by Andy Freeman
Having just returned from shooting documentary footage in Northeast India, I am acutely aware of the dangers and violence taking place in several regions there. Thankfully, I filmed in Misoram, a majority Christian state in India where billboards remind citizens that true Christianity is shown by loving your neighbor, no matter their religion.
Compare the tolerance of the Indian state of Misoram with the nearby state of Orissa. Today’s London Times reports that Christian Aid workers in Orissa identified a bounty program being run by Hindu extremists to assassinate pastors and torch churches. Weapons and gasoline are even provided to those willing to commit these heinous acts in the name of Hinduism.
67 Christians have been killed and countless homes and church destroyed by Hindu terrorism. Over ten thousand Christians are now living in refugee camps in the district of Kandamal; fearing if they return home they will be forced to convert to Hinduism or be murdered.
This religious campaign of terrorism is the result of the assasination of a hardline Hindu Swami: Lakshmanananda Saraswati. The Swami had been outspoken against Christian missionaries outreach and evangelization of impoverished Hindus.
His self-identified killers are a group Maoist militants. Yet Hindu extremists blamed Christians and acted with bloodthirsty vengence against innocent people. Now Christians have been warned if the killers of Saraswati are not caught by December 15 the Hindu terrorists will kill more Christians on December 25.
Local Catholic bishops believe all these actions are a “preplanned masterplan to wipe out Christianity from Kandhamal. . . establishing a Hindu nation.”
Keep in mind that India’s culture is historically based on a caste system. While discrimination based on caste has been officially barred for years, it survives outside of major cities.Those who live at the bottom of the caste ladder have responded in greatest numbers to the gospel message. By becoming Christian they discover equality among fellow believers that eludes them in rural Indian society.
Hindu extremists manage to prey on the fears of fellow Hindus point to Christians as a dangerous group whose open faith is changing Indian culture. This is nothing more than a straw man argument in a state where Christians are a peaceful minority.
The real question to be raised is how far have these Hindu extremists strayed from the teachings of their religion and its greatest leader, Mahatma Ghandi? The question requires two answers.
If Ghandhi were living, he would vehemently protest these extremists. His hallmark was change through non-violence
to gain the independence of India from Britain – for the liberation of Indians of every religion and no religion at all.
His credo was clear when he stated: “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no cause that I am prepared to kill for.”
While he remained a faithful Hindu, Ghandi learned much from the teachings of Jesus Christ and applied these truths vigorously throughout his leadership of the Indian people toward independence. In her book, “Ghandi: the Man,” Millie Pollak points out how Christ’s Sermon on the Mount were a constant inspiration and source of quotation for Ghandi and a portrait of Christ hung over the desk where he worked.
The second answer requires considering teachings in the Hindu holy book, the Bhagvad Gita and how they can easily be misused.
No doubt they are quite different in their message than the one that Mahatma Ghandhi preached. Consider the setting of the story about to be quoted is war and the warrior Arjuna is struggling with his reasons for fighting and conquering his enemies. Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) tells Arjuna:
“O Arjuna, how can a person who knows that the Spirit is indestructible, eternal, unborn, and immutable, kill anyone or causes anyone to be killed? (2.21)”
“O Arjuna, the Spirit that dwells in the body of all beings is eternally indestructible. Therefore, you should not mourn for anybody.” (2.30)
One can see how easily this type of philosphy can be used to justify religious killings or any other type of killing. If one believes the spirit is reincarnated, they are coming back anyway. As an extremist you are performing an act of justice and providing the spirit another chance to return and get their life right next time.
Krishna goes on to tell Arjuna:
“Considering also your duty as a warrior you should not waver like this. Because there is nothing more auspicious for a warrior than a righteous war.” (2.31)
“You will go to heaven if killed on the line of duty, or you will enjoy the kingdom on the earth if victorious. Therefore, get up with a determination to fight, O Arjuna.” (2.37)
If terrorizing and killing non-Hindus is presented as a righteous war, you are coherced into violence; otherwise you lose honor and end up a coward and outcast. But the benefits of righteous fighting include heaven if you are killed in action or the spoils of victory here on earth. This type of teaching is comparable to the Koranic teaching used to drive Islamic extremists to violent acts against non-Muslims.
So, these Hindu extremists face a gaping disconnect between the teachings of a modern Hindu leader like Ghandi who declared:
“My position is that it does not matter what faith you practice, as long as the soul longs for truth.” This belief is no longer being lived out among the Hindus of Orissa as they rape, burn and murder those who do not match their brand of religion.
Instead, easily swayed Hindus are steered to violence by thoughts of righteous war and the warning from Krishna to Arjuna:
“If you will not fight this righteous war, then you will fail in your duty, lose your reputation, and incur sin.” (2.33)
When we pause to consider that Mahatma Ghandi was killed by a former member of a Hindu extremist faction, we know
our prayers and political action must be vigorous on behalf of Christian believers and the leaders of the nation of India.
Jesus called us to love our enemies and pray for those who despitefully use us. I’m sure is far easier to cite these truths living in America than caught in the midst of religious violence.
Ghandi’s words echo loudly when we consider all these troubles within India, as well as Africa, the Middle East and so many parts of our world: “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”