For us, the birth of our son is a Christmas story about God coming to be with us in a special way and teaching us that He is really Emmanuel. My husband converted from Hinduism and married another Catholic Christian; for his parents, this threatened their entire world. In India, we hid my pregnancy from them and then our little family lived in constant fear and isolation for years afterwards.
Time To Give Birth
My husband and I loaded his motorbike. We had seven plastic carry bags containing mostly baby clothes and things I thought we would need for my stay in the hospital. I avoided sitting astride to protect the baby from the bumpy ride. I carried some of the carry bags in both hands, a precarious balance.
At the hospital, they monitored my delicate health since it was a high-risk pregnancy and the baby was to be delivered by an elective C-section. It was just my husband and I and the hospital staff. For nearly three days, we had no visitors. I was beginning to become desolate.
However, there were incessant calls. My husband, baptized Paul, was receiving call after call on his mobile phone from his parents. They were not eager grandparents, waiting for news of their newest grandson. Rather, they were anxious parents of their son who had left home, inheritance and every comfort to embrace Christ. Paul had rejected a few of thirty-three million gods that they—staunch Hindus—worshipped and feared retribution from. Converting to Christianity might have been more pardonable had it not been accompanied by marriage with a Christian.
Paul and I had been hounded for long. It was a marriage that could spell doom for the world his family lived in. In this world, Christians were people of low social standing. In India, it is a widespread belief among Hindus that well-funded missionaries entice people of lower castes to convert to Christianity by offering them material benefits. It follows that all Christians are pariah—outcasts who cannot fit into the mainstream castes. A lot has been done to dismantle the evil structure of caste, and Christians come from every social background in the country. Yet, ‘caste Hindus’ like Paul’s parents, believed that associating with “outcastes like the Christians” would lead to loss of family reputation and social honor. They feared their relatives would disown them. Every effort was to be made to prevent it.
An Oppressive Law and More
The political climate at the time caused the state government to issue legislation meant to prohibit the ‘forcible conversion of religion’ which served to oppress people from minority religions like Christianity and Islam. Citing this law, enacted just the previous year (2002), Paul’s parents threatened our parish priest and archbishop with legal proceedings if Paul and I married, saying their son did not willingly convert and was coerced into receiving Baptism.
We unsuspectingly evaded private detectives set upon us and fought it out in the court in order to get married. Our married life was punctuated by threatening phone calls, paid stalkers, mysterious ‘visitors’, and isolation at the workplace to name a few. There was also a prediction, soothsaying that Paul would never have an offspring.
Hiding the Baby
Paul kept our pregnancy a secret from his parents. He did not want to feed their worst fear: forfeiting their wealth to an unwelcome grandchild. The applicable inheritance laws would treat their wealth as ‘ancestral’ to their grandchild, thereby entitling him to receive it. I instinctively feared for the safety of my precious child.
At the hospital, every time the nurse came in with the fetal doppler and placed it against my belly to check the baby’s heartbeat, there would be an alarming noise. I dreaded Paul receiving a call at such a time.
But then, the call came. He rushed into the bathroom. Today, they were calling their son to convey that they had fixed a match for him—an ideal bride from a reputable family. All that Paul had to do was to divorce me, return home and get married to a girl of their choice. Paul would not tell them he was already a father; rather he protected me and his baby by assuaging his parents that his mind was made up.
A ‘Stable’ Experience
I was beginning to get anxious. On the afternoon of the third day, a lady unknown to me brought lunch. She was very caring and kept me company with her conversation but I could not rest. However, I was beginning to relax. That evening, a friend who had been out of touch for a long time, walked in. He prayed with us. Later, our friends from the young adult’s group made a surprise visit with flowers. The next day, a dear priest friend visited us, offered me the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and prayed with us for a safe delivery.
The next day, I went into the operation theater jubilantly. When I heard the cry of my newborn son Jonathan, Paul’s parents came to my mind. I resolved to forgive them. My parents were too old and sick to be beside me but in the days that followed, people who were mere acquaintances appeared from nowhere and took turns to be with me, help us learn to handle our newborn, bringing food, and taking care of my every need. The hospital stay was, however, backbreaking, thanks to an uncomfortable bed and side-effects of anesthesia.
Called to Face, Not Flee
When the time came to leave the hospital, though relieved, we felt reluctant. We had no help and no idea how to go about things when Paul went back to work. Above all, we felt vulnerable and insecure. If we asked people to help, we would have to tell them our story and that made us feel more prone to unsolicited advice and the danger of our secret—our baby—being exposed to spies. We returned home, uncertainties rife, trusting only God.
One day, a few months later, I sensed I must lock the grille outside our front door when Paul left for work. That day, while a sleepy Jonathan was settling with his bottle of milk, the doorbell rang. I cautiously opened the door, anxious that Jonathan would not betray his existence by crying. At the door was Paul’s furious mother demanding that I let her in.
It seemed they had already heard about the birth of our child. I quickly shut the door and spent the next several minutes palpitating in fear until her loud abuses stopped and she left.
When Paul returned and demanded to know from his mother why she visited, it came to light that his family was intending to seek a paternity test to prove the child was not his so as to protect their wealth. Several other such experiences marked our life of insecurity and everyday banishment.
Only during Jonathan’s boyhood could we return from our exile of fear and perceived threats, mistrust in our neighbors and friends, and a sense of lack of freedom of movement and interaction.
Often while narrating our experiences to friends, we get referred to as ‘holy family.’ Indeed, there were several similarities in our story to that of Jesus’ birth. It always thrills and affirms me to discover Gospel parallels in life. To those who seek, God reveals Himself through signs, parables and parallels.
I still feel somewhat emotionally blunted from that phase of our lives. The situation for minorities like Muslims and Christians in India is getting precarious. So this story may assume dimensions it did not originally bear. Let us pray for minority religions in India. Lord hear our prayer.