Fifteen years ago, if someone had predicted a national controversy about the phrase “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Victory to Mother India), I would have shelved that idea with other revolutionary and fanciful notions like “Batman exists” or that “God does not exist”.
Who would have ever thought. In a controversy that had embroiled popular political figures like Mohan Bhagwat of the RSS, Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM, Baba Ramdev of the Patanjali and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri. Devendra Fadnavis, our nation (or at least our nation’s blogosphere, Twittersphere and “newsphere”) was buzzing through with variants of the question –
Can any Indian citizen choose not to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai!” ?
If not, aren’t such people anti-national?
Should this debate concern Indian Christians?
I think it should concern anyone who is part of a religious minority in our country.
Barely a few weeks ago, Muslim youth from a Delhi Madrassa were beaten up by some men allegedly because they refused to say this potent phrase. The cops have claimed that there are conflicting versions about what the victims of the attack were asked to say – “ Victory to Mother India” or “Victory to the Mother”, which is Jai Mata Di, a worship chant for Vaishno Devi, a Hindu goddess popular in North India.
At a sadbhavana sammelan (compassion rally) in Haryana, Baba Ramdev said that but for the law, he would have chopped heads of those who refuse to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai“.
He now has a police complaint registered against him for making a hate speech. It is yet to be seen what legal action would be taken against a prominent pro-Hindutva guru in these times. But my point is – if an Indian citizen who is a Christian refuses to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, it is quite possible that he or she shall face no small repercussion in India’s tangible summer of religious intolerance.
So, is it right for Christians to say this phrase?
3 Ways Christians could respond to the “Bharat Mata ki Jai” demand
1. Christians could refuse to say it
Christians could refuse to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and still be 100% patriotic. This is because the popular representation of Bharat Mata is that of a Hindu goddess with the country’s map in the background. A quick read on the origins of Bharat Mata reveals undeniable Hindu roots, though I think the sincere purpose was to use the idol imagery to stir Indians (read Hindus and liberal minorities) into united zeal and patriotism during the pre-Independence years.
It is usually second nature for a Hindu to mix up patriotic zeal with the worship of yet another god of their creation. This logic is the engine behind Bharat Mata’s popularity – which self-respecting Hindu would not worship, serve & liberate the divine mother from the dungeons of tyrannical British rule?
However, no monotheistic minority is required to ascribe victory to a goddess of another religion in India. Hail our nation, yes. “National Goddess”? We don’t have one.
Both the right to freedom of speech and the right to practice religion allows such Christians to refrain. Patriotism is one thing. Worship is another matter entirely.
There will always be people who would not offer worship to “Bharat Mata” but will fill the skies with chants of “Bharat Mahan”, “Bharat Zindabad” & more than that, will fulfill their national duties by living lives of integrity & responsibility.
Such Christians might strongly disagree with their spiritual brothers & sisters who have other opinions on the matter. Chanting this particular phrase smacks of idol worship and they will have none of it. However, I expect these Christians to say “Jai Hind” any day, though, because that phrase has no personification involved.
2. Christians could consider it a “grey” area and respond either way, based on their conscience.
The Christian is graciously given the opportunity to go either way on matters that are not inherently defined as “sin”– by the Holy Bible itself. Romans 14 is the main scripture portion in view, and we could look at Romans 14:1,2,3, 23 to get a gist of the matter.
Here, the assumption is that chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” is a “grey area”. One set of Christians would say something to this effect-
“ ‘Bharat Mata’ is not a real god, and I do not intend to worship her. If I indeed worshipped her, I would have been looking to her and praying for her to fulfill my needs. But I know fully well she is a representation of our country and not a divine god. So I believe this chant involves none of my worship. There might be other Christians who cannot with a clear conscience of faith in Jesus say this phrase and I accept them because due to Christ’s selfless sacrifice, God the Father forgave me & accepted me. In order to not confuse their conscience, I choose to not say the phrase in their presence”.
The second set of Christians under the “grey area” will have convictions similar to #1 above, but they would not hold it against the “Bharat Mata-chanting” Christians because they too believe it’s a grey area and not an outright right-or-wrong issue.
3. Christians could say “this debate doesn’t matter yaar”.
“Who cares about such phrases!”, declares this kind. “Life is all about ‘practical’ matters and this is too trivial a matter of no real consequence because it won’t affect me or my loved ones”. While I appreciate the easy-going nature that underlies such comments, I think this response is the most unwise, unprepared and the laziest one of the three. “It won’t affect me?” Really?
Such Christians need to know that to have no convictions is the quickest way to become a coward. Look around you, the Kingdom of God and our country need bold servants & citizens. Where have you been, bro?
If all we have learnt is to bend whichever way people, in general, are bending and we don’t want to cause any offence, we can court the danger of being lazy to know God’s will and could be guilty of lack of discernment. And thus without any Biblical convictions, we might be living according to worldly philosophies (Col. 2:8).
As a Christian, the son of an ex-Army officer & a glad-to-be-Indian, I feel betrayed by the extremist groups who wanted “Bharat Mata ki Jai” to be the call-sign of all things patriotic. After some more thought, the whole debate seemed manufactured like Shri. Najeeb Jung said recently. I began to view it like how BJP leader L.K. Advani described it– “yeh ek vyarth vivad hai” (“this is a meaningless debate”).
I personally think Christians need not feel less patriotic if they do not say this one phrase. Pro-Hindutva groups meanwhile seem to be having a ball with this patriotic phrase in the limelight, having taken the focus away from other deep issues that might be less comfortable for the BJP-led central government to deal with.
When there are other phrases that everyone can use to show their patriotism, I wonder why Hindu groups insist on this one phrase to be the litmus test. I hope for the earliest conclusion to this debate and we all can go from “say patriotic” to “do patriotic”.
What is your take on “Bharat Mata ki Jai”? Please write in.
To paraphrase Dailyo.in, we have strong beliefs but are “open to opinion”.
Jesus Christ is more precious than life, Jai Hind.