Christians & Christmas 07 in India

     Times of India Delhi edition of 25th Dec has been edited by guest editors, Christian leaders. I must say that the paper was much more positive, interesting to read, sensible, with all round coverage.

     There were also many interesting facts about Christians in India. Being Christmas eve there were many articles on Christmas naturally.

Am placing some excerpts. For details go to TOI of 25 Dec 07.

NEW DELHI: Data provided by a National Sample Survey report in 2004-05 shows that the Christian community treats its women better —its sex ratio is the highest among all

communities in India. This can also be partly due to the fact that a significant segment of the Christian population belongs to the tribal areas of the North East, and the tribals do not endorse the inhuman practice of female foeticide or discrimination against the girl child.

     Kerala, not Goa, has maximum no. of Christians    
        Which are the pockets with large Christian populations in India? If this were a quiz question, the answer most people would give would include the northeastern states, Kerala, Goa and perhaps Jharkhand. It may be the obvious answer, but that doesn’t make it right. 

        Yes, the north-east and Kerala do have large numbers of Christians, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the population, but Goa and Jharkhand do not quite match up to what you would imagine.
        Helped no doubt by countless Bollywood films with Goan characters with names like Briganza and D’Souza, Goa in the popular imagination is a state with a Christian majority. But the truth is that the community constitutes just over one-fourth of Goa’s population (26.7% to be exact) and their absolute number in the state at the time of the 2001 census was about 3.6 lakh.   

     To put that in perspective, there were more Christians in Mumbai or Chennai than in all of Goa at the time of the census. Similarly, Jharkhand had just under 11 lakh Christians, which meant they comprised just about 4.1% of the state’s population. That’s much higher than the 2.3% that India’s 24 million Christians constituted in the country’s population in 2001.

Best educated, but struggling for jobs Subodh Varma | TIMES INSIGHT GROUP  New Delhi:

      In some ways they are ahead of their compatriots in other religious communities, while in others they seem to grapple with the same shackles. Compared with other communities, Christians are better educated, economically better off and adopt a more equitable attitude towards women. Yet, they have also adopted the caste hierarchy, though in a mellowed form. And they are struggling with growing unemployment. Whatever be the reasons, the relatively small Christian community of India shares a complex struggle to shed social and economic backwardness. 

        Christians have the highest literacy rate among all religious communities. For men, it is 80% in rural areas and 96% in urban areas. For women, it is 69% in rural areas and 89% in urban areas. This is way ahead of other communities, especially for women. Among Hindus and Muslims, only about 41% of the women are literate in the rural areas. In urban areas, 73% of Hindu women and 60% of Muslim women are literate.

   The Christian community has the highest proportion of the elderly— nearly 20% of the total. Among Hindus it is 14%, while among Muslims, it is 11%. This may be because of better economic status and educational levels, which would tend to lower birth rates and increase longevity, thereby skewing the age structure upwards compared to other communities.

‘Noisy music has replaced hymns, carols’  Sonia Sarkar | TNN  New Delhi:

     Expensive gifts, exotic luncheons and dinners, and often insincere display of piety, is this what Christmas all about? Times City asks Archbishop of Delhi Vincent M Concessao how he looks at this increasing commercialisation of Christmas.
   “Earlier, little things like handmade cards or cakes mattered lot. However, over the years, the festival has been commercialised in many ways with people minting money by selling gifts and decoration items. Since the standard of living of middle class families has risen, there is temptation to spend more on materialistic things,” said Archbishop Concessao.
   It’s not just the flavour of the festival that has gone through a transformation, modern and “noisy” music has taken over the traditional hymns and carols. “The younger generation plays a new kind of music these days, which according to me is noisy, and lacks the devotional element in comparison to the traditional ones,” said the Archbishop. 
    The Archbishop, however, added that there had been positive development too. “With the amount of disposal income increasing, there is a positive attitude among people to help others. Though the medium of expression has changed, which is certainly not under the control of the Church, people have become more sensitive,” he said.
   Another positive change, he pointed out, was the involvement of people of other faiths in the festival. “A large number of people from other faiths visit the Church during Christmas, and they are equally excited about the festival as people from the community are.

     The Sacred Heart Cathedral gets choca-block with people from varied creeds, we arrange for Mass in the St Columba’s grounds. This growing participation from other faiths in Christmas is certainly applauded,” he said. 

Revelry is steeped in opulence  TIMES NEWS NETWORK  

      New Delhi: There is a Christmas tinge to the winter smog at this time of the year as the festive season spreads its cheer in the national capital. The Markets are bustling with people finishing last minute holiday shopping and the
air is full of carols and ringing bells.
     However, the one thing that is worrying people, specially Christians, in the city is that Christmas, like many of our other festivals, has occupied the limelight in the upper sections of society — opulent decorations, exorbitant parties and expensive gifts. Christmas is not about what we see in the markets, they say. Its about the spirit of loving and giving, a spirit that seems to be increasingly missing from the celebrations these days.
        ‘‘Gone are the days when the Church was the centre of importance and children were encouraged to give to the poor and needy,’’ says Niti Abraham, a 65-year-old housewife. ‘‘Elaborate celebrations are not a problem,’’ she emphasises.

      ‘‘What becomes a problem is that celebrations is all that Christmas is about. Expensive gifts and decorations, big parties clothes. It’s a festival that is limited to just one day. The spirit seems to be missing.” 

   Another interesting fact is that Christmas has pervaded into the homes of non-Christians as well. The ‘spirit’ of Christmas has caught on to such an extent that several buildings in the Capital can be seen decorated in red and green and a Christmas Tree standing in many homes. ‘‘We celebrate Christmas just like we celebrate our festivals. Both my girls study in convent schools so they are aware of the religion and the importance behind it,’’ says Madhvi Singh, a doctor.
   But even as more and more are joining in the celebrations, there are some who feel that the number which understands the depth behind it is actually going down. ‘‘While we are really happy that the festival is as much part of the city’s culture as say Diwali or Dussehra, what we would like is that people understand the importance of the day, the kind of sacrifices made by Christ and the simple life he lead,’’ said Vera Johnson, an executive.
   ‘‘A large number of Christians have adopted this ‘commercial’ version,’’ says Matthew, a DU student. ‘‘Going for the midnight mass is no longer as important for several of the younger generation.’’
     Santa goes from emotional to commercial in the city JESUS TO YESHU, BUT SPIRIT ALIVE       For a country as vast as India, it was imperative that any foreign ‘incursion’ be suitably modified to cater to its diverse regional sensibilities. It happened with Christmas too, yet Santa from distant Finland remains the most-loved mascot  Sonia Sarkar | TNN  

     New Delhi: It’s not just the English language that has been Indianised, Christmas has undergone the process too. Jesus has become Yeshu Masih, English Carols like O Come, All Ye Faithful have turned to Hindi bhajans — “Yeshu Raja aa gaya hamare beech aa gaya,” and gujiyas have replaced the traditional cakes. 

        “Christianity came to south India 2000 years ago, while it is only 400 years old in north India. Regional influences have been large on the festival. The celebrations have been localised by involving local dialect and language to a great extent, making it easier for more people to understand the meaning of the festival,” said Reverend Babu Joseph, spokesperson, Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI). Speaking about the hymns which are now largely sung in Hindi in churches across the Capital, he said: “Besides the traditional English carols, the common hymns are “jhumti hai zindagi” and “yeshu raja aa gaya, hamare beech aa gaya”. Similarly, Christmas in Delhi has become more like Diwali with the focus shifting from religious to social and commercial.

      And these days, the celebration is not restricted to cards and cakes, but also extended to expensive gifts.” Reverend Joseph, however, believes in keeping the celebration low profile, and gives greeting cards to his family and friends.


Bollywood doesn’t favour any faith  John Abraham | ACTOR  

   My father had told me that to be a good person one didn’t need to be religious, and I took him very seriously indeed. So I grew up thinking I was an atheist, though I did go to Sunday School because the teacher, who was Canadian, was very pretty! Do I believe the Christian community is too passive for its own good? Well, maybe, as for example with respect to Christmas midnight mass where the community, in deference to the Supreme Court order and noise pollution rules, has been holding service at 8 pm!

     But, by and large, I think our community has struck a good balance. We, like the Parsis, are viewed as harmless, not aggressors, and this has served us well—in riots for instance, Christians would be spared.
   I do want to discuss certain issues such as the conversion controversy. Vested interests make out that Christians serve the poor only to coax them to convert. This is not true at all. As far as intra-religious issues go, there’s the deep divide between Catholics and Protestants which needs to be addressed.

     Incidentally, I call myself an RC—when people ask me whether that stands for Roman Catholic, I tell them it’s ‘Real Christian’.
   As far as work goes, Bollywood has never favoured any faith. I came into the industry in 2003, and no one asked me to change my name.
   Dino Morea, who came a few years before me, may have changed his name to Siddhanth in his first film but the film flopped and the next one with his real name was a hit, so it shows that names don’t count anymore. Bollywood has accepted the outsider.


Tolerance, caring & truthfulness  Julio Ribeiro | SUPERCOP  
   As Christmas approaches my thoughts turn to Jesus Christ the Man, whose teachings I try to follow. Christians cloak him with Divinity, but that concept is not shared by my non-Christian friends since it is in the realm of belief. But Christ the Man is more easily explained and easily understood.
   Christ was a historical figure who was born into a Jewish household some two thousand years ago. His father was a carpenter. Whether he intended to establish a new religion can be debated but so intense and magical was his influence on his fellowmen that they laid the seeds of a religion that has not only lasted two millennium but has millions of adherents even today.
   How and why did this happen? Christ the Man was an extraordinary individual who preached love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, and more than preaching, practiced what he preached. At the young age of 33 years, he laid down his life for his principles.
   I believe that a person who is truthful, fearless and compassionate, who respects the feelings of other human beings and tries to alleviate the pain and suffering of others is a Christian, even though he or she may not have been formally baptised into the Christian faith.

Since the essence of Christianity is selfless love and caring for others, those who call themselves Christians should practise it. If they are aren’t practising it, Christmas is the best time to start.

   I would like to think that the Christmas I celebrate is the one that leads me to be more tolerant and caring for that is what Christianity is all about.


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