Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Evangelicals: "the worste caste of Christianity"

So it seems is how Anil Bhanot (head of the Hindu Council in Britain) describes evangelicals in a Google Hindu forum, according to Ruth Gledhill at the Times (UK). Anil Bhanot is a respected Hindu leader in the country:
Anil Bhanot is one of the leading Hindus in the area of interfaith relations and often speaks at state functions such as the Commonwealth Day Observance at Westminster Abbey. He is also a member of the Faith Community Consultative Council, which is about building good relations between faith communities in Britain. He has not yet responded to my query about this. He writes regularly for the Guardian and New Statesman, where a recent article discussed the swastika symbol as a sign of wisdom. Recently he wrote to Christian leaders in the UK, urging them to root out and stand against intolerance and religious dogma.
If he's the same guy posting in the forums, then to his credit are the following ideas:

Condemning the caste system blindly makes one an Abrahamic slave
Christian missionaries are invaders and non-Indian faiths are predatory
Non Indian faiths are demonic
The second commandment (against graven images) as diabolical
Christianity has left the world poorer because Christians need to find enemies:
Further for your purpose I am not against the spirituality of any religion and Jesus contributed to world's spirituality but I am afraid those who created Christianity after some 300 years of his death have left the world poor for it.'
[Hmm. Someone's been reading Dan Brown. Links and fuller quotes at Ruth's blog]

This is rich. Really rich. For one, the claim is often made that Hinduism is deeply tolerant of all perspectives and non-dogmatic and, therefore, much better for the world than Christianity (and the Abrahamic faiths), besotted with an obsession for orthodoxy, monotheism, dogmatism, etc. One hears this from all sorts of Westerners interested in all things "Eastern." And the idea seems to run as a thread through a lot of modern liberal, pluralistic thought: monotheism, dogma, and so on, are intrinsically tied to violence. The only way to be truly democratic and open to the other, is to abjure dogma.

And, yet, here we have a leading Hindu leader (if, indeed, it is the same person), who, on the one hand, lectures Christians on tolerance and respect, and yet spews the most risible untruths about Christianity in a Hindu forum?

The perspectives he espouses are hardly distinguishable from the right-wing ideologues of the Hindutva brigade in India, who spread the lie that Indian equals Hindu, whose revisionist histories could compare with the distorted lenses of a Stalin or a Hitler, and who seem absolutely blind to the evils of caste, until Christian missionaries show up who seem to think that [shock! horror!] those of the lower castes are actually human beings.

In fact I posit that every reform movement that originated in Hinduism in the past 200 years was in response to the arrival of a missionary Christianity with the colonialists. But these ideas are rather politically incorrect in India.

And as to the caste system and Abrahamic slavery, it is worthwhile recalling the harsh words that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who wrote independent India's Constitution, had to say about caste and Hinduism in particular.

The pervasive violence with which the caste-system is still enforced is quite incredible. In the Feb. 2005 issue of America, Jesuit Fr. John Francis Izzo wrote about his experiences in India. "Dalit means broken."


coray said...

sounds like the worst-caste scenario

sp1008 said...

The comments made in this posting clearly demonstrate the total lack of knowledge regarding the issue of caste and the Hindu Faith. It would be well to acquaint oneself with the facts prior to casting aspersions; it only highlights the uninformed nature of the posting.

Kindly read this in depth analysis of the abomination that is known as the caste system and you will learn that it is a social phenomenon practised by purportedly egalitarian Christians, Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists and quite apart from the Hindu ethos of varnashram.

The legacy of the Church requires no elaboration and the bloody episodes of its past include the crusades and the Inquisition which was exported to Goa. Its overt support of slavery is well known and although Wilberforce is extolled as the saviour for slaves, they were only liberated on the condition that they covert to Christianity. Hindu “Idolaters” have not accounted for this scale of barbarity. Slavery is unheard of in Hindu society and indeed Hinduism is far more tolerant towards its own people and more importantly towards other religions, more so than certain Abrahamic faiths.

The Hindu Faith has not proliferated through proselytising vulnerable innocents with a loaf of bread in one hand and a warrant for their soul in the other. It should be remembered that before the advent of Christ, the Hindu Faith was practised from Iran to the Java peninsula simply because of its universal non-confrontational nature.

Christianity was first established in India by the apostle St. Thomas a few decades after Christ’s ascension and is stilled practised, whereas much of Europe was slow to adopt the faith and until many centuries after. Even then, the Church compromised its position by continuing to allow Pagan rituals such as Saturnalia to prevail, simply reinventing it as Christmas.

The hollow pretext of missionaries only wishing to liberated the “oppressed” is ludicrous. As you will discover by reading the analysis linked above, the “Dalit” converts are still discriminated against by fellow Christians and forfeit the lucrative reserved placements given to the scheduled castes (up to 50% of all government jobs). This is why many of the converts have reverted to Hinduism.

The contention that Christian missionaries inspired “oppressed” Hindus to revolt against the caste system is quite true, however rather than altruistic the motives were all together more sinister. India was stripped of her resources for many centuries and its citizens duped into believing that they were inferior to the Europeans and their religion barbaric. This resulted in vast financial rewards for the colonists and missionaries were happy to “harvest” new souls. Just as the true nature of the war in Iraq has now come to light, so too have the antics of the Church and its emissaries been revealed. In 1784, the famous Indologist Sir William Jones wrote the following letter to Sir Warren Hastings, Governor General of India, which sums up the whole story:

“As to the general extension of our pure faith in Hindoostan there are at present many sad obstacles to it... We may assure ourselves, that Hindoos will never be converted by any mission from the church of Rome, or from any other church; and the only human mode, perhaps, of causing so great a revolution, will be to translate into Sanscrit... such chapters of the Prophets, particularly of ISAIAH, as are indisputably evangelical, together with one of the gospels, and a plain prefatory discourse, containing full evidence of the very distant ages, in which the predictions themselves, and the history of the Divine Person (Jesus) is predicted, were severally made public and then quietly to disperse the work among the well-educated natives." (Quoted from Asiatic Researches Vol. 1. Published 1979, pages 234-235. First published 1788)

Dr Ambedkar was one of these “well-educated natives” referred to by Sir William Jones in his letter mentioned above and had Ambedkar been aware of the scandalous activities of the colonial overlords, such as the perversion and interpolation of sacred Hindu scriptures, he would have presented much differing views. He rejected Christianity and the Church in its entirety and perhaps that is why he adopted a Dharmic Faith (Buddhism) rather than converting to Christianity.

Hindutva is simply a delayed response by ‘enlightened’ and understandably irritated Hindus to the shenanigans of the Church and the colonialists, whose descendants will inevitably be held accountable for the ‘sins of their fathers.’

Gashwin said...

sps1008: thanks for visiting and leaving your comments. I doubt that we'd agree on much. Suffice to say: I'm quite aware that caste is a reality in the various other religions. It is undeniable that caste is a feature of Indian civilization, inextricably bound with Hinduism, whose force is such that it has infiltrated the other, supposedly egalitarian religions as well. Caste is extrinsic to the internal logic of these religions.

In as much as this is true, caste is an absolute aberration of what Christianity is supposed to be. Yes, there would be many strands of Hinduism that would argue the same ... I posit that this is in response to the egalitarian message of Christianity as it has slowly penetrated the subcontinent.

You are also quite right that conversion has not often lead to a betterment of the situation of the converts when it comes to caste. There are exceptions --- for instance, in Kerala there is little or no caste consciousness among Christians. The same can't be said about Tamil Nadu. It is to the Church's shame that Ambedkar rejected Christianity, precisely because it left the caste identity of Christians intact. This, I would argue, is because of a lack of Christianization.

The problem is really is caste, and its deep roots in the Hindu mindset.

As to paganism in Europe, that is a separate conversation. The Saturnalia story is repeated often, but it's probably not true. But yes, the Church has often "baptized" various practices. Everything that is good in the cultures of the world is from God. I'm not sure what the problem with that is.

I'm not sure what Wilberforce has to do with anything.

But, as I said, we are coming from very different starting points. I doubt that we'd agree on much.

Best wishes.

Adhikar said...

Anil Bhanot has merely expressed some contentious opinions which the Christians might find hard to fathom. Sometimes the truth is difficult to accept, but just because Mr Bhanot spoke out his mind does not make him a bad person, nor does it deflect the truth about Christianity in his statements.

The worst forms of discrimination practised by one human on another has often been from Christians, despite any claims modern Christians make: one only has to look at how Christian nations wiped out entire civilisations, killed entire nations, and nearly wiped them off the face of the earth: native Indians in North America, the Conquistadors' terrorism in South America, the inquisition in Spain and Goa, the wiping out of indigenous aborgigines and maoris in Australia and New Zealand. Amusingly, after so much discrimination, some Christians still manage to look down on discrimination in other religions with a holier-than-thou outlook. Please read the following report to see the extent of caste discrimination practised by high-caste Christians on Dalit Christiann :

The myth of Dalit emancipation through conversion

Statistics show that more than 70% of the Christians in India are Dalits. Writing for ‘India Together’, Padmalatha Ravi says: “When Christian missionaries began their work in India in the decades before Independence, their promise of equal treatment and opportunity for all castes became the prime reason for Dalits - who find themselves at the socio-economic lowest rung of Hinduism's hierarchy - to embrace the missionary message. But as is now well documented, conversion offered no escape from caste prejudices. Now the population may worship Maria instead of Maariamma (a manifestation of goddess Kaali) but the discrimination continued.”
Conversion to Christianity did not automatically bring equal treatment, says Y Marisamy, Convener of Karnataka Dalit Christian Federation (KDCF). The statistics speak for themselves - out of 158 archbishops in India only seven are from the Dalit Communities.
In 2000, when the Vatican appointed India's first Dalit archbishop in Andhra Pradesh, there was a furore from the majority of the upper caste church goers. The outgoing archbishop Samineni Arulappa made a public statement that the Vatican was ignoring "ground realities" by appointing Marampudi Joji as the new archbishop. Although the Church never openly acknowledged the presence of casteism within the church, it set up a Commission for Scheduled Castes/Tribes and Backward Classes of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India (CBCI) to study and address the problems of backward communities within the Church. The biennial report submitted by this commission at the CBCI Annual General Body meeting in 2000 at Chennai, says "Dalit Christians, forming the majority in the Christian community, suffer humiliation, discrimination and socio-educational disabilities even after conversion due to the traditional practice of untouchability in the Church and in society."
Survey establishes caste divide in Indian Church
In March 2008, a Catholic priest, Montfort Brother Paul Raj, surveyed 53 Christian congregations in three dioceses of the southern Indian state . He found out that caste and language divisions "haunt" religious communities in Tamil Nadu, which have around 13,000 members, "impacting their spirituality, unity and future."

About 550 people chosen randomly from 41 women's and 12 men's congregations from various Churches participated in the survey. They represented 28 congregations founded in India and 25 international congregations. Paul Raj conducted the survey as part of his doctoral work at government-run University of Madras.

About 43 percent said caste discrimination is "visibly manifested" in annual transfers, appointments and other decisions in the Church, Raj reported, adding that eight out of 10 respondents accepted that "divisive feelings based on caste and language" influence the religious' thinking and actions within the Church.
Discrimination against Dalit Christians by fellow Christians
B Chinnappan, Editor of ‘Dalit Christians’ an online resource for the community in India, claims that “conversion to Christianity has not redeemed 19 million Dalit Christians from social discrimination and untouchability. It has only added to their misery. …. as Christians, we continue to suffer and live all human misery both in the society and in the church.”
Chinnappan goes on to cite discrimination against Dalit Christians in the Indian Church itself by saying: “Although dalits form the majority in all these churches, yet their place and influence in these churches is minimal or even insignificant. Their presence is totally eclipsed by the power of the upper-caste Christians who are only 30% of the Christian population. This is all the more true in the case of the Catholic Church where such discrimination is strongly felt. The majority of the catholic bishops and clergy, the religious and lay leaders, come from the upper caste. One can say that this 30%, the upper caste, occupy the 90% of the administration and leadership of the church. Thus the dalits are pushed aside and reduced to insignificance in their own homeland. Today this trend has become a major matter for concern in the church and must be dealt with.”
Referring to social interactions between Christians of different caste denominations, Chinnapan concludes by saying: “Even the caste Christians do not treat the Dalit Christians as equals.”
Segregation and marginalization of Dalit Christians in the Church
In a memorandum to Church leaders in India, Prof. Dr. M. Mary John, President of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement in India writes: “The oppression and discriminations suffered by Dalit Christians within our Church is as serious and appalling …broadly speaking, we face the problems of untouchability, marginalisation in our institutions (in admissions and appointments), marginalisation in vocation, in of sharing of power and authority in the Church.”
Prof Mary John refers to the external forms of untouchability and their practice still existing among Christians, within the Church. Dalit Christians are not allowed to bury their dead in the same area as higher caste Christians; they have to hold and conduct their own separate festivals, and are usually allowed only to marry within the Dalit Christian community. Prof John writes: “The most unfortunate thing is that the [higher] caste Christians, practising these inhuman acts are often supported by their own caste-priests and nuns, who even encourage them to attack Dalit Christians. That is the main reason for caste-practice continuing in the Church. Incidents in the past and also in recent years prove that in those areas and villages where large number of priests and nuns have been ordained, (few examples: Thatchoor in Madras diocese, Eraiyur in Pondy diocese, Varadarajanpet in Kumbakonam diocese) the caste-Christians are more active in oppressing Dalit Christians and resisting vigorously when they demand dignity, equality, and justice. Most of the caste priests, nuns and some in hierarchical positions use their money, authority and institutional power against Dalit Christians at the times of crisis, instead of supporting their just cause. We are saying this from much experience.”
The Dalit Christian Liberation Movement claims that Dalits are a majority in the Catholic Church, but they are only about 6% as students and employees in most institutions. Dalit Christians complain that they face the worst forms of discrimination: segregation in the parish church, a separate cemetery and an unsaid ban on entering the main street to the church, among other things. Even families of Dalit priests and nuns are not spared discrimination. In 1999, the Archbishop of Puducherry was greeted with abuses and stone throwing, for taking part in the funeral of a Dalit priest’s father.
Violence between Dalit and High-Caste Christians
On March 9, 2008, matters came to a head when Vanniyar (high caste) and Dalit Christians clashed with each other in the Catholic shrine of Eraiyur village near Villipuram in southern India. The two groups resorted to physical violence, resulting in a savage mob attack on Dalit Christians and the death of two higher-caste Christians in police firing. Several Christian shrines in the districts of Villupuram and the nearby areas of Cuddalore and Puducherry were closed following the clashes.
An IANS news report released on March 19 2008 after the clashes and the police firing stated that the head of a Dalit Christian group in India had demanded the resignation of the Archbishop of Puducherry and Cuddalore Diocese, Rev. Anthony Anandarayar, while seeking equal rights to worship.
The report stated that Suresh Rajan, president of the Dalit Emancipation Movement, alleged that the archbishop, who belonged to the upper caste Vanniyar community, was biased against Dalit Christians. Rajan had said that they would launch a struggle ‘demanding abrogation of the evil practice of untouchability, inclusion of our denomination into the list of Scheduled Caste and compensation for the closure of our shrine in Eraiyur village in Villupuram district under the archbishop’s orders.’
It seems that arguments by Christian priests who say that conversion to Christianity removes the stigma of caste prevalent in the Hindu community does not really hold good even after conversion.
Writing for the ‘Hindu’ one of India’s largest circulating broadsheets, Hilda Raja says: “It is a sad reality that the Dalits come in handy for exploitation in every field and in any cause by the politicians, the church leaders and those who are involved in the business of conversion to suit their own vested interest. The protest against the law which prohibits forced conversions is a telling example. For one thing the Christian churches do practise discrimination even in death, and continue to bury the Dalits in separate cemeteries even today. If it is dignity and equality that force the Dalits to embrace Christianity it is for them to articulate so when they get converted and prove their volition. .. To state that in Christian churches they find dignity is far from truth and that makes it a misleading inducement — to promise equality and then deny them that.”