A consummately organized hate campaign against India’s Muslim population, beginning mid-December 2019, and erupting in a pogrom in mid-February 2020 against them in their “ilakas” (loosely translated as ghettos) in the North eastern suburbs of the Indian capital city New Delhi, has not only delayed the analysis of the persecution of Christians in the year gone by, but raised structural questions on the security of all religious minorities in the country, with questions for the Church and the Believers’ community if they can ever think of a safe haven in their motherland where one group is so brutally targeted.
A three-day silence by the Union and state governments and the political leadership, eye witness accounts of the participation of policemen in the torture of young Muslim men, the failure of the officers to act on emergency calls by victims, and the lack of action against hate mongers have led civil society to draw parallels with the pogrom against Sikhs in 1984 following the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and then the Gujarat violence of 2002 targeting Muslims in the Ahmedabad region.
Apprehensions on the controversial citizenship laws and violence against religious minorities cut across communities as people recall sectarian slogans such as “Pehle Kasai Phir Isai” (First the Butcher, then the Christian).
EFI puts on record the unity of the Church in the face of violence against religious minorities. Various initiatives are being taken on relief, rehabilitation and extension of legal services to victims. In addition, efforts have been made by many agencies for more comprehensive work in monitoring persecution and responding to the physical, spiritual and legal needs of the victims, whether individual, congregation, or village groups. This is an area where much more work needs to be done considering the vastness of the landscape and the intensity of the opposition to evangelization.
Even in the first two months of 2020, violence was reported against the Christian community, not from New Delhi, but elsewhere in the nation. The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (RLC-EFI) has recorded over 40 such incidents in the first two months of 2020. The Commission hopes to publish the first quarter report of 2020 by mid-April along with a detailed list of incidents.
In the year 2019, the Christian community in India continued to face incidents of targeted violence and hate crimes. The RLC recorded 366 incidents where Christians have been targeted using violence, intimidation or harassment.
Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, and indicted in the recent shooting down of Muslim protestors, maintained its position as the worst offender in the persecution of Christians. Even though compared to the 2018 figures, anti-Christian violence in Uttar Pradesh has reduced somewhat, with the focus shifting from the eastern districts around Jaunpur which had been targeted in the past, still, the state accounts for almost a quarter of all incidents recorded in the nation.
Disturbingly the state’s Law Commission, in November 2019, drafted a controversial report recommending heavy penalties of up to seven years in prison to persons deemed to be violating a proposed new law against conversions. The cover page graphic and illustrations of the 268 paged report are taken from www.hindujagruiti.org, the website of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, whose explicit goal is to establish a Hindu Rashtra.
The anti-Christian violence in Tamil Nadu, which stands second with 60 incidents, is traced to caste supremacist attitudes in villages and their linkages with political elements currently positioning themselves for power in the state which goes for elections soon.
Chhattisgarh has moved from its sixth position as on last year to number three in this list with 32 incidents, followed by Maharashtra and Jharkhand with 20 and 18 incidents each. Bihar (17), Telangana (17), Madhya Pradesh (15), Gujarat (14), Karnataka (13) and Andhra Pradesh (12) are states that follow and have double figures.
Most incidents that have been recorded are that of the nature of physical violence, threats, harassment and the disruption of Church or worship services by either religious radicals or the police. The disruption of prayer meetings and Sunday worship services has become very common. In fact, targeting congregating Christians on Sundays is now a trend across many states but especially in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Many Christians have also been falsely accused and detained or arrested on alleged and convenient charges of forced conversion.
Social discrimination and boycott of Christians from villages is also a recurrent theme that was seen this year especially in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Jharkhand also saw a Christian man who was lynched to death at the hands of cow protectors. At least three Christians have been killed by cow protectors from the year 2018 till now.
The total number of incidents dipped in summer when the Election Commission of India had mobilized large scale police presence in rural areas leading up to the general elections in April and May 2019. The incidents peaked in November 2019 as congregations increased their prayer/religious activities prior to Christmas. The anticipated violence during the Christmas season, a reality in previous years, did not take place and was overtaken as it was by the protests around the changes in the citizenship laws.
In its letter to the Prime Minister in November 2019, the EFI had called on him to ensure the security of Christians during the Christmas season. “The Christian community wants to be able to pray in peace, to celebrate Christmas with joy in cities, towns and villages. We do understand that law and order is a state subject, but a directive from the PMO will ensure that law and order authorities are sensitive to the situation. That will also send a strong signal to criminal elements who may wish to vitiate the environment.“
On the positive side has been the spontaneous support for religious minorities from the civil society at large, consisting of students, youth, intellectuals, retired senior bureaucrats as also a section of former military officers. This is an important development in view of the seemingly unstoppable penetration of the Sangh Parivar in various campuses and institutions in the last five years.
It is, however, important to point out that the numbers of cases recorded by RLC or any other agency are only indicative, and the actual numbers may be much larger. The reasons for underreporting are – fear among the Christian community, a lack of legal literacy and the reluctance/refusal of police to register cases. Even in the cases registered with the police, most never come to court.
EFIRLC appeals to the Government of India and the respective State Governments of the States named in the report to ensure the rule of law and the security of religious minorities in India.
We especially appeal to the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, to deal with stringently with the various right-wing organizations operating in these states whose primary agenda is to create an atmosphere of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities.
More detailed recommendations to the Government of India can be found in the report.
The full report can be accessed by clicking THIS link.
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Rev. Vijayesh Lal
National Director – EFIRLC
General Secretary – EFI