Indian violence linked to colonization

  • November 7, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - The roots of the recent anti-Christian violence in India have some links to the early missionary work of Christians in the country, says a British scholar of Christianity in India.

“The behaviour of the Europeans was seen as abhorrent by the population of southern India. Converting people was also seen as abhorrent,” said Anglican Rev. Paul Collins, an associate professor of theology at England’s University of Chichester, at an Oct. 30 lecture at the University of St. Michael’s College.
This could explain why Christians, including the late Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, have been targeted in recent months.

So far, about 57 people have been killed in the Indian eastern state of Orissa and 40,000 displaced in anti-Christian violence which erupted in late August. Extremist Hindu nationalist groups have suspected Christians of murdering a Hindu priest, even though a Maoist group in India claimed responsibility for the killing.

Entitled “Whose clothes shall we borrow? Christian inculturation in India today,” Collins’ lecture explored the beginnings of early Christianity in India, starting with the arrival of Fr. Roberto de Nobili, S.J., in the south.

Nicknamed the “White Brahman,” de Nobili dressed as a Hindu and tried to interact with the people through their culture. Over the years, the Kerala state where de Nobili settled became a predominantly Christian area. The current violence has been mainly contained in Orissa.

Collins also told an audience of more than 20 people that de Nobili was the first European to be taught the Indian language of Sanskrit.

But while de Nobili embraced the local culture, including building a church to emulate the Indian style, his decision to associate with the Brahmans, Indians who belonged to the highest caste in the country, proved to be controversial. By associating with the high ranking Brahman, also known as the priestly Hindu caste, the country’s historical caste system forbade him from interacting with Indians in the lowest caste, the Dalits or the “untouchables.”

Collins said that Hindu-Christian conflicts aren’t new in India, but these conflicts have now become more “explicitly violent.”

Even so, Collins said Christians have lived peacefully with other religions in the country. For instance, Christians in Kerala, a southern Indian state, “lived happily side by side with Hindus and Muslims for centuries,” he told The Register.

“When violence happens, it happens in the extreme form. But most of the time, people are tolerant of one another,” Collins said.

“Even if they don’t mix socially, they’re not antagonistic.”

Fr. Henry Alba, a Toronto School of Theology student who is originally from Mangalore, India, told The Register after the lecture that the Hindu-Christian conflict has anti-Western undertones. Christianity has been seen as a symbol of the West and not of India.

“That feeling is more and more amplified now by these fundamentalist groups,” Alba said.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an Oct. 15 letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, expressed “grave concerns” over the situation in India and asked the Canadian government to urge the government of India to use its influence in protecting Christians and providing assistance.

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