To Amruta Fadnavis: Why I Don’t Support Your Choice To Lead The “Be Santa” Campaign

by Shefali Vaidya - Dec 13, 2017 07:45 PM +05:30 IST
To Amruta Fadnavis: Why I Don’t Support Your Choice To Lead The “Be Santa” CampaignAmruta Fadnavis, banker, playback singer, social worker and wife of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis (Twitter)
  • Isn’t it ironic, Amrutaji, that the faith that is responsible for so many cases of child sex abuse is the one promoting ‘giving’ in the name of an imaginary Santa?

    Shefali Vaidya’s open letter to Amruta Fadnavis:

Dear Amrutaji,

You are the wife of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, but you are so much more than that. You are a successful banker, an aspiring singer and a powerful personality in your own right. I have always admired your efforts to carve out an image for yourself and not be under the shadow of your husband. I have, in the past, publicly supported your sartorial choices, your music video and your efforts to give your child a normal childhood, despite her being the Chief Minister’s daughter.

However, I disagree with you on your choice to lead the “Be Santa” campaign launched by Big FM. I do agree that Santa is an endearing legend, and the story of ‘giving at Christmas’ is a very powerful one. I also fully support your right as a private individual to celebrate whatever festivals you like in your house with your family. I have grown up in Goa and have always celebrated Christmas at my Christian friend’s place.

In fact, once, I too was a lot like you, believing in the myths of ‘love, sharing and caring’ during Christmas. I even proudly declared on Facebook once that Santa gifted my children books on Hinduism for Christmas! I haven’t deleted that post as it serves as a reminder to me about my own naïveté.

To Amruta Fadnavis: Why I Don’t Support Your Choice To Lead The “Be Santa” Campaign

However, I am a wiser parent now and understand how Christian evangelists are targeting non-Christian populations using tools like Santa and the legend of ‘giving at Christmas’ to facilitate conversions.

The Pope has tweeted that “sharing requires conversion”. He has also expressed hope that his “faith will continue to reach more and more people through Charity”. The conversion factories are targeting Indian Hindus and Sikhs in a big way. You only have to visit states like Andhra and Kerala to see for yourself the extent of religious conversions. Entire villages are being converted to Christianity through coercion.

The Archbishop of Gujarat has gone on record appealing to Christians from India to “not support nationalist parties like the BJP”. In such a situation, when Amruta Fadnavis, as the Chief Minister’s wife, lends her name and support to a campaign that talks about ‘giving’ only at Christmas, that is where my sense of unease starts. Amruta Fadnavis as a parent has every right to celebrate whatever festivals she likes at her home, with her family, but as the Chief Minister’s wife, lending your name to a well-established campaign can be counterproductive.

Today, Hindu private schools are facing the brunt of an unjust Right to Education Act, while missionary-run schools and minority institutions are having a field day. What is the Government of Maharashtra doing about it? New aggressive evangelical sects of Christianity like the Believers and the Pentecostals are targeting impoverished Hindus and Sikhs and coercing them to convert, offering financial incentives.

In May 2014, I went to Kerala and saw with my eyes how the Christian conversion factories were destroying the demographic balance and the culture of the state. In Kerala, I met a man who was abused by a priest in the Church in his childhood. He had to seek years of therapy to come out of the trauma. To listen to his stories made my skin crawl.

You dismiss religious conversions as a few “stray incidents”. But if you dig just a little further, you will realise how sinister the whole plan is.

Have you heard of the Joshua Project, Amrutaji? It is a huge global movement funded from outside India to spread the “word of God amongst the heathens”. “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations”, reads the quote attributed to Jesus on the Joshua Project website. They have profiled each separate Hindu caste group, sub-group and tribe, meticulously listing the number of people, region, customs and traditions. There is an industry order list specifying how many people from the group have been “reached”. This is the level of aggressive evangelism the Church supports.

To Amruta Fadnavis: Why I Don’t Support Your Choice To Lead The “Be Santa” Campaign

Indic faiths on the other hand, have never attempted to “convert” anyone. Indic faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are pluralistic by nature, with space for dissenters. They do not see religion as a competitive enterprise, and therefore are always the target for proselyting faiths like Christianity and Islam. Truth is, pluralistic faiths like Sanatana Dharma will always be less aggressive compared to Abrahamic faiths because they do not believe in any “One God” and therefore do not see the point in “converting” people. The balance for religious conversions is fundamentally lop-sided with the pluralistic traditions at a huge disadvantage.

You might have seen the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight, Amrutaji. It is a riveting movie based on the Boston Globe investigation on the widespread sexual abuse of children by Christian clergy in the area. It was not one Church or one priest we are talking about; there were hundreds of victims and many Christian priests involved in Boston district alone. The Church had to pay over $3 billion in settlements to the sexual abuse victims, many of whom continue to be traumatised even today. The movie exposes the massive cover-up by the Church, wherein priests accused of misconduct were quietly transferred and allowed to work in other parishes, and documents were destroyed and witnesses bought over. A study by Reverend (Rev) Ronald Barton and Rev Karen Lebaczq (March 1990) for the Center for Ethics and Social Policy of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, found that a whopping 25 per cent of Christian priests have engaged in sexual misconduct in the United States alone! Isn’t it ironic, ma’am, that the faith that is responsible for so many cases of child sex abuse is the one promoting ‘giving’ in the name of an imaginary Santa? As a parent, doesn’t this scare you?

The Church in India is responsible for one of the greatest crimes committed against humanity – the Goan Inquisition. My own family has borne the brunt of forced conversions when they had to leave their belongings and land behind in the Portuguese-controlled territories and had to start life afresh with nothing with them save the idol (murti) of their family deity and a fistful of soil from their Tulsi Vrundavan. The Goan Inquisition was described by historian Alfredo de Mello as perverse, violent acts of “nefarious, fiendish, lustful, corrupt religious orders which pounced on Goa for the purpose of destroying paganism (i.e. Hinduism) and introducing the true religion of Christ”, and yet the Pope or the Church has never expressed any real remorse for the tortures they inflicted upon the people of Goa.

Amrutaji, you have described yourself repeatedly as a “proud Hindu” in your tweet replies to me. I do not doubt that one bit, but I have just one question for you. How many times have you lent your voice to a purely Hindu campaign as a proud Hindu? How many times have you helped organise a Ramlila or presided over a children’s competition on Janmashtami where adults can ‘be Krishna’ and bring gifts to the disadvantaged?

The same Church whose prayer meetings Fadnavis has attended, has openly interfered in electoral politics in India in the past. In Goa, clergy have appealed in their sermons for Christians to not vote for the BJP. Recently, when the Gujarat elections were announced, the Archbishop of Gujarat appealed to all Christians of India to not vote for “nationalist parties” like the BJP. Your husband is one of the youngest chief ministers from the BJP with a solid track record. Did you not feel like questioning the Church as a “proud Hindu” about their policy on conversions and why they don’t want to support “nationalist” parties?

The issue is not about Santa at all. It is about an insidious campaign to subtly influence a group of people to denounce their cultural and religious traditions and adapt other, alien traditions. In an ideal world, every person should be free to participate in and learn from the culture and traditions of others, but when the participation is a one-way street, that becomes the problem.

I’m sure you have read the views of Mahatma Gandhi on the topic of conversions. Gandhiji had said, “I believe that there is no such thing as conversion from one faith to another in the accepted sense of the word. It is a highly personal matter for the individual and his God.” (Harijan, 9 September 1935)

The writer is a freelance writer and newspaper columnist based in Pune.
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