VIOLENCE: WHAT SHALL WE DO?
A Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Laxmanananda Saraswati said to his cadres on January 19, 2008, “You are just burning tyres. How many Christian houses and churches have you burnt? Go, start burning. That is revolution. Without revolution there can be no peace. Narendra Modi has done revolution in Gujarat, that’s the reason why peace is there.”
Another leader Apurvananda Maharaj at VHP Shhradhanjali Sabha said on September 6, 2008, “We, all saints and sadhus, will wipe out Christians from Khandhmal very soon.”
Jesus said to His disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, ‘Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well, and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles’” (Matt. 5:38-41).
In recent days, violence is happening daily in India. Well executed attacks against Christians and Christian institutions are increasing day by day. It is an undeniable truth that the Orissa violence is an attempt to annihilate Christians. Evil acts have been carried out strategically by Hindutva forces based on their saffron ideology with the help of communalised political and religious systems to maintain the brahmanical hegemonic power over the powerless dalit and tribal Christians. Accordingly, the damage in Orissa alone is estimated as follows: around 14 districts out of 30 districts, 1,100 villages, 35 Christian institutions, 360 Christian workers and 18,000 Christian families were affected. Around 1100 churches and prayer halls were destroyed. About 78,000 Christians were uprooted from their native villages. 100 Christian workers and Christians were killed and 36,000 were injured. Poor tribal and dalit Christians’ hard earned properties were destroyed all over Orissa. As a result, Khandhmal Christians live in fear and insecurity every day. Most of them were moved out from their district and are staying in the relief camps as refugees. They have migrated to Christian relief camps in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Jhanla, Berhampur and also settled down in rented houses and in the homes of relations, friends, and acquaintances. In addition, the Christians who started assisting the persecuted Christians were threatened or attacked for their participation in the relief works. The so-called “powerful churches and pretending ‘courageous’ leaders” have become silent and indifferent to challenge this mayhem. Some of the leaders are active in disseminating the latest news to their overseas donors merely to milk the funds. Consequently, some of the Khandhmal Christians have moved to Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal in search of livelihood, leaving their children in relief camps.
People in the relief camps are afraid because of the following reasons: (a) They may be attacked on the way or in their own villages (b) They are being forced to become Hindus under pain of death and loss of properties, or to leave the village, the district or even the country (c) Many are unwilling to return because the criminals are still at large and moving about with swords, guns, weapons, etc. In addition, cold winter is testing their health, especially the children and women who are living in relief camps with limited warm clothes. Innocent children and youth have been deprived of their educational pursuits due to these heinous acts. Their future is bleak. In addition, some criminal sadhus are threatening the Christians and forcing them for reconversion.
Unfortunately, Hindutva forces which are part of the coalition Government, are announcing every day new plans and actions against Christians. Even today we can witness a vigilant armed police protection to the Christian educational institutions in Cuttack and Bubaneshwar where most of the Hindu children pursue their studies. There is no security for ordinary people. The Bharatiya Janata Party — Biju Janata Dal coalition government has failed totally to protect its innocent dalit and tribal Christian citizens and fallen short to maintain law and order. Numerous hired crews of fanatics from neighbouring States have taken the law into their own hands, attacked innocent dalits and tribal Christians, destroyed their properties, and even killed a pregnant woman. There is a total collapse of the State’s administrative functions. Incidents of human rights violation, State’s indifference to respect human dignity, breaking secular principles, and curtailing freedom of religion are every day events. The civil society is mute and silent. There is total chaos and turmoil in the State office machinery. The Prime Minister has valid points to call Orissa violence as the national shame; it has broken all the cardinal principles of our Constitution.
What Shall Christians Do?
Do not resist one who is evil. What does ‘do not resist’ mean? Did Jesus Christ tell His hearers to withdraw or submit? Did He mean His disciples should surrender or be passive? Some have perceived that Jesus has admonished us to run away. It is evident in the apathy and mute silent nature of a dozen Christian television channels. It is also palpable in the invisibility of tall leaders’ emotions to comfort fellow brothers and sisters in their sufferings. Accordingly, insecurity and fear enslave us to surrender all our rights and dignity. Fear is misplaced faith. The Scripture reminds us, “We are from God and have overcome them because the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). So, Jesus Christ admonishes us not flee as a result of fear.
The Greek word antistenai has two parts: anti means ‘against’ and histemi, a verb which in its noun form (stasis), means ‘violent rebellion, armed revolt, sharp dissension, direct retaliation, and revenge.’ It means that do not react violently against someone who is evil. Jesus clearly warns us to avoid fight. Non-violence is Christian living.
‘Do not resist’ means stand firm. Stand for justice and peace. Position ourselves firmly for constitutional rights, democratic principles and freedom of choice. Urgently, Christians are called to look for alternative ways to stand against this heinous violence to assert our fellow Indians’ dignity as human beings. Striving for peace in the society is the root of Jesus’ way that was not to be built quickly and cannot be based on changing structures alone. It also requires changing people. To be genuine, peace must reach into people’s basic identity structure and it must include spiritual change.
‘Do not resist’ means to give up everything except God-given dignity. We are called to lose everything and become vulnerable and powerless for Christ (Mk. 8:34-35). The Khandhmal Christians became no-people and non-people.
‘Do not resist’ means to serve victims. Jesus Christ served ordinary people with His compassionate actions (Mk. 1:41). Hence we must share their pains and sufferings meaningfully with our fellow brothers and sisters in Orissa by at least meeting their basic needs. It is the right time to prioritise our giving to strengthen the missionary work and helping the poor rather than giving to the powerful tele-evangelists. Our giving must be focussed on building people, rather than establishing buildings.
‘Do not resist’ means to confront the powerful. Jesus challenged the religious leaders by sacrificing His life. We must expose the fanatics’ cowardly acts and misdeeds to the community at large through facts and figures and by our witness in all aspects of life to create an equalitarian society.
Full Of Hope
As Jesus Christ identified with the poor, we must sacrifice our lives along with the dalits, tribals, women and children to affirm and empower their identity by opposing any power in the State and national political realms to enslave them.
‘Do not resist’ means that suffering and dying for Christ is the glorious vocation for us on the earth (Jn.12:24). His death and resurrection empower us, His disciples, to be with Him and do His work boldly (Mk. 3:14). We are called to suffer and give our lives for Christ. The Scriptures reveal that Jesus Christ is the Victor as well as the Victim and He is powerful as well as vulnerable. Always Christians are suffering for no reason as in Khandhmal (Matt. 5:10). On the positive side, martyrdom is the highest witness for Christ’s way of mission. Hence we must trust firmly that Jesus Christ suffers with us and His presence is always with us in our innocent sufferings. However, we must affirm that Christian life is full of hope in Him.
‘Do not resist’ means that we must pray earnestly, “Father, forgive them (the Sangh Parivar), for they do not know what they are doing” and wait patiently for His intervention.
Let me end with a prayer found on a piece of wrapping paper near the body of a child at Ravensbuck, a Nazi concentration camp, where 92,000 women and children were killed during World War II:
Remember not only men and women of goodwill, but also those of evil will.
But do not remember all the sufferings they have inflicted upon us.
Remember the fruits we have borne.
Thanks to this suffering, our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart have grown out of all this.
And when they come to the judgement,
Let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen.