- By choosing the date of “martyrdom” of St. Thomas in 72 AD in Chennai, the organizers are seeking to counter the Hindu nationalists’ notion that Christians are not indigenous to the Indian subcontinent and that Christianity is an alien religion.
For better or for worse, asserting group religiosity has been trending in the diverse and multicultural Indian American community. Christians of Indian origin, too, seem to have alas decided to fall in stride with Muslim and Hindu communities in the U.S. that over the past two decades have witnessed heightened activities — political, cultural and religious.
An interdenominational group has come together to commemorate the first-ever Indian Christian Day or Yeshu Bhakti Divas on July 3. To be celebrated at St. Vincent de Paul Syro-Malankara Catholic Cathedral in Elmont, New York City, the date was chosen because it marks the martyrdom day of Saint Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ who was put to death in Chennai in 72 AD.
Christians in India observe that day as Saint Thomas Day — celebrating Thomas the Apostle, who is believed to have brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to India in 52 AD.
According to a press release issued by the event founders, marking the day in 2021, “and every year henceforth, we, as followers of Jesus, can preserve our identity within India’s cultural heritage while uniting with all those who wish to celebrate it, irrespective of language, custom, creed, region, or religion.” It is a day to “celebrate around the globe the heritage and legacy of Christianity in India,” it added.
More pertinently, in an apparent way to address recent assertions by Hindu nationalists that only Hinduism is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, the press release says, the Indian Christian Day “is also designed to stress that Christianity is not a foreign religion to India.”
“This is an important step in recognizing Christianity as part of India’s history and ethos. In light of attempts by some right-wing organizations to create the impression that Christianity is foreign to India, it is necessary to highlight its antiquity in the country,” Father Babu Joseph, a former spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, was quoted as saying in the press release.
Koshy George, President of the Federation of the Indian American Christian Organizations in North America (FIACONA), asserted, “To say now that we are part of some colonial legacy is a distortion of history and only serves to denigrate the Christian community with an element of malice. The almost 2000-year-old church in India is under assault as churches are destroyed, and Christians are attacked. This celebration will not only bring joy and remembrance to our diaspora community but would also be educational and inspirational to our future generations.”
John Mathew of California, one of the founders of this event, was also quoted as saying for nearly 2000 years, the followers of Jesus “have lived in love, peace and harmony in India and played an active role in the transformation of modern-day India through education, health care, social development, women empowerment, etc. It is truly a beautiful thing to see Indian Christians of all denominations and backgrounds uniting together to celebrate the truth of the history & heritage of the Christian faith in India.”
(Top photo, Martyrdom of St. Thomas, by Peter Paul Rubens, dating to about 1636. Credit: Ophelia2, Wikimedia Commons.)