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Christian Children in India - II

Christian Children in India - II

Author: Joseph Gathia
Publication: Indian Currents
Date: July 7 - 13, 2008

Introduction: Church Projects Bypass them

As per 2001 Census, there are 24 million Christians in India which is 2.3 per cent of the total population of 1.2 billion. Among the Christians, 16 million are Catholics and the rest belongs to other denominations. In eastern India, nearly 80% people of Nagaland and Mizoram are Christians. They belong to different tribes. The Baptist missionaries have great influence in the area. In few districts of Assam, the migrant tribals from Chota Nagpur area form considerable percentage of Christians. Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh have good number of tribal Christians. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have nearly 10 per cent of its population as Christians. In Kerala 22% are Christians. Goa and Karnataka have considerable presence of Christians. In tribal pocket areas Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat Christians are in good percentage. In rest of the North India the Christians are spread through out and though their percentage may be less they have network of educational institutions. Christians in Punjab deserve special mention. There are urban areas like Indore, Jabalpur, Ajmer, Baroda, Surat, Mumbai, Pune, Nasik etc where one could find a good number of Christians.

It is remarkable that despite Christians being merely two and half percent of the population, the Church runs 22 per cent of the educational institutions and nearly 30 percent of the healthcare services. In addition, all these institutions claim minority institution status under the Constitution thereby claiming special tax benefits, land allotment and many other benefits.

The thrust of the Church politics in India has largely been on seeking minority institutions status for their educational and health care centres and projecting an image of pro-poor. Of late it has taken up the issue of reservation for the Christians of Dalit origin (which they popularly call Dalit Christians). The Christian leaders have been seeking political favours in the name of community but hardly ordinary Christians (the laity ) have benefited from such Government schemes.

It is irony that the Church leaders in India often argue that there ought to have transparency and democracy while dealing with them but hardly there is any transparency and democracy in the functioning of their own institutions.

The image of Christian community in the minds of ordinary Indian is changing from compassionate, peace loving and helping to group indulged in fraudulent conversion, anti-Hindu and spoiling image of India abroad. This is a dangerous sign for the community and not good for the future of Christian children.

It is estimated that of 24 million Christians, some 15 million are from Dalit Hindu background, some 5 million are tribal and rest belong to backward, OBC and high caste Hindu background.

Number of Christian Children

In India the number of Christian children (below the age of 16 years) is estimated to be around 8 millions of which nearly 5 millions live in the rural areas. The plight of rural Christian children is hardly looked into. They do not receive quality education or healthcare. Christian girls in rural areas are facing some of the worst problems of

The poor Christians in rural areas are in real trouble. The National Sample Survey indicates that higher percentage of Christians in rural areas is in poverty in comparison to other religious groups. Nearly 30 % of Christians are living on less than 450 rupees per person per month income and in the urban areas nearly 18 percent of Christians are forced to live on rupees 900 per person per month.

Despite owning best schools and one fifth of country's educational institutions nearly 15 % Christians are uneducated. In the rural areas, 40 per cent of Christians are illiterate. Thousands of tribal girls from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Assam, and Dalit girls from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are working as domestic workers -- virtually home slaves.

It is reported that a number of Christian children are engaged as child labourers in Chennai, Madurai, H y d e r a b a d , Vijayawada, Raipur, Jamshedpur, Kolkatta etc.

Ethical challenge

We know the deepest threat to our Christian community in India is not terrorism or globalization or disease or Hindutva but the cynical voices of defeatism, anger and doubt. The issue of the day is: are we preparing our children for future?

From the beginning of the history of the Christianity, religious education has taken a central place in the life of the people. In the Indian context, Christian community cannot function without relating to the multi-cultural and multi-religious reality.

In fact, we have to admit that in spite of this realization we have failed to formulate our objective of mission and the Christian religious education in this broader perspective. Therefore, realizing the role of Christian education as effort to introduce persons into the life and mission of the Christian community, we need to redefine the mission of Christian education in India.

If we want to transform the dimension of mission towards the relational model in contrary to "one against the other", there should be a shift in the Christian education. This shift may have to take seriously the experiences of the people of other faiths, the openness to learn from other scriptures, and to learn to live with people of other faith in tolerance. In India Christianity has to live side by side with these faiths. This challenges us to teach the Christian faith in the context of a plurality of faiths.

The above discussion certainly raises a few questions such as: Does our Christian education enable our children to discover light and truth in the lives of people from other faiths? Alternatively, do we work on the assumption that we alone have the light and truth? How can we cooperate with others then, realizing that we need their input, their experiences in order that we find a common answer to the local, national and global threats?

Living within a modern, secular and pluralistic society one is bound to be confronted with people of different belief systems and different life stances. Today, the teaching ministry of the church should be ready to enter into interreligious dialogue with eagerness to develop common grounds of understanding and cooperation.

In the Indian pluralistic context, our educational institutions need to equip Christian children to cope with real issues of cultural diversity and to live harmoniously with people of other religious beliefs and life stances. Religious education should try to foster open communication between people of other faiths, cultures and experiences.

Today, the Church institutions have very little of the spirit of teachings of Jesus Christ. Today, they are a gigantic empire unthinkable by the early Church founders. Nothing, however, was to change for the Dalits and the tribals - the poor Christians. The former were marginalised as the Church expanded its educational institutions and the latter continued to be treated second class Christians for nearly a century, despite the fact that "all men are created in the image of God."

Here I am obliged to raise a number of delicate questions:

1) Is it right for the Church leaders to close their eyes to the problems of poor Christians in India and blame only the Govt. or the majority community?

2) Can the Church in India do without ordinary Christians (the laity), who grow grains & vegetables, work on farms and carry out many duties for the Church leaders? Who would keep their houses, work as servants in their homes or do the lowest-paid jobs?

3) Is crackdown on dissident Christians fair, as they affect their children?

4) Is the neglect and maltreatment of Christians of Dalit origin and their continuous humiliation justifiable?

5) Is it fair to allow few persons to continue to corner opportunities, whatever the pretext may be?

6) Is it honourable to invest millions of dollars in land purchases and building complexes, to run services for the rich and powerful neglecting poor Christians in whose names these funds are collected?

(To be continued)

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