Growing up in Calcutta in the 1970s, one of my favorite annual rituals was going to the New Market – the city’s most upscale mall at the time – a few days before Christmas to pick out a Christmas tree. Christmas. There were loads of artificial Christmas trees on display, and my mom and I spent a lovely hour or two choosing one. We would also choose decorations to go with it: glittering gold and silver stars and bells, shiny green wreaths, little red plastic berries and, of course, a cheerful red and white Santa Claus figure to place at the base of the the tree with tufts of white cotton to simulate snow. My mom and I decorated the tree, her with almost as much enthusiasm as I did, and there would be a “special” Christmas lunch at home – not necessarily with roast turkey – but always ended with a pudding of A rich and fruity Christmas that Mom had made.
Although I come from a Hindu family, we celebrated Christmas with as much enthusiasm as our multiple pujas for our multiple Hindu gods and goddesses and all the religious and cultural traditions associated with them. If listening to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s Chandipaath at dawn on All India Radio was a must in Mahalaya (on the first day of Devi paksha), so were the Christmas carols sung by Jim Reeves at Christmas (the long-running record at home often play in a loop that day); whether sitting down for a bhog feast in a relative’s family at Durga Puja, or sitting in my mother’s heavenly pithey and nolen gurer payesh at Makar Sankranti, were much anticipated culinary events, as were stuff the face with plum pudding on Christmas or with the biryani and seviyan that daddy’s muslim friend sent us on Eid day.
And we weren’t the only celebration agnostic family that I knew. Most of my mostly Hindu friends and relatives participated in cultural activities associated with other religions. And it was done without much thought – not for a noble and politically correct principle, but simply because we enjoyed the Christmas and Eid festivities as much as our Hindu religious and cultural rites. The inclusiveness was as natural as the breathing and as instinctive.
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At the convent school I attended, they were asked to go to the chapel every day, to sing Christian hymns and to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Neither I nor any of my classmates converted to Christianity as a result. Our parents never feared that we would. We sang a reverent “How Great Thou Art,” or “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the morning chapel, and went home and maybe prayed to the goddess Saraswati to give us a helping hand. annual reviews. One did not exclude the other and neither were they considered to be in disagreement. Rather, they went together, along with countless other influences, to form his cultural identity as an Indian and a citizen of the world.
So how did things change so drastically? How did Christianity, Christians and Christmas Day itself become the object of the violent hatred that they are now? The past week has been a lesson in how far we’ve come from when Christmas was just another joyous occasion in India’s crowded festival calendar.
This Christmas, members of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu fundamentalist group, burned effigies of Santa Claus in Agra. Leading the charge against the mythical figure of Father Christmas, aka Father Christmas, the adorable and fictitious bearer of gifts for children, Ajju Chauhan, regional secretary general of Bajrang Dal, thundered: “As December arrives, Christian missionaries become active in the name of Christmas, Santa Claus and New Years. They attract children by having them distribute gifts by Santa Claus and attract them to Christianity. “
That was not all. On Christmas Eve, right-wing disbelievers allegedly broke into a church in Pataudi in Haryana and disrupted prayers by shouting “Jai Shri Ram” slogans; in Silchar, Assam, Bajrang Dal members ended Christmas celebrations at a church, saying they would not let Hindus participate in the proceedings. Christmas celebrations were also disrupted at a school in Gurgaon. And on Sunday, unknown people desecrated the Church of the Holy Redeemer in the Ambala district of Haryana.
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All of this comes in the wake of frequent attacks on Christian prayer meetings in Karnataka, a state that recently passed an anti-conversion bill.
Raising the scarecrow that the church lures Hindus into its fold has become an effective ploy to stir up hatred against Christians. This is no different from how Muslims have been tempted to be demonized – projecting them as intending to slaughter cows (raised to an unprecedented level of sacredness) or forcibly marry women. Hindu girls.
Clearly, the majority Hindu muscle flexion, which has been on the rise since the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in 2014, is widening its target area. Call it the inclusiveness of hate, the discovery of ever newer enemies upon which the majority anger can spark and feed. The Hindutva ideology is based on the paradoxical conviction that while Indian Hindus are powerful in their majority status, they are also subject to a serious existential threat from Muslims and Christians (who respectively constitute 14.2% and 2.3% of the country’s population, according to the latest figures available).
And as in the case of Muslims, attacks against Christians are also subtly validated by the ruling power. On Christmas Day, for example, the Home Office refused to renew the authorization for Missionaries of Charity (MoC), an organization created by Mother Teresa, to receive funds from foreign donors under the Law on regulation of foreign contributions. All MoC bank accounts were also reportedly frozen. The message, especially at Christmas, could not have been clearer.
The MoC has, of course, long been accused of making conversions. But let’s remember that proselytizing is part of Christianity. And let us also remember that no matter how many people have converted to the Christian faith in recent years, it has made no difference to the percentage of Christians in the total population of India.
But fanatics do not deal with reason and logic. Hatred is their only fodder and their only raison d’être. The scattered incidents of attacks on Christians are now gaining strength and merging into a targeted assault. Much is lost in this toxic flood. Particularly the feeling that you were once part of a culture which possessed and celebrated a multiplicity of religious traditions and lived the principle of pluralism in your daily life.
As an even more turbulent and pandemic-ravaged year draws to a close, we wish for a new year where we can begin to chart the course to reclaim this lost world.
(Shuma Raha is journalist and author)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.