form just about 3% of the Indian population. "Very often they have to depend not so much on their rights as on the goodwill and generosity of powerful majority Hindu community. Christians in India are dependent in a double sense, on the goodwill of the Hindus and on the churches in the West whose fellowship sustains them and whose affluence often supports them. Judging from numbers there is hardly any equality in relationship. But Christians in India can play a creative and critical role in the life of our nation. What matters most is the quality of their life as Christians and the courage of their faith". (Dr. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue). That's exactly what the recent controversial Bangalore resolution of the RSS said!
Loyalty to India?
The RSS and other Hindutva organizations have unfortunately questioned the loyalty of the Indian Christians to this country. But let us not blame them "because during the colonial era Indian Christians were not particularly noted for their patriotism or participation in the struggle for Independence, by contrast to the Christians in Indonesia. Indian Christians as a community are not spiritually rooted in their own culture. As long as this continues – and as long as Western churches promote this dependence – the burden of proving their Indianness and their wholehearted commitment to the life of this nation is very much on the Indian Christians. Dialogue, properly understood and responsibly carried out, might help both Christians and their Hindu neighbours to examine critically the process of Westernization and its effects on their minds and hearts". (Courage for Dialogue – Stanley Samartha).
Reject past errors
The attitudes Indian Christians have inherited towards neighbours of other faiths were very largely shaped in the colonial era, with Europe dominated history, church-centred theology, and unexamined assumptions of Western superiority in race, culture, and religion. The church in India should give up this posture and should have the courage to reject past errors and seek new ways of relationships with their neighbours. The right to profess, practise and propagate one's faith should be used faithfully and responsibly, not in an aggressive and flamboyant style. Highly organized missionary activities, supported by vast sums of money from abroad, using expensive mass advertising techniques, loudly proclaiming the word to large crowds, quite often by preachers from outside whose knowledge of the people's religion and culture is limited – do these constitute the way of Christ? Our neighbours in the community should be regarded not as statistics but as persons, not as potential recruits to the kingdom but as partners in common enterprises in the community."
What's genuine conversion?
Now I turn to the question of conversion. No one can deny that genuine conversions do take place through the influence of one individual on another. In the mid 1970s, a lovely Canadian girl came to India on a government of India scholarship to learn Bharata Natyam. Like most of her generation in the West, she was an agnostic. She was U.S.Krishna Rao's star pupil and made her debut in six months. One day she met Mother Teresa. She fell under her spell. She abandoned dance and donned the robes of a nun. "You are a born artist. How dare you become a nun?" Krishna Rao raged in vain. She went to Calcutta and later to Mexico where she was working in a slum when I last heard about her. Not even Mr. Sudarshan, the RSS chief, could quarrel with such a conversion. But when a well-organised body financed by foreign money begins to shift a whole herd of people from one caste to another one begins to suspect their motives.
Some forty years ago, a brilliant Danish Professor in the United Theological College, Bangalore, made history when he said: "Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists should never give up their religion to join the Christian Church". On the other hand the Church should humble itself and find ways of identifying itself with other groups, taking Christ with them. Christ, he said, was not the chairman of the Christian party. If God is the Lord of the universe he will work through every culture and religion. We must give up the crusading spirit of the colonial era and stop singing weird hymns like "Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war". This will lead to Hindu Christianity or Buddhist Christianity.
It may involve the disappearance of the Indian Christian community, but he reminded us "a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls to the ground and dies". Needless to say, the Indian Christians were furious. He left the College, the Church and the mission and took refuge with the Danish Foreign Service! He later returned to India as his country's Ambassador and died in harness in 1988.
Pomp and splendour
About a hundred and fifty years ago England was sending out a very important Anglican Church dignitary as Metropolitan of Calcutta. The Brahmin priests got wind of it. They were perturbed. This foreign religion might become a threat to their own traditions. They must investigate. So, they sent one of their men to assess the situation. He wandered around the city till he came to the Bishop's residence. It was a vast sprawling opulent mansion. As he stood at the gate, the great man walked down the steps, dressed in his magnificent robes. He stepped into the waiting carriage drawn by two horses with a postillion sitting at the rear. The Brahmin returned to his friends. "Have no fears", he said, "This is not a religion we need to fear." The priests were relieved for the pomp and splendour of organized Christianity holds no appeal for any genuine seeker after truth.
The most precious freedom that Indian Christians enjoy is to hold Jesus Christ as their saviour, as the Son of God, as the "only true divinity". It is their absolute right to cherish that belief – and if any Hindu outfit or government tries to impeach upon that liberty, then definitely, Indian Christians should fight tooth and nail for their religious privileges. They would be justified to speak about Hindu fundamentalism, saffron brigade or Hindutva. But the moment Christianity tries to impose this belief of only one true God- Jesus Christ- on the world, then it is itself impeaching upon the freedom of others. For this belief of onlyness of our God as the real one and all others are false is at the root of many misunderstandings, wars and terrorism.
Attacks against Christians
Like most of those who have regular columns to write to newspapers and need factual information, I keep my personal file of clippings so I don't slip up on accuracy. The violent attacks against Christians have been going on for the past several years. Sister Rani Maria was stabbed inside a bus and murdered in February 1994 in Madhya Pradesh. A helpless Father Christudass was hit on the head, punched and kicked, stripped naked, scissored up his hair, ashed his face and garlanded with chapels and shoes, and paraded naked on the streets of Guhiajori in Bihar in 1997.
Three Catholic priests, Lawrence, Joseph and Anup were shot dead in 1994 in Gumla, again in Bihar. The headless, tortured body of Father A. T. Thomas, Jesuit priest and liberation theologian, was discovered in the jungles of Hazaribagh in Bihar in 1997. All these and many more happened before the BJP-led government came to power. Why didn't we unleash a nation-wide protest and send investigation teams?
There is no doubt that the ghastly murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons needed to be universally condemned and the culprits severely punished. But the massive outcry it had evoked raised a fundamental question in my mind: Is the life of a white man more important and dear to Indian Christians than the lives of hundreds of innocent Indians – men, women and children – killed by militants in various parts of the country? Have we, as Christians, ever condemned such killings? Or the unending massacres of innocent Dalits all over the country at regular intervals? Does it mean that the value of a life depends on the religion to which that person belongs? Are some lives expendable and others accountable? This is a blatant discrimination. Should human suffering, loss of lives be barters in the hands of foreign-funded organisations to embarrass Hindus?
As true followers of the Prince of Peace, the Christians in India should have forgiven the criminals and forgotten the incident the moment the saintly widow, Gladys Staines said: "In the name of Jesus I forgive those who committed this crime and may they experience in their hearts God's forgiving love". She was witnessing Christ in the darkest moment in her life. But, instead of following her example, the Christians have been spreading hatred, like butter on hot bread, against the Hindus, especially the Sangh Parivar. Many Christians have made millions of dollars in the name of Staines' murder. They have cynically used the Staines' murder for far too long. They must remember: "Kindle not the coals of sinners by rebuking them, lest thou be burnt with the flame of the fire of their sins." (Ecclesiastics, viii.13).
Terms such as "evangelistic campaign", "missionary strategy", "campus crusade", "occupying non-Christian areas", a "blitzkrieg" of missionaries, and sending "reinforcements" sound more appropriate to military enterprises than to Christian witness to God's redeeming love in Jesus Christ. The statistical approach implied in the words "the unreached millions" is derogatory to neighbours of other faiths.
"Unreached" by whom? When Indian Christians themselves use these phrases, which have originated outside the country, to describe their neighbours living next door to them in the community, Christians should not be surprised if the
nehigbours are offended. (Dr. Samartha).
The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handful of Hindu extremists. Most of the violent incidents have been due to aggressive evangelising. Other than this there have been few attacks on Christians. Finally the sensitive and sensible Christians must realize that acts of certain "born-again" varieties of Christian evangelists who denigrate Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric are the root cause of tension between Christian and Hindu communities. Christian leaders known for their erudition, equipoise and empathy should come out in the open to disown such acts of intolerance.
In an interview published in Deccan Herald on 23 December 2001, Mr.M.G.Vaidya, spokesman of RSS told me: "The incidents of violence against Christians were a reaction to the aggressive propaganda and mindless evangelism, abusing the Hindu Gods and indulging in similar activities. The incidents were bloated out of proportion. We have decided not to tolerate intolerance of other faiths. Let the Church declare that there can be salvation outside the Church also, and the whole atmosphere will undergo a radical change…"
Christians against Christians
As to violence, Christians don't need to learn anything. We ( the Indian Christians) have in the past set fire Bishop Anantha Rao Samuel and his wife in the early 1980s. Mrs. Samuel was roasted alive and Bishop Anantha Rao Samuel survived. He later became Moderator of the Church of South India (CSI). I ask myself, wasn't there anything else they could burn, paper, cigarettes, and fireworks? A CSI member beat up a CSI pastor two years ago at the office of the Karnataka Central Diocese of Church of South India. A Lutheran bishop was stabbed and killed last year over a property dispute in Andhra Pradesh by a group of Christians. In Bangalore, a principal of a reputed Christian college was arrested recently for masterminding an attack on another Christian principal!
Secularism, no one way street
Most Hindus stand for a secular, liberal India, keeping with their heritage, in-built catholicity of their religion and its basic outlook of live and let live. This situation may not last indefinitely if certain unhealthy trends continue to gain ascendancy. It is very well for the vested interests to play communal card. But this will not pay. Communalism of the minority communities will only make some Hindus more fanatic. Undoubtedly, no quarter should be given to Hindu communalism. At the same time secularism cannot be regarded as a one-way street. Each community must respect the sentiments of others.
By and large, a Hindu is today accepted as secular only if he is pro-Muslim and pro-Christian and pro other minority communities. He is lauded as 'genuinely secular' if he is critical of Hinduism and enthusiastically condemns his fellow Hindus with or without reason ignoring the doings of rabid fanatics in other communities. It is all very well for vested interests to play the communal card. But this will not pay. Communalism of the minorities will only make the majority community more fanatic. "Driven by the drumbeat of what it sees as a hostile propaganda against their beliefs and values in the name of secularism, Hindus are beginning to gravitate towards extremism".
There was an urgent need to dispel the fears among the Christian community about the perceived threat posed by the RSS and other Hindutva forces following violent attacks on Christians and their institutions throughout the country after the BJP-led government came to power. More than a year ago Mr. John Joseph, member, National Commission for Minorities, took the initiative for bringing Christian and RSS leaders together and sit across the table and sort out differences and dispel mutual fears and suspicions. Six rounds of national level talks have already taken place, which helped to build confidence and strengthen the bond of friendship between them. The result of these talks is that these days we hardly hear of any attacks on Christians by the so-called Sangh Parivar.
The Bangalore 'experience'
Now, here in Bangalore, a small group of Christians, known as the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) has been regularly in touch with or talking to the RSS representatives since last October. To be precise, since 7th October – the day, the first Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture was held at the Bishop Cotton Boys' School. Among those listened to the lecture were a large number of VHP-RSS-BJP activists ( They are the fundamentalist/fanatic fringe of the Hindus who have been accused of attacking Christians in India). They were surprised to learn that there ever lived a Christian thinker like Dr. Samartha – the Christian prophet of religious pluralism. (It is a fact that not many of our Christian thinkers are known outside the four walls of Christian seminaries or institutions. May I hasten to ask: How many of you have heard of Dr. Samartha or how familiar are you with his writings?)
Immediately after the function, the RSS-VHP-BJP members met me and wanted to know more about Samartha. I distributed to them a few copies of Samartha's books. The so-called Sangh Parivar ( the lunatic fringe/ fascistic fringe of Hindus) expressed their desire to enter into dialogue with the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue. Since then there has been no looking back. BIRD and RSS have met several times later. (It may interest you to know that I have, later on, personally handed over Dr. Samartha's books to all the national level leaders of RSS, including its supremeo, Mr. Sudarshan, when I met them, first at Aluva in Kerala in November last year and later twice in Bangalore, in January and March this year).
What BIRD has achieved is something marvelous. It extracted an unconditional assurance, at the first round of talks itself, from the RSS that should there be an attack on Christians, their churches or institutions anywhere in Karnataka, representatives of BIRD and RSS would rush to the trouble-spot immediately and help bring peace and normalcy there! And they fulfilled that commitment on 19th March by sending a joint fact-finding team to Mysore as soon as the news about the attack on the Holy Family Church was flashed in the newspapers and on TV.
Meeting with national leaders of RSS
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) camp held in Bangalore in the last week of January in Bangalore provided representatives of the Bangalore Initiative another opportunity for dialogue and interaction with senior RSS leaders including K.S.Sudarshan, H.V.Seshadri and others. It gave representatives of BIRD a new insight into the RSS ideology.
Sudarshan assured BIRD representatives that "the RSS is not targeting Christians. RSS is not against genuine individual conversion. But it is against "harvesting of souls" or mass conversions. We are against manipulative conversions.
We are opposed to the alienation of people from their Indian cultural roots. We are not against the preaching of the Christian faith". The RSS leader also underlined the need to control both Hindu and Christian fundamentalists.
"We saw another side of the RSS during a 40 minute plain-talking session. There is a new image of the RSS emerging; they are very open to dialogue. Sudarshan assured us that the RSS has great respect for the Christian religion," said Dr Richard Gnanakan from the ACTS academy of education.
"A lot of Christians look at the RSS agenda suspiciously. Now I have a greater understanding of the group. I feel they are going through a period of introspection and are coming up with more balanced views," added Gnanakan.
The BIRD delegation consisted of Bishop Paul Raj, a former deputy moderator of the Church of South India (CSI), Rev. Dr. Kiran Sebastian, professor at the United Theological College, and Mathew Chandrankunnel, professor at Dharmaram College, Dr. Thomas George of Mount Carmel College, and P.N.Benjamin, coordinator, BIRD. The RSS leaders accepted BIRD's invitation and agreed to hold the sixth round of national level talks with Christian leaders in Bangalore. That was the origin of the talks held at UTC on March 22, 2002.
Press Trust of India reported on 22 March: "Seeking to build bridges, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief K S Sudarshan and Christian leaders held another round of talks centering around conversion and violence against members of the minority community. During the three-hour meeting, Christian leaders expressed their concern over issues that "threaten the security and safety of minority communities", particularly in the context of an RSS resolution stating that minorities should earn the goodwill of the majority for their safety.
"Sudarshan has made some bold statements. There is an emergence of openness to listen to each other," Dr Ken Gnanakan, moderator of the dialogue, said in Bangalore. He said: "we cannot solve problems in three hours. It is like a family. But we will continue the dialogue. Our relations with the RSS are very fine."
Sudarshan said that the RSS had been depicted as "anti-Christian, anti-Muslim and an uncompromising militant group" by a section of the media. The RSS, he said, was a socio-cultural organisation wedded to the all-round development of the nation by consolidating the Hindu society and purging the society of evils.
On the contentious issue of conversion, Sudarshan said they were not against Christians propagating their faith but against conversion through coercion.
I will be failing in my Christian and moral duty if I do not touch upon the great human tragedy in Gujarat. Yes, the killings in Gujarat are a grim reminder that India is a communal tinderbox. The relative communal peace after 1992-93 lulled us into a false sense of security. Yet, remember that more people were killed in the communal riots in Gujarat in 1969. The trouble continued for months, yet Gujarat eventually returned to normalcy, and forged ahead economically.
Will history repeat itself? Probably. The key feature of India in the last five decades has not been communal killing but the ability to bounce back after each bout of slaughter. When the killers are on the rampage, all seems black and ruinous. Yet, we have recovered again and again. So, caught up in the immediacy of the present we should not be agonizing too much over the carnage in Gujarat. "There is an ebb and tide in the affairs of man. Things will change". This may be the darkest hour before the nation before the radiant dawn. God has not gone bankrupt. He can make the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame cross the mountain. If past is any pointer to the future, there is indeed hope. There is resilience in our people, which no combination of adversities can kill. Our ideals and principles might appear to be in eclipse. But, eclipses are short-lived.
Dialogue route to communal peace
I am intrigued that the so-called intellectuals and secularists do not talk of the dialogue route to communal peace. In a pluralist society like that of India, peace can be established only on the basis of dialogue, not on the basis of aggressive assertion of sectarian rights. The path of confrontation will only result in promoting separatism. The communal conflict is fundamentally a political conflict fought on the battlefield of religion. A dialogue would benefit all. There is no point
in insisting that the "Hindutva brigade" does not represent the majority of Hindu. But, are they not the perceived enemies of minorities?
We must master the art of disarming our enemies with a smile and stop them in their tracks. The on-going dialogue and peace initiatives between RSS and Christians in various parts of the country will help in ironing out difference and reducing tensions between them. It is true that a dialogue will not end communal strife and conflict overnight. But such a dialogue can always help defusing an explosive situation. It may even turn out to be slow and tortuous, trying one's patience to the utmost. We must be prepared for this. But the effort would be worthwhile.
Extinguish the fire of hatred
On November 17, 1946, at the 25th anniversary of Jamia Milia by Dr. Zakir Hussein had made one of the most moving statements about our country. It was about the fire of hatred consuming the land then. Jawaharlal Nehru was there. So, were Rajaji, Jinnah, Abdul Kalam Azad and Liaquat Ali Khan.
"For God's sake", Zakir Hussein said, "sit together and extinguish the fire of hatred. The problem is not of this community's or that community's survival. It is the choice between civilized human life and barbarism."
Eyes grew moist and among those seen wiping their eyes was Jawaharlal Nehru. Fifty –six years later, with much punier men and women leading the political parties, the same tragedies have been repeating themselves.
Millions of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians live in peace and harmony and are friendly to one another. They recognize and respect the diversities among themselves and have an overwhelming commitment to brotherly co-existence. Then comes the ogre of communal hatred- bloody and hideous. It is mendacious to say that common people hate each other. Pseudo secularists, intellectuals, NGOs and ruthless politicians of different varieties cold-bloodedly spread the communal poison. Communalism in our country is not just a social evil. It is a blatantly political weapon, cynically used for political purposes by identifiable elements.
It is time for every one of us to be seriously concerned about the flames of hatred engulfing the nation. An India at peace with herself has to be our vision and striving. Will our ears be sensitive to the heartbeat of the 'other' community or caste? Who will assist and permit a true healing? Blood, tears and a time to search our souls, here and now.
Blessed are the peacemakers
The on-going parleys between RSS and Christian leaders will help to rid the Christians of the fake they see around them, to separate the wheat from the chaff. The dialogue must go on regardless of protests from vested interests. . It is the harbinger of peace. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.
Paulinus, in the fourth century, about whom I have read recently, foreseeing the darkness ahead, decided to light a lamp and keep it burning in a Christian shrine. We as Christians must do just this – a little lamp to signify that whatever the darkness, however profound the sense of lostness, the light of Jesus and the clarity of his enlightenment still shines, and will continue to shine, for those who have the eyes to see, a heart to love and a soul to believe.
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
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