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Alarming Rise in Attacks on Christians

Ram Puniyani Ram Puniyani
01 Nov 2021

As sectarian nationalism is becoming more assertive and strong, the religious minorities are being subjected to intimidation and violence on regular basis. There is an increase in the frequency of this phenomenon in an alarming way. 

The anti-Muslim violence is noticed and partly reported but the anti-Christian violence, for various reasons, is not brought to the fore adequately. One reason is that it is scattered and of low intensity, so it does not make headlines as such. This is the conclusion of a citizens’ fact-finding team which went to investigate various incidents of anti-Christian violence in recent times. Its report laments, “Human rights groups which monitor atrocities against Christians in India, have been recording regularly the cases of violence against Christians by Hindutva groups from all states. But they have largely been unnoticed in the media or even in the human right circles.”

This report chronicles the violent acts against Christians in various districts of UP, and investigates the attack on Roorkee Church in October 2020. In this violence, though the police was given prior information, it did not take preventive steps; and when the attack began, it arrived only after the attackers had left. The aim of the attack seems to be to build a narrative that Christian groups are doing conversion work.

The report compiled other incidents of violence from different sources like Sabrang.india, UCF, and EFIRLC. Some of the incidents that occurred this year are: Mau (10th October); Indore (26th January); Shahjahanpur (3rd January); Kanpur (27th January); Bareilly (16th February); Ambedkar Nagar (21st February); Prayagraj (25th February); Kanpur (3rd March); Agra (14th March); Maharajganj (19th April); Bijnor (23rd June); Gonda (25th June); Azamgarh (25th June); Rampur (26th June); Raibairly (28th June); Aurayia (29th June); Jaunpur (3rd July); Hoshangabad (3rd October); Mahasamund (3rd October); and Bhilai (3rd October). 

This compilation shows that most of such incidents are taking place in UP, while there are some from Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. In most of the cases it is prayer meetings which are targeted and these are labeled as attempts at conversion. The assertion of VHP-Bajrang Dal in these matters is so intense that in Satna on 25th October members of this group demanded that the idol of Goddess Saraswati should be installed in a school run by Catholics.

In tune with the rising majoritarianism, the religious minorities are projected in adverse ways and Christians in particular are accused of conversion through force, fraud and allurement. A large section of Christians does feel intimidated. It is this trend that made Julio Reibero, the ex-police officer who served the nation with distinction, state that “As a Christian suddenly I feel stranger in my own country”. Since the time he stated it way back in 2015, things are worsening at rapid pace.

Persecution Relief, a group monitoring anti-Christian violence in India, states that in 2020 it recorded 293 incidents of anti-Christian persecution in the first six months of the year. Six of those cases resulted in murder. Two women were reportedly raped and killed for their faith, and another two and a 10-year-old girl were raped for refusing to renounce Christianity. Uttar Pradesh “remained the most hostile state against Christians in India,” noted the report. Sixty-three hate crimes were reported there.

According to its founder Shibu Thomas, these are cases about which they have records; there may be many more cases that have gone unreported. Open Doors, another organization working with local Churches, points out, “Christians are persecuted in all areas of public and private life; and anti-conversion laws (currently in nine States, with more considering enacting similar laws) are abused to harass and intimidate Christians. Few people are actually convicted under these laws, but cases can drag on for years.” India figures in its list of 10 most dangerous places for Christians to live.

As Karnataka Government is planning to introduce ‘anti-conversion laws’, it has set up massive intelligence gathering exercise on the Churches and the Christian Congregations. At a rally in Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh on 1st October, Swami Paramatmanand called for targeted killings of minorities involved in conversion work. He stated this in the presence of leaders of the BJP.

While the propaganda is made through various channels about conversions by missionaries, the population census tells a different tale. As per census figures, Christian population in India was as follows: in 1971-2.60%, 1981-2.44%, 1991-2.34%, 2001-2.30%, and in 2011-2.30%. It is projected as a foreign religion, but it is a very old religion with its advent in India going back to the coming of St. Thomas in AD 52 at Malabar Coast in Kerala. The Christian missionaries, while some of them overtly claim their aim of converting the people, have been working in the arena of health care and education in remote areas or among the poor dalit communities. The educational institutes set up by them are known for their quality education. There is a competition for getting admission to these institutions.

The anti-Christian tirade picked up momentum in the decade of 1970s when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram extended their work in Adivasi areas. Dangs in Gujarat witnessed violence in April-August, 1998. Here Swami Aseemanand, who was accused of being part of various bomb blasts, set up the Shabri Mata temple and organized Shabri Kumbh. In Jhabua area of Madhya Pradesh, the followers of Asaram Bapu (now in jail) organized similar congregations and violence was witnessed there on September 23, 1998. In Orissa, Swami Lakshmananand set up his work and Kandhamal violence took place in 2008.  Prior to this, Pastor Stains and his two children were murdered by Dara Singh aka Rajendra Singh Pal in 1999 who was part of Bajrang Dal.

While the accusation against Pastor Stains was that he was converting gullible Adivasis into Christian-fold, the Wadhva Commission report which went into this ghastly murder concluded that he was neither involved in the work of conversion nor the population of Christians showed any statistical increase in Keonjhar area of Orissa where he was working.

While freedom of religion is our human and social right, it is also part of Indian Constitution. It is being challenged in practice through different mechanisms of assertion and that is leading to constant increase in violence against Christians and Muslims.

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