THE     IMPACT    OF  

 G L O B A L I S A T I O N

ON    CHRISTIAN    MISSION    IN    INDIA

                                                                                                         Fr. Cedric Prakash sj.*

 

Introduction :

 

The very concept of “Globalisation” means different things to different people.  Globalisation can simply be defined as the expansion of economic activities across political boundaries of nation states.    More important perhaps, it refers to a process of increasing economic openness, growing economic inter-dependence and deepening economic integration between countries in the work economy.  It is associated not only with a phenomenal  spread and volume of cross-border economic transactions, but also with an organization of economic activities which straddles national boundaries.  This process is driven by the lure of profit and the threat of competition in the market.

 

The world globalisation is used in two ways, which is the source of confusion and the cause of controversy.  It is used in a positive sense to describe a process of increasing integration into the world economy; the characterization of this process is by no means uniform.  It is used in a normative sense to prescribe a strategy of development based on a rapid integration with the world economy: some see this as salvation, while others see it as damnation.

 

There is a common presumption that the present conjuncture, when globalisation is changing the character of the world economy, is altogether new and represents a fundamental departure from the past.  But this presumption is not correct.  Globalisation is not new.  In many ways, the world economy in the late 20th century resembles the world economy in the late 19th century.  And there is much that we can learn from history, for there is the past in our present.

 

In the last two decades or so, globalisation has also led to the widening of the gulf between the rich and the poor nations.  With hundreds of millions of people in the Southern hemisphere living on the brink of starvation.  Today, all over the Southern continents, millions of children die due to poverty and mal-nutrition.  Ecological destruction is preceding at a rapid pace with plants and animals  and bio-diversity disappearing at an unprecedented scale.

 

Globalisation also strikes and erodes  the rich cultural heritage, traditions, cultures, values and religions of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

 

In this scenario, it is essential for us to see what type of impact globalisation has on the Christian Mission in the country, and whether it is possible to formulate a response.

 

Christian Mission : 

 

At this juncture, it is also essential to highlight some nuances of “Christian Mission”.  We have the whole range from the oft-quoted verse from   “ Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation…..”  to the Gospel of the Last Judgment (Mathew 25 : 31 ff).  Whether it is becoming a person of the Beatitudes (Mathew 5 : 1 – 16) or allowing the Lord’s spirit to overwhelm one’s being (Luke 4 : 16 – 19).  The debate will be endless, the interpretations will be varied.

 

On one aspect however,  there can be no quarrel.  We are called to be servants of Christ’s Mission and true discipleship is the hallmark of this Mission.  Christian Mission therefore must be understood in the context of reading the signs of the times, being able to interpret these signs judiciously and having the courage to live one’s Christian commitment in the framework of the many parables which Jesus constantly challenged his disciples with.

 

Christian Mission must also be understood from the very fact that Christianity came to India with St. Thomas and later the  colonial powers.  So, the very nature of Christian Mission is global (in the truly Catholic and universal sense of the word).  In the past, it was a “package”..….the colonialists bringing their priests and their religion, and in turn, religion bringing along with it all the trappings that make for the authentic presentation and representation of their religion.  So whilst some Thomas traditions took deep root with its Syrian customs, it still managed to strike a balance between global and local; a far off tradition with a distinctly local flavour.  On the other hand,  the Roman tradition was blatantly western.  It came not only with the trappings of western monarchy, it also brought with it rites and rituals which were alien to the local traditions and ways.  We therefore had the steeples and spires  of Gothic Cathedrals, the decor and vestments which were more in keeping with the colder northern countries and signs and symbols which hardly belonged to the folklore.

 

Nevertheless, each of these was accepted and imbibed by those who embraced Christianity.  To be a Christian meant in sum and substance, to be “this” rather than “that”, to wear “this” rather than “that”, to pray “like this” rather than “in that way”, to behave in “this way” rather than in “another way”.  There was a time in most parts of India that one could easily single out a Christian because of the way he or she spoke, dressed and perhaps behaved.  In fact, in several Indian movies of the sixties and seventies, the Indian Christian was caricatured in no uncertain ways…..usually, in a very negative and derogatory manner. 

 

There were ofcourse the very positive contribution of Christian Mission which has literally impacted on the soul of the Indian subcontinent, very specially through the core values of education, developmental works, medical works and reaching out to the most despised and neglected of society.  Christian Mission was thus epitomized  in the fact that  statesmen and captains of industry were educated in Christian institutions and the poor and the marginalized were given dignity and in fact a new lease of life.  Over the years, there was a certain ease and comfort which one felt, when Christians were around.  It is after all the Christians who had the connections and the contacts to the outside world; whether it be to the United States, to UK or Australia.  The sense of universality that had come with Christian Mission gradually permeated to different sections of society.

 

Christian Mission at the same time was in its narrow form, containing and rigid,  and in its broad form, was all embracing and flexible. 

 

The Challenges of Globalisation :

 

According to the latest Census of India (2001), Christians in  India constitute about 2.3% of the country’s over one billion people which make it a whopping 50 million people.  A fair percentage of Christians are concentrated in the coastal areas of South-western and South-eastern India and in the Tribal areas of Central and North-east India.

 

We have said earlier, that globalisation is not a new phenomenon where Indian Christian Mission is concerned but the rapid strides in science and technology have given new meaning and connotations to the concept of globalisation.  These new meanings pose very severe challenges on Christian life and Christian Mission in India

 

Some of the challenges are  :

 

a)      Access to easy  “ global ”  money 

 

A good percentage of Christians in India are concentrated in the urban and semi-urban areas.  They are mostly literate, who constitute the lower middle-class or middle-class sections of society.  The preferred jobs are in the service sector, government, banking, teaching, nursing, etc.  Some Christians have also entered the business sector.  Generally Christians in the urban area are  satisfied with a nine-to-five white collared job rather than the need and importance to break out and venture into more creative and fulfilling careers.  In the rural areas,  Christians tend to live out of the land generally and eke out a living growing crops and fruit or working on the land of people who have larger holdings.

 

However, with the advent of   globalisation, there is a demand for Christian youth.  More and more young men and women in the cities are being attracted by the “Business Process Outsourcing” (BPO) industry which are generally symbolized by the  Call Centres or Medical Transcription outlets.  The mushrooming of them all over the country is symptomatic of two things : of the desire to earn a quick buck without any safeguards or security and secondly the way western business has begun to exploit the yuppie Indian without giving the latter  the privileges and perks of living in countries like the United States.

 

Call Centres in India normally begin at 7.00 pm. just when the United States begins to get up and ends normally eight to ten hours later when business closes for the day there.  A Christian youth in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta or Madras is the exact “software” for these companies.  He/she is fairly articulate, speaks English and perhaps will not even have to change his or her name.  Take for example “Mary”, a convent educated and freshly graduated 21 year old.  She knows how to deal with the old American lady who has been making frantic calls that her washing machine is not working.  There are several instances when the same call receiver gets a call from the same person over and over again just because he likes to hear her voice.  Call Centres provide the right ambience for the growing youth.  Lots of McDonald stuff and cokes, sometimes even a disco but then, when one is at a seat, one is glued to it and sometimes is not able to get up  for  a   ten  to  twelve  hours  stretch.  The  salary  is  lucrative.    A  minimum  start of

Rs. 10000 – 12000  i.e. about $ 200  for a job that would pay in the United States atleast  $1000  a month.

 

In a recent article in the Indian Currents weekly (26th September 2004),  entitled “Alarm Bells Ringing”, the writer highlights the impact that these BPOs have on the young Indian : irregular eating and sleeping habits, lack of commitment in relationships, imbibing a culture which has a negative social impact, stress related problems and so on.  The article concludes saying “this is an alarm for the whole country”.

 

b)    Growing consumerism

 

Better salaries has also meant more consumerism.  The flooding of the markets with a whole variety of goods and the fact that media plays a very significant role in propagating these needs, means that if someone has  “ to be  “, one “ has  to have “.

 

So therefore, the young Christian Indian has absolutely no problem in spending the whole night at the BPOs because one needs the money to buy gadgets and perfumes and dresses and other things which perhaps a peer may possess.  The “keeping-up-with- the-Joneses” syndrome very easily captivates the mind of the young Indian.

 

Some years ago, when I was helping out in a prestigious Jesuit School in Ahmedabad, a Catholic Parent came to meet the then Principal of the School.  The reason was the abysmal failure of his son studying in the VIII Std.  The boy had failed in practically all subjects and not even reaching double digits in most of them.  He was also the only son of a two child family.  The father was lamenting to the Principal :  “I give my boy everything he asks for and I even gave him a kinetic scooter some months ago inspite of having to borrow money and this is the result he gives me”.  Ofcourse, like all “good” parents, the father of the boy went on to blame the school, the teachers for not teaching, etc. etc.  After listening to him patiently, the Principal very strongly told the parent  “maybe giving your son the kinetic and all that he is asking for, is the cause of his failure”.

 

c)    The nuclear family

 

Related to the example which I have just given above, globalization has indeed impacted severely on our Christian families.  In the past, children were often regarded as the wealth of the family and one could sense a great joy and sharing  in families that had three children or more.  I really do not think that the holy spirit has intervened so dramatically that almost all Christian families in urban  areas in the last 15 or 20 years have either one child or two children and even no children.  On the other hand, these very families will have and want to have all the possible modern gadgets that have become a “necessity” with the rapid advancement of science and technology.  T.V. is a must and in it the cable form with its 90 channels, a scooter or a car, a mobile phone, whatever.  There is a tremendous urge and push towards consumerism which often tends to strike at the very root of what family live should be and is all about.

 

Then there is often a real problem in terms of “parental control”.  Obedience, and very often blind, was regard as “sacred” in families of yesteryears..  Today, a little child is able to demand, cajole and even blackmail his or her parents.  Very recently, some very close friends of mine had to go for a function and very obviously wanted to dress up their little four-year old in a pretty little dress.  This little girl literally went into tantrums because she had decided that she would wear only an old dress which she normally wore when she went down to play with her friends.  The parents had to finally give in because very obviously they were very upset about offending their darling little daughter.

 

There is the usual reality when the children are totally hooked either to the T.V. or to the computer (games, internet, soft-porn) or even to the mobile phone.  Parents  have often told me that they give their son or daughter a mobile phone so that they can keep in touch and know where they are.  This is an extremely sad commentary on what globalization is all about.  While definitely not relegating the many uses and conveniences of a mobile phone, one needs to be aware that the underlying principle of “wanting to keep in touch” the child with the parent and vice-versa very specially when one is living under the same roof, indicates ( whether one would like to accept it or not),  that there is some degree of fear, suspicion, etc.

 

d)   The role of media

 

Media has indeed played a role in globalisation.  The horrors of the Iraq war are blipped on to our TV screens in a matter of seconds.  Communal strife in Sudan, floods in Bangladesh, or guerilla warfare in one of the South American countries are there for us to see.  Reality has become a virtual village.  Simultaneously, the many channels offer a whole host of programmes or movies. 

 

There is also the other dimension of cyberspace with internet and sophisticated telecommunications becoming an integral part of ones daily life.  Internet has almost  everything to offer :  buying a ticket online or accessing the worst variety of pornography.  There is also a new crime that has taken roots called cyber crime.

 

Media has also many very positive dimensions.  It helps people become more aware of the world they live in.  It has been able to transcend boundaries and cultures, ethnic differences and strife.  But the fact is, the world seems to be having more wars now, more hatred, more division than what was perhaps fifty years ago.

 

Media has also been impacting on the Indian Christian.  In the way it has impacted on any ordinary citizen anywhere in the world.  But for the Indian Christian,  the challenge remains on how to be able to adjust and adapt to the fast pace of today’s media.

 

e)    Growing fundamentalism

 

Strangely enough, a direct fallout of globalisation is “growing fundamentalism”  the world over.  The effects of fundamentalism are greatly felt in the Indian subcontinent when Hindu extremism propagated by the exponents of the Hindutva ideology have made it the base to Hinduise India and in keeping with the “call” of their stalwarts like Golwalkar and Savarkar for the Hindu Nation State.

 

The Hindutva strategy is clear :  Attack the other minority religions like Christianity and Islam, create the boggy of fear, suspicion and terror and thus win the average Hindu to their side.  In the past twelve years or so, they have followers who are religiously espoused to this cause who have left no stone unturned, whether it is in the demolition of the Babri Masjid or the killing of Graham Staines or the terrorizing the Christians of Gujarat or the carnage 2002.  The more violent the act, the more adherents they seem to have for their brand of fundamentalism. 

 

But on a different vein is the aggressiveness of Christian Evangelism and of the Born- Again.  These are symbolized by the likes of Benny Hinn who seem to have a mass appeal and once again are all out in a Christianity hard-sell.  Some of these evangelical groups have made deep inroads into various parts of the country and literally peddled Christianity without being sensitive to the cultures, customs and traditions of the people they want to communicate to.

 

f)    The challenge of a shrinking yet corporate world

 

Globalisation has also necessitated greater working together.  That men and women see a problem and find ways and means to respond to it in a corporate and cohesive manner.

In the context of  the institutional set-up, be it the Church or a Trust or a Society that belongs to it, there is also the mad race for knowledge to network, to communicate, to be aware of what is happening.  All this is good but the problem is it has also created a lot of competition, ego drives,  and in fact, it has accentuated on the selfish individualist approaches etc. the war again Iraq inspite of all the blitz from the media hardly created any impact on the average Indian Christian.  While they were aware of fact that the war was being fought and the world was suffering huge losses, what was lacking was a balanced objected info-system which should have motivated them to take sides to come out on the streets and support the Pope’s stand that this war is unjust.  Then there was the fact of the Gujarat carnage….while the media did highlight the goriness and the horror of the tragedy, there was hardly any Christian movement worth its name in the country who  tried to put a stop against the carnage. 

Response :

 

In the challenges we have just seen, it is critical that Christian Mission in India responds in a way which is appropriate to the impact of globalisation.   If we talk about the Church in India in the emerging third millennium, we will have to formulate a response  that  :

 

(i)                  We be attuned to the changing times.  We have to have the courage to read the signs of the times

(ii)                We have to formulate a catechesis which responds to the needs and aspirations of our children, our youth and our adults

(iii)               We have to make the Church and the Church structures more people- friendly i.e. less hierarchal, less authoritarian, less arrogant, less structural.

(iv)              We have to collaborate with men and women of goodwill of our times, appreciating the values in other faith-traditions.

(v)                We have to take visible stands for a more just, equitable, peaceful and harmonious world

(vi)              We have to be able to appreciate the fact that there is no going back on globalisation but we would need to contain it in many ways in order to prevent the gap between the rich and the poor from growing.

(vii)             We have to fight against all forms of fundamentalism and communalism and ensure that the Christian faith is able to transcend the walls and  narrow boundaries that could confine us.

(viii)           We have to have careful monitoring systems, serious study and research that helps us in the journey ahead.

 

Conclusion :

 

The Church in India is indeed at the cross-roads. and in many areas, at its defining moment.  The emerging third millennium has thrown up a whole host of challenges because of the advent of globalisation.   A stark  challenge faces us today and that is, whether we are ready to truly be “the salt of the earth and the light of the world”.

 

 

(This paper has been prepared for the Research Seminar on “The Church in India in the Emerging Third Millennium” to be held at national Biblical, Catechetical & Liturgical Centre (NBCLC), Bangalore from 4th to 9th January 2005.)

 

 

*  (Fr. Cedric Prakash sj. is a Human Rights Activist and the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.)

 

 

 ‘ PRASHANT ’,   Post Box  4050,    Navrangpura,  Ahmedabad   380 009  Gujarat,  INDIA

Tel:   0091 79 27449744 /  27455913        Fax:  0091 79 27489018      Email:  sjprashant@icenet.co.in

 

 

 

30th September 2004