Lucknow: Christmas celebrations across Uttar Pradesh this year were solemnised under trepidation. The fear of fringe groups acting upon their threats kept Christians on guard in the state.
The Noida Golf Course Club called off its main Christmas event scheduled on 25 December citing security reasons. The club members received a text message that apprised them of the cancellation and said, "inconvenience is regretted".
Rahul Kumar (name changed), a member of the club, told Firstpost on the condition of anonymity that the event was cancelled to avoid unwarranted circumstances as fringe groups had warned schools in western Uttar Pradesh against imposing the celebration on Hindu students.
Kumar said that the event organising committee discussed the issue of avoiding ruckus by Hindu goons at a meeting before cancelling the event and even tried to wrap up the Christmas Eve celebration as soon as possible.
Pramod Mishra, a member of the event organising committee, said, "You know it well why the event has been cancelled. We have been asked by superiors to cite security and unavailability of catering service as reasons."
Ivy Singh, 53, owner of Jesus and Mary School in Meerut, said the Christmas celebration this time was not as merry as last year's, though her school did not receive any warning. "You never know when someone will start raising an objection. What made me more anxious was the fact that maximum students in my school are Muslims," she said.
Lalita George, a nurse from Bahraich district, was scared to celebrate Christmas at home after some schools received threat letters. She had come to Lucknow as the community is stronger there and she believed that the police would not let an untoward incident happen in the state capital.
"Kya pata kab kaun ghar me ghus jaaye aur hungama khada kar de. Abhi tak gai ko lekar bawal chal raha tha aur ab in logo ne hamare tyohaar ko bhi nahi baksha (Who knows when someone will enter your property and create a ruckus. They were raising the cow issue so far and are now targeting our festivals)," she said.
Additional director general (law and order) Anand Kumar had passed on 19 December an oral directive to all the district police chiefs of the state to ensure that the freedom of practising one's religion is protected and appropriate action is taken to maintain this right.
The directive was issued after an open letter by Hindu Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was sent to schools in Aligarh and Agra, threatening them not to impose Christmas celebration on Hindu students.
Kanpur, however, seemed resolved to not give in to the fringe groups' threats. Oliver Fredrick, a resident of Kanpur city, said the Christian community there celebrated the festival with traditional fervour.
"We do not know what the fringe elements have warned about. There is no fear that will stop us from celebrating our festival," Oliver said. He said that the warning issued by "the anti-social elements is nothing more than a publicity stunt".
BJP distances itself
Shalabh Mani Tripathi, the UP spokesperson of BJP, said the party had nothing to do with the so-called warnings issued by any organisation. "The Bharatiya Janata Party believes in communal harmony and every festival, no matter of which religion, should be celebrated without any hurdle or fear," he said.
"No politics or protest should be done on celebrating Christmas. India is known for its unity in diversity and these festivals are a rich part of our heritage," Tripathi said.
"Hindu Jagran Manch dharmantaran me sahyog karne wale logo aur sansthao ka virodh karta hai. Yadi aapke vidyalay me Isai bacche hain to unke saath alag se ye tyohaar manaya jaaye lekin Hindu baccho par iska bojh na daala jaaye (Hindu Jagran Manch is against the people and organisations who engage in religious conversions. If your school has Christian students, this festival [Christmas] may be celebrated with them, but do not impose it upon Hindu children), "reads the letter.
What Hindu Jagran Manch says
Ajay Chauhan, the national spokesperson of Hindu Jagran Manch, in a telephonic conversation with Firstpost said that the RSS affiliate outfit is not against the celebration of Christmas, but is against the imposition of celebration on Hindu kids in schools.
"Sabko pata hai ki ye Isai log dharm parivartan karate hai aur kahi na kahi in school me bhi baccho ko Isai dharam ki aur akarshit karaya jaata hai. Mai kisi dharm ke tyohaar ke khilaaf nahi lekin iska bojh Hindu baccho par na daala jaaye bas isi ke khilaaf hu (Every one is aware of Christians' ways of conversion and these schools also try to attract kids to their religion. It is not a religious festival that I am against, but it shouldn't be imposed on the Hindu kids is my only concern," said Chauhan.
Chauhan said that Christians are welcome to celebrate their festival, but that does not imply they can lure Hindus and minorities towards Christianity. "If anyone will be found attempting this (conversion), then the Hindu Jagran Manch will deal with them in its own style, no matter what punishment we get by our Judiciary," he declared.
Earlier on Friday, a division bench of Chief Justice DB Bhosale and Justice MK Gupta of the Allahabad High Court, while hearing a petition filed by a group of villagers of Birner in Kaushambi, said that every Indian citizen has the right to celebrate a festival peacefully. Another court in Aligarh on Friday had restrained five Hindu outfit leaders from going near missionary schools and churches on Christmas after the fringe group sent letters to schools.
Father George D'Costa of Family Church in Lucknow said that such threats issued by Hindu fringe groups demean Prime Minister Narendra Modi's slogan Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas. "Christmas is being celebrated in India since ages by people of all religions and nothing can stop that. We know the government is with us and imposing an ideology on anyone is not right," he said. Such organisations will harm India's unity as no one can ever stop anyone from preaching the religion of his/her choice, D'Costa said.
"The government has ensured safety, but every Christian has a fear within that their festival can be spoiled by unruly elements anytime," said Father Aleis of Cathedral Church in Lucknow. He said the government should take proper steps to ensure the safety of minorities in India as the incidents of them being targeted on the ground of religion and caste are increasing by the day.
"People are coming here for the Church service, but they are scared. They may not shout it out loud, but it is visible on their faces and in activities," he added.
The author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Updated Date: Dec 26, 2017 16:14 PM