Monday, November 28, 2011

No Turning Back (My memories of Rev. C. M. Khanna)

“The arrest of Rev Khanna was shocking and humiliating. He was clearly framed and he had not confessed to any person that he was involved in conversions by force or allurement.”
Rt. Rev. P. K. Samantaroy, Bishop, Diocese of Amritsar, Church of North India

“The whole Christian community feels humiliated because a religious leader like Rev Khanna has been treated in a manner so undignified. The charges of forcible conversion are totally baseless and false.”
Alwan Masih, General Secretary, CNI

My first memory of Rev. C. M. Khanna is rather faint. He was leading a prayer meeting at a friend’s birthday party. I might have been about three or four years old but if there’s one thing I still remember in that birthday party is the figure of the padre in his characteristic priestly cassock, sporting long hair and flowing beard. We children were sitting on the durree while the adults sat on the chairs around. Right opposite was the filigreed table for the cake and the eateries. In front of that table stood the young priest, who looked every bit like Jesus Christ himself. But I remember him for a peculiar reason. As he brought us the Word of God, he had closed his eyes and he kept on swaying to and fro. At that age, all I could think of while looking at him with an upturned face was, why does he have to swing like that?

Second time, I was brought to think of him was when, many years later, I was rummaging through some old books in a modest library – just a few bookcases, actually – at the Diocese of Chandigarh head office in Ludhiana. There were some old books on religion, theology and philosophy. The one that interested me was a little Pelican paperback The Shaking of the Foundations by Paul Tillich, the great German-American theologian, an “outspoken critic of Nazism”, who was “forced to leave Germany in 1933”. I came across Tillich’s name while reading about existentialism but hadn’t yet found anything originally written by him. I was thrilled to see that book and pounced on it. The book originally belonged – the rubber-stamp impression informed me – to Rev. Chandra Mani Khanna, Assistant Presbyter, Christ Church, Sector 18, Chandigarh; my congregation where he had served many years back. It was a pleasant surprise because it was hard to find many presbyters interested in reading “serious stuff”, or, for that matter, reading anything at all. It seems he was the last presbyter-in charge of the CNI congregation who had any interest in reading. Anyway, I felt a sense of respect for the man. It was heartwarming.

Third time, I actually heard him from a distance. He was addressing public meeting in Delhi. It was a religious gathering for the youth. Rev. Khanna, I learnt, had just come back from England, where, if I remember right, he had gone for some kind of higher studies. This was about 10 years back. He spoke on the cultural trend in the West, particularly postmodernism, and how it was challenging the traditional beliefs of that society. He wasn’t too impressed with that shift. He thought it was a disintegrating factor. He also spoke of “mortification”, which he seemed to suggest is the way to counter corrupting influence of postmodern consumerism.

Fourth time. I read a news item. “Pastor held in Valley over ‘forced conversions’”. While it is a routine thing to come across such propaganda, two things seemed particularly odd. One, the incident happened in the Kashmir Valley and not in a BJP/NDA-ruled state and, two, that it was Rev. C. M. Khanna who was arrested. One can criticize the religious leadership of the valley but that is already being done, started by brave Muslims like Javed Anand (and this editorial in Times of India). John Dayal has called attention to the“fragile unity” of minorities. However, on a personal note, what is most disappointing is the way the bogey of “forced conversions” is raised to humiliate a senior cleric like Rev. C. M. Khanna. It seems one only needs to bring up the C-word and you can get away with almost anything. Nuns can be raped, priests can be paraded naked, missionaries with the little children can be burnt alive, a 64-year-old priest can be picked up like a petty criminal by the police and vilified by the jingoistic local media. Say “conversions” and the blade must fall and the heads must roll.

Rev. Khanna is as much a victim of religious fundamentalism as he is of this worst kind of postmodernist approach to journalism. The “truth” doesn’t matter, selling of the story does. Make it sensational, pander to emotionalism, and cover up any attempt towards rational assessment of the situation.

Like, Tillich he faces the power of the might of the state. Government ministers have already pledged “strict legal action” against the padre, even before the case has properly been probed. According to reports, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Sagar has said that government would not allow any person or group to create disharmony. “J&K is known for communal harmony and co-existence of religion. Any person who will try to create hatred or ill will against any religion will not be spared, but will be dealt under law,” he said.

 “Every one should cooperate to maintain the peace,”

However, in the virtual world hate-filled messages against Rev. Khanna are apparently being encouraged to proliferate. “We swear to kill all Christian missionaries and burn their buildings, churches and schools, I offer myself volunteer to find this man, this priest should burn” – these are the kind of comments one gets to read beneath the YouTube video of the baptism ceremony Khanna is leading. (One could hear in the video the chorus normally sung at baptisms, the Hindi version of “I have decided to follow Jesus/No turning back, no turning back”) Nathan Khanna, Rev. Khanna’s son has said that the government is totally indifferent to this and has no intention to remove the video. He told “I have no doubt that my phone and my mother’s phone are under control … it is clear that someone is trying to provoke Muslims against my father in the name of religion.”
In all this, I go back to the first memory of the man. His resemblance to Jesus Christ now goes deeper. His hair is much shorter and beard a modest French style. However, in suffering, he is like his Master. Trumped up charges were brought to discredit and dispense with both the men The Jewish Sanhedrin could not pass a death sentence on Jesus, so they sent Him to the Romans to be crucified. The kangaroo court of the “Grand” Mufti may similarly not be able to prosecute Khanna but in connivance of the state, the objective may actually be fulfilled. 

I go back to the first memory of the man and I picture him praying to the Master with eyes closed, swaying to a fro and singing – “No turning back, no turning back”. 


AJ said...

I wanna say something but I can't unjumble it in my head...some aspersions of an atheist.

Ham-Kalam said...

Indeed telling account and offers a dissent in a curious manner.

Sushant Das said...

Do you think this is scapegoating as per Rene Girard? If so, then to what end?

Human said...