If you look back at the history of missionary activity, you will find that most successful activity has happened when there has been active backing by the state. Missionaries have generally piggybacked on conquests in order to spread the message of their version of God. The other popular method has been to impress upon and convert the ruler of a particular place, and then get his sponsorship to spread the message throughout the kingdom.
Once missionary activity has government backing, then it will run smoothly. The government will ensure that any hurdles to the activity are removed, and might even provide active support to the activity – my means of decrees and laws and rules.
Missionary activity can also take place in a secular democracy without active government banking – provided there is no opposition. An example of this would be the early years of Indian independence where Christian missionaries found fertile areas for activity in the tribal areas. Since the opposition to them hardly existed, and even when it did wasn’t organized, the activity was largely successful.
What has changed the equation is the emergence of the VHP as a defender of Hindu rights. An organized body which provides active support for opposition to missionary activity by other religions. From the Christian point of view, the smooth sailing that they had in the years after independence was broken by the VHP – for now there was a “flag”, behind which opponents of conversion could rally.
The situation has been uneasy for about 20 years now, and has seen the sporadic case of violence – such as the burning of Graham Staines, or when some nuns got raped. However, in the last 20 years, the VHP has only got stronger. Through the Vanvasi Kalyan Samitis (tribal welfare units of the sangh parivar), the VHP has managed to educate the tribals, and has become a major force in the tribal areas, especially in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. What has happened in the last 20 years or so has been a virtual tug of war between the VHP on one side and Christian missionaries on the other.
We should be happy if the current Orissa situation is defused with minimum damage. No one can be blamed for what has happened there in the last few days. There had been a bomb over there which was just waiting to explode, and the killing of that VHP Swami provided the spark.
However, the fact that the bomb has gone off once doesn’t mean that it won’t go off again. People need to learn from this. It needs to be accepted that the VHP is a strong force now, and will put a lot of effort in ensuring that Hindus remain Hindus. Apart from this, even though people might try to play the “secular” card, the missionaries need to understand that they don’t have any government backing, or protection. And that they are on their own now.
As I had remarked in the beginning of this essay, when missionaries are on their own, they cannot function too well. I don’t recall too many instances from history where msisionaries of any religion have done well, despite not receiving any government banking, in situations where the opposition to their activity is strong.
What we had in the last 60 years was a lopsided situation – with the uber-organized Christian missionaries on one side, and disorganized Hindu groups on the other. In a war where one side is significantly better than the other, there is no bloodshed – the weaker party just resigns. Hence, there had been no problem. However, in the new situation, the only way that Chrisian missionaries can actively continue their missionary activity is by spilling blood – both their own and that of other communities. The sooner they understand this, the better.