by Diditi Mitra
A call to follow Jesus Christ: “Prabhu Isu Masih-ji da pukar” says the Gurmukhi script. The script in devnagari, right below it says “Prabhi Isu Masi-ji ka pukar.” “Isu Masih” is the Indian name for Jesus Christ. The poster caught our eyes as the bus pulled out of the station in Jalandhar. It raised all sorts of questions: What kind of Christianity is being spread in the rural areas of Punjab? How strong is the presence of Christianity? And, more importantly, is there a backlash against the expansion of Christianity and if so, of what kind? Should those converting and those spreading the word of Christ worry about their safety in light of the recent campaign by the right wing Hindu fundamentalist movement for ‘ghar wapsi,’ i.e. to (re)convert non-Hindus in India back to Hinduism with the assumption that all non-Hindus in contemporary India were forcefully converted into that ‘other’ religion. Something to think about, isn’t it?
While all of the above raised questions regarding Christianity, Hindutva, and Punjab are too big to tackle here, some light can certainly be shed on some of them.
A cursory Google search on ‘Christianity in Punjab” revealed that the population of Christians in the state is notable enough to be wooed for the state Assembly elections in 2017. According to an article published in The Indian Express, the Aam Aadmi Party, or AAP, met with leaders of Punjab Christian United Front in order to get a sense of the issues faced by the group in order to define the “party’s manifesto” for the elections in 2017. The search also resulted in news stories about ‘ghar wapsi’ of Christians in Punjab. Rather curiously, the RSS performed ‘ghar wapsi’ functions not to (re)convert Christians to Hinduism, but ‘back’ to Sikhism. Yudhvir Rana, author of the article published in the Times of India entitled “In Punjab, Sangh brings Christians back to Sikhism,” writes that the RSS has plans of holding more such ‘ghar wapsi’ functions which he asserts will in fact taint the relationship that Shiromani Akali Dal, and the BJP by way of that party, shares with Punjab.
An article by Ravi Dhaliwal published in The Tribune would suggest that the relationship between the Christian leaders and these two political parties are already strained. Lack of burial grounds, employment opportunities and preservation of the churches are at least some of the unmet demands of the group.
Interestingly, Christian leaders dispute Census estimates of less than a percent of Christians in Punjab. Imanul Rehmat Masih, a Christian leader, argues that the percentage is in fact 7 to 10 percent. But, the government, according to him, undercounts Christians in the state in order to mask the fast growing attraction of the religion among Punjabis and to extend political power to the group.
Click here for a report published by the Pew Forum that points specifically to the spread of Pentecostalism in India.
On our trip, we had the opportunity to visit one of the evangelical organizations in the village of Paragpur. We also met with one of the pastors in the village of Buta and got some insights into the breadth and depth of Christianity in Punjab.
Christianity has a long presence in Punjab – since the early nineteenth century. But the religion and its followers continue to experience resistance as a minority religion in India as a whole. Physical attacks on Christians and destruction of churches are just a couple of ways in which their minority status becomes apparent.
So, are Christians completely accepted in the context of the Hindu dominant society of India? The answer is: no. As a minority group, Christians are subject to prejudice and discrimination in the society.
(Go here for the first post in the series)