Protest at Delhi Police Headquarters after the burning of St Sebastian’s Church in Dilshad Gardens/ Image from The Indian Express
We observe Christmas today under the ominous cloud of Hindutvavaadi violence against minorities, which began on the very day of the BJP electoral victory seven months ago, and their determined attempt to obliterate all religious identities other than their own narrow version of Hinduism, a Hinduism that brutally excludes even large numbers of people who would consider themselves Hindu. From burning churches to physically attacking ‘Muslim-looking’ men, to trying to erase Christmas under the banal bureaucratese of Good Governance Day – Hindutvavaad has never had it so safe, never has it been so arrogant, as under the protective gaze of Modi, a Prime Minister who produces reams of flowery prose in his speeches, but through his public silence on these atrocities, satisfies both Hindutvavaad and his neo-liberal supporters – the one recognizing his benign encouragement, the other fooling itself that his silence shows displeasure.
Christmas has always lent itself to radical and subversive readings.
For many Christians, the message of the angel to the shepherds was one of liberation –
“Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy which will be for all people…”
As the company of angels joined the first messenger and gave glory to God, they emphasized the gift of peace and goodwill. The only possibility for peace and goodwill is through work for justice; work that moves the world in a direction away from empire, away from war, and toward God’s vision of peace and reconciliation. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem embodies this movement.
Meanwhile, for Dalits and Ambedkarites in India, December 25th is Manusmriti Dahan Din, the day on which B R Ambedkar publicly and ceremoniously in 1927, organized the burning of the Manusmruti during the Mahad Satyagraha, at the hands of Bapusahib Sahastrabuddhe and five or six other ‘dalit sadhus’.
Linking the vision of ‘social justice’ with ‘peace and good will ‘ is the inspiring history of the Christmas tree as an anti-slavery liberation symbol in the United States of America:
Before Christmas became a rousing commercial success, the holiday had a checkered history. In the American colonies, it was a holiday marked by heavy drinking and brawls—a raucous blend of July 4th and New Year’s Eve.
But as the bitter struggle over human bondage in the United States heated up in the 19th century, a determined band of anti-slavery Christian activists shaped the holiday into one devoted to the prince of peace and steadfast enemy of oppression.
In 1834, militant black and white members of William Lloyd Garrison’s new Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society created a Christmas holiday to expose a republic that proclaimed liberty throughout the land, yet held three million men, women and children in shackles. Boston abolitionist women, intent on financing their uphill crusade against the slave-holding elite that dominated the Southern states and the federal government, organized Christmas fairs that sold donated gifts at fund-raising bazaars. They also used these fairs as a vehicle to drive home their message…
Few Americans know that the holiday’s most powerful and cherished notions, an emphasis on children and gift-giving—and its emblematic evergreen tree—began as conceptual weapons in the struggle against the slave-holding elite, who dominated the federal government and the Southern states and held millions of people of African descent in chattel slavery.
To expose the world’s greatest crime, challenge the country’s strongest vested interest and recruit fellow citizens into their crusade for justice, a small interracial band reshaped a disorderly and turbulent Christmas into a holiday of human liberation.
Merry Christmas, friends, and strength for the struggles ahead!
(Thanks to Mary John for an inspiring Christmas morning conversation!)