Why do Indians put religion before nationality?
Author: François Gautier
Date: September 30, 2003
As the Assembly elections are nearing in Delhi, MP, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Mizoram, another western correspondent has remarked that “Lyngdoh rose from relative anonymity in 2002 when he rejected the ruling ‘Hindu nationalists’ plans for a snap poll in Gujarat, where more than 1,000 people died in Hindu-Muslim bloodshed, on security grounds. The move prompted bitter and sometimes personal criticism of Lyngdoh, a Christian, by Hindu hardliners”.
The words ‘Christian’ and ‘Hindu hardliners’ make me cringe and prompt me to take a closer look at his credentials. Is Lyngdoh’s prime value the fact that he is a Christian, with qualities of honesty and fairness, which are much superior to Hindus, who have a tendency to be ‘fundamentalists’? Is this why the Ramon Magsaysay award, a Christian prize, awarded by a Christian country (the Philippines), was given to him? I am born a Christian and was brought-up on the values of Christianity: love compassion for the others, charity. At the same time, my 34 years in India have told me that you cannot find in the world a people, the Hindus, who are more tolerant of others, who accept the fact that God can be Krishna, Christ, Buddha or Mohamed. I also know that Christians still believe, today in the 21st century, which should be the century of acceptance of others, that Christ is the only true son of God and that all other beliefs – particularly those of the Hindus, who adore a multitude of ‘heathen’ Gods, are false. This is why Christian missionaries are still at it in India, converting thousands of innocent tribals and Harijans, with the millions of dollars that gullible westerners donate, so as to ‘alleviate poverty in the Third World’.
There is no doubt that James Lyngdoh is an upright honest man, who is trying to discharge his duty as best as he deems it possible. After all, Christians missionaries, whatever you can say about them, are doing service to the poorest of the poor, whereas one of the curses of this country is that many rich Hindus do not look after their less fortunate Hindu brethren, leaving hereby the space to Christian missionnaries. But the question which must be asked to Lyngdoh is this one: Does he also think that Jesus Christ is the only saviour? If he does, that could explain the fact that he delayed elections in Gujarat, a State which, whatever happened during the recent riots, has a long tradition of democracy and tolerance – while allowing them immediately in Kashmir, a region where 3,50,000 Hindus have been forced to flee through terror, for no fault of them and which has seen terrible strife in the past 15 years, without speaking of the centuries of terrible oppression upon Hindus by Muslim rulers.
Could it also explain suspicions of a favourable bias towards Sonia Gandhi, she being also a Christian, thus possessing the same qualities of inborn fairness and secularism, which might save India from the ‘pagan fundamentalist’ Hindus ? Don’t laugh: I see many western correspondents who honestly think that Sonia Gandhi is the sane, balanced ‘civilised’ solution to an ‘uncivilised Hindu India’ (this is what Jean Leclerc du Sablon wrote once in Le Figaro).
Lyngdoh, thanks in greater part to the redoubtable T N Sheshan, possesses today a lot of power and does Indian Christians proud. Here in India, I often hear that Christians only comprise two percent of the population and that their impact on Indian life is thus minimal. I am not so sure about that. If you cross Bangalore for instance, you will realise that the primmest property is in the hands of churches, although they have minimal attendance in comparison with temples or mosques. The same is valid in many cities of India, where you find that churches, presbyteries and Christian schools, sit tauntingly in the best places, thanks to British colonial favours. But above all, Christians still control to a large extent the best colleges in this country and thus shape the minds of the future elite of India in a thousand subtle ways, which are not always discernible.
Many of the schools of journalism in India are also controlled by Christians and produce good Christian journalists, who unfortunately sometimes use the power of the pen for a certain anti-Hindu slant (there are, of course, notable and brilliant exceptions such as T R Shenoy). As a result, the presence of Christians in newspapers is often disproportionate with their numbers. If you take the magazine, The Week for instance and take a close look at their editorial credits on the second page, you will find that out of the 21 senior editors, 14 are Christians. Wow, that’s 75 percent! It would be impossible in my country, which is predominantly Catholic, to have a mainstream national magazine with 75 percent Hindus or even Muslims, although the French have also a 10 to 12 percent Muslim minority!
It reminds me also of the time when I used to write a column for The Indian Express (the Ferengi’s column). A Christian, A J Philip (no longer with Express), was then in charge of the edit page and invariably, he would censor a little bit my columns, taking out a word, a phrase here and there and sometimes, when he very strongly disagreed (with Pamela Philipose, another Christian in Express), he would not publish it a all. I stopped after some time, when I discovered that the editor, Shekhar Gupta, sided with them.
The Graham Staines story is also an eloquent testimony of the subtle and not-so-subtle influence that Christians have on this country. The murderer, Dara Singh, has been convicted to death. His was a horrible deed: to burn a man and his innocent children does deserve the capital punishment. Justice is thus done and the entire press – Indian and foreign – rightly rejoiced.
But one may ask this question: What happens to the murderers of thousands of innocent Hindus who have been burnt, lacerated, bombed, raped, their eyes gauged, their homes ransacked? Why don’t their widows get the same sympathy as Mrs Staines? Because they are brown and Hindus and Mrs Staines is white and Christian? Don’t dismiss this again lightly: I remember a few days after Graham Staines was killed, 14 Hindu labourers were murdered in Himachal Pradesh by Muslims separatists. The entire English speaking Indian press devoted page after page of outrage on the killing of Staines, but the murder of the Hindus in HP only warranted a few lines in most newspapers without condemnation. I can understand that Western correspondents based in India show such a slant – even if it does not speak much for their fairness – but Indian journalists, most of them Hindus at that! And if Lyngdoh was really fair, he would have seen to it that the NDTV of Prannoy Roy and Rajdeep Sardesai, two brilliant journalists no doubt, was brought to the book for inflaming communal passions during Gujurat riots by constantly showing burnt people and broken bodies.
In my country, France which is truly secular in the sense that the State and the Church are separated, because at some point the Church controlled enormous amount of land and political power, I doubt that a non-Catholic could become Election Commissioner (a post which does not exist anyway). It is a tribute to India’s openness and liberalism that a Christian holds that post, and that a Muslim is President of India at the moment, although Christians and Muslims often complain that they are discriminated against in India. Recently, French President Jacques Chirac asked every Frenchman, specially the French Muslims, ‘to be French first and Muslims second’. In India, one often finds that people put their religion before their nationality, particularly the Muslims and to a lesser degree the Christians. So Lyngdoh, are you a Christian and then an Indian? An Indian and then a Christian? Or simply an Indian?
(François Gautier is a French journalist and writer, who was for eight years the political correspondent in India and South Asia for ‘Le Figaro’ and now works for Ouest-France, the largest circulation daily (I million copies) in France and LCI, France’s 24 hour TV news channel. He has written several books prominent among them being ‘Arise O India’ and ‘A Western journalist on India’ and ‘India’s Self Denial. Gautier will write exclusively for Sify.com on the run-up and during the State elections.)