Christian priests were targeted in old India too. On multiple occasions in the past fifty years, the union home ministry has handed orders to foreign missionaries asking them to quit India—often on short notice, and often based on trumped up charges. But in the past, if such injustices were brought to light, top politicians and bureaucrats politely frequently revoked the expulsion notice without any rancour. Better sense often prevailed at the highest levels of government.
There was compassion—a hallmark of any liberal democracy—rather than the religious hatred and sadism we see today. In the corridors of power, there was a genuine appreciation for priests and nuns who serve among the oppressed in India’s underdeveloped regions. Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest, a man who had done exactly that, was instead framed in a case under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 and booked for sedition. He was denied bail and medical treatment. The octogenarian’s death in police custody embarrassed India on the international stage. There are no takers for our foreign ministry mewing the world over that Swamy was “dealt with in accordance with the law.”
In my four decades as a reporter—at three magazines and four newspapers—I have covered stories of several missionaries who did commendable work but who also faced the ire of local officials or politicians. And many of them were threatened with deportation. But the press, across its hierarchy, were eager to cover their ordeals. Leaders at the highest seats of power were willing to personally speak to the affected clergy. From my lens as a reporter, I can testify to the humaneness of previous regimes at least insofar as dealing with Christian missionaries who worked in some of the country’s most underdeveloped regions. Even the media, which was arguably just as close to power then as it is now, mirrored this humanity.