2017 marks a new low for anti-Christian violence in India

People in the tribal areas of India, falling mainly in the states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, MP and Gujarat, have borne the brunt of anti-Christian violence in recent years


Ram Puniyani

The month of December brings not only the major festival of Christmas, but also the season of festivity as we bid farewell to the year gone by and look forward to the upcoming year. The trend seems to be changing; the attacks on those planning festivities related to Christmas, those participating in the cultural practices of this festival are under attack and the atmosphere of intimidation is all around the issue of celebrating Christmas.

In Maharashtra, the Chief Minister’s wife and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA were trolled for promoting an event themed around Christmas. The carol singers in Aligarh were detained on charges of forced conversions, while Hindutva groups, the affiliates of the RSS combine, said that Christmas celebrations in schools are a strict no no!

Not to be left behind, in Rajasthan, members of the VHP barged into a Christmas function, as they disrupted it amid allegations of forced conversions. In Satna (MP), a Hindutva group attacked the carol singers and burned the priest’s car. These are a few from the list of attacks on the Christmas celebrations all over the country. In all these attacks, the offenders are related to groups which are Hindutva right-wing in nature.

While anti-Christian activities, many of them violent; have been an emerging pattern over the last many years, 2017 marked a new low. Open Doors, the global charity which monitors the treatment of Christians worldwide to produce an annual World Watch List of the 50 most difficult countries for them to live, points out that in 2016, India was at its highest ever rank on the list – at number 15.

It looks set to rise higher in 2018 if present trends continue. Also, the incidents occurring against Christians in the first half of 2017 are equal to the incidents in whole of 2016.

Anti-Christian violence has picked up in last two decades in particular. One of the most initial acts in this direction was hacking Rani Maria to death in Indore (MP) in 1995. The most horrific of this, of course, has been burning alive of Pastor Graham Stains along with his two innocent sons by Bajrang Dal’s Dara Singh in 1999, and the Kandhamal violence of August 2008. One recalls that even earlier, the observation was that anti-Christian violence picks up during the month of December. This trend was perceptible in the violence in Dangs, Phulbani, Jhabua and Phulbani so far. Come December and the atmosphere is rife with scattered attacks against Christians.

The main spread of this violence has been in the Adivasi belt right from Dangs in the West (Gujarat) and Kandhamal in the East (Odisha). In between, it passes through the tribal areas of MP, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. At the same time, the urban organisations have been relatively spared.

In these remote areas, swamis associated with the VHP etc., had made their ashrams or have been active spreading hate against Christians, like Swami Aseemanand in Dangs, followers of Asaram Bapu in Jhabua and Lakshmananand in Orissa. These are the areas where anti Christian violence has been to the fore and the slogan, ‘Hindu Jago Kristi bhago’ (Wake up Hindus-Go away Christians) was popularised. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, along with VHP, both RSS associates have stepped up their activities and propaganda in these areas during last two decades. While on one hand the sporadic anti Christian violence has picked up on the other, programmes like Shabri Kumbhs (Dangs) and Hindu Sangams were organised to mobilise Adivasis around the icons of Shabari and Hanuman.

The murder of Swami Lakshamanand and the aftermath in Kandhamal, Odisha, exhibited the pattern of violence. While Maoists claimed that they had killed Swami, many Christian youth were arrested. The remains of Swami were taken in a procession in the Adivasi areas, and precisely in these areas, violence followed. Incidentally, the anti-Christian violence so far has been more in BJP-ruled states. When violence in Kandhamal took place, the BJP was an ally of BJD in Orissa.

The deeper anatomy of violence seems to be that since the ruling party appears to be belonging to the Hindu nationalism, the so called Hindu fringe groups do feel emboldened. The attitude of police is generally hostile to the Christians and Christian missionaries, as the propaganda that the Christians are converting by force, fraud or allurement seems to have percolated far and deep. Many priests have been arrested or apprehended on the charges of conversion.

Violence is generally the after effect of hate, constructed around the propaganda against Christian missionaries. As such, taking the law in their hands has become a norm for Hindutva groups. It is important to note that most of this violence is in the adivasi areas. While in the cities, many of the Hindutva right-wing followers have been sending their children to Christian mission schools as a matter of choice, the fellow travelers of the same ideology in Adivasi-Dalit areas are up in the arms against missionaries, accusing them of conversions.

As per the census figures of Government of India, the population of Christians has slightly declined during last five decades (1971-2.60 per cent, 1981-2.44 per cent, 1991-2.34 per cent, 2001-2.30 per cent, 2011 - 2.30 per cent). Even the Wadhwa Commission report which was set up, in the aftermath of Pastor Stains murder, by the NDA Government with Advani as the Home minister pointed out that Pastor Stains was not involved in the work of conversions. Keonjhar and Manoharpur in Odisha, where the Pastor had been working, did not show any statistical increase in Christian population.

At present, it seems that we are witnessing a phase where the cultural part of festivals are being attacked, to eliminate the syncretism and intercommunity relations, further intimidating the Christians in general and Christian missionaries in particular. More than Christmas Carols and Christmas festivities, what is under attack is the pluralism of Indian society!

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