Religious minorities in India continue to live under the threat of physical violence, state harassment and repressive laws that severely curb Freedom of Religion and Belief though the country is a signatory to United Nations and other international declarations, covenants, and treaties on this most fundamental of human rights.
With 177 cases documented in 2015 after careful scrutiny, the Christian community which is a mere 2.3 per cent of the country's population [2011 Census], continues to be a major target of violence. The actual volume of violent persecution is not known. State agencies are reluctant to speak on this matter and governments do not keep records unless local police register formal cases under the Indian Penal and Criminal Procedure codes.
Frightening aspects of this violence is an increasing number of rapes, particularly of Catholic Nuns, and other gender violence. Recent months have seen an increasing trend to polarize the people in villages, leading to social exclusion, ostracisation and denial of employment and social services.
Topping the list are the States of Madhya Pradesh with 36 cases, and its neighbour, Chhattisgarh, 20 cases, both in Central India, and Uttar Pradesh, with 22 cases. While the Bharatiya Janata party has been in control, of the national government for 22 months only [it earlier ruled from 1998 to 2004], the party has been in control of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for three terms.
Physical violence, including assaults by mobs, beatings and torture, were the most common with 68 cases, followed by Stopping of worship in churches [18 cases] and attacks on churches [18 cases]. Arrests of pastors and their companions was a major issue with 18 cases, which does not include those who are rounded up by the police and let off after some time, and others who were in the custody of mobs for various lengths of time.
At least three cases of rape were recorded, including on Nuns.
Protests by Christian groups against persecution, especially in New Delhi have been brutally crushed. Agitators, including Nuns and other women, Clergy and professions have been cane-charged, dragged to police vans and detained in cases last year.
State impunity, political arrogance of the ruling groups in various States of the Union, and increasing complicity of local police and sometimes the media, aggravate the pressure on terrorized communities in remote villages and small towns.
In many cases, justice has been denied to those arrested on trumped-up charges - mostly pastors or their associates - and detained in police stations or their liberty curtailed in other manners.
Government organizations, including the National Commission of Minorities, have expressed their helplessness in the matter. Many government structures and functionaries, including in the State Minority and human rights organizations, are enmeshed in bureaucratic Red Tape. Most such organizations consist of political appointees reluctant to take affirmative action.
Human rights and Freedom of Faith organizations, including the Evangelical Fellowship of India, the Alliance Defending Freedom India and Christian Legal Association, have had to mobilise legal assistance to ensure the freedom of the people, and the security of the pastors and members of churches. A National Helpline by the United Christian Forum backed by members of the EFI, ADF, CLA and others are an immediate channel of communication and assistance.
The persecution of Christians is also seen within the larger context of sustained violence and persecution of India's very large Muslim community - at more than 14 per cent of the population, the second largest in the world after Indonesia. The sustained hate campaign against Muslims by several Union Ministers and cadres of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party and its ideological group, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh with its myriad specialised organizations known as the "Sangh Parivar", radicalizes people at all levels, and more so in rural areas. The cadres are a ready base for violence against Christians. Both Muslims and Christians have in recent months been also branded as "anti nationals", adding another layer of targeted hate.
Christians and Muslims have been named as "enemies of the nation" in the foundation documents of the RSS and the phrase is common in the public discourse in social media. Christian activists and others have been targeted and coerced on social media, some of them receiving death threats in 2015.
The persecution of Christians in India is also rooted in highly bigoted laws that have invited international scrutiny, including by the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The prime among them is Article 341 Part 3, which effectively criminalizes conversion of Indian citizens to Christianity and Islam, its punitive measures denying the country's 180 million Dalit population [once described as untouchables till the term was outlawed] all affirmative action including reservations in legislatures, government employment and institutions of higher learning.
Laws against conversions in 6 of the largest States of the Union not only rob Tribals and Dalits of their rights to Freedom of Faith, some of them have punitive measures against pastors connected with the people. Most dangerously, the anti conversion laws seem to provide a 'carte blanche', or license to non-state actors such as members of the larger "Sangh Parivar" and some other ideologically-aligned groups of the RSS but also the police and local governments to target Christians and their institutions.
The continuing and adverse government focus on National and International Civil Society and Human Rights organizations also nurtures the environment of hate against minority groups, especially the Christian community which has a large number of institutions at the grassroots in areas of health, education and the welfare of women and children. The Persecution list does not cover such laws being use against Christian not for profit and voluntary groups whose funds have been stopped, international funding curtailed or licenses cancelled. Licenses for accepting foreign donations under the Foreign Contribution regulation act are due for re-validation in 2016.
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell,
Evangelical Fellowship of India
New Delhi, India
Rev. Vijayesh Lal,
Executive Director (Designate),
Evangelical Fellowship of India,
New Delhi, India.
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