Friday, November 26, 2010

The religiosity of an Indian Syrian Christian when faced with atrocity

The news of the massacre of Christians in Iraq still hits me hard. Several of my sisters and brothers being murdered in cold blood is not a pleasant sight or thought. My feelings go in the range of the Old Testament eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth only to subside with the different range of readings on love your neighbour also shining bright from within my holy scripture. I cannot settle down to one clear reaction though and my senses sweep the universe for an answer to this injustice on my people, even though I do not know them personally and my relationship with them is rooted to my historical and hierarchical connection with Antioch and the Syrians.

I felt a deep attachment to the protest organised by the Syrians in the U.N. in New York which members of the Malayali Syrian community also participated in. The world wide protest is not limited to the injustice in Iraq but also against a growing intolerance of fundamentalist Muslim groups all over the world. The hate speeches (sermons) delivered to young Muslims incite a growing flame of a jihad or war that has to be won at any cost. The Christian world and especially the Syrian Christian world are also reacting to this.

In India the Muslims comprise a larger group than the Christians but are not the majority group nevertheless. In Middle Eastern countries this is not the case, with a Christian minority existing among an overwhelming majority of Muslims belonging to different sects of Islam. This over riding presence in conflict zones even goes to the extent of ethnic and religious cleansing. The feeling there is therefore of survival and a day to day existence rather than arguing on a basis of equal terms.

Indian Syrian Christians including my church the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church in India is at a position of advantage and has not suffered the enduring hardship of Syrian Christians in the Middle East starting from Turkey and extending to other places and ending in a systematic and concerted effort at wiping out an entire community. This story has been largely untold and the Syrian community in India has also not understood this historical context of our Syrian sisters and brothers in the Middle East. We have sought to be attached to the Syrian heritage but we have not had to endure the hardship that they have endured. Our hardships have been due to schisms which have divided us into various denominations, all laying claim to the same history and heritage.

The situation in India for the Syrian Christians has been different. Minority politics and political parties favouring Christians as a whole have meant that we have by and large not been put to such tests by the majority of this land. It is therefore a different experience for us. The Indian Muslim has struggled on two fronts. On the one hand they have had to prove their love to their country India and on the other hand they have had to prove their love and allegiance to their religion Islam. They have been called traitors from within and outside India. Their existence in India is therefore a difficult one and also one where they try to understand themselves. They have also suffered ethnic and religious cleansing battles by Hindu fundamentalist groups.

As an Indian Syrian Christian, what does one say to the atrocities against Christians in Iraq? A sizable population of Muslims in India will condemn the killings as much as we do. But the protests in the U.S. and Europe will have a totally different colour to it because of the support it will get from various groups. What has the Syrian Christian community in India done when children have been robbed of their childhood and education, women have been battered at home, dalits have been burnt alive, adivasis and tribals have been buried alive and branded as anti-state, and people with disabilities have been shunned into a corner? There have been occasional voices of protest but as a community we have not voiced our protest as we are still unaware of what happens in our own country.

Can this be a problem of illiteracy? It is unfortunately not possible to hide behind that argument as the community has a good literacy rate. The problem could then be a selective literacy which has been followed for decades by different Syrian churches in India. This selective literacy has also blinded our eyes to the sufferings of our Syrian sisters and brothers in Iraq and elsewhere. We therefore have to learn about our sisters and brothers everywhere, India included. It would be harsh and immature to jump at Muslims in India for what a certain sect of Muslims is doing in Iraq. But we also have to protest what a certain sect in Iraq is doing to Syrians there, as the right to live, the right to worship and the right to belong is intrinsic to one’s existence as a human being. We also have to join protests which are off line and online in different parts of the world to affirm the humanity of all. This is what we have been offered at the garden of Eden. And no one has the right to take it away.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jerry John Kurien (Facebook, 26-11-2010)
‎" selective litracy"...i like that statement,In India in general we grow up in a pre ordained life pattern and even the educational system is restrictive towards the syllubus of the respective boards as much as the transformation has started its still slow...As a nation we have never protested loud our condemnation towards inhumanity be it within our country or in a international platform,Even president Obama made a comment abt the same in his parlimentary address in India.The growing atrocities by the fundament grouips towards humanity is only increasing not only in Iraq but elsewhere too.The very root cause of this attack " protection of christian coptic women(Egypt)" is still to be addressed and till to date no action has been taken for their protection ,here the war is not targeted on religion but "religion' is used as a sheild to defend their radical thoughts.As a comunity our protest should represent to the inhumanity towards christians all around the world...today its Iraq and tommorrow it will follow its trails somewhere else!

Anonymous said...

Ciya Abraham (Facebook, 26-11-2010)- well said achen!!as you rightly point out, we are happy to share the syrian legacy, not the hardship. we are happy talking about compassion and kindness, but restrict ourselves when we need to put our voices forth , for a community that has to undergo the impact of mullah's islam.our awarness of christians in the middle east is so limited, we almost fail to see them. good to see you raising the topic.

Anonymous said...

Prince Mathews (Facebook, 26-11-2010)- hi achen, good article. we are all happy sitting within our comfort zones n brooding over next to non-existing issues within our sabha itself. lip sympathy is offered to the suffering. feel sad to say this but almost every parish has some issue or the other. wwe rarely think big or in a wider perspective, with the result we r blind to such happenings.

Fr Jerry said...

Very good reading of the situation Jerry. Thanks for your comment. There are two issues. One religious fundamentalism and two the detachment of Syrian Christians in India from issues both inside and outside India.

Fr Jerry said...

Ciya: Thanks for dropping by. It is true that we are mainly unaware of the hardships of people outside India. But here I also add the hardships of people inside India. Nevertheless we have to identify with the pains of our sisters and brothers from other countries, contexts, ethnicities, castes, gender and even religion.

Fr Jerry said...

Prince: Thanks for the comment achen. Its nice that you point out the comfort zones and how we are comfortably positioned inside it. In comparison we definitely have smaller issues. I am not saying that they are not issues. But we haven't faced life and death issues from within a context of violence for some time now and we haven't even come close to it. In the interim we have found senseless issues to fight over.

Anonymous said...

Prince Mathews (29-11-2010)- Achen, somehow, we go on harping bout our historical legacy, time and again. we haven't found out how to stay within this legacy and view events of human rights violation and other related contemporary issues faced by the world. this detachment makes us always exclusive.

Fr Jerry said...

Very true achen. That is the point. We don't know where we are placed actually. The church does have a clear role cut out for it though!

ajith said...

achen, good article...the same feeling is going through the malankara orthodox churches too...one day a priest from the pulpit said...'you complain that the service is long ...you complain that you need to wake up early during Christmas and Easter ...while our brethren in the middle east risk their lives to attend a qurbana and are not worried about the length of the service nor its language ...they just want to worship christ..you have are like the koras of teh old testament...always complaining when God has done good to you...'..how true isn't it?

Fr Jerry said...

Thanks for the comment Ajith. There are a host of issues involved. The religiosity of a Syrian Christian in India and in the middle east is different because of the conditions faced. We live in a more fortunate environment. Our problems are more to do with the schism in the church and battle over properties.
In the middle east they face different day to day problems of life and death. Life is too short to bicker over and complain. We should rather learn from our sisters and brothers in other places as well. I get the feeling that in India now we are not subject to atrocities from without (outside). Rather we are faced with attrocities from within (inside).