Our newspapers would have you believe that the crusade against Christians has begun in earnest. Yes, this is the final putsch the Hindus had been waiting for. Except that it is the Church and not the Reichstag that is on fire. Well, put that down to the vagaries of new-age fascism.
There’s no other way of saying this. It is not – as a popular tyre ad suggests – the streets that are filled with idiots but, rather, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its government. They are drunk on power, plucking grapes one by one with their glistening dentures while the nation, fed on half-baked truths and misinformation, seethes with anger. This same bunch of cerebrally-challenged sycophants think nothing of spending hundreds of crores of our money on ridiculous, nonsensical newspaper ads that eulogise their saviour, the lord god Narendra Modi, but when it comes to sensitising the public with facts, data, analysis, statistics, they shy away like a shivering cat in a downpour.
The result is that our newspapers and news channels are now certain the very existence of Christians in India is under threat. Not a day goes by without an op-ed, or a news report, or indeed an interview, suggesting that three per cent of Indians feel aggrieved, threatened and un-Indian.
Established heroes have suddenly turned Christian from what they were before – Indian. This is what faulty, misinformed journalism can do – it can make you feel angry, alone, victimised, claustrophobic – it can make your head reel like that frightening, spiralling musical interlude in The Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life”, which fittingly begins with the line, “I read the news today, oh boy.”
While anger multiplies and Indians are divided into Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs all over again, our government is more than happy watching this spectacle from a distance. They can, if they want to, easily provide facts and figures to counter this gross fallacy, but they’d rather not.
This bunch of lazy, up-to-no-good emperors of the twilight would rather spend money on hideous ads than on hundreds of fact-checkers and fact-diggers who could furnish eye-opening information in half a day. This is how governments fail, this is how they are ground to dust. The battle of perception is the first of the battles that is lost; what follows soon after is total defeat and surrender.
It is not the objective of this article to delve into the reasons why the media is deliberately fanning the flames of falsehood – that Indian Christians are being victimised. There are other voices that have commented on this aspect; many others have fallen victim to nefarious conspiracy theories. This is not about ghar wapsi or evangelical conversions, forced or otherwise. Christians are not here to take over India, and neither are Hindus or, for that matter, atheists. This is one nation and it shall remain so whatever its nationals might think from time to time. There is no evil design by anyone, least of all Christians.
What must be countered is the misconception that is spreading like a bushfire. It has reached such levels that it is no longer enough for Narendra Modi to comfort the minority, he must now comfort the majority – that feels frustrated, victimised, assaulted daily with charges of voting democratically for a man whose government has now gone to work on dismantling the plurality of India, or of living in a totalitarian state where his Christian brothers are made to hide under the table like Anne Frank.
Suddenly, it is as though 40 million Christians have removed themselves from the rest 1.2 billion. So a Christian victim of crime is no longer an Indian victim of crime? Do we want every crime to henceforth be segregated into subsets, and the Christian subset be preferentially reported?
Forget reassuring Christians, Mr Modi, reassure Hindus first. Reassure them with facts and figures, reassure them that your government still has the capability to read national crime data and make sense of it, reassure them that crime does not have a religion and that if it did, the Hindus would be up in arms against it in the same way the Christians are right now.
Out of hundreds of newspapers, only one has had the good sense to put the so-called church attacks in perspective. The New Indian Express’ Sunday Standard that has this to say in its last paragraph: “Delhi Police admitted to a spurt in crime against religious places but mostly of the Hindus and Sikhs. Data since 2012 indicates 36 and 69 theft cases at temples were reported in 2012 and 2013. Similarly, only 19 theft cases were registered against gurdwaras in 2012 and 2013, which substantially rose to 30 cases in 2014. Three mosques were targeted by burglars in 2012-13, increasing in 2014 to 14 thefts. The 325 temples were looted by thieves between 2013 and 2015 in Delhi.”
Such a perspective should have been provided at the end of every report on the Church attacks, for what it does is calm nerves, leaving it to the readers to make a considered judgment on the church attacks and not fool them into marching out on to the streets breathing fire and thinking their very existence is threatened. By including that small paragraph at the end, The New Indian Express achieved something rare in Indian journalism – balance and perspective.
Unfortunately, this is not something that can be said of the old Indian Express that blatantly fed a lie to its readers and then tried to correct it under the cover of darkness.
There’s more. The Caravan, in its leading article on the church attacks, establishes through witness testimonies that the fire in one of the churches – St Sebastian Church – was more an accident than anything: “The St Sebastian Church in Tahirpur, next to the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital near Dilshad Garden in east Delhi, was burned down in the wee hours of 1 December 2014. By the time fire tenders arrived, a little after 7 am in the morning, the altar and the main hall had been reduced to ashes. I spoke to two guards in the vicinity, Peter – a guard at St Sebastian church who is on afternoon duty – and Ravi – a guard from an adjacent church – who said that they did not believe that it was arson. They both asserted that there had never been any communal tensions related to the church in the neighbourhood. Both of them proceeded to take me through the interiors of the church, as they explained that the fire had probably started in one of the rooms on either side of the altar, in which a lot of the church’s clothes, candles and other important objects were stored after mass the previous evening. They claimed that the guard on morning duty had not been present when the building caught fire, and by the time he unlocked the main door—the only door that was locked from the outside—the fire had already spread to the ante room and reached the plywood altar. The case is being investigated by the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch and they haven’t yet announced whether or not this incident was an act of arson. However, a day after the incident, the Hindu reported that a can of kerosene had been found on the second floor by the police during their investigation. However, Peter told me that he kept a can of diesel on the second floor for the generator, which was on the roof.”
And yet The Caravan gives the article headline a communal flavour, “Pre-Poll Communal Violence in Delhi, Part II: Why the Multiple Attacks on Delhi Churches are a Cause for Concern”.
Another church attack was investigated by Newslaundry not too long ago, and it was found to be most likely a case of theft. An excellent article in Firstpost by Rupa Subramanya tries to point out the fallacies in giving these attacks a communal colour. But such articles can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Truth be told, the media has made up its mind and is now making sure the Christians do too. Nothing can be more tragic.
What does the government do amid all this? Ask its hopelessly smug spokespersons to bleat out clichéd denials and weather-beaten polemic? Sit tight and hope something worse will come along?
The government can do what it hasn’t done so far. Visit the National Crime Records Bureau website, dig out the nationwide data relating to attacks on places of worship; find out how many temples and mosques were attacked and vandalised in India over the past decade; sift through 33,201 homicide, 9,357 arson, 3,72,622 theft, and 33,707 sexual assault cases; discover how many priests and maulvis were murdered or assaulted; comb the 26,47,722 Indian Penal Code charges to discover the number of cases against priests and pandits; find out if the numbers are more than the incredible 30,252 property-related hate crimes reported in 2012 in the USA; determine whether the figures are more than the mind-boggling 2,63,540 violent hate-crime cases reported in 2012 in the USA.
Then, this lazy, incompetent sarkari lot should hand over the data to an ad agency and commission a full-page ad in all the major newspapers – just the data, just the statistics, nothing else – no smiling mug-shots or cringe-worthy eulogies to their Moses. Can our government do that?
It is too much to expect. They do not care what the public thinks, of how the Hindus and the Muslims more than the Christians are feeling let-down and victimised by the biased, selective, and deliberate misreporting. This government knows – they know they are here till 2019 and no power on earth can shake them from their slumber till then.