Celebrations have been political in nature since the early days of Christian history. They all gathered together and shared a meal in the name of Christ, a person who was so dear to them that in their memories he lived ever after. He was the word, he was God Immanuel, he was Jesus the Christ, he was the greatest rabbi, he was the expected Messiah, he was the son of man, son of god, the way, the truth and the life, such claims and attributes were enormous. These claims were subversive in a context of an imperial cult and authoritarian Jewish religiosity. Scholars conclude that these claims were confrontational and not merely religious and spiritual but political in conception. It is clear that politics and religion were and are interdependent and connected.
Many liberationists to date are critical of religious festivities, Christmas being the most deceiving in this regard. The entire Western capitalist market relies on Christmas and related holidays; everything pertaining to Christmas is so anti-biblical. The Bible records a lowly, rustic, chaotic birth narrative. Everything seems to be so ambiguous in the story but the same story is reduced to consumerist exuberance today.
One could draw similar conclusions about celebrations among Indian Christians today. In the southernmost parts of the country - Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, Nagercoil, and Kanyakumari - and northeastern states, Nagaland, Mizoram, exuberance is an understatement. The kind of money and competition in exhibiting the festive psyche is deeply disturbing. Likewise, in metropolitan and cosmopolitan cities, the pomp and show are discordant.
In a world where people still die of hunger, thirst and acute poverty, such exuberance is insensitive. In a country where Christian brothers and sisters are being beaten, jailed and torched for celebrating by singing carols or sharing a meal, it is demonic in nature.
Christians are being ridiculed, bullied, and killed across India. We have seen this over the past few days in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Carollers were sent to jail in Madhya Pradesh's satna town, Christians celebrating with police permission had their event and festivities disrupted in Rajasthan's Pratapgarh and Christians are being warned against celebrating Christmas in Aligarh. Christians are assumed to be simple, honest and giving, hence impotent in the face of anything confrontational. As a minority, we are thought to have no power. Under the current dispensation, we are particularly scared and vulnerable.
What explains the silence on these unacceptable atrocities? The silence has come not just from the government and society at large but also from the churches and Christians, who are in better positions. The answer lies in the fact that Christians in India are predominantly from the lower strata of the Indian society except for some in the community, who till today justify caste like the Hindus.
In my opinion, the celebrations defy caste radically and also are protests against idealised, monolithic notions of how Christmas is to be celebrated and who should celebrate it how, whether these injunctions come from the Hindu Right or hegemonic churches. The silent churches ought to remember that the prophetic declaration at Christmas to the world is this: All you rich people, please mourn because the king is born in a cheri (a slum). We will eat and drink and be merry for this is good news for the poor. It is bad news for the rich, hence mourn, for your celebrations are annoying for the ones who was born to Mary and accompanied by Joseph, whom even you call the saviour of the world.
Yet it is not only the hegemonic churches that are silent. Recently, in one of the clergy meetings, the crux of the reflection was how Christ is to be found in lowly places and how Christmas celebrations should defy exuberance and so on. In response to this Leftist theological cliché, I said: "Enough of dictating to me how I should celebrate. I am a Dalit. Don't force me not to celebrate the way I want to, so what if I want my Christ to be wherever I want him to be. How long will you all confine us to secluded places?"
Colleagues were outraged, friends distanced themselves from me. I found myself in an intense fury then. This anger came from the silence that surrounds these attacks on Christians across the country. Celebrations in lowly places are being attacked. And everyone is silent.
In such a situation, I think we need to reclaim a political exuberance around Christmas as necessary because religious celebrations by these marginalised people are not just forms of spiritual but also political defiance. The rule with early Christians was to imagine Christ as a political victim, that is to say, one who failed in the matters of religion and politics is claimed to be the king and god, indeed the greatest of all. One should not underestimate the value of subversion inherent in this. It is time to reclaim that subversion and speak out in the spirit of Christ, who was a rebel if he was anything at all, against this continuing violence on poor and marginalised Christians.