The Irony of Karma

During the time of the Inquisition Goa, India, was the location of Inquisitorial proceedings led by the Catholic Church. Several centuries later it appears that karma has played out its hand in a role reversal. In modern India a militant pro-Hindu revival has resulted in the violent deaths of Christians (and Muslims)—and even the strangulation of democracy, as some say.

Gauri Lankesh was an outspoken Indian journalist and rationalist who questioned superstition. She was killed on September 5, 2017, adding to a long list of journalists who have been killed in India. Since 1992, 41 journalists have been killed. Of those, 21 had been covering political issues, and 17 had been writing about corruption. Some believe that Lankesh’s death, and that of some other journalists, occurred because they questioned and challenged an increasing Hindu nationalist militancy. Others believe those deaths have been orchestrated by left-wing political forces in an attempt to defame Hindus. Whichever the case may be, free speech and democratic ideals are increasingly under attack in India.

Christian devotees take part in a holy procession on Good Friday in Bhopal, India.

If modern India truly desires to develop into a country that holds a reputable place on the world stage, current political leaders should consider the relationship between democratic development and economic development—to promote one results in the promotion of the other.1 Democratic ideals include religious pluralism and consequently, religious tolerance among varying religious groups. For example, when King Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes on October 18, 1685, to appease a more militant Catholicism, more than 400,000 French Protestant Huguenots fled the country, resulting in much economic loss for France during the coming Industrial Revolution.2 Contrariwise, when the United States adopted the idea of religious pluralism during its founding era, the country experienced societal peace, a spirit of unity among its citizenry, and, in following decades, an increase in economic development, much of which can be attributed to the many immigrants who flooded its shores seeking political and religious freedom.3

Current statistics reveal that 80 percent of the Indian population identify themselves as Hindu, 14 percent as Muslim, and about 2 percent as Christian. If India should promote religious pluralism and tolerance, all of its citizens would experience a greater degree of societal peace and could work together for a stronger, greater India.

Indian Constitution

The Indian Constitution, adopted by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949, and put into force on January 26, 1950, is founded upon democratic ideals. The section entitled “The Right to Religious Freedom” contains several articles guaranteeing the same: Article 25 guarantees the right to profess, practice, and propagate one’s faith. Article 26 offers great liberality to religious leaders and institutions “to manage religious affairs.” Individual citizens have full liberty “as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion.”4 Such language and guarantees adopted by the Constituent Assembly reflect their efforts to promote religious diversity, societal peace, unity of its citizenry based on mutual respect and toleration, and most of all the wisdom of cohesiveness to promote a stronger India.

The Constituent Assembly, as if foretelling the current religiopolitical militancy prevailing in India, correctly included, in Article 29, the “protection of interests of minorities” and in Article 30, expanded that right to include the “rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.5 The language adopted strongly denotes how the assembly recognized that Indian society consisted of a variety of religious groups, each adding its contribution to Indian dialogue and diversity. Moreover, Article 30 expresses how the assembly foresaw the permanent nature of minority groups within Indian society, as well as their growth, by guaranteeing their right to “establish and administer” educational institutions.

Current Restrictions of Religious Freedom

Some Christian organizations have reported recent surveillance of their activities by the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), an action without precedent. When visiting their facilities, CBI agents inquire about what is being preached and why such messages are presented. Additionally, the CBI scrutinizes how much financial resources they have, as well as the source of their funding. Similar actions in America are practiced only toward those organizations that are suspected of terrorism. The Christian organizations interviewed for this report do nothing adverse to Indian culture and the well-being of Indian citizens. Rather, their purpose is to build Indian citizens physically, mentally, and morally by giving meaning and purpose to their lives.

Construction of churches is essential to retention and increase of membership. In prior years no issues were raised when Christians requested permits to build churches. However, in recent years there has been an unspoken law that does not allow Christians to build churches in some of the central and northern states, areas that are now dominated by organizations with a Hindu nationalist ideology. However, most southern states, which have embraced democratic ideals, such as Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, do allow churches to be built.

Until recently, proselytism (sharing one’s faith by handing out tracts or books about Christianity) used to be allowed, but now Christians who do so are attacked, especially if they openly proselytize. On a worrisome note, there is no law prohibiting proselytism, just a change in societal attitude (an increase of Hindu supremacy), much like what has happened more recently in America, which is troubled by an increase in White supremacist attitudes.

Examples of Religious Discrimination

Some Christian organizations dedicated to meeting social needs of Indian citizens have faced religious discrimination. One organization, which feeds and educates Indian orphans, has been monitored by the government to ensure that no children convert to Christianity. Such educational organizations remain financially viable through donations and tuition. Starting in 2017, government entities do not allow them to charge as much as other schools in the area, in an attempt to eventually force them to close for lack of finances.

Another similar organization, that was caring for more than 100,000 children, was forced to shut down and leave the country. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed that they were proselytizing the children.

Some Christian institutes of higher education include medical training as one of the degree programs offered to students. Under new government regulations those schools are required to reserve as high as 40 percent of their enrollment in medical school for Hindu students. Some may see no discrimination in this practice and perhaps equate it to programs in the U.S. similar to No Child Left Behind. However, under such practices in India, the seats reserved for Hindus are guaranteed regardless of academic criteria that other non-Hindu students must meet. Some speculate that this practice intends to increase dedicated Hindu doctors who can meet the health needs of Indian citizens, thus preventing contact with Christian physicians, or at least reducing the number and influence of Christian doctors in Indian society.

Current Political Climate

The current Indian administration is dominated by the BJP, which was elected in 2016. The BJP has the goal of establishing a Hindu state (Hindutwa) and of removing Christianity from India by 2020. The BJP derives support from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who are fundamentalist Hindus who argue that the origin of Hinduism is from India and that other religions are foreign, brought in from other countries. They desire for the majority religion, Hinduism, to govern the country.

Troubled Waters and Bad Karma

What are some changes affecting religious freedom that the BJP has made since taking power? They have proposed an anti-conversion bill that has received much opposition. The bill is not likely to become a law, because such a bill is against the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the religious right to propagate, profess, and practice one’s faith.

The recent shift against conversion is because of BJP leaders who fear the influence of Christianity. They fear that Christians, although only about 2 percent of the population, might make India into a Christian nation. The interest that Indians have in Christianity is a result, in some degree, of the influence of Western culture. Demographics show that the 25 and younger Indians adopt a Western style of thinking and are more open to adopting Western culture, such as using call centers, eating at fast-food joints, and adopting Western styles of dress. Christianity is often associated with Western culture and therefore appealing. Additionally, Christianity does not include as much ritual and formalism as other religions, so it is attractive. Finally, the gospel has power to make positive, beneficial changes for the good of those who accept it.

The irony of the current Hindu-dominant religious zeal expressed by many leaders in India is that they have been educated through Christian schools. There are well-known Christian schools in Chennai, New Delhi, and Mumbai whose graduates have served in legislative and political positions of influence. During prior decades Christian schools have been preferred, even by devout Hindus, more than Hindu-owned and -dominated schools, because of the quality of education.

However, in more recent years, the RSS have started their own schools with the goal of reeducating nominal Hindus to become dedicated Hindus. Although India has been influenced by Western ideas and culture, devout Hindus want to hold on to Hindu values, even though they realize that Christianity has better norms.

The RSS has employed various strategies to revive a fundamentalist Hinduism. They have organized bands to train the youth. The current prime minister, Narendra Modi, is a member of the RSS. Also, the RSS utilizes safronization, or the rewriting of history, by altering public school textbooks with a strong bias toward Hinduism. Additionally, there has been a subtle, public rhetoric, promoted through pro-Hindu media, that ostracizes non-Hindu religions and their adherents. These tactics have resulted in anti-Christian attitudes adopted by society, and in some locations that has even resulted in extreme violence toward Christians.

Social Conditions

Young India is seeking meaning and purpose for life. In Hinduism there is a fear of bad works (karma) that will lead to destruction. Samsara, the belief in a cycle of birth and rebirth, is the only solace. If a person does good in life, then he or she receives good karma and experiences a rebirth to Nirvana.

Future Trends

Some analysts believe that with continued leadership by the BJP there will be more restrictions upon religious freedom because they will see an election victory as a growth in power. The possibility of a more restrictive, Hindu-dominated India of the future is not idle talk. After winning the majority of congressional seats in 2016, some states that were formerly pro-Indian National Congress Party have now transformed into pro-BJP strongholds. Maharashtra, a central Indian state that has been historically supportive of the Congress Party, now faces the likelihood of becoming a Hindu-militant state through the election of BJP state leaders. Other states that are “flipping” in support of the BJP include Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. When political leaders who are Hindu fundamentalists are elected, then eventually the state becomes such and enacts legislation supportive of that ideology, to the detriment of non-Hindu religionists.

Perhaps Hindu militants should carefully consider the idea of karma that they profess, and reflect upon the lessons of history referred to at the beginning of this article. Could the future hold another irony of karma that would be to their detriment, based on their own harmful actions toward other faiths?

1 www.brookings.edu/articles/the-path-to-progress-how-democratic-development-drives-five-rising-leaders/

2 “The Huguenots,” Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Huguenot, accessed Oct. 16, 2017.

3 Jennifer Llewellyn et al., “Capitalist America,” Alpha History, http://alphahistory.com/coldwar/capitalist-america/, accessed Oct. 16, 2017.

4 https://www.importantindia.com/2025/right-to-freedom-of-religion-in-indian-constitution/

5 http://lawmin.nic.in/olwing/coi/coi-english/Const.Pock%202Pg. Rom8Fsss(2).pdf, accessed Oct. 10, 2017.


Article Author: Ed Cook

Ed Cook has a doctorate in church-state studies from Baylor University, Waco, Texas, where he currently leads in church religious liberty activities.