Religious Liberty in Contemporary India

by Sathianathan Clarke

Sathianathan Clarke, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Ethics, United Theological College, Bangalore, India.

This paper was presented in a less detailed and systematic form at a national consultation on "Religious Liberty and Human Rights" in Bangalore organized by the National Council of Churches of India. It appeared as an article in the ecumenical review, Vol. 52, No. 4, October 2000, p. 479-489 (World Council of Churches, 150 Route de Ferney, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland.) This version was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


The ideological model of a monolithic and homogenized India, which fueled the Indian national movement and still fuels contemporary Hindu nationalism, is an extension of Western colonialism. Christian mission must not adopt the ideology of the colonialists, as the Hindu nationalists have done. It will be most true to its Lord by proclaiming the gospel confidently, but in a way that respects the human right to be religiously different.

India is not a nation but a complex secular civilization. Its demography tells part of its impressive story. The 687.6 million Hindus of innumerable sects, 101.6 million Muslims (making India the third largest Muslim-populated country), 19.6 million Christians, 6.3 million Buddhists, 3.3 million Jams and 3.1 million people of other persuasions (according to the 1991 census) reminds us of the many splendoured diversity of our subcontinent (Rajeev Dhavan).

It was 5 a.m. on a Friday morning in Bangalore, India, many months ago. I was awakened by the familiar call from the mosque across from our apartment: "Allah 0 Akbar" it cried out, to remind me that God is ruler of all. I had begun to allow this call to remind me, a Christian, that God would be in control of everything through that day. This Muslim message never disturbed me; on the contrary, it made me religiously reflective and contemplative. But on that morning the mosque had its competitors. The Christian church on my street was having a convention. They wanted the community to be aware of their faith affirmation too. A lyric screeched out from a conical loudspeaker: "Jesus calls", it beckoned with much music and some noise. In a few moments the local chapter of the Shahiri malai devotees (a popular Hindu movement) joined in with their Bhajans (hymns of praise and devotion). They too would not be left behind -- and it seemed that they had managed to hire the most powerful amplifier. "Swami Sharanam Ayyappa" ("refuge in you, Lord Ayyappa") they sang with gusto to the rhythmic thudding of drums and clanging cymbals.

What had promised to be a strong though soothing call to remember the Creator turned into a grating experience. The harmony of spirituality was transformed into a cacophony because each religion sought to overpower the other’s call. And then in my imagination I thought I heard another sound join this cacophonous chorus of competing religions. The dogs in the street could not resist howling in response to the divergent voices! Ironically, that which claims to evoke the noblest in the human soul had, in practice, awakened the most animalistic of instincts. In contemporary India religions are manifesting a disturbing tendency to intimidate one another, and the public arena in all its political, economic, social and cultural diversity is becoming the theatre of these less-than-friendly encounters.

In this essay I deal with the public face of religion, particularly in the interaction between Christianity and Hinduism, attempting to understand how religion is "used" in the public domain in India. This involves historical interpretation but I am primarily interested in discerning models of interaction between different religious identities which have implications for us in India far beyond the historical. I trace the manner in which colonialism utilized religion to homogenize India, noting what emerges from the colonialists’ encounter with India: the capacity to construct a unitary and grand geo-political entity with an essential Hindu core. I also unpack the Christian theological presuppositions influencing this imperialist agenda: Christ incarnates into pluri-form reality in order to initiate the process of moving towards one organic wholeness. Secondly, I link the nationalist movement with colonialist ideology. Even if the nationalist awakening is understood as a counter-movement against the imperialist mindset, it shared many of the, philosophical tenets of its adversaries. And indeed, threads of this same philosophy -- the unitary one overcoming the multivalent others -- informs and directs the movement against religious liberty in contemporary India. Thirdly, I argue for a model for understanding religious liberty that moves away from the conquering propensity of the unitary one, in order to advocate for remembering pluriformity. This argument presupposes that religion is a freely available resource through which various communities symbolically represent their own particularized identity. The right to be human thus also implies the liberty to be religiously different, and thus difference is inscribed in these religious identities -- even as they purport to emanate from the One Supreme being.

Colonialism: The Monolithic One (Sell) taming/naming the Unruly/Unrulable Many (Other)

Colonialism fabricated an "oriental other" to legitimate the dominance of the Western self. Orientalism was, so to speak, the philosophy that fuelled the colonial machine. With regard to the production of knowledge it was driven by a twofold agenda: circulating forms of knowledge that "proved" the passive, irrational, traditional, immoral, backward and exotic nature of the Oriental (Eastern) world, and routinized the active, rational, modern, moral, progressive and realistic nature of the Occidental (Western) world. The logic of this body of knowledge implied that it was natural and beneficial that the self (West) overcome the other (East) for the sake of humanity’s progressive evolution. Thus this knowledge is integrally intertwined with power: to colonize, to dominate, to educate, to covert, to guide and control.

Of the myriad facets of this colonial construction, we will stress that the production of the "Indian identity" involved a dual process. On the one hand it construed an homogeneous identity which could "capture" these varied and differentiated peoples; on the other, it posited an essence of this constructed identity which could bind it together. In India this was done by utilizing religion: the first objective was accomplished by construing India as a unitary and homogeneous entity, religiously one; the second goal by uncovering the fact that the essence of this religiousness was Hindu. Richard King’s point is relevant: "Western Orientalist discourses, by virtue of their privileged political status within ‘British India’, have contributed greatly to the modern construction of ‘Hinduism’ as a single world religion."

The colonial construction of India was intensely religious: the entire region associated with being east of the Indus was taken to be one, captured under the label "Hindu"; one region was construed to be one religion, which in turn was constructed to be a religiously homogeneous identity with a core essence. This tendency to locate the unity and the essence of India in religion, that is, Hinduism, also aided imperialistic purposes. In the words of David Ludden,

Equating non-European cultures with non-European religions thus became a fixed cognitive routine in scholarship and colonial policy. This enabled Europeans to justify imperial expansion in both religious and secular terms: for Christians, European imperialism saved souls, and for modernists, it brought progress into a world of backwardness and tradition.2

As an Indian Christian theologian, I cannot ignore the philosophical commonalties between the world-view of the colonialists and the British missionaries. Of course, one must not fall into the temptation of presenting a tidy and watertight causal relationship between Christian missionaries and British imperialists. This would simply misrepresent the diversity of goals held by the various Christian mission agencies; gloss over the historical shifts in the nature of relationships between the East India Company, the British empire and the mission societies; and conceal the multiple ways in which local subjects -- the colonized Indians -- thought and acted within this context to demonstrate their identity as independent agents.

And yet there were ways in which "imperial mission and missionary imperialism" became inextricably intertwined.3 Through a meticulous, comprehensive and multidisciplinary study Studdert-Kennedy documents the similarity between themes of contemporary Western Christian theology and the core beliefs which grounded politically the unfolding of the imperial mission in India. While I am not willing to accept the one-dimensional character which Studdert-Kennedy attributes to the imperialists in their interaction with India (ironically, he buys into the "Oriental myth" with the West as the active subject and the East as passive object), there is much to be said for his connecting Protestant theology with the expansion of the British empire.

Much more than the dualistic theological world-view of evangelical mission, which tended to see the world in terms of the Christian God in combat against the pagan gods, it was the liberal theological framework that tacitly influenced the imperialist project. Certainly there were British missionaries who believed that everything religious outside the Christian West needed to be resisted and overcome. But the base of support of the expansionists of the British empire in India did not come from them, rather it was influenced by a more inclusive and liberal philosophical bent. This dominant theological paradigm of British Christianity weaved together at least the following three themes, which impacted the objectives and dynamics of British imperialism in India: first, the immanental presence of God, through the incarnation of Christ, into human history pervades all realms of life; thus the cosmic Christ unites all human beings in an invisible whole. Second, this gathers up all of creation into a natural, organic social structure which evolves towards order and fulfillment. The immanental divine presence thus initiates trajectories of coherence:

unity is stressed as the mark of divine work over the tendency towards plurality, which would inject the spirit of disharmony. And thirdly, there is a tacit assumption that the British empire embodies, under providential guidance, the manifest process of such an historical evolution.

Thus, the mission of imperialism furthered the unfolding of the kingdom of Christ over all God’s creation in a manner that fits with the overall purpose of a capacious God. The following extract from the first report of the General Wesleyan Methodist Society of 1818 expresses the theological dimensions of such a mission theology:

For what are all the missionaries employed among the millions even of British India? As men immortal and accountable, living in the practice of idolatry, "that abominable thing which the Lord hateth", they are objects of deep commiseration; but they have a special claim to regard as fellow-subjects [all those] inhabiting portions of the earth which Almighty God, in his providence has now made a part of the British empire. The new and awful discoveries made of the polluting and murderous nature of their superstitions, in writings of unquestioning authority, with the success of the missionary labours of the excellent men of other denominations already employed there, the committee think ought to be considered as special calls upon British Christians to increase the means of acquainting their natives of India with their divine religion; and to persevere in the glorious toil, until the name of Christ shall be sounded throughout the vast extent of our oriental dominion, and one God and Saviour shall be worshipped by every subject of the British throne.4

Nationalism: self as Indian nation in the project of discipling the errant others

Early Indian Nationalism

The nationalist agenda of the 19th and first half of the 20th century, which arose to overcome colonialism, shares fully in the aspects of imperialism discussed above. Breckenridge and van der Veer capture this overlap succinctly: "Nationalism is not the answer to Orientalism as implied in Said’s book. Rather nationalism is the avatar of Orientalism in the later colonial and postcolonial period."5 A clear exposition of the influence of Orientalism on nationalism is meticulously worked out by Gyan Prakash. It will be best to quote him in full since it will help us understand the theoretical framework that guides contemporary protagonists of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva:

The first significant challenge to this Orientalized India came from nationalism and nationalist historiography, albeit accompanied by a certain contradiction. While affirming the concept of an India essentialized in relation to Europe, the nationalists transformed it from passive to active, from dependant to sovereign, capable of relating to history and reason. . .

The glorification of classical India as Hindu India and of Hindu India as the originator of the modern India arose in response to the dilemma that the nationalists faced. On the one hand they thought of India as a nation-state in European terms -- as a cradle of reason, progress and modernity. On the other hand, the assertion of nationhood demanded the projection of a distance from Europe. . . Thus, the Hindu nationalists claimed that the Vedic texts and ancient history had not only expressed India as a nation but had also displayed attributes that colonialism defined as exclusively European.6

Again the use of religion for the purposes of uniting the nation under the "Indian" banner is quite obvious. Just as with Orientalism, nationalism took over the project of construing India as a unitary and homogeneous entity which was religiously one, and uncovered the fact that the essence of this religiousness was Hindu. G. Aloysius does a remarkable job of reconstructing historically this religious renaissance used for nationalistic purposes:

Faced thus with the real and supposed onslaughts on its monopolistic dominance, and haying tried different forms of meeting the challenge, such as reform and revivalism, the Brahmmic ideology finally settled upon an adequate strategy by reincarnating itself as pan-Indian political-national Hinduism.

This group, as the dominant and leading class, reworked and recast Brahminic ideology, from the vantage position of social dominance, to suit the times as an ideology of state power, simultaneous to their claim to appropriate the state itself. . . [Thus] the emergent Hinduism was at once Brahminical as well as national.7

What I want to stress is the tendency in nationalism to tame all heterogeneous and plural forms so they fit into the unitary construction of a religiously-synthesized India, and how the core of this disciplined pan-Indian identity is defined in Hindu (specifically Brahminic) terms.

It is pertinent to underscore the long native roots of this hegemonic form of Brahminic religious synthesization of the dominant pan-Indian identity -- something in place well before the advent of Western colonialism. David Scott suggests that dimensions of Orientalism involving the dual process of valorizing the normative aspects of the Self (Brahminic) and denigrating the differentiated aspects of the Other (Dalits, tribals and foreigners) were extant well before the colonial enterprise in South Asia. By analyzing the power operating in pre-colonial discourse, specifically by means of the monopoly of Sanskrit knowledge and its dominance in interpreting the Dharmic law, Scott makes us aware of the local and autochthonous roots of Orientalism in India’s past.8

In a recent reconstructive essay on Hinduism, Sudhanshu Ranade suggests a connection between the not-so-noble function of "the political branch of Hinduism" in Vedic times, and "the trap the BJP is leading us into today".9 This involves the task of consolidating a hierarchically-ordered socio-political structure for Hindu society reflecting true religious Dhanna and controlling these classes/castes in order "to keep people in their place [so as] to keep them from getting above themselves".10 Perhaps this is the reason that nationalism, in its Orientalist form, is so pervasive in contemporary India. With these transitional comments let us look at the contemporary situation in some detail.

Contemporary Hindu Nationalism

Nothing can be more alarming than the resurgence of the Hindu nationalism today, but it is hardly unexpected since it is the contextual manifestation of the colonialism and Indian nationalism which I have just traced. It is complex because it has many context- and regional-specific expressions. And yet the definition of a nationalist suggested by Andre Beteille is general enough: "A nationalist, in the ideological sense, is someone who seeks to subordinate every attachment and every loyalty to attachment and loyalty to the nation, for himself [sic] and for all others." So far things seem innocuous; the Hindu nationalist, however, goes further by building on the train of thought worked out by the colonialist and the Indian nationalist, namely identifying being Indian with being Hindu.

Thus the Hindu nationalist is someone who, through fostering the myth of internal and external threat to national stability and security, places maximum moral value on affirming that India’s core consists of the eternal Hindu tenets (loyalty) and defending these with the conviction and zeal of patriotic duty to the country (attachment). Let us now outline two general strands of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva.

The disciplining left hand of Hindu nationalism: ideological and physical violence

The left hand of Hindu nationalism is virulently ideological even as it unleashes cruel physical violence. The pen and the stick work in concert. On the one hand is a move to promote ideological discipline by undercutting the possibility for religious and cultural difference. Culture, religion, language and nation are one, and this commonness of being Hindu-Indian must be espoused even if one wants to be secular. According to Jayant Lele, it is this form of "pedagogic violence" that drives the current situation: "The proponents of Hindutva want to appropriate the same syncretism as a property of Hinduism and are thus able to assert that India is secular because it is Hindu."12 Thus Arun Shourie in two recent books displaces the authentic identity of Indian Christians who have chosen not to belong to the hierarchical Brahminical Hinduism,13 and disparages the movement of Ambedkarism, which consciously unites Dalits to stand against the Hindu nationalist conception of a "free India".14

Shourie in his attempt to reconstruct a united, Hindu India fails to respect the will of communities who want to be part of the nation, but not confined to its hierarchical Hindu idea of a community under the principle of the varnasramadharma. One cannot but be struck by the concerted attempts of the nationalists to demonize communities that assert their cultural and religious difference in the face of Hindu nationalistic forces.

On the other hand, the disciplining left hand of Hindu nationalism also metes out punishment to those who rebuff its prescriptive guidance. One must point to the many instances of violence unleashed on those communities that resist the pan-Hindu identity; let us take again the Dalits and Christian minorities as examples. In a methodical and widely-researched monograph, Human Rights Watch documents the increasing violence directed against Dalits: "Between 1994 and 1996, a total of 98,349 cases were registered with the police nation-wide as crimes against scheduled castes. Of these, 38,483 were registered under the Atrocities Act. A further 1660 were for murder, 2814 for rape, and 13,671 for hurt."15 It goes on to give a frightening picture of the rise in recent mass murders in Bihar and Tamilnadu. With regard to the Christian community T.K. Oommen purports that "there has been unprecedented violence against them in the last one year." He elaborates further: "It is not true that there was no anti-Christian violence in the past. But [incidents] were few and far between. In the last fifty years there have been only fifty instances of physical violence against Christians. But in the last one year there have been 110 cases of atrocities against them."16

The disciplining right hand of Hindu nationalism: coercive mechanisms of Indian-Hindu integration

There has also been an attempt to Hinduize all segments of the nation so as to forge a unitary consciousness at its heart. This requires restoring the essentialized identity of being Hindu-Indian which was somehow lost through capture (colonialism), captivation (conversion) and rebellion (Dalits and Tribals). Disciplining of the masses to be followers of the original way of life as embodied by Hinduism is the agenda of this right hand of Hindu nationalism. The proposal in October 1998 by a commission on educational experts is a stark example of this objective to Hinduize all of India. In a comprehensive plan to restructure education the commission suggests that the government introduce Sanskrit as a compulsory subject in schools" in order that "the primary to the highest education should be Indianized, nationalized and spiritualized".’7

It further adds that since "Hindutva is a way of life and not a religion . . . India’s invaluable heritage of the Vedas and the Upanishads should find a place in the curriculum from primary to the higher level courses, including the vocational courses."18

In The Hindu (13 July 1999) C.V. Narasimhan provocatively justifies the coming together of the mother-tongue, the mother-land and the mother-religion in Hinduism.19 While I wholeheartedly affirm the necessary and positive role that Hinduism can and ought to play in nation-building, the notion that the land, language and religion of India can be viewed as coming under the "motherhood" of one monolithic label is dangerous and unacceptable. Indeed, this Parent-India has many nurturing cultural, linguistic and religious mothers!

Local resources for remembering pluriformity

What vigilant and beneficial response can uphold the human right to be religiously different in India? For something concrete and positive must be done to support the forces resisting the Hindutva phenomenon! The first aspect of a helpful response has to do with what ought not be done. In seeking a solution to this unitary, exclusive and hegemonic ideology one must be careful to repudiate it as a paradigm. The general temptation, after all, is to fight one form of exclusivism with another form of the same, leading to a situation of competing fundamentalist or essentialist paradigms.

Particularly in situations of social conflict and political uncertainty people opt for elementary, facile and unequivocal categories. The need of the hour is to get out of the colonial and national models which sanction the rejection of a plurality of religious expressions. Only then can one embrace an alternate model which empowers all religions to live out their difference, while holding the variety of human communities’ self-expressions within a humane framework. In order to be relevant let me be concrete. What does this rejection of the colonialists’ and nationalists’ paradigm mean for the world-view of Christian communities?

For Christian communities, rejecting the Hindutva philosophical framework means being careful not to buy into its presuppositions. It means being suspicious of using the same essentialist and exclusivist model that valorizes any one religion at the expense of others. In the case of Christians it means becoming self-reflective, and self-critical, of the possible imperialistic objectives of mission. The mandate to make every Indian a Christian in a fixed period of time, working in collaboration with Christian communal or Christian international networks and involving colossal financial and social resources (including knowledge systems and technological capacities), arises from the same unitary, exclusive, and hegemonic paradigm of cultural and religious monopoly advocated by Indian and Hindu nationalism. In terms of conceptual models, there seems to be little difference between wanting to reconvert all Indians into Hindus and seeking to convert all Indians into Christians. "India for Christ by 2000" has now been proved to be nothing but a simplistic slogan. "India for Christ by 2100" seems akin to the world-view of Hindutva because it refuses to respect the plurality of religious experiences and expressions.

Of course, the practical difference cannot be ignored: Hindus are an overwhelming majority closely associated with political, economic and social power while Christians are less than 3 percent of the population without any realistic chance of economic and political influence at a national level. Quite aware of this vulnerability, and fully affirming that the Hindutva agenda must be subverted, what I am calling for is an internal debate within Christianity about the objective and implementation of mission activity within a pluralistic world-view. Monolithic models are always hazardous to the survival of the "other" in its divergent forms, and must be resisted -- irrespective of which religion or culture is asserting itself as the "Self".

I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not advancing the notion that conversion from one religion to another must be banned in India. Indeed that, too, is a human right protected by the Indian constitution.20 However any model that undercuts the plural forms of being religiously and culturally human disrespects the right of human beings to be different. And Indian history suggests that when this unitary, exclusive and hegemonic model is institutionalized it is both threatening to the human right to be religiously different, and destructive of the secular, that is, non-religious, character of the nation-state which is guaranteed in the constitution.

A second consequence has to do with garnering more pluralistic frameworks for harnessing the diversity of religious expressions in our communities. The onus is on cultural and religious communities which experience and assert their cardinal differences from the Hindutva ideology to promote world-views more amiable to plurality and less hostile to difference. Such models, I believe, are extant in local Indian communities; they just need to be recognized as worthwhile paradigms for collective human living.

Let me share an experience from a Dalit Christian community which exhibits traces of such a heterogeneous model. When I served as a rural priest in Tamilnadu in the 1980s I was intrigued to discover how many Dalit Christian communities wanted their native Dalit religious rites and Christian rites to co-exist. This was particularly evident at funeral ceremonies. For example, while I led the funeral procession from the house of the deceased to the burial ground -- dressed in the traditional attire of the local Christian priest, and accompanied by a band of church members singing Christian lyrics -- there was a group of Dalit leaders, sometimes accompanied by a group of drummers, fulfilling the native Dalit ritualistic requirements. Usually this would involve throwing coins and rice on the processional path and offering sacrifices of limes (in one case a chick) at the cross roads that mark the boundaries between the colony and the outside world, and the outside world and the funeral ground.

Of course they kept me, as the representative of the Christian faith, far away from the goings on of their native religious customs, apparently assuming that I would not be able to comprehend their dual religious participation. Certainly "syncretism" -- and there are many different, sometimes contradictory, understandings of the term -- is still considered heretical in most Christian circles; and yet there is clearly a need to reexamine this complex issue. Those who study Indian religions will affirm that this ability of local communities to participate in more than one religious tradition is not unique to Dalit Christians! Thus it is paradoxical, and ironic, that the exclusive, unitary and homogenizing ideology of Hindutva is gaining disciples. Why is this? And is not the time ripe to harvest the living local models of "multiple religious participation" (John H. Burthrong) found among our indigenous communities? Could this not offer alternatives to the Hindutva model?

I am well aware that this discussion could be dismissed as the same old "relativistic muddle" of an ambiguous pluralist. This would be quite incorrect, and to make this clear I offer two qualifications. First, I am not offering a prescriptive model but rather looking for resources to deal with the present predicament in India from the actual lived realities of specific communities. In particular, I am suggesting that Dalit Christian communities may offer living examples of ways to cope with pluralistic challenges and possibilities. Second, it must be quite clear that participating in more than one religio-cultural tradition does not mean an opportunistic putting together of a featureless mass of religious resources. It should be noted that most local religious world-views have a primary and a secondary structure. Religious conversion occurs when the primary structure is exchanged for another primary structure; when the secondary structure is exchanged for another secondary structure this is, rather, an internal enrichment, within a continuing faith commitment, for fuller human self-expression. In both of these processes there is an inevitable element of co-mingling and transmutation; as the Roman Catholic scholar Robert Schreiter has compellingly argued, syncretism and synthesis are not unrelated, but share common structures and processes.21

Thus an assertion of the right to be religiously human, which involves choosing, transforming and inhabiting the world of "my" or "our" religion in accordance with "my" or "our" changing experiences, plays an important role in forming local religious identity. It is not as though communities participate indiscriminately in dual, or multiple, religious traditions. In India many religious communities live abundantly from their own particular religious heritage, while also living partially, but intently, from the richness of another or other religious tradition(s). Others’ religions are not to be feared or overthrown; they can form temporary "spaces" of hospitality and nurture.

A metaphor for pluralistic living

By way of conclusion let me play with a contextual metaphor which comes from this discussion of multiple religious participation. Consider a model for the pluralistic living of various religious communities along the lines of a large, traditional, rural household in India. Many families from one lineage live in this large ancestral house, each with their own appointed portion. The house is rectangular, with many well-designed portions to accommodate many nuclear families from the same lineage. In their own portion of the house the members of each nuclear family live in autonomy and security. They evolve their own rites, relational patterns, language and social practices. There is much freedom for creative and contextual symbolic expression. These expressions, however, must not contravene the fundamental values and practices of the lineage.

Two common areas bring all members of the household together. First, there is a large, open foyer which leads into a corridor linking each of the portions with the front entrance. This foyer, along with the corridor, is used as a space for social interaction with each other and for entertainment of common visiting friends and relatives. Second, there is an opening at the back of each portion which leads into a common play area. This area, which is secured from the outer world, is where intimate intra-rela-tionships happen between various members of the lineage. Children can play here safely, and various common facilities are shared to meet the needs of the larger family. Some basic rules, worked out among all families, must govern relationships with the aim of guarding the autonomy and security of each family unit, and enhancing the welfare and honour of the lineage as a whole

This metaphor emphasizes that the autonomy and security of each community’s religious experience and expression must be guarded by all members of the extended family, and that the interaction within the common spaces of the house must be governed by mutually agreed codes of conduct allowing for free exchange of ideas and not leading to the theological "annexing" of one unit by another. Succession from the lineage is strongly discouraged; but so are homogenization and hegemonization within the lineage.

Summary and Conclusion

Contemporary India, then, is experiencing a systematic attack against various expressions of religious and cultural plurality. The move to project and promote a nation which is unitary by way of its common Hinduness is gaining ground. I have argued here that the ideological model of a monolithic and homogenized India, which fueled the Indian national movement and still fuels contemporary Hindu nationalism, is an extension of Western colonialism. Thus instead of countering the colonial framework, the nationalists appropriated it. This may have been helpful in galvanizing all communities to oppose colonial rule and achieve together Indian independence, but this same unitary and homogenizing ideology has been quite destructive in the hands of present-day Hindu nationalists. Their agenda disciplines both those who stray from the core of the Indian-Hindu value system, and all those others who must be enlightened by "eternal truth" and be reintegrated into the organic -- but highly hierarchical -- Hindu dharma considered binding on all Indians.

Christian mission -- however it is understood and whatever form it may take -- must not adopt the ideology of the colonialists, as the Hindu nationalists have done. It will be most true to its Lord by proclaiming the gospel confidently, but in a way that respects the human right to be religiously different.



1 Richard King, "Orientalism and the Modern Myth of Hinduism", Numen, vol. 46, 1999, p.165.

2 David Ludden, "Introduction", in Making India Hindu: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy, David Ludden, ed., New Delhi, Oxford UP, 1996, p.9.

3 Gerald Studdert-Kennedy, Providence and the Raj: Imperial Mission and Missionary Imperialism, New Delhi, Sage, 1998.

4 The First Report of the General Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society of 1818, London, Wesleyan

5 Methodist Missionary Society, 1881, p.23.

6 Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, "Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament", in Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia, Breckenridge and van der Veer, eds,Philadelphia, Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1993, p.12.

7 Gyan Prakash, "Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third World: Indian Historiography is Good to Think", in Colonialism and Culture, Nicholas B. Dirks, ed., Ann Arbour, MI, Univ. of Michigan Press, 1992, pp. 357-58. Aloysius, Nationalism without a Nation in India, New Delhi, Oxford UP, 1997, p.104.

8 See David C. Scott, "Pre-colonial Orientalism in South Asia", in Re-visioning India’s Religious Traditions, David C. Scott & Israel Selvanayagam, eds, New Delhi, ISPCK, 1996, pp.3-21.

9 Sudhanshu Ranade, "The Hindu Mentality", The Hindu: Folio, 12 September 1999, pp.10-14.

10 Ibid., p.11.

11 André Beteille, "Historical Fortunes: The Relevance of the Nation-State", The Times of India, 1 September 1999, p.14.

12 Jayant Lele, "Hindutva as Pedagogical Violence", in The Transmission of Knowledge in South Asia:Essays on Education, Religion, History, and Politics, Nigel Crook, ed., New Delhi, Oxford UP, 1996, p.332.

13 Arun Shourie, Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas, New Delhi, HarperCollins, 1997, and Harvesting Our Souls: Missionaries, Their Designs, Their Claims, New Delhi, ASA Publications, 2000.

14 Anon Shourie, Worshipping False Gods: Ambedkar and Facts Which Have Been Erased, New Delhi, HarperCollins, 1998.

15 Broken People: Caste Violence against India’s "Untouchable", New York, Human Rights Watch, 1999, p.41.

16 T.K. Oommen, "Evolving the Real Nation", The Hindu: Magazine, 18 July 1999, p.1.

17 "Joshi Agenda: Sanskrit -- Must in All Schools", in The Asian Age, 17 October 1998, p.1. Ibid., p.2.

18 CV. Narasimhan, "The Relevance of Religion", iii The Hindu, 13 July 1999, p121.

20 The Indian constitution guarantees both the right to "profess and practice" religion and the right to "propagate religion".

21 Robert J. Schreiter, The New Catholicity: Theology between the Global and the Local, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis, 1999. He makes the point that "structurally, syncretism and synthesis are not different from each other". Further he opines that "[a] pronouncement of syncretism has been all too often a way of stopping conversation, of judging the outcome without attending to the process. In that sense all change is syncretic and aims at being synthetic" (p.82). See also his earlier work, Constructing Local Theologies, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis, 1985.