Significance of Observing July 3 as Global Indian Christian Day in the Face of Rising Hindu Nationalism
- All people of Indian origin must resist the BJP’s attempt to judge the Indianness of its nationals through the prism of one's religion because is not only unfair but also preposterous.
As the Indian Christian Community in the Tri-state area is getting ready to celebrate Indian Christian Day on July 3, it may also be a good time to revisit its relevance and related history. July 3 is observed as St. Thomas Day the world over. The New Testament reckons Thomas – who is also known as “Didymus” (meaning ‘Twin’ in Greek) – as one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He was born in Galilee, Israel, and died on December 21, 72 A.D. According to Christian tradition, Thomas was killed with a spear at St. Thomas Mount (Parangi Malai), and his body was interred in Mylapore at the St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica.
St. Thomas is perhaps best known as “doubting Thomas,” who wanted proof of Jesus’ resurrection. As Christianity was being spread to the west by apostles like St. Paul, the mission to the east was undertaken by St. Thomas. Tradition says that it is St. Thomas who brought Christianity to India in the first century, making the religion older in India than Sikhism or Islam. The ancient Syrian Christian community of India traces its origin to St. Thomas.
Christianity is the third largest religion in India after Hinduism and Islam. There are around 28 million adherents in India, making up 2.3% of the population of the country. The early Portuguese built the present St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica in 1523 A. D. Long before the present building was built over his tomb, Marco Polo visited the tomb in 1292. He wrote of the Christians of India going on pilgrimage to the shrine to be miraculously healed by the saint.
Of late, there is a lot of speculation about the story of St. Thomas, and a concerted effort is underway to discredit the entire episodic history and call it nothing but a myth. The entities closely associated with the current government are busy in their efforts to paint the history of Christianity in India as simply concocted in a backroom conspiracy. They are eager to link Christianity’s whole history to the infamous colonial legacy characterized as a dark period in Indian history.
Of course, at present, there is no way to prove or disprove this tradition scientifically. However, one thing is sure: ever since the discovery of the monsoon winds in 45 A.D by Hippalos, an Alexandrian ship captain, the land, and sea routes were open from the Mediterranean via the Persian Gulf to India, and there was intense contact between these areas. The mere fact that Roman coins of the first century were unearthed in several parts of South India simply adds credibility to those historical contacts. Many historians have also acknowledged that Jewish settlers existed in Cragnanore even before the Christian era. There is a general presumption that St. Thomas may have visited this flourishing colony of Jews in Murziris (Cragnanore). Those Jews are said to have arrived with King Solomon’s first fleet.
With historical debate aside, why there must be a controversy now about the origins of Christianity in India and who is driving this debate? Obviously, this debate is orchestrated as part of the propaganda campaign by the Hindutva group as 2021 became the most violent year for Indian Christians. FIACONA (Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America) has compiled a list of 761 attacks with a large percentage of those being mob attacks. As a Christian in India today, there is an increasing possibility that while at Church practicing his/her ancient tradition and worshipping Jesus through prayers and songs and communion, a screaming mob of hundreds of angry young men, many armed with iron rods and other weapons could barge into the peaceful prayer hall thrashing worshippers and dragging them out of sanctuary while they smash everything in sight. This is not some fantasy but has become a reality in present-day India under the BJP rule.
Although the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all its citizens, the political dogma of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the parent organization of BJP, enunciated by its erstwhile leader and theoretician M.S. Golwalker is still mostly the guideline for many of its loyal adherents. In fact, he argued in the book “We or Our Nationhood Defined” that as long as the Muslims and the Christians failed to abandon their own religion and culture, they cannot but be only foreigners in this country, and if they stayed here without losing their “separate existence” they might be treated as “enemies,” at best as “idiots.” His arguments tilt more favorably towards treating all Christians as “hostiles” who are agents of the international movement for the spread of Christianity.
In Narendra Modi’s India, Christian institutions are being strangled by denial of FCRAs, freezing of the bank accounts, unending investigations, frequent auditing, and harassment of the principal in charge. These moves appear to be consistent with the Hindutva philosophy that the Modi government has embraced to advance the saffron agenda that challenges the very idea of India as a multicultural and pluralistic society. Modi appears to pay lip service to Gandhiji’s concept of India during his visits abroad but remains silent when institutions that are supposed to promote those principles come under attack back home. As first-generation immigrants to this country, we demand that our culture and traditions are respected here and never hesitated in our quest for equal treatment whenever there is any violation.
Currently, we are pressing the lawmakers to make Diwali, rightfully so, a state holiday here in New York. However, back in India, Modi hit on the idea of replacing Christmas Day with an anniversary to commemorate the late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birth anniversary and renamed it as a ‘Good Governance Day.’ The festive season holiday was made a working day for the bureaucrats. The great irony is that the deed has been done to a minority religion that has been in existence in the land for almost 20 centuries.
The purpose of these attacks whether physical or symbolic along with their efforts in rewriting the origins of Christianity could be multifold. Christians, though a fraction of the population of India, wield enormous influence in the social, educational, and healthcare arena. Many of the charitable institutions in India are pioneered by Christian missionaries and still run with foreign funding. Many at the extreme right of the Hindutva philosophy dream about creating a Hindu Rashtra. In order to fulfill their dream, Christians, along with other minorities, need to be marginalized. The way to accomplish that is by diminishing their contributions, thereby reducing their visibility to the public. It is a concerted effort that appears to be succeeding.
I am not sure Indian Christians have the wherewithal or theology to stand against the Modi juggernaut and fight. However, they may come together in unity and proclaim that to judge the Indianness of its nationals only through the prism of one’s faith is not only unfair but also preposterous. By celebrating Indian Christian Day globally on July 3, they are reasserting their identity through the renewal of their faith and conveying to the world that their cherished heritage is real and that they are forever committed to proclaiming it.
George Abraham is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Vice-chair of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA.
Both Thomas and Roman Catholicism have had a major role in the history and development of the Subcontinent. Indeed, in South India, both received acceptance and patronage from Kings.
Unfortunately, by labeling all under the umbrella of Christianity, most Hindus are unable to distinguish these from the Evangelical Protestant denominations who are involved in mass conversion and corrupt financial dealings.
It is important that Catholics make a concerted effort to explain themselves and their deep roots in India’s soil.