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Persecutions in India: "Scaring Christians and other communities to bolster support for Hindu nationalist parties".

The oppression of Christians in India increases, "not only from year to year, but from month to month". This is what he reported on November 29 Vatican Newsthe Vatican news portal.

Leticia Sánchez de León-December 11, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes
christians india

A man holds a candle during a prayer service for Jesuit Stan Swamy ©CNS photo/Francis Mascarenhas, Reuters

As Vatican News reported last November, the United Christian Forum (UCF) published its annual report on religious persecution in India. In it, it referred to an increase in incidents related to religious freedom and worship in India, from 505 in 2021 to 511 so far in 2022.

The number of attacks on the Christian minority in the country has not only not decreased, but continues to increase.

The origin of the conflictsos

In order to understand these conflicts, it is necessary to take into account the process of HinduizationThe report explains the social and political changes that the country has experienced in the last century, especially at the social and political level. A report by the Real Insituto Elcano explains how since 1923, when the work Hindutva (Hinduism), Savarkar began to defend the theory of equivalence of the concepts pitribhumi (ancestral land) and punyabhumi (sacred land), concluding that only religions arising in Indian territory can be considered as religions. national (Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Hinduism, etc.). As a consequence, the believers who had their original holy places outside India (Muslims, Christians and others) are strangers to the construction of a single Indian nation with its own characteristics and religion. This idea is the ideological pillar of Hindu nationalism and guides its discourse and actions.

This escalation increased with the coming to power of the BJD, the Hindu nationalist party, in 1996, characterized by an attempt to claim the "Hindu" as its own, seeking to consolidate the national identity and identifying everything that is not Hindu as an external enemy, generally embodied in the figure of the Muslim and also, increasingly, in the Christian.

The so-called "Religious Freedom Laws".

Since then, and especially from the 1970s onwards, the so-called "Religious Freedom Acts" began to be passed in several Indian states, regulating and, above all, restricting conversion from one religion to another. Several states in the north, west and east of India, such as Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, have such laws in force.

Karnataka, in southwest India, became the latest state to enact its own law, in May of this year. The law states that "no person shall convert or attempt to convert, directly or indirectly, another person from one religion to another by false statements, force, undue influence, coercion, enticement, seduction or any fraudulent means, or by marriage; no person shall encourage or arrange for religious conversions of other persons". So read the Karnataka state bill- "In case of violation, imprisonment of three to five years and a fine of INR 25,000 ($307) is envisaged, while imprisonment is increased to 10 years and fine to INR 50,000 ($614) for those who convert minors, women and persons from the communities (...) considered marginalized and vulnerable groups." These are very high penalties considering that the net monthly salary is 44900 rupees, about $551.53 and the great inequality between castes.

"Wherever the anti-conversion law has been passed, it has provided a justification for the persecution of religious minorities and other marginalized groups," says Ram Puniyani, director of the NSF (National Solidarity Forum) and promoter of human rights in India, in an article published on the Fides website on the situation of Christians in India. "The attacks on minorities have increased significantly in recent years since this law is used as a weapon against Christians and Muslims, especially Adivasis, Dalits and women," concludes Punyani.

According to several associations working in India to promote and protect human rights, the conversion of a dalit ("pariah", considered outside the four Indian castes) to Christianity or Islam, causes him to lose the protection of the state, but not if he converts to Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism. These discriminations act as an incentive for individuals to remain in Hinduism - or to convert to that religion - and violate freedom of conscience.

To make matters worse, the rationale for this law is virtually non-existent. Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, noted in her report on India in 2011 that, "Even in Indian states that have adopted laws on religious conversion, there appear to be only few, if any, convictions for conversions through the use of force, inducements or fraudulent means. In Orissa, for example, district officers and first-level officers in the state secretariat have not been able to cite or adduce a single violation of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act of 1967."

Persecutions against Christians are on the rise

The origin of the persecutions dates back to 2008 in the state of Odisha (formerly Orissa in eastern India), when Swami Lakhmananda Saraswati, a local leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and four other VHP members were killed. Although a Maoist leader had claimed responsibility and Christian leaders had condemned the killings, organized mobs subsequently attacked Christians in communities in the area. dalit and tribals. By the end of September 2008, more than 40 people had been killed in Odisha, more than 4,000 Christian homes destroyed and some 50 churches demolished. Some 20,000 people were living in relief camps and more than 40,000 were in hiding in forests and other places. The UN Special Rapporteur said in 2009 that she was deeply alarmed by the humanitarian situation in the relief camps, where there was reportedly no access to food, clean water, medical care, adequate sanitation facilities or proper clothing.

What happened in Odisha marked a turning point for Christians in India: never before had attacks on Christians by Hindu fundamentalists been so intense. Since then, Odisha has been a symbol of the intolerance of Hindu nationalist movements, although since 2008 the attacks on Christians have spread to other states, such as the state of Jharkhand (north of Orissa), today the epicenter of tensions.

According to UCF's coordinator, A.C. Michael, violence against Christian minorities is growing daily, becoming a trend that is difficult to stop. Thanks to the work of the UCF, it is known what is the modus operandi of the persecutors: the incidents are usually perpetrated by small vigilante groups whose members include extremist Hindus. These groups make accusations of forced conversion activities, and thus break into places where Christians gather, with the aim of frightening them and even attacking some of them on more than one occasion.

What is serious is that many of these attacks take place without consequences for the prosecutors from a legal and/or political point of view. The UCF explains that when cases are registered against the perpetrators, no action is taken. And as the police, administration, politicians and government maintain a studied silence when acts of violence are committed against religious minorities, religious fanatics gain more courage and become extra-constitutional authorities to violate their rights.

The voice of Pope Francis

Pope Francis has repeated on numerous occasions the need to fight religious fanaticism and in particular at his interfaith meetings in Cairo in 2017 and during his recent visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain in November 2022.

During his visit to Cairo, the Pope said that "as religious leaders we are called to unmask the violence that masquerades as supposed sacredness, (...). We are obliged to denounce violations against human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify all forms of hatred in the name of religions and to condemn them as an idolatrous falsification of God.

The authorLeticia Sánchez de León

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