Threats, brazen assaults and a storm of misinformation against Christians have accompanied the Hindutva campaign which culminated in the passage of the anti-conversion bill by the BJP government in the Karnataka assembly on Thursday, December 23. Community leaders say that 2021 has seen the worst attacks of the decade against Christians across the country and not just in Karnataka.
Even without the looming threat of attacks and misguided laws, the act of shedding oneās religion of birth and adopting a new faith has never been easy in a country like India where religion is the primary glue that holds families and communities together.
Amid hate campaigns accusing missionaries of bribing people to convert, we decided to go into the community. We spoke to both people who adopt and spread the Bible to understand what it means to be born again as a Christian, to profess a faith that could cost them their lives.
Pastor Lucas Navathi, Chikkaballapura, Karnataka
When I was a child, in front of my house in D-Palya in Gauribidanur, Chikkaballapura, there was a small temple. The upper castes in my village claimed that my family (belonging to the Madiga community, classified as Scheduled Castes) had washed plates near their temple compound. I realised then that even if we go about living our lives in peace, we will be seen as a problem.
A few years later, I was finishing my PUC when Pastor Michael from my village introduced me to the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. I then completed a Bachelor of Theology course in the Theological College in Kolar. Even today, when I conduct prayer meetings on Sundays, I read out these two verses from the Bible.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
In the last few months, they (RSS supporters) are routinely coming to our prayer halls with 30-40 people. They abuse the women and hit the pastors during prayers. The prayer we conduct on Sundays is a time of peace in our week. We donāt speak about other Gods at the time.
I want to share what happened with Pastor KA John, 65, in Rajanakunte, Bengaluru on November 14. There were policemen present when his prayer meeting was disrupted. The prayer hall was vandalised, cement sheet demolished, chairs thrown around. This was done at the behest of the BJP MLA Vishwananth and Hindu Jagarana Vedike leader Rajanna. This man has a previous case against him from 2017 when he disrupted another Christian prayer meeting.
These prayer meetings are a time when believers of the Church gather on their own volition. Songs are sung and Bible verses are read out. It is misinformation that these are prayer meetings aimed at converting people. It is a space where people feel a sense of belonging.
But it is difficult for people like me to see these meetings being disrupted by Hindutva groups and the police, and in some cases it is the pastor who is charged with a case.
Freedom of religion is disturbed due to this law coming into effect. Even before the law came into effect, there were false cases with IPC 295 A against pastors. We see that in these cases the police and Hindutva groups are working together to target Christians during prayer meetings. With the passing of this law, such cases will only increase and this environment of fear will only worsen.
Elia Bakka, pastor at Euyministries from Telangana
My father, who is from the Madiga community (classified as Scheduled Caste), had first converted to Christianity. He was working in the Postal department. He had a divine calling, and he followed his heart. Following in his footsteps, I too embraced Christianity. I find peace in my faith. The teachings in our religious literature make me humble and human.
Though I face threats for being a pastor who visits several places holding a Bible, I do not fear them. Several of my fellow pastors have faced attacks, harassment and intimidation because of our preachings. I have fought for them and I realise that the threat is very real, but the teachings of the Bible make me overlook these and forgive the people who want to hurt us. These are the teachings that I advocate and practise too.
The right-wing people often use Dalits, people from our own community, to file cases against us. These people are our brothers. The right-wing folks create a conflict between us. We can only hope for a change of heart. And it is our responsibility to preach. Nobody is forcing people to adopt a faith. They have a choice.
Late Reverend ST Paul Gnaniah, Chennai, Tamil Nadu (as told by his granddaughter Rhoda)
My grandfather belonged to an extremely staunch but poor Hindu Nadar family, they are still Hindus and we now have a good relationship with them. They used to do ākuthagaiā work, that is till village ponds that have nearly gone dry. When he was 15, my grandfather was sent to a missionary school in Thoothukudi where he was drawn to Christianity. Once when his father came to visit him, he found his son sitting in church. Enraged, he beat him up so badly that my grandfather bled from the head. Another relative who was also embracing Christianity gave my grandfather refuge.
From what Iāve heard from other family members, my grandfather was even tied up and beaten but he remained steadfast. He has written extensively on conversion and its impact both within and outside. Later, whenever there was a function among his Hindu relatives, heād still respect the occasion and be present each time. He wouldnāt worship the gods, but though he was a presbyter heād quietly stand along with them.
One incident I remember clearly from when I was a child happened when weād gone to visit him. He took me out somewhere, in an Ambassador car. On the way we passed another child of my age on the road. She seemed quite poor. He pointed her out to me and said, not disparagingly but matter of factly, that my life would have been the same as hers had he not found the missionaries.
Dr Rajkumar, Logos Ministries
I was a Hindu (Brahmin) until the age of 27. At that point I wanted to know god. I knew about god, but I wanted to know him personally. I was seeking that in my heart. When I got a job at Siemens, Bangalore, a colleague of mine told me that the only way to heaven was through Jesus. I didn't like what he said, so I bought a Bible for myself with the sole intention of proving to him that there are many ways of going to heaven. But at the same time I also thought that if there was even a 1% chance that what he said was true, I wanted to know it.
I said my prayers to Hindu gods and I also said a new prayer that if you Jesus Christ are the only living god, let me know. If it is not so also let me know. After that, everyday I used to read the Bible. I started with the Gospel according to St John. That time was between me and god, nobody else. I started liking the Bible, started liking the teachings of Jesus.
When I came to chapter 14, it was the sixth verse that touched me: āI am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through meā. The way. The life. Not a way or life. That verse changed my life. I continued to read the Bible for one year. Iād pose a question in my mind to god and forget about it, but heād remind me of my question by giving me an answer through a verse. On May 25, 1980, through a simple prayer, I accepted Christ into my heart.
With inputs from Prajwal Bhat, Balakrishna Ganeshan and Bharathy Singaravel