Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mrs. Smith's Wish List

I wish I didn't have to write this post. I knew several days ago that I was going to write it, but I put it off because it presented me with two problems: First, it deals in part with subjects that I have purposely avoided on this blog. Second, I find it difficult to write about the evil that men do.

I wish I was surprised. On Saturday evening a total of five bombs went off in three market places in Delhi. Markets that we like to visit, but luckily were nowhere near. More than 20 people were killed and many more injured. In the last year there have been bombings in several major cities around India, so it was only a matter of time before they hit Delhi. Actually, according to the local paper it has been going on for three years and it was in October of 2005, almost three years ago exactly, that Delhi had it's last large bombing. This latest one was claimed by the Indian Mujahideen who says the bombings were in retaliation for the oppression of Muslims in India.

Before we become too comfortable with our stereotypes, there is a group of militant Hindus that are causing just as much death and destruction in southern India. Everyday we read about beatings, stonings and church burnings. Those responsible say that their actions are in response to forced conversions of Hindus to Christianity. Obviously India is experiencing religious unrest on a large scale right now.

I wish my story ended there. It seems we are experiencing some religious unrest on a small scale in our neighborhood. My family belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church. For the first several months of our stay in India we attended church in Delhi. Eventually we were asked to hold meetings in our home. The hope was that having services outside of Delhi would make it easier for those who lived further out to attend. A few months ago we outgrew our living room and the church rented a building for us to meet in. I was excited about the new building because it was within walking distance of our home but not actually in our home. (The only thing harder than getting a bunch of kids up and ready for church is keeping your house spotless while you do it.) We knew that we might have some problems establishing a new Christian congregation in a country that is 80% Hindu, but we were still surprised when the problems started.

I wish violence was not a political tool. First it was our sign. Most Mormon buildings have a plaque on an outside wall identifying it as a church. Within 20 minutes of putting our plaque up, we received a call from our landlord saying that he was receiving complaints from the neighborhood watch group. We knew the sign fell well within the rules for signs in the neighborhood, but we also knew it was a fight we would not win, so we removed the plaque. Next came rumours about what our members and our missionaries were doing. The rumours were false, but I am sure they hit their mark before we were able to set the record straight.

Finally, last Sunday, as we were gathering, a woman approached the church and told those in front of our building that we had to stop holding meetings. According to her there were those that wished us harm. She claimed to have stopped two such people already. She assured us that if we tried to meet this coming week, the rocks would fly and she would be unable to stop them. After a little investigation into the situation, it appears that someone hopes to gain local political power by using the ousting of our small congregation as a rallying point.

I wish it wasn't true. Religion and violence seem to be linked, despite the fact that most religions preach against it. I wonder how much of it is justified and how much is caused by ignorance and misunderstandings. For example, I considered including three pictures at the top of this post. First, a picture of Ganesh, second, a picture of Jesus and third, a picture of Muhammad. As I looked for images I was surprised by how few pictures there were of Muhammad. The explanation I eventually found was this, Muslims don't have images of anything with a soul because it could lead to idolatry. If that is true, how many people might have I offended with my innocent banner?

I wish I didn't know. Now as I walk around the neighborhood I find myself wondering about the people I see. Would the boy who sells us bread throw a rock? Would the men who say hello to us in the park turn a blind eye? Would the women who smile and nod when we pass in the street come to defend my children? It hurts to think that the people with whom we have tried to become friendly, could turn to violence with a few emotionally charged phrases.

I wish I understood.


lauralquinton said...

Scary! My thoughts and prayers will be with you and your family and your little branch. I really didn't think things like that still exsisted these days. I hope things get better!!

Mrs. G. said...

I, too, wish religion and politics weren't often partners in crime.

The business with your plaque is very unsettling.

Seiperts in India said...

Wow, so hard to believe that is going on. I wonder if there has been any issues with our building in VV? Good luck!

mr smith said...

Some random thoughts as I read this post:

When we moved to India, we knew there would be challenges. We have faced several, and mrs smith has described them so eloquently and comedically all at once. This challenge is different. It is not just about us. It is about several people with whom we attend church. It is about the anti-christian fire that is currently burning across the country of India. It is about the basic, fundamental right to worship, which is also guaranteed in this, the largest democracy in the world. It is about politics and power. It is about choosing where we stand in this world - irrespective of faith.

India is a wonderful country. Its people are warm, generous, amazing people. We have felt welcomed and embraced almost all of the time. Today it feels different. Yesterday I commented to one of the people with whom I was walking home, "feels like everyone is watching us right now, doesn't it?" They agreed.

It doesn't matter where we attend church. It doesn't matter what christian faith we represent. Some young friends of ours were called and warned by some other people of a different christian demonination who were also being warned of impending danger. Everyone is feeling the concern, and the eyes of the neighborhood, city, state, country and world are upon all of us - or so it feels.

"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke

It seems that doing nothing is not okay, and doing the something we would prefer to do is also not okay. Sometimes it is very hard to know which to choose.

And on a humorous note - I have some christian friends who see mormonism as a cult, as not true christianity. They say the Jesus Christ in our faith is not the same as in theirs. That's ok. One of the fundamental tenets of our faith is that we allow all people to worship as they feel they should, "how, where and what they may." Still, I can't help but wonder how they would feel about coming here with us and being lumped in together as christians. :o) Makes me warm and fuzzy.

Hunnydu72 said...

I've had a rough day today, twisting over what seems like a cream puff past in comparison to what your family and congregation have faced.

Are you still able to use the building without the signs? Have there been any other threats?

I would be happy to be lumped in with your family as Christians and Americans. I'm not a Mormon but some of the best people I know are.

American Shaivite said...

"Before we become too comfortable with our stereotypes, there is a group of militant Hindus that are causing just as much death and destruction in southern India."

Really? Just as much death and destruction as Muslim terrorists are causing? Any statistics?

I'm also a little confused as to why you would move all the way to India just to practice your faith.
Couldn't you have practiced it in your native land?

Mrs. Smith said...

The bombings that sparked this particular post killed at least 30 people and injured more than 100. I am not sure how many shops were damaged.

The violence I mentioned in southern India (at least south of New Delhi, where we were at the time) was in response to the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda by Maoists. During the month that followed, the official death toll was around 38. Dozens of churches and prayer houses as well as about 4000 homes were burned, thousands of people were injured, and somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 people fled their homes.

I am very sorry if it seemed I was picking on Hindus, the two events just happened to coincide. Sadly I cannot think of a major religion, including Christianity, that does not have those within it who look for excuses to turn to violence.

One last note, my family and I did not move to India to practice our faith. We were moved there by Mr. Smith's employer for business purposes. Luckily, the democracy of India allowed us to worship openly while we were there, even when it upset local politicos. You are right, the native land to which Mr. Smith and I were born does allow us, and everyone else, to practice our own faith; however, we would practice our faith no matter where we lived.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments. Our experiences are told from our unique perspective. They are not written to please anyone in particular, merely to tell our tale.

Kind regards,

Mr Smith

American Shaivite said...

I don't understand why Christian homes and churches would be destroyed because Maoists killed a prominant Hindu figure. Were the Maosists also Christians? Is there a Christian-Maoist alliance in India?

Mrs. Smith said...

From what I have read, this particular Swami was known for reconverting Hindus that had converted to Christianity. After his murder, the police came out and said that they had a letter from a Maoist organization (a political group) claiming responsibility. Almost immediately high ranking Maoists denied any knowledge of or part in the death and public suspicion turned to the Christians. It was quickly confirmed that it had been a smaller, radical Maoist group, but the anger over Swami Lakshmanananda's death had already found an outlet.

American Shaivite said...

Hmmmm. Odd. I've googled "maoist-christian alliance India" and it does appear that there is some sort of thing taking place in the Northeast region of the country.

That's interesting because most Christians I know in the state are "anti-commie".

It is unfortunate that people are willing to engage in violence over things that cannot be scientifically proven: religious figures and beliefs.

I know that India has a long history of accomodating many different faiths and way of life, so of course this is due to political interference, trying to drum up "communal" sentiments.

That all being said, I never understood this whole "conversion business" that takes place around the world.

I've found that people do best when they stick to the religions that are indigenous to their lands.

It is more congruent to the environment and culture.

American Shaivite said...

That's interesting because most Christians I know in the state are "anti-commie".

Mistake. Should read:

That's interesting because most Christians I know in the United States of America are "anti-commie".

Anonymous said...

I can't really speak for most christians. I would say, however, that you are right that most US christians are anti-communist. There is no excuse for religious violence, in my opinion - be it christian, muslim, hindu, jewish or any other religion. If all people will live what they profess to believe, our world will be a much better place for all.

Mr Smith