Audio podcast: Attacks against Christians on the rise in India

Ashraf Engineer

December 18, 2021

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Hello and welcome to All Indians Matter. I am Ashraf Engineer.

A few days ago, members of Hindutva organisations attacked a church in Haryana’s Rohtak district, alleging that it was the site of religious conversions. Earlier, a Catholic school in Madhya Pradesh was attacked by a mob of 500 Hindutva extremists. Wielding iron rods and hurling stones, they raised slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ as they destroyed school property. Young students, who had been appearing for an exam, managed to escape just minutes earlier. The school, in fact, had gotten wind of the plot and alerted the police who, predictably, did nothing. These are not isolated incidents. In recent months, across the country, especially in states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the number of attacks against Christians are rising alarmingly.

SIGNATURE TUNE

A fact-finding report has found that, in the first nine months of 2021, there were at least 305 violent incidents targeting Christians. But, only 30 first information reports were registered. In September alone, there were 69 such incidents, followed by 50 in August, 37 in January, 33 in July, 27 each in March, April and June, 20 in February and 15 in May.

The report ‘Christians Under Attack in India’ by the NGO United Against Hate, Association for Protection of Civil Rights and United Christian Forum found that four North Indian states accounted for most of these incidents – 66 in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, 47 in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, 30 in Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led Jharkhand and 30 in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh.

At least 1,331 women, 588 tribals and 513 Dalits were injured in these attacks, and places of worship were damaged in 23 incidents. On 85 occasions, restrictions were imposed against religious ceremonies that were to be carried out by the victims.

As I said earlier, these are not isolated incidents. Hindutva extremists’ claims that Christian preachers are converting Hindus are getting shriller and Christian community leaders have pointed out that mob violence against them has steadily increased under the Narendra Modi government.

As we witnessed with the lynchings of Muslims earlier, the police have been reluctant to act against the Hindutva extremists. In fact, there seem to have been repercussions against the victims for raising the matter. The report lists instances of restraint on accessing church premises and performing rituals after pastors have registered cases. Twenty-nine Christians have been arrested but very little action has been taken against the mobs. Christians, meanwhile, have been hauled into police stations and Sunday prayer services have been raided, the report said.

This is now the standard operating procedure in India. File cases against victims of Hindu extremism and even arrest them.

Hindu extremists have charged Christian pastors with converting Hindus, especially tribals and lower castes, by offering them cash, free medical assistance and foreign trips.

There is, of course, no evidence ever presented but that hasn’t stopped nine states governed by the BJP from planning or passing anti-conversion laws. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, inter-faith marriages have been made tough through red tape and are nullified if carried out with the sole purpose of religious conversion.

These attacks were followed by a meeting between Modi and Pope Francis and Modi even invited the Pope to India, which has Asia’s second-largest Christian population.

But in typical Hindutva fashion, this was preceded by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat warning Hindus about religious conversions and so-called demographic changes in the North-East, which has a large Christian population. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the RSS, is the large Hindutva umbrella of which Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is a part. Organisations such as the militant Bajrang Dal, which has been accused of carrying out many of the attacks, are also affiliated to it.

In his annual Dussehra speech, Bhagwat said: “Rising population and demographic imbalance need to be addressed and population policy is to be redesigned.”

Three days later, a Madhya Pradesh BJP legislator, Rameshwar Sharma, called for a “chadar mukt, father mukt Bharat” which translates as an “India free of Muslims and Christians”. Earlier, Parmatmanand Maharaj, an extremist Hindu leader, urged people to “arm themselves with axes to teach Christians indulging in conversions a lesson”. “Why do you keep an axe? Behead them,” he said, asking the crowd to adopt a “roko, toko, thoko” – that is, stop, warn and kill – attitude towards Christians. In the audience were BJP MP Ramvichar Netam, former BJP MP Nand Kumar Sai and Chhattisgarh BJP spokesman Anurag Singh Deo.

In Karnataka as well, another BJP-ruled state, attacks on Christians have widened in recent years, said William Michaels, president of the United Christian Front. The government’s response? A “survey” of churches to check “forced conversions”.

The Constitution enshrines the right to practise whatever religion you choose but the document has mattered little over the past seven years under Modi’s rule.

Given all that’s happened, the inference is clear: after Muslims, it’s the Christians who are in the Hindutva extremists’ crosshairs. This normalisation of anti-minority violence is alarming. The question is: is anyone surprised? This normalisation, and the subsequent punishment of victims, is now a given. The police have proved to be utterly incapable of preventing the violence and, in some cases, are even encouraging of it.

Where is the government? Where are our courts? And what lies ahead? We know the answers to these questions. The criminals are free and are even being celebrated. The victims, meanwhile, are paying for the crime of being part of a minority in a country that is increasingly turning to fake nationalism and chilling majoritarianism.

Thank you all for listening. Please visit allindiansmatter.in for more columns and audio podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter at @AshrafEngineer and @AllIndiansCount. Search for the All Indians Matter page on Facebook. On Instagram, the handle is @AllIndiansMatter. Email me at editor@allindiansmatter.in. Catch you again soon.