In the wake of a series of assaults targeting the Christian community, retired Indian police officer and civil servant Julio Ribeiro has written a deeply personal op-ed for the Indian Express expressing his anguish as an Indian Christian who feels alienated in his own country.
"I am not an Indian anymore, at least in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra," he writes, adding, "is it coincidence or a well-thought-out plan that the systematic targeting of a small and peaceful community should begin only after the BJP government of Narendra Modi came to power last May?"
The op-ed is a response to the series of events/attacks targeting the Christian community, be it the saffron parivar's Ghar Wapsi campaign, the decision to observe 25 December as Good Governance day, the RSS attack on Mother Teresa, a series of church vandalizations in Delhi, along with a school in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, and most recently the vandalisation of a church in Hisar, Haryana.
"Many schools, colleges, related establishments that teach skills for jobs have been set up and run by Christians. They are much in demand. Even diehard Hindus have sought admission in such centres of learning and benefited from the commitment and sincerity of Christian teachers," said Ribeiro, speaking about the various contributions of the Christian community.
"Should they desist from doing such humanitarian work for fear of being so admired and loved that a stray beneficiary converts of his or her own accord? Should only Hindus be permitted to do work that could sway the sentiments of stricken people in need of human love and care?" he added.
The op-ed is particularly damning as it is penned by one of the famous and beloved police chiefs in the country. Ribeiro is most famous for leading the Punjab police during the Khalistan insurgency in the eighties. He also won a Padma Bhushan award in 1987 for the same. "The country’s defence forces have countless men and women in uniform who are Christians. How can they be declared non-Indians by Parivar hotheads out to create a pure Hindu Rashtra?" he writes.
Speaking about his experience as a Christian police officer during the Emergency, he recalls, "When 25 RSS men on parade were shot dead in cold blood one morning, then Punjab Governor S.S. Ray and I rushed to the spot to console the stricken families. The governor visited 12 homes, I visited the rest. The governor’s experience was different from mine. He was heckled and abused. I was welcomed."
Ribeiro's op-ed comes in the midst of increased alarm over what is perceived as a resurgent saffron fringe which has been openly asserting its muscle. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, Dharm Jagran Samiti leader Rajeshwar Singh organised a reconversion programme across a Protestant Church, where he reportedly thundered, “We will cleanse our Hindu society. We will not let the conspiracy of church or mosque succeed in Bharat.”
The latest gang-rape of a missionary nun in Bengal has added fuel to the fear of rising communalisation, specifically targeting Christians (though it is not clear whether this was a communal incident). The Modi government has been under pressure to keep the radical right in check, and Ribiero's op-ed is only likely to turn up the heat.