Interview: Sangliana on faith and persecution of Christians

Published 12 April 2010  |  
Within the Christian circle or out of it, Dr. HT Sangliana needs no introduction. It is a name so popular that three feature films were made on his life. From being a super cop to a Lok Sabha MP and now the vice-chairman of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), Sangliana has served in several high-profile jobs. In all this, he admits, it was the paramount role of God that brought success and inspiration to selflessly serve humanity.

In a conversation with Christian Today, the decorated former police commissioner of Bangalore, who was one of 160 delegates to join US president-elect Barack Obama at his breakfast table in 2008, talks of his faith and his new role as the NCM vice-chairman.

How has faith helped you in your career success and recognition?

Christ has always been the inspiration of my life. It has been my humble submission to God that has been guiding me in my everyday life. I just say God I am available, use me in whatever way you want. So that kind of surrendering I would say has led me to live the way God wants me to and it is this faith on the living God that has brought all the progress in my life. That's why I have never been surprised as to what happens in my life. From day one in police cadet to now, God has been in control and has helped me and guided me.

Besides being known as the best police officer in India, you were known as the most upright and honest cop…do you credit it to the Christian values you possessed?

Absolutely! Let me say 100 percent. My Christian convictions and Christian upbringing has contributed greatly to building me as a personality, as an individual, or a child of God. My spirituality has helped me face different challenges in life. I give credit to God for all the good things that happened to me in my life. And all the bad things, I attribute to myself...for mishandling the situation. I am not at all ashamed to tell people how God has helped me in my life. At times some of my friends have hit back for acknowledging God's dominant role in my life. I am however strong in my conviction. It is God's presence in my life that led me to serve the downtrodden or the victim's of crime. I have negotiated between many quarreling parties and have brought an amicable solution. Without God, I am sure I could not have achieved many things.

You were among 160 international delegates to join US president-elect Barack Obama at his breakfast table in 2008. How was that feeling?

That was an incident where some unknown people put me into the selected group. I have never even met them before. I should say those were the people sent by God. He really works in the hearts and minds of people to honor you. It surely will remain a memorable moment in my life.

Towards your new role as the NCM vice-chairman, could you share what actions the Commission has taken to tackle the growing persecution of Christians in the country?

It is a very sensitive issue and unfortunately the NCM so far has not received any formal complaint or representation from any Christian individuals or organisations on any persecution. Without such a complaint, the NCM cannot act. After being appointed here, I am now determinedly studying the occurrence and looking for ways to bring the issue before the Commission. A complaint from any Christian group in this regard is most welcome.

Last week twelve pastors were arrested in Kodagu, Karnataka. Are you saying you so far have not received any information or complaint on it?

Just sometime back I was talking to the concerned on the arrest of these pastors. So many incidents like this take place. When it happens, as a representative I rush to those places and make enquiries. In fact according to the Commission's decision taken recently, all such issues and concerns related to the Christian community must come to my table and I will take the necessary action. Surely the concern of Christians will be put before the NCM to initiate an action.

So nothing in this regard has yet been initiated?

Yes, not yet.

Do you think persecution against Christians has something to do with progressive charismatic groups or Church's evangelistic aggressiveness as claimed?

Well, I would say this is only to a small portion. Most of the time it is the handiwork of radical organisations like VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal. They really need education. They need correct information as to what Christians are doing. Acting on cooked up charges, they are attacking Christians and their institutions. Most of the Hindu fundamentalists worry that if conversions continue like this, reportedly on compulsion or false promises, the Christian population will overgrow Hindus and Hindus will become a minority. These are all baseless allegations. There are over 80 % of Hindus and they steadily continue to grow with new converts. Whereas the percentage of Christians in this country is low and it is absolutely nonsensical to consider Christians a threat to the Hindu population.

In Mangalore for instance, there were rumours that the 2008 violence was sparked by a Christian pamphlet that printed derogatory references and remarks against Hindu gods. What is the truth?

That leaflet was written years back by someone mindless. It was purportedly reprinted by anti-social elements to deliberately indulge in arson and violence. It clearly was not printed by the Church. That imaginary allegation was forthrightly disproved. So education to such radical youths is very much needed.

What about education to church people or Christian youths?

Yes, that is equally important. We must educate our church people and Christian youths as well. People in positions like me must take the onus of instructing on what is right and wrong. I have attended many pastors' conferences and in all these platforms I have been asking them to be careful, wise and prudent. Plan out your strategies and have a church intelligence network. The stronghold of RSS and Bajrang Dal must be avoided. We also necessarily don't have to go around with our cassock and appear highly spiritual. We also must be careful while conducting prayers at homes and not give any unneeded suspicion.

Yesterday I was with the Home Minister. I was discussing with him the case of an American delegation of priests who was blocked from entering India. The Home Minister told me that government disallows only those coming for evangelistic purposes, but the rest of the things it does not place restrictions. I informed the Home Minister that these religious representatives who are coming including Jews and Cardinals from the Catholic community, are harmless. They usually come to conduct ordinations or to perform ritualistic proceedings. My meeting with him was very fruitful.

In Kandhamal there has clearly been a failure of law and justice. Many criminals like BJP MLA Manoj Pradhan are being acquitted. Not once, but several times. Has the NCM taken note of this?

Again we need something specific to start an enquiry. We and the judges there are very well aware that culrpits have gone unpunished. Most of them are freed due to lack of evidence against them. Nothing can be done in such cases. You need evidence to take any legal action. Politicians like Manoj can intimidate any number of people and continue to indulge in lawlessness. They threaten the victims and witnesses. It is very sad and deplorable. This is the situation in India today, but the same also happens in developed countries like America where a mother who saw her own son being stabbed, recently retracted her statement.

But what happened in Kandhamal is very serious and shocking. Many Christians were murdered.

In fact it is a political and social issue. Politically they want all these tribals to be Hindus so they can continue to have them as their vote bank. And Christians have been offering their services through education and healthcare. This growing presence of Christians has incurred hate. What has happened there is really sad.

As a vice-chairman, what can you do?

This Commission had visited Kandhamal last year and in 2008. We brought out several recommendations for the welfare of the people. For eg: compensation to the victims. It however is only recommendatory in nature. The action part is left to the state government.

Are you saying that NCM is handicapped when it comes to the action part?

Exactly. This is the saddest part. This Commission can only make enquiries and investigations. We can make recommendations and suggestions. We can even quiz any government official, including chief ministers. However, we have limitations. The ultimate implementation depends on their goodwill and humanitarian concern of those in power. There is no law that can compel the state government to act on something. Like all Commissions, this Commission also has certain restrictions. Hence, I have come to my own conviction and conclusion that even If I would be like a clear drop of water dropping into the muddy ocean of the world, what impact can it make as a single drop? It gets diluted and renders meaningless. But still I want to fall as a clear drop, at least being able to make a small difference. The world will go on, even if am here or not...it makes no difference.

We very much lack Christian politicians. But recently you had asked a student community in Aizawl to stay away from politics?

What I meant is that before entering politics, our students must be well educated. Education is more important. Without having good education if one enters politics it does not make any impact. If they have to play politics tomorrow, the best thing is to have good education. We surely need Christian politicians who can voice for us. Democracy is a game of numbers. Let us hunt for such people and raise them as future leaders.

What is your take on the reservation status for Dalit Christians and Muslims?

The government should give the SC status to Dalit Christians and Muslims. I really want to remove the word 'dalit' from church vocabulary. We can just call them Christians. They are just Christians…why calling Harijan Christian, Brahmin Christian and others. This nomenclature or prefix only gives them an inferiority complex. It mars their mindset leading them to segregation. Christianity is the only doctrine in the world that promote equality complex. So Church must remove the word dalit and everybody must be called Christians. We need a proper church policy on that. When it comes to education also church must admit these downtrodden Christian children irrespective of their scores or percentage. It is the duty of the church to give them good education and bring them to the level of general students. By improving the quality of education to these children, we are building a better tomorrow. They will be our scientists and politicians and will be a pillar for the church community as well.

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