Alarming Government Impunity Underpins Continuing Persecution Of Christians In 2016 By Non-State Actors
An ominous and all-permeating impunity and occasional complicity of the administrative and police personnel mark the spurt in violence against Christians in the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, which top the list of hate crimes against Christian in India in the first half of 2016, the second year of the government of Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi.
A review of the incidents recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India's Religious Liberty Commission [EFIRLC] from New Year Day 2016 to 30th June, and confirmed in independent fact-finding surveys by important civil society groups, source this violence, coercion and statements intimidating Christians to village and town units of the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and several newly formed groups affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. The political wing of the RSS, the Bharatiya Janata party, is now in power in the Union government in New Delhi and in most major states.
According to the data available, and it needs be made clear that this is carefully corroborated and authentic data and may be just a fraction of the violence on the ground. There were 134 separate incidents of violence in the first six months of 2016 across in 21 of the 29 States and seven Union Territories of the country. March was the most violent month, and vandalizing and burning of churches and prayer halls and forcibly preventing worship were the most rampant crime against the community. Inevitably, the church members were assaulted, brutalised, and the women molested. One person was murdered.
It is worth noting that while in 2014 and 2015, 147 and 177 cases of targeted violence were documented respectively, in 2016 their numbers have already reached 133 in the first six months.
While Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have a history of anti-Christian policies and violent non-state agencies targeting the community, there has been a startling rise in such targeted violence in Uttar Pradesh, which faces elections early in 2017, and in the southern State of Tamil Nadu, governed by Mr. Modi's ally, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam with Miss Jayaram Jayalalithaa as the Chief Minister. It needs be recalled that the undivided Madhya Pradesh, of which Chhattisgarh was then part, was among the first ones to enact laws proscribing and criminalising evangelisation and conversions, Miss Jayalalithaa enacted a similar law, but later withdrew it in the face of a strong protest from the Christian community which had a political sway in some districts.
In June 2016, the All India People's Forum, AIPF, a major civil society group, sent a team to Chhattisgarh and specially to the region of Bastar. In its report, the AIPF team quoted testimonies of several Christians in the Bastar district that spoke of systematic attempts to persecute Christian minorities; foment communal division and violence in Adivasi villages; bend pro-Adivasi laws to communal ends; and allow Hindutva groups to dictate to the police and administration.
EFIRLC's own field workers, and those responding to a National Helpline co-founded by the EFIRLC have given chilling narratives of attacks, molestation and arson from many regions.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
- Enact a comprehensive hate crimes legislation to safeguard the rights of religious minorities.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs should provide trainings on human rights and religious freedom standards and practices to the state and central police and judiciary.
- Although maintenance of public order is a state responsibility, the central government should issue an advisory to the state governments to repeal the anti-conversion laws.
- The government should ensure an active Commission for Human Rights and Commission for Minorities is operational in every state, and that members of each commission are appointed by transparent and non-partisan procedures.
- Prevent and pursue through the judicial process, all violent acts against religious and tribal minorities and Dalits.
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