Friday, 16 February 2018

Joshua Project in Action -- Strategies Used for Conversion to Christianity

Nat Community members from Sasaram District in Bihar speak out

In recent years, the issue of conversions from Hinduism and ghar wapsi (reconversion to Hinduism) has evoked a great deal of controversy. Hindu groups allege that Christian missionaries use force, fraud and all kinds of illicit means in order to "harvest souls" for Christianity. Therefore, they seek a ban on conversions. In their defence, Christian missionaries say that they have never used unfair means and that their proselytisation activities are merely an exercise of religious freedom, which is guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

While on a recent visit to villages in Rohtas district in Bihar, during the course of my field research into the living conditions of ghumantoo jatis (itinerant communities) like the Nats, I got revealing glimpses of the methods being used by Christian missionaries to win converts.

People of the Nat community, which include saperas (snake charmers), bazigars (magicians), acrobats, folk musicians, dancers, madaris/qalandar (those who train monkeys or bears for performances) today constitute among the poorest of the poor in India, although, before the advent of British rule, each such family enjoyed secure jajmani relations with a set of villages, and many were even patronised by rajwadas (royal courts). But today, they constitute the lowest rungs of Scheduled Castes. Unlike other reserved communities, the Nats have not been able to avail of the benefits of reservation on any significant scale, because, as itinerant communities, their access to education has been far lower than that of SC groups who lead a settled existence. Unfortunately, census data does not record the educational level of these communities. But all available evidence points to abysmally low educational levels.

However, in recent years, hunger for education has become acute even among the poorest segments of these communities, especially since their traditional occupations are being systematically destroyed through hostile government policies. Unfortunately, despite its rhetorical commitment to providing education for all, the Indian state has failed miserably in delivering on this promise because of the absence of proper teachers, leading to hopelessly poor quality of teaching in the vast majority of government schools. This is where the Christian missionaries step in with their own agenda.

As it became evident during my field trip, most Nat settlements in the district are wretchedly poor.  The only better off families are those who have managed to get better education and moved away from their traditional occupations. Adult males of the community eke out a living by performing snake dances in nearby towns, or have taken to livestock breeding, while others work as farmhands. Women from some families work as singers or dancers in the region or in bars in faraway Mumbai. Unlike Nat homes in New Delhi's Kathputli Colony, the scanty mud or brick lined huts of the community in Bihar are devoid of even basic trappings of the modern age such as gas stoves and television sets. A couple of years ago, a few families were allotted pucca houses under the UPA government's Indira Awaas Yojna. However, many couldn't derive this benefit owing to the itinerant nature of their lifestyle.

Despite their precarious existence, most Nat parents today desire to see their children get good education so that they are able to land decent jobs. And this is exactly where some Christian missions have sensed a lucrative market for proselytisation.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that even the Colorado Springs, US-based evangelist movement, the Joshua Project, lists the Nat community and its various sub-groups in its database of nearly 10,000 "unreached peoples" globally. To quote from the Nat page on the Joshua Project website:

What Are Their Beliefs?
The Nat are generally Hindus but there are some Muslims in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The Hindu Nats worship Rama, Shiva and the other Hindu gods and goddesses. Some claim to be fortune tellers, exorcists or healers. They celebrate the main Hindu festivals and many of them worship ancestors too.
What Are Their Needs?
The low caste position of the Nat means they are denied many benefits and their work and partly nomad lifestyle has caused them problems such as poverty.
Prayer Points
Pray that the problems the Nat are having will lead them to Jesus Christ.”
(Nat (Hindu traditions) in India, Joshua Project,

While interviewing Nat families in Bishrampur Nat Tola, about 10 km from the district headquarters at Sasaram, we found that most children enrolled in the local government school were also simultaneously enrolled with an organisation called Gospel Echoing Missionary Society (GEMS) set up by Christian missionaries for supplementary coaching. These include prayer sessions as well as going over their school curriculum. Classes are for all age groups from class 1 to 12. The difference between those who went to GEMS for these tuitions, and those who merely went to only the sarkari school, was clear as daylight. All those coached by GEMS could rattle off tables and answer questions far more confidently and without many errors, whereas those who depended only on sarkari teaching were lagging far behind. GEMS students also looked better fed and relatively better dressed, because the missionaries reportedly give them good meals that include fruits, milk, eggs and meat. They also reported being taught hygiene and provided soap etc. to bathe in the GEMS day hostel. Therefore, almost all parents, including the poorest of the poor in Bishrampur (as well as Beda village and the Nat settlement in Sasaram) were keen to have their children admitted to GEMS. Parents of those who didn't get admission were desperate enough to plead with us to intervene with the priests of the local branch of GEMS to admit their children. Their intense desire to see their children get good education was both humbling and saddening, for it showed that despite all the money being spent by the government on teachers' salaries and providing free mid-day meals, books, uniforms, as well as special scholarships for “weaker sections”, even poor illiterate parents could tell that their children were not learning anything worthwhile in government schools nor getting edible food by way of mid day meals.

That's why, in the abovementioned three Nat community settlements as well as in eight other Nat villages of Gaya, Jahanabad, Bhojpur and Rohtas districts, we found that most families whose children were studying in government schools were also paying for private tuition for their kids, although they lived in abysmal poverty. Wherever Christian missions had set up GEMS-like institutes, they became the villagers’ preferred choice.

The villagers informed us that the supplementary classes held at GEMS covered the entire syllabus at a reasonable pace. But in the government school, teaching was fitful and the entire course was seldom covered, since staff absenteeism was commonplace. We were told that teachers dozed off in the classroom after taking attendance, while unsupervised children went out to play or did wild things, including vandalising school property. In contrast, teachers at GEMS ensured proper discipline. Another big attraction of GEMS is that English is taught from Class III onwards.

About 100 children of Bishrampur Nat Tola village go to GEMS, which also has a hostel with amenities like free food, clothing and toiletry. One’s first spontaneous impression could well be to feel a sense of gratitude towards Christian missionaries for having come to the rescue of these vulnerable communities. But, perchance we heard from the children and parents of Bishrampur Nat Tola the price they had to pay for these free tuitions and meals.

For instance, Shankar Kumar, a parent, told us that the missionaries indulged in unethical pressure tactics, including violence on children to force them to convert to Christianity. Many children were summarily expelled from GEMS because they refused to give up their ancestral faith. Ranjan Kumar, a student of Class VII, told us that he was beaten brutally with a stick because the priests got to know that he had accompanied his parents to the temple of Goddess Mandeshwari. He was expelled from school and readmitted after a whole year. For that, his parents had to repeatedly beg the missionaries to forgive their son and promise that he would never again visit a Hindu temple or take part in Hindu religious rituals.

Similarly, Anish Kumar was beaten so mercilessly with a wooden stick that his legs were swollen for days. He had committed the sin of going for prayers at the temple of Goddess Tara Chandi to thank the deity for the new motorcycle his family had been able to purchase. Like Ranjan, Anish was also forced by his parents to apologise to the priests and return to GEMS because otherwise he would have possibly become a wastrel.

Ten-year old Majnu described the vicious caning he received when he went with his family to pray in a local Hindu temple. The priests allegedly also forbid these children from attending weddings of their relatives because those involve Hindu rituals. Another boy said they are beaten up for praying even at home to their Hindu deities. A villager pointed to a little boy in the gathered crowd who had been beaten brutally because he skipped school for a day due to illness. But he was told he was also being punished because he had not given up Hindu prayers. The missionaries had put all families on notice that their children would have to give up the Hindu faith if they wanted to continue studying in GEMS.  All the adults and children we met in a group repeatedly mentioned one particular missionary — Chandrashekhar — who used the most brutal methods on children to force them to convert.

The children are ordered to pray only to Christ every morning and evening, as well as before every meal. The classes at GEMS include teachings of Christianity. While neither the parents nor the children seemed to mind “accepting” Christ, almost all parents we spoke to were extremely resentful that in the eyes of these priests, accepting Christ was insufficient without virulent and forceful rejection of their ancestral faith and culture. The missionaries bullied them into believing that their families were worshipping false gods, that their own faith was full of evil practices and that Christ is the only true god who could guide them to the path to Heaven.

It is not hard to sympathise with the predicament of these parents who accepted such bullying and blackmail and allowed their children to disown their own faith, just so they can get some help with schooling. However, most parents were categorical that it was a survival strategy for them to let their children pretend they had accepted Christ, even while in the privacy of their homes and in their hearts, they remained rooted in their family traditions and, that as soon as they finished school, their pretense at being Christian would be cast aside. They accepted this charade because government schools were doing a shoddy job. Although the government school also provided a meal in the afternoon, it usually consisted of poorly cooked sub-standard rice along with a measly serving of poorly cooked vegetables. Moreover, the quantity of meals served was insufficient. In anger, the students often break the plates and vandalise school property. In contrast, at GEMS, students are served meals on chairs and tables, allowed to eat as much as they want, and the food is of far better quality. Considering that these children come from very poor homes, if they too find government school food sub-standard, one can well imagine the level of incompetence and corruption prevalent in the mid-day meal scheme in Bihar.

In contrast, at GEMS, meat, chicken or eggs are served on certain days in a week, with fruits and snacks in the evening.  Students can have as much food as they want.  However, we found it noteworthy that GEMS provides non-vegetarian dishes mainly on days of the week such as Tuesday, on which even meat eating Hindus avoid taking non-vegetation food in deference to their Ishta Dev.

Kanchan, a Class VIII student, spoke at length about the religious indoctrination students were routinely subjected to at GEMS. She described how they are brainwashed into believing that only Christianity could take them to heaven. All other religions meant permanent perdition. Children are taught that worshipping Hindu gods and goddesses is to worship false gods since the idols were manmade and could not speak for themselves, whereas Christ is the only “true god”, since he died on the cross to pay for man's sins. We were told that students quietly accept all that they are taught even if they don't agree with the negative image painted of their family's faith. The general consensus among the adults and children we talked to was that there was no point in openly challenging the interpretation given by the missionaries even though the idea of conversion was repugnant to them.

When asked whether children were expelled from GEMS for refusing to convert, Kanchan initially said: “No.”  However, she started agreeing with Govind Nat when he emphatically said there were cases of children being thrown out for refusing to accept Christ. Even though not formally baptised, many children get into the habit of praying to Christ at home, even while their families discourage them to do so. Govind and others said that if the children openly state that they go to GEMS only for getting education and not to pray to Christ, they face harsh consequences. In such cases, the families have to look for private schools.

Despite all the inducements offered by missionaries, only one young boy, Aman Kumar, claimed to have converted to Christianity. When asked what attracted him towards his adopted faith, he replied that it was because he was told that all his sins would be forgiven if he prayed to Christ. He also liked the food and other facilities the missionaries offer. He said his parents, though Hindu, did not object to his converting. The missionaries have promised him a job after he graduates from school. This in itself is a huge incentive, given the high level of unemployment in this community. His father is a very poor farmer who takes other people's land on rent for cultivation.

Apart from Aman, a woman named Shanti said she has been going to church every day to join the prayer sessions, though she had not yet converted. All three of her children are enrolled at GEMS. She is the only one from the village who goes to church regularly. She told us that the priests at GEMS had promised to give her family either a chicken farm or a tempo or some other means to earn a better living. But that would come only after the whole family converted. Her husband works as a daily wage truck driver in the nearby stone quarries and earns Rs 200-250 per day. The priests also provide them with medical services in a nearby mission hospital. It is noteworthy that none of the villagers displayed any negative sentiments towards Aman or Shanti for taking to Christianity even though the common view was that Aman had converted under pressure because those who resisted Christianity were treated very brutally. Those who cannot afford private schools send their children to GEMS under compulsion. But they knew their children would stick to their family culture after they were through with school. Though most GEMS students have started praying to Christ even at home because they have been trained to inculcate this habit by the missionaries but almost all the children were emphatic that they did not want to convert and preferred their own faith.

If missionaries can act so aggressively in a Hindu majority village, one can well imagine their militancy in states like Nagaland when conversions have led to wholesale Christianisation of the population. In such states, it has become virtually impossible for non-Christians to survive and live safely unless they convert.

The missionary assault is not just in the domain of faith but targets the entire spectrum of cultural practices and value system of the Nat communities. For example, the traditional occupation of most Nat families of Bishrampur is singing and dancing. At one time, Natnis were patronised even in royal courts, because, like the tawaifs of North India or devadasis of the South, they were accomplished in music and dance. With the decline of royalty and traditional jajmani relations, these women have taken to dancing at weddings and other festive occasions, as well as in low-end hotels, restaurants and beer bars. Some had even gone to work in Mumbai's dance bars till the bars were forced to shut down by the Maharashtra government.

The community has well-established liberal norms for those among its women who are trained for dancing. Recognising that women who take to public performances can't live by the expectations and norms applicable to byahata (married) women, girls who take to dancing don’t get married. They are however free to have short or long-term relationships with men of their choice. But they continue staying with their parents and children born out of these relationships, are fully accepted by their families as well as community. There is no stigma attached to children born out of wedlock. However, the missionaries insist that singing and dancing is immoral and should be abandoned, thus making the community ashamed of its traditional occupation. By force of circumstance, the dances these women perform today are not the traditional variety but their own adaptation of Bollywood song and dance numbers.

The cultural disorientation of such communities can be well imagined. Their traditional dance forms are not much in demand because of the rage for Bollywood-style dances. Nor are the old patrons available any more. While the Katrina Kaifs and Priyanka Chopras are treated as national celebrities and icons of feminine success for their latka jhatkas, and Bollywood dance numbers are emulated in elite parties and discotheques, these lowly-educated women from poor communities are looked down upon with utter disdain for being naachne-gaane walis, although they are merely emulating Bollywood heroines. It is likely that those who invite them at their wedding parties don't always treat them with due respect. As a safety measure, these women always go for performances as part of an established group, never singly. But the pressure from the missionaries to abandon their occupation is strong.  They throw out of school all girls who are being trained as dancers by their families.

Although beating of children in schools is a punishable crime under the Right to Education Act, 2004, none of the parents would dare complain to authorities because of their desperation for better education for their children. The sorry state of affairs in government schools described by these children is no surprise because the Bihar government's own inquiry had revealed that most of its school teachers are totally unqualified for the job. In 2013, over 10,000 contractual teachers twice failed a competency test for knowledge of Hindi, English, mathematics and general knowledge for up to Class V. Many could not even answer simple questions like five plus 20 equals what?

The Bihar government employs over 150,000 teachers for 53,000 plus primary schools. But most of them lack elementary skills required for the job. On 18 May 2015, the Patna High Court directed the director of the Bihar Vigilance Department to probe the recruitment of nearly 40,000 government teachers who allegedly used fake degree certificates to get jobs.

The dismal failure of our government school system, coupled with the equally disastrous performance of the sarkari health care system, has created a vacuum being filled by Christian missions. It is not as if missionary schools for the poor provide as good an education as their schools for the elite classes. But it is far better than what is provided in the vast majority of government schools. Therefore, a certain amount of attraction and goodwill for Christianity is inevitable. This may understandably lead to a few voluntary conversions. But for most Hindus, their goodwill for Christianity and even accepting the greatness or divinity of Christ doesn't easily lead to their abandoning their traditional faith and culture. For instance, in the Catholic Convent School I studied in, we too were made to chant Christian prayers and cross our heart before and after every class in addition to the morning assembly prayer to “Our father thou art in Heaven…” The most common prizes for topping in the weekly or monthly class tests in different subjects were holy pictures of Christ, Mother Mary and other Christian saints. All of us treasured those as prized possessions. Although nearly all the students in our school were from well-off Hindu or Sikh families, none of the parents minded our singing Christian hymns or saying Christian prayers as a daily ritual, or being taught the Bible in the moral science class. And yet not a single child converted to Christianity, nor did the nuns put any pressure on us to change our faith.

If the Christian missions were content to merely preach their religion in their schools and spread goodwill for Christianity without subjecting the poor to unethical pressures, blackmail or material inducements, no Hindu organisation is likely to protest. But when missionaries use devious means to convert in an apparent bid to “harvest souls”, when the social services they provide are essentially a pious mask for proselytisation, there is ample ground for worry. 

GEMS was founded by one D. Augustine Jebakumar who arrived in Bihar as part of the Texas, US-based MGM Ministries in the early 1970s, with the express aim to proselytise among the locals. It was registered as a society in 1979 to especially enhance evangelisation efforts in Bihar. Other than Bihar, GEMS is now also active in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra in India, and in Nepal.  The society minces no words while enunciating its agenda on its website:

“The activities of this society are primarily church planting and evangelism. Later educational services, medical services and social services were added in order to cater to the needs of people.
Working in 27 Districts of Bihar alone, we have established about 11 English Medium Schools, 118 Hindi Medium Schools (Day Care Centers), above 50 Homes for Children, which made an impact in the whole State.
We have workers from North India (mainly people who were transformed by the love of the Lord who were trained through our Discipleship Training Centers and Workers Training Centers) along with South Indians (1/3 of the total force) and right now we have over 2479 people (as on Mar ’13) who get support on various levels.
South Indian Churches and Prayer Groups mainly support the workers, whereas our friends from overseas and other agencies support our social work, major buildings and donate vehicles.
Bihar after the bifurcation (from Nov 2000) has around 82 million people and only 40,000 people are Christians including Roman Catholic, even today. Out of which around 20000+ people are active believers. So, GEMS would like to multiply the harvest force by giving leadership training to Women and Men, so that the trained people may go and train others as the field is vast and getting ready for Harvest.”
(Gospel Echoing Missionary Society,

Such “soul harvesters” are not content with merely getting a person to join their ranks. They are also insistent on the converted person severing all ties with his familial traditions, and display aggressive contempt and hostility towards his/her ancestral faith as evil mumbo jumbo. One cannot fault individual priests for it. This hostility to the "false gods" of other faiths is the core belief of Christianity, as it is of Islam. The "One and Only True God" of Christians (as of Islam) is a virulently jealous God who will wreak vengeance on all those who retain any respect or soft corner for the deities or culture of their ancestral faith traditions. People who don't yield to this key commandment deserve to be wiped out. That is exactly what the medieval Crusades aimed at. That is exactly what Christian missions succeeded in doing in all of Latin America and Africa.

Even when living in a Hindu majority India, they have the gumption to insist that Christian converts (including those targeted for conversion through their schools) sever all bonds with the faith and culture of their kith and kin and stay away from religious rituals of their community. One can well imagine the predicament of non-Christians in states like Nagaland which have witnessed mass conversion in the last 65 years.  The pressure to convert is far more intense in Nagaland because missionaries work hand in glove with insurgent groups and can get people opposing conversion drives altogether eliminated. In Nagaland, 98 per cent of the tribal community had converted to Christianity, as per the 2011 census. In 1941, Christians constituted less than 10 per cent of Nagaland's population. The same pattern is visible among Scheduled Tribe communities in other Northeastern states, notably Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.

Today, rabid right wing Christian missions of North America, backed financially and politically by the US government, are in the forefront of conversions. To quote a well researched report by Tehelka (

“Religious expansionism has not witnessed this scale, scope, and state resources in a long time. Detailed investigations by Tehelka reveal that American evangelical agencies have established in India an enormous, well-coordinated and strategised religious conversion plan. The operation was launched in the early 1990s but really came into its own after George W Bush Jr, an avowed born-again Christian, became president of the United States in 2001. Since then, aggressive evangelists have found pro-active support from the new administration in their efforts to convert some sections of Indian society to Christianity. At the heart of this complex and sophisticated operation is a simple strategy — convert locals and then give them the knowhow and money to plant their own churches and multiply.
Around the time that Bush Jr moved into the Oval office, a worldwide conversion movement, funded and effected by American evangelical groups, was peaking in India. The movement, which began as AD2000 & Beyond, and later morphed into Joshua Project I and Joshua Project II, was designed to be a sledgehammer — a breathtaking, decade-long steamroller of a campaign that would set the stage for a systematic, sophisticated and self-sustaining ‘harvest’ of the ‘unreached people groups’ in India in the 21st century. Just as the operation was taking off that the script changed. Much to the delight of American evangelicals, one of their own, George Bush Jr, became the occupant of the White House.”

However, even before Bush became US President, Christian evangelism had been an integral part of US foreign policy. Many of these evangelical groups, such as the Baptists, have been well known for their Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) links. The Joshua Project is brazen about targeting countries like India that haven’t fallen prey to Christianisation to the extent that the African or Latin American countries have.

To quote Tehelka on the sinister agenda of the Joshua Project.
“A large-scale intelligence operation that brought together American strategists, theologians, missionary specialists, demographers, technologists, sociologists, anthropologists and researchers to create the most comprehensive people group profiles in the 10/40 window… The 10/40 window, denoting the latitudes on the globe considered the prime target for conversion, has India squarely in its sights.”

The Joshua Project is designed as a full-scale ideological war. The training of missionaries is carried out with precision and efficiency, using the same models as for conquering territories.  Vast amounts of funds are put at the disposal of zealous missionaries who are assigned territories, issued quotas and trained into “planting” churches, as they did in Bishrampur.  They invariably choose sites where poverty is rampant and government has failed in providing quality education and health services.

K.P. Yohannan, who founded Gospel for Asia, typifies the hatred and hostility of Christian missions towards Hinduism, which they describe as a “Satanic” faith.
“Our battle is not against… symptoms of sins such as poverty and disease. It is directed against Lucifer and innumerable demons which fight day and night in order to drag the human souls into an eternity without Christ. … Viewing the effects of pagan religions on India, I realised that the masses of India are starving because they are slaves to sin. The battle against hunger and poverty is really a spiritual battle, not a physical or social one as secularists would have us believe. The only weapon that will ever effectively win the war against disease, hunger, injustice and poverty in Asia is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Billions of dollars are being spent every year on conversion drives. Yet the matter does not end with merely converting people to an altogether another faith. As Rajiv Malhotra has painstakingly documented in his book Breaking India, Christian missionaries have made common cause with Maoists, Islamist terrorists, in addition to promoting various secessionist groups in the North East — all of whose stated mission is to wreck and Balkanise India. Their mission relies on first identifying real or imaginary fault lines within the Indian society on the basis of caste, class, religion and region, and then do all they can to widen the divides so as to convert various ethnic identities into permanently warring groups. This is why scheduled tribes and scheduled castes are their special targets. They also are clever enough to invent new fault lines where none existed before. In this, Western scholars and their cronies in Indian academia and human rights groups funded by the West ably assist them.

For instance, long after the Aryan invasion theory has been firmly debunked by serious historians as well as archeologists as imaginary nonsense, Christian groups, with the help of allied NGOs and social scientists, continue to promote Dravidian-Dalit separatism on the ground that these were the original inhabitants of India, who were enslaved by invading Aryans, mischievously identified as upper-caste Hindus. Their stated goal is to carve out all of South India into Dravidistan and Central India into Dalitistan, just as the British helped Muslims carve out Pakistan through an ethnic genocide of Hindus in that region. They also have plans to create a new Mughalistan in all of North India extending to Bihar and Assam. That this is not mere fantasy is borne out by the endless series of ethnic wars in the North East and the Maoist insurgency in Central India, all being backed and promoted by Christian missionaries. A similar strategy resulted in the genocide in Rwanda, as ably documented in detail by Timothy Longman in his paper Christian Churches and Genocide in Rwanda ( Almost every society that witnessed large scale conversions to Christianity has been ruined by ethnic wars.  

Way back in 1954, the government of Madhya Pradesh, then under Congress rule, appointed a committee chaired by M. Bhawani Shankar Niyogi, a retired Chief Justice of the Nagpur High Court, to investigate the activities of Christian missionaries in India. Called the Christian Missionary Activities Enquiry Committee Madhya Pradesh, it had B P Pathak as secretary, and Ghanshyam Das Gupta, S K George, Ratanlal Malviya, and Bhanu Pratap Singh as members. Submitting its two-volume, three-part report in 1956, the committee recommended the “legal prohibition” of religious conversion that was not "completely voluntary". Although one of the committee members, S. K. George, was a Syrian Christian and Gandhian, Christian missions condemned the report as biased. The Roman Catholic Church even withdrew its cooperation with the committee, filed a statement of protest and moved the High Court for a Mandamus Petition in 1955. The petition was dismissed in April of the following year.

The report documented at length the many unethical means being used by Christian missions to secure conversions. It expressed serious concern about the politics behind conversions and warned the government regarding the long-term consequences of leaving the process unchecked. The Committee noted: "there was unanimity as regards the excellent service rendered by the Missionaries in the fields of education and medical relief. But on the other hand there was a general complaint from the non-Christian side that the schools and hospitals were being used as means of securing converts. There was no disparagement of Christianity or of Jesus Christ, and no objection to the preaching of Christianity and even to conversions to Christianity. The objection was to the illegitimate methods alleged to be adopted by the Missionaries for this purpose, such as offering allurements of free education and other facilities to children attending their schools, adding some Christian names to their original Indian names, marriages with Christian girls, money-lending, distributing Christian literature in hospitals and offering prayers in the wards of indoor patients. Reference was also made to the practice of the Roman Catholic priests or preachers visiting newborn babies to give ashish (blessings) in the name of Jesus, taking sides in litigation or domestic quarrels, kidnapping of minor children and abduction of women and recruitment of labour for plantations in Assam or Andaman as a means of propagating the Christian faith among the ignorant and illiterate people. There was a general tendency to suspect some ulterior political or extra-religious motive, in the influx of foreign money for evangelistic work in its varied forms." (Vindicated by Time: The Niyogi Committee Report On Christian Missionary Activities, Introduction by Sita Ram Goel, Voice of India, 1998)

"Another device employed for proselytisation was money-lending. Roman Catholic missions had specialised in this field. Poor people often approached the local missionary for loans which were written off if the debtor became a convert; otherwise he had to repay it with interest which was often found difficult. Protestant missionaries and others cited before the Committee instances of how this method worked. One of the conditions for getting a loan, for instance, was that the recipient agreed to chop off the topknot (choti), the symbol of his being a Hindu. Some of the people, the Report noted, who had received loans were minors and casual labourers. It also appeared that when one member of a family had taken a loan, all the other members of that family were entered in the book as potential converts. The rate of interest charged was 10 per cent and in a large number of cases examined, one year's interest was deducted in advance. On being questioned, the people without any hesitation, said that their only purpose in going to the Mission had been to get money; and all said that without the lure of money none would have sought to become Christian. Some other allurements such as the promise of gift of salt, plough, bullocks and even milk powder received from abroad were used to the same effect." (Vindicated by Time: The Niyogi Committee Report On Christian Missionary Activities, Introduction by Sita Ram Goel, Voice of India, 1998)

The Committee made the following recommendations:
 (1) Those missionaries whose primary object is proselytisation should be asked to withdraw and the large influx of foreign missionaries should be checked;
 (2) The use of medical and other professional services as a direct means of making conversions should be prohibited by law;
 (3) Attempts to convert by force or fraud or material inducements, or by taking advantage of a person’s inexperience or confidence or spiritual weakness or thoughtlessness, or by penetrating into the religious conscience of persons for the purpose of consciously altering their faith, should be absolutely prohibited;
 (4) The Constitution of India should be amended in order to rule out propagation by foreigners and conversions by force, fraud and other illicit means;
 (5) Legislative measures should be enacted for controlling conversion by illegal means;
 (6) Rules relating to registration of doctors, nurses and other personnel employed in hospitals should be suitably amended to provide a condition against evangelistic activities during professional service; and
 (7) Circulation of literature meant for religious propaganda without approval of the State Government should be prohibited.

It speaks volumes for the political clout and influence of Christian missions in India and their handlers in America and Europe that none of these measures were adopted. Instead, Christian missions began propping up and financing numerous human rights groups all wearing a “secular” mask, but in effect acting as the fighting swords of Christianity. In fact, the entire human rights discourse has been designed to facilitate the war that Christians are waging against Hindus in India under the garb of “religious freedom” and “minority rights”. Even the English educated “liberal intelligentsia” and social scientists have become willing sepoys in this war against Hindu civilisation. Their stranglehold over mainstream media enables them to drown out and browbeat all voices of resistance.

This is well exemplified in the way Hindu groups who made rather modest (one could say pitiful) attempts at ghar wapsi (reconverting Christians/Muslims to Hinduism) provoked hysterical attacks, not just from Christian and Muslim leaders but “liberal” and leftist Hindus. The very same people who go ballistic over “ghar wapsi”, are ferocious in defending the right of Christians and Muslims to convert Hindus to their respective faiths. Any attempt to restrict or ban conversions by these aggressive evangelicals — even when it involves rabid attacks against Hinduism — are condemned as an assault on fundamental rights of minorities and religious freedom promised in our Constitution. It doesn’t strike them that it is patently bizarre to deny Hindus the same measure of religious freedom that Christians and Muslims insist on having as their god-given right.

Their strategy is to constantly badger Hindu society and keep it on the defensive, so that their agenda of conversions can continue unchecked. On the one hand, human rights groups propped up by Christian missions continually attack the “social evils” allegedly inherent in Hindu faith and culture, which make it appear like a demonic force. On the other hand, they specialise in hysterical campaigns alleging that religions minorities are being crushed in India. They do not even hesitate to stage-manage attacks or convert minor thefts in churches as evidence of attacks on “hapless Christians”. 

The Modi government cannot afford to ignore this social, political and national security challenge. Continuing with the Congress’s open door policy of encouraging and facilitating evangelical groups will spell doom for India. Now that even Nepal has passed a law banning Christian missionaries from carrying out conversions, India should also draw strength and pass an all-India legislation to this effect.

(With Shantanu Kishwar)

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Forget the Cynics, the Odd-Even Scheme is a Necessary Step in the Fight Against Pollution

Given the chronic lack of political will, only citizens can eventually force changes in government policies by adopting saner and healthier lifestyles.

The poisonous smog that has enveloped Delhi and the NCR for days on end seems to have temporarily jolted Delhi citizens as well as Delhi Government out of its “chalta hai” attitude resulting in the announcement of modest remedial measures like reintroduction of Odd-Even Scheme introducing partial restrictions on plying of private cars.  If the air quality improves just a wee bit so that the poisons we inhale are not visible as during the thick smog days, all is likely to go back to business as usual and the media too will move on to other sensational issues. 

Last year, vested interests managed to discredit the Odd-Even Scheme by convincing people that it had zero impact on improving air quality during the period it was under experimentation despite the fact that most citizens found it useful and compliance rate was very high.  The negative publicity given to it in the media, forced the AAP government not only to withdraw the experiment but also put the entire issue on the backburner.  But this year, in a shocking move, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) first put the whole plan of action on hold by asking the AAP Government to first prove to NGT’s satisfaction that restrictions on use of cars is actually beneficial. 
Of the many thoughtless orders emanating from the NGT, this one is most perverse.  One expected NGT to demand serious implementation of Odd-Even along with additional measures because it has proved efficacious in other countries battling air pollution.  Just today, Mexico’s ambassador to India has written a lead article in one of our national papers detailing her country’s success in implementing multiple measures, including “Hoy No Circula” (a day without a car), adopted by Mexico City in improving its air quality. ( “Lessons from Mexico City: Series of steps needed to signal that life can’t go on as usual when air so toxic” The Indian Express, November 10, 2017).

A street cleaner works in heavy smog in Delhi, India, November 10, 2017. Credit: Reuters

Instead of following those leads, the NGT in a totally uncalled for move has discredited and nipped in bud the very idea of controlling the burgeoning numbers of motor vehicles in the city. For the record, the same NGT had banned cycle rickshaws from plying in many areas using the absurd argument that they cause pollution. This when manually pulled cycle-rickshaws are the most eco-friendly mode of short distance transport. They neither consume carbon fuels nor create noise pollution. Our organisation Manushi  which succeeded in getting a new policy and law in favour of eco friendly cycle rickshaws legitimized by the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India-- has had to battle NGT’s Tuglaqi farman in NGT’s court.

Within a day of stalling Odd-Even, the NGT took an about turn and asked Delhi governmentto go ahead with Odd-Even but without the proposed exemptions to two-wheelers and women drivers, given the concerns regarding safety of women. But as Delhi based women's organisation Jagori pointed out, most working women use public transport. Only a small percentage use own cars. They can easily switch over to cabs. As for two-wheelers, the Delhi government has argued that the existing public transport system cannot possibly handle the massive increase of users if use of two-wheelers is also rationed. But for this they have only themselves to blame since in the last three years they suffered total amnesia regarding their 2015 electoral promise to add 10,000 buses to the DTC fleet. So far not a single bus has been added to the DTC fleet. NGT is also right in accusing that none of their other orders regarding pollution control have been heeded thus far by AAP government.

Thanks to the ongoing tussles between Delhi government and NGT, the first half hearted measure proposed by Delhu government has now been shelved indefeinietly.
Odd-Even not a Magic Wand but...:It is not my case, that the Odd-Even Scheme is the proverbial magic wand that can solve the problem of air pollution in one stroke.  However, it was a significant first step to drive home the message that the government alone cannot handle handling this serious challenge and that it requires mass participation of citizens in more ways than one with each citizen contributing his/her bit to reduce the carbon footprint.
While in some domains, such as quality roads or power supply, the solution is largely in the hands of the government, combating environmental pollution has to be a collective resolve of both government and society.  The Odd-Even scheme is a way of making each citizen an active partner and stakeholder in the process of finding solutions to the foul air menace.  It is meant to make each of us understand that it involves daily discipline and willingness to make necessary sacrifices.
It defies comprehension how people came to the conclusion that Odd-Even Formula had zero effect on curbing pollution.  The reduction in the total number of vehicles meant far less traffic snarls. When cars move at a consistent speed instead of moving at snail space due to traffic jams, they emit far less fumes & consume less fuel.
If we want clean air, each one of us has to take the responsibility by making important life style changes.  This includes switching over to public transport, which will never improve unless elite groups of society begin to use it.  Our collective pressure will force the government to improve the quality and enhance the quantity and modes of public transport. Like many others of my class, I too was addicted to using my personal car for daily commutes.  But I am grateful to the short-lived Odd-Even experiment for having forced me to experience the benefits of using public transport.
Thanks to the continuing spread of Metro in Delhi plus steady growth of quality cab services provided by Uber and Ola, switching over to public transport is today not only possible but also more convenient and cost effective than using one’s own car.  For instance, for going to DLF Gurgaon from my house in Civil Lines, a car ride could take anything from 90 minutes to 2.5 hours depending on traffic.  But a Metro Ride in cool comfort does not take more than 60 minutes, that too at a fraction of the cost.
A man cleans dust from a school bus in heavy smog in Delhi, India, November 10, 2017. Credit: Reuters

My total monthly bill of cab rides comes to less than the salary I have to pay my driver.  On top of it private car use means hefty petrol bills, car servicing and repair charges, parking charges plus the hassle of finding parking space.  Driving in choked cities also means frequent dent and scratches on your vehicle by careless drivers.  Then there is the annual car insurance and recurring expense on minor and major repairs.  Add to it the lakhs it costs to buy a car.  The annual interest one can earn on the amount one spends on a luxury car is enough to pay for taxi bills for the whole year.
I have trained my driver to do other office jobs thus putting his time to more productive use than taking me from one meeting to another and sitting idly for hours in-between. Now I never ask him to drop or receive me at the airport because it is far cheaper to take an AC cab than have him drive 30 kms through choked roads to drive me back another 30 kms.  Think of the man-hours and fuel cost saved. Today, every time I avoid taking my car out, I feel I am contributing in a small way to improving air quality.
While many of my friends and acquaintances went ahead and bought an additional car to evade compliance and sabotage the very intent of Odd-Even Scheme, I actually postponed indefinitely the idea of replacing my ten year old car with a new one, especially since the existing vehicle is still in good shape and running fine.  Even after the government discontinued the Odd-Even Scheme, I began avoiding the use of my personal car. These days, for at least 8 out of 10 trips, I use the Metro, Uber or Ola.
Some argue that using cabs is no different from using personal cars since both are fuel dependent. Firstly, most cabs use CNG, which is less harmful than petrol or diesel. But more importantly, on an average, a personal car carries just one or two persons in a day whereas a cab ferries at least 50 persons every day. When we park our cars on roadsides or in parking lots, that space becomes dead for all other purposes for that many hours.  An office goer or shopkeeper leaves his/her car parked all day occupying scarce land resource in prime locations. Today, our cities are choking with parked cars. As a result there is no safe space for pedestrians. By contrast, a cab keeps moving all day carrying dozens of passengers in multiple trips. So it actually frees road space, especially for pedestrians.
 If access to radio taxis becomes increasingly easier by growth in their numbers then there would be less rationale for owning a personal vehicles. Delhi government had done well to issue a warning to radio taxi services that they cannot arbitrarily enhance changes using “rush hour” or high demand” of an excuse to up the rates and fleece passengers.  Enhanced use of cabs and autos will also provide much needed job opportunities to the huge army of unemployed in India.
Sadly, buying ever-new models of cars and owning multiple vehicles has become a status symbol. Many of my neighbors, friends & acquaintances with 4-5 adult members in the family own 8 to 10 cars.  I hope if the awareness about such thoughtful extravagance which is creating life threatening problems for all of us keeps growing, the day is not far when elite families will be as embarrassed about owning a large fleet of cars as they are today about bulging tummies, expanding waistlines and sporting multiple chins.
But the Government also needs to realize that Odd-Even can’t work as a stand-alone measure. The environmental challenge we face demands many more radical measures.  These include:
  • Much greater investment in high quality and adequate supply of public transport;
  • Ban on the manufacture of diesel vehicles and following Mexico’s example in procuring Zero Emission Buses plus commitment to actively promote fossil fuel free motor vehicles;
  • Charging hefty fee for parking cars on public spaces, not just during the day but also at night.  Today our commercial areas as well as housing colonies are choking with vehicles leaving no space for walking because there is no restriction or charge on parking as many cars as you want/own on the public roads, footpath and every possible public space.  If people have to pay heavy parking charges for occupying road space, not just in commercial areas but even in their own neighborhoods, they would think ten times before buying multiple cars;
  • Using cutting edge technology for garbage recycling, producing wealth out of waste rather than let mountains of garbage emit noxious fumes every minute of the day apart from the intermittent fires that engulf neighboring areas endangering survival of poor communities that live near these garbage dumps;
  • Controlling industrial emissions with strict monitoring and up gradation of technology. This would include shutting down industries that refuse to invest in controlling noxious fumes & poisonous effluents. We should not allow the palliative of moving hazardous industries out of Delhi. They have no business to exist anywhere;
  • Helping farmers in finding cost efficient ways of handling crop residue;
  • Finding ways to control dust pollution due to construction activity;
  • Mechanizing daily sweeping of roads instead of using brooms to simply move dirt and dust from one place to another;
  • Planting more trees, especially those varieties that combat air pollution & respecting the sanctity of green belts and protected forests instead of slyly letting encroachments to take place;
  • Redesigning roads with dedicated tracks for non-motorized vehicles such as bicycles and cycle rickshaws. These eco-friendly means of transport need to be encouraged. Instead they are being pushed out through police banning cycle rickshaw entry into large parts of the city. A large chunk of working class would gladly move back to cycling to their workplace if our roads provided safe tracks for cycling. This would reduce the excessive burden on public transport and save precious money on commutes for the working poor.
  • Providing safe sidewalks to enable citizens to do local shopping and run other errands around their neighborhood without needing a motor vehicle. Today walking has become such a high-risk venture due to absence of clear sidewalks that even for short distance errands people are forced to take out their cars.  Even in the upscale Civil Lines area I live, I am forced to use my car when I go to the local nature park for my morning or evening walk, which is no more than 8 minutes walk from my house—all because of the absence of proper sidewalks.  Kids of my neighborhood are sent to a nearby swimming pool in cars even though the pool is only 6 minutes walking distance all because walking along speeding motor vehicles or crossing roads is a life threatening exercise.  If we made our cities walking and cycle friendly, that would help reduce our dependence on motor vehicles at least for short distance commutes which ultimately adds up to a lot.

Given the chronic lack of political and administrative will in India it is we as citizens who will eventually need to force changes in government policies by adopting saner and healthier lifestyles. Be it a self-imposed Odd-Even, planting and protecting trees in our neighborhoods, or making sure construction takes place in a responsible, non-polluting manner, it is we who must become the change we want to see take place in India. Or else be ready to live sickly crippled lives.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Fetishizing Gender Equality to Destroy Diversity & Freedom of Faith

Taking the Sabarimala temple to court for restricting the entry of women of a certain age group is akin to meat-eaters suing vegetarian restaurants for discriminating against non-vegetarians by refusing to serve meat. Common sense response would be to say—‘Go find a non-veg restaurant, of which there are plenty’. Tomorrow, self-styled, ill-informed reformers might demand that Durga-Kali worship be stopped because it legitimizes violence or declare the worship of Shiv lingam as “obscene.”  This is not farfetched because politically motivated groups have been decrying Durga as a whore and Krishna as womanizer.  Therefore, they declare these deities are not worthy of reverence.

In any civilized society, gender equality is to be treated as one of the core values. However, with apologies to Faiz Ahmed Faiz, aur bhi gham hein zamane mein gender equality ke siwa”. There are many more important values a democracy must uphold while standing up for gender equality—certainly not make a fetish of women’s rights.

Other core values of our democracy & Indic civilization are respect for diversity among the enormous range of communities co-habiting in India with substantial differences (as well as commonalities) in matters of faith, cultural practices, value systems, family structure, dress codes, food habits & ways of relating to the world as well as the Divine. While the leftist-feminist reformers have no difficulty in respecting the rights of ‘religious minorities”—namely Muslims and Christians—to live by their own cherished cultural and faith traditions, when it comes to diverse Hindu groups, they consider it their divine right to dictate terms.

The unique grandeur of the Hindu faith lies in the fact that each group, each sect and each individual is free to envisage the Divine in whatever form, shape, and temperament that devotees like. That's how we have millions of Devis and Devatas with new ones taking avatar as and when the situation so demands or their devotees so desire. Practically every village in India has its own gram devi or devata. Our devis and devatas are not distant, unfathomable entities forever sitting in some distant god-land or heaven. They take avatar on earth to offer succour & comfort to those in need. In the process each one acquires distinct personality traits as well as preferences with regard to mode of worship.

Take the contrasting tastes of Ma Kali and Vaishnodevi, both of whom are manifestations of the same Shakti. While Vaishnodevi demands strict vegetarianism, animals are routinely sacrificed as offerings to Ma Kali. Lord Ganesh likes modak as prasad while Hanuman ji prefers boondi and Lord Shiva devotees offer milk and even bhang. Devotees of various deities do not begrudge the practices of others. This freedom has kept alive vibrant diversity in our faith traditions because they allow individuals and groups to define their relationship to the Divine according to their preferences.

It is the same freedom which allowed Manushi to invoke ten armed Ma Swachhnarayani, as our isht devi.She wields ten different non-traditional weapons that include a broom as symbol of cleansing society of corruption, weighing balance to symbolise social justice, a calculator that demands honest accounts of government, and a video camera that points to the need for an accurate grasp of ground realtity for those engaged in social reform. (For Swachhnarayani aarti click here). No Hindu has ever questioned or protested against the powers we attribute to our Isht devi or our mode of worship that includes jhadu puja.

The Hindu faith has thus remained amongst the most liberal in the world, with different groups and individuals exercising the right to relate to the Divine in whatever way they wish, without insisting that others must follow their chosen path.

Even the most conservative among Hindus don’t insist on uniformity of beliefs and practices. This spontaneous, mutual respect for differences in ways of being, ways of worship, singing, dancing, clothing, cooking and so on, is what enabled the rich diversity of India to survive through millennia. But in the name of equality rabid feminists can’t stomach such freedom and liberalism.

Traditional Hindu temples are run by different sects with each choosing a particular deity in a particular form as their isht dev or devi. They’re not meant as tourist spots for all to come & go as they please.  If you don’t respect the unique temperament of that deity or find beliefs of a particular sect offensive, you are free to opt for the devata or devi that suits your taste.  There are lakhs of others to choose from.

Just as our colonial rulers with their faith in the superiority of their monotheistic faith, despised Hindu religious practices, with their millions of gods and goddesses, our modern day missionaries can’t stand the temperamental nuances of our diverse deities. They have no problem in accepting that women are barred inside friaries meant to house Catholic priests who have taken a vow of celibacy. But they can’t stomach the idea of a Hindu deity who has vowed eternal celibacy which involves avoiding the company of young women. They take it upon themselves to cure this kink because their feminist indoctrination interprets it as misogny and gender discrimination!  They choose to ignore that it is only one or two temples in all of India where women of certain age groups are denied entry whereas there are several ‘women-only’ temples where males are denied entry.

As far as the issue of gender justice is concerned, the Hindu faith can hardly be considered anti-women, considering it is the only faith that worships the feminine as Shakti--the mighty force that moves the universe. Male deities are powerless without feminine Shakti from whom various devatas derive their strength.

When I find the case against Sabarimala frivolous, it is not to suggest that Hindu faith traditions are writ in stone and unchanging. Devotees reserve the right to change their dharmic practices as well as demand improved behavior by their chosen deities as per the requirements of changing times. That is how we have countless re-writings of Ramayanas in different ages with each one interpreting Ram in their own way and many even improving upon Valmiki's depiction of Ram’s conduct in various ways, especially his abandoning Ma Sita even after she had gone through an uncalled for agni pariksha or the deceit involved in the killing of Baliraja.  But it doesn’t behove non-believers or hostile attackers of Hindu faith to impose their fads and sensibilities on groups who don’t share their worldview, especially if their practices don’t impact, leave alone harm the non-devotees.  A genuine devotee has the right to demand change but not politically motivated hateful critics.

Ironically, the flag bearers of women’s equality don’t seem to have any problem with special compartments reserved for women in trains. Most of them insist on our parliament enacting a law to reserve 33% constituencies for women whereby males are barred from contesting from those seats. They’re not satisfied with laws that promise equality. They insist on legislation that is unjustly loaded in favor of women.  You can’t have it both ways – Fetishize equality when it suits you and insist on special concessions and previliges as per your dictates.

It is ironical that the Supreme Court has entertained this petition at a time when Hindu groups are already in the Apex Court demanding that Hindu temples be freed from statist controls whereby ruling parties in every state have the power to appoint their political flunkeys as well as favoured bureaucrats and politicians to Management Boards of all major shrines and dharmasthans. This power has mostly been used to control and siphon off the enormous loads of money that devotees offer to these temples. The government of India dare not take such liberties with running of mosques and churches.

While delivering its judgement, the Supreme Court should keep in mind that none among the devotees of Sabarimala have come to court demanding changed rules. It’s only hostile and motivated outsiders who are using the fig leaf of gender equality to push their partisan agendas.

Madhu Kishwar

Madhu Kishwar
इक उम्र असर होने तक… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …اک عمر اثر ہونے تک

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