The resistance to Christian expansion and its evangelical forces on the streets and social media is the new shift the society is witnessing in Andhra Pradesh in the last decade.
Despite encountering formidable opposition from Hindus since the colonial period, the Church has always adeptly navigated, allowing itself to regroup and devise novel strategies.
In the last few decades, the Church has shifted its focus from service activities like educational institutions and hospitals to gospel preaching. A new breed of churches based on an aggressive evangelist model, similar to the USA-based evangelists, have sprung up across the state of Andhra Pradesh. With core missionary activity shifting to street gospel preaching, criticism of Biblical scriptures and their teachings has started coming in from different sections of the society i.e. common people, ex-Christians, knowledge seekers and freethinkers. A steady and deep study of Christian scriptures has started taking shape amongst non-Christians. The escalating encounters between Christians and non-Christians have started changing the dynamics, posing a threat to the foundations of the Church.
The reasons for this resistance are multifaceted, involving philosophical, theological, cultural and historical influences. One of the dominating factors contributing to this resistance is the account of personal experiences of non-Christians and Christians.
In Andhra Pradesh, people come across uninvited confrontation every day, at public places like bus stands, railway stations, hospitals, parks, cultural and arts centers, markets and bazaars. Pastors and their teams, dressed in white, trespass into people’s personal spaces and start preaching, quoting random biblical verses. During such street preaching, the common practice is to denounce Hindu religious practices such as idol worship. These preaching sessions culminate in excessive distribution of religious pamphlets praising Jesus and demoralising Hindus and their beliefs.
This results in conflict between evangelists and the public, polarizing the communities. Street evangelists target vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, widows, elderly or individuals in difficult life situations, which is literally an exploitative tactic. Miracle cures for serious health problems and instant financial benefits accruing through the power of prayers to Jesus is the USP of these evangelists. Once they zero in on their potential target, they start personal interaction and one-to-one preaching at the residences. Sufficient care is taken to ensure that other family members or relatives do not interfere in their activity with the lone target. Once they convince their target, over a period of time, then they use the new convert (harvested soul) to pressurize or convince other family members, relatives and friends to convert to Christianity.
DASAMA BAGAM – THE BIBILICAL TITHE
In Christianity there’s a practice of giving one tenth of annual produce or earnings for the support of the Church and clergy. The coercive or forceful collection of ten per cent of the income from church goers by the pastors is breaking the relationship between the church and its believers. Members who are subjected to forceful donations are leaving the church or religious organisation. There are several testimonies of ex-Christians who, under the pressure to make 10 per cent donation, underwent tremendous financial and mental strain. Many individuals and families sacrificed their financial well-being to meet the church’s demands.
Pastors working under the Suvarta Dandayatra banner reach the hills and outlying tribal communities in the districts of Alluri Seetaramaraju and Vishakhapatnam. At first, they establish friendly relationships to take advantage of their financial situation and lack of exposure to societal issues. After making friends with them, they begin giving out rice bags and modest loans. Additionally, they take advantage of small conflicts between the Konda Reddy and Valmiki tribal groups to sow the seeds of hatred before subsequently inviting them to join Christianity. Tribals who were unaware of the conspiracy become victims. Once they are imprisoned, it is very difficult for them to break the shackles of the Church.
MISUSE OF SC STATUS
According to the 2011 census, the population of Christians in Andhra Pradesh is only 6.82 lakhs out of 4.93 crores (state population) which would translate to just 1.4 per cent Christian population. But from the year 1951 to 2011 Census, the percentage of Christians has fallen from 5.37 to 1.38 per cent. However, there is an explosion in the number of churches/evangelical activity across the state. This demonstrates how Christians who converted from Hindu SC/OBCs are abusing the constitutionally secured reservations and safeguards intended for the benefit of SCs. At first, the Christians preyed on the weak SC segments of society.
In speeches delivered by SC converts to Christianity, they claim that 80 lakh Dalits are now Christians in the state. However, several instances have come to light where Christian Pastors holding Hindu SC community certificates filed SC atrocity cases but, in the process, they lost their Hindu SC certificate and ended up with BC-C community certificates. SC converts to Christianity in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are classified under the BC-C category.
Centre For South Indian Studies, shared a report that in 1977, the Christian evangelist lobby achieved its first success in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. Following recommendations of the State Harijan Conference, the government of Andhra Pradesh extended certain benefits reserved exclusively for Scheduled Castes to Christian converts from Scheduled Castes. The government of Andhra Pradesh vide G.O.Ms.No.341, Social Welfare (PR) Department, dated: 30.08.1977, extended the benefits of various government schemes for the welfare of Scheduled Castes to Christians who have converted from Scheduled Castes. Due to this, the real beneficiaries of SCs have lost a bulk of their benefits in terms of housing, land allotment, concession loans and other SC sub-plan benefits to Christian converts.
A circular memo issued in 1998 by the Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Department to deal with complaints of conversion of Scheduled Castes into other religions has now kicked up a storm, and an agitation has been launched by a section of Christian evangelist lobby for scrapping the same. Though the circular has been in vogue for more than two decades, the row over the same has intensified now.
After the formation of the Telangana state in 2014, the Government of Telangana has confirmed the operation of the above-referred G.O. of 1977 in the newly formed state through G.O. of Scheduled Caste Development (SCP) Department G.O.MS.No.25 Dated.20.12.2014.
Due to breach of constitutional reservations by Christian forces in connivance with political parties, the original Scheduled Caste people in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh formed organisation like ‘SC Rights Forum’, ‘SC Reservations Parirakshana Samiti’ and SC- ST Hakkula Sankshema Vedika. These organisations are going to the ground and raising awareness in the communities. This has become a significant threat for people who claim to be Hindus but practise Christianity.
NETWORK OF NGOS & LEGAL FIGHT
The organised alliances of people or organisations, such as NGOs connected to international Christian Networks, have evolved over the past few decades into pressure groups for all political parties whether it is Congress, YSRCP, TDP, Communists and BRS. They explicitly persuade legislators to propose their preferred candidates for positions in the constitutional bodies. These groups aim to promote specific interests, causes, or ideologies by exerting pressure on elected officials, government agencies, or other decision-makers.
Sensing the danger of these break-India forces, Legal Rights Protection Forum (LRPF), a Hyderabad based NGO, has submitted several complaints regarding multiple violations of the FCRA Act, 1976 by NGOs working in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
In particular, LRPF alleged that Persecution Relief, a Christian NGO, has joined hands with US-based FIACONA (Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations) and other Evangelist organisations to make its annual report a component of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report and their lobby to push Bharat in the list of Countries of Particular Concern. In addition, LRPF alleged that Persecution Relief collated information of crime incidents across the country and shared it with various lobby organisations in the US besides Evangelist and other associations in various parts of the world.
LPRF, in its complaint to MHA, informed about alleged evangelist activities being practised and promoted by Harvest India despite its purpose under FCRA stated as ‘social, educational and economic’. This resulted in suspension of its FCRA license, a big setback and a warning to other NGOs of the state. Since 2018, LRPF has filed several complaints against NGOs.
FIGHT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Disturbing evidence has come to the fore through TV debates that aggressive proselytising evangelists have sown the seeds of secessionist, separatist ideas in the minds of converts. Loyalties of the converts are being shifted from nation to extra-territorial, extra-constitutional evangelical/ Christian religious heads located abroad. This directly affects the unity and integrity of the country.
On the other hand, the hours-long social media debates on biblical scriptures and their interpretation are gaining traction among the masses. The dark and cruel history of Christian inquisitions, which represents a period of religious intolerance, persecution, and the suppression of intellectual and religious freedom, is accessible to all, empowering dissenting Christians and the common man. The Christian literature and empirical evidence on the complex relationship between Christianity and free thought factors are driving individuals to question, critique, and challenge established Christian religious beliefs and institutions.
GOVT SCHEMES FOR CHRISTIANS
The Andhra Pradesh State Christian (Minorities) Finance Corporation was formed in November 2008 during the tenure of late YS Rajeshakar Reddy as Chief Minister of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. The main objective of the corporation is to assist the Christians community to collaborate with banks and other development agencies. The corporation gets funds from the Government of Andhra Pradesh.
This government entity offers several schemes like Holy Land Tour of Jerusalem, Grant in Aid to Churches/ Church-run Institutions/Burial Grounds. It offers an amount of Rs. 5 Lakh as grant for Church-run institutions such as schools, orphanages and old age homes. Rs. 10 lakh is provided as grant for Church-run hospitals. The financial assistance for development of burial grounds can go up to Rs. 3 lakh in rural areas and Rs. 5 Lakh in urban areas which can be used for construction of compound walls, gates, water supply, toilets, shelter, watchman quarter, land leveling repairs to existing structures, providing lighting, cement benches etc.
Every year during Christmas, an amount of Rs. 50,000 per district is provided to the District Collectors for conducting of Christmas High Tea Programme in the district headquarters in order to promote fraternity, communal harmony and integration.
In the year 2020, during the lockdown period due to COVID-19 outbreak, 29,809 pastors were provided financial assistance of Rs. 5000 each to a total tune of Rs 14.90 crore.
Pilgrimage to Holy Land of Jerusalem and other Biblical places: Under this scheme, subsidy of Rs. 60,000 per beneficiary is provided whose annual income is below Rs 3 lakh whereas subsidy of Rs. 30,000/- is provided if annual income is above Rs. 3 lakh.
YSR Cheyutha: Under this scheme, an amount of Rs. 75,000 in four years shall be released to eligible Christian women between 45 to 60 years age group.
Support for Chenetha Weavers (Netanna Nestham): Under this scheme an amount of Rs. 24,000 is provided as financial assistance to Chenetha Weavers belonging to Christian community.
With such financial assistance packages for Christians in Andhra Pradesh, CM Jagan Mohan Reddy has played an important role in the emergence of anti-Christian sentiment.
Some of the NGOs from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana like Shiva Shakti, Hindu Jana Shakti, Hiandava Shakti, Haindava Sainyam and several organisations are actively campaigning to educate Hindus about the threat of break-India forces. They produce literature and conduct shobhayatras during Hindu festivals. In addition to these, they bring out the testimonies of ex-Christians throughout the year.
These are only a few aspects of resistance from the Hindu society, though several issues like mocking Hindus and idol worship, encroaching temple lands, blatant misuse of freedom of speech by missionaries is being confronted by different sections of the society. Pro-nationalistic society still has a lot of work to do in order to decolonise in the next Amrit Kaal.