Dr. Asangba Tzudir
“We want to stop [the statue], since it goes against the spirit of communal harmony and encourages religious conversions which is rampantly carried out by Christian missionaries.” As reported in Aljazeera, this was told by Prabhakar Bhat, a top RSS functionary. This came in the wake of the protests against the planned Christ statue in the southern state of Karnataka’s Ramanagara district which was led by far-right RSS with its members clutching saffron flags.
Construction of the 114-feet high white granite statue, which is slightly shorter than the Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer, was stopped soon after it started due to objections. Many Hindus believe that the hill where the statue is set to stand in the Christian-dominated village of Harobele is the Abode of a Hindu deity, although no temple exists there. The BJP-run state government accused the previous Congress party of ‘illegally’ allotting the plot of land.
The state of Karnataka witnessed a wave of attacks on Christians and Churches in 2008. Even last year a group of Christian pilgrims were attacked. There has been routine discrimination including the banning of a festival to commemorate a Muslim King who fought the British East India Company.
The move towards remoulding India as a ‘Hindu Nation’ is attested by the surge in crimes against its religious minorities. Though the Government rejected the report, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom said that religious freedom was on a “downward trend” in India.
While the current religiously loaded controversial Citizenship Amendment Act boasts of giving citizenship to religiously persecuted Christians and some others from neighbor countries, yet a statue of Jesus Christ is disallowed at the same time. In spite of Christianity bringing a colonizing effect, ‘Christ’ is being decolonized.
The Christ statue episode in Karnataka is one of the many instances. In one of the latest decolonizing move which have really hurt the sentiments of the Christians across India is the Defence Ministry removing the popular Christian hymn, “Abide with me” from the list of the beating retreat, a martial music ceremony held on January 29 every year marking the end of Republic day celebrations. The hymn written in the 19th Century by Scottish poet Henry Francis Lyte and believed to be a favorite of Mahatma Gandhi was a part of the beating retreat ceremony since 1950. The plan is to replace this popular Christian hymnal with Vande Mataram.
Though the government is yet to come out with an official notification, officials have claimed that the emphasis is more on Indian tunes and that they keep on changing the tunes every year to bring ‘freshness’ to the beating retreat. Christian revival songs were popularly played by Assam Rifles Band party at one point of time especially during republic day celebrations are also heard no more.
Christians, like the Jews, who for Hitler were considered akin to certain animal, are slowly being stripped of the Christian identity markers through violence, marginalization, and discrimination by way of ‘politics of imaging’ as attested by the latest episodes where Christ is being decolonized. Religious minorities like Christians seem to be heading towards a ‘people without an identity’ within the project of building India into a Hindu Rashtra.
Taking stock of the removal of the hymn from the beating retreat ceremony, a campaign like message is being circulated in social media calling on Churches across India to sing the Hymn “Abide with Me” during the devotional service on 26th January being a Sunday. It is a good move for the Christian community to sing and “Abide with Christ Jesus” at a time when Christians are being discriminated.
(Dr. Asangba Tzudir contributes a weekly guest editorial to The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org)