Christians: India’s other persecuted minority

The attacks on Christians draw strength from PM Narendra Modi’s assertion that Dec 25 is no longer Christmas, but Good Governance Day


John Dayal

Muslims in India are ten times as many, perhaps more, and have it a hundred times worse than Christians. And Cesar is long dead, together with Herod and several others down the centuries. But every Christmas season these last 20 years, since the National Democratic Alliance under Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the reins of power in New Delhi – they already were rulers in many of the states – Christians have had their Joy of Christmas mixed with just a tinge of fear.

Churches across the countries, and many institutions, now have more closed circuit TV cameras than Crosses, and long lengths of bared or blade wire on their high walls. To an alien, it would be surreal. Like the high walls of gurudwaras after 1984, and of mosques, old and new in many towns. Police, many armed, will be deployed in front of major churches in the National Capital, and elsewhere.

NH illustration
NH illustration
A map of India depicting the number of attacks on members of the Christian community in 2017

It is the new normal. In Kandhamal in Odisha, scene of two rounds of a systematic pogrom in 2007-08 – 120 were killed, scores were raped, 320 churches burnt, 6,000 houses demolished and 60,000 Christians forced to flee by hoodlums under the benign gaze of the local police and civil officials – an assertive survivor community will celebrate the birth of their Saviour hoping the police around them will protect them, just in case, and not turn on them. That too has happened. Christians are attacked, beaten, and then the police arrest them and not the assailants. Impunity reigns.

It draws strength from Narendra Modi, the Prime minister, telling the world it is no longer Christmas, but Good Governance Day, and his patron, Mohan Bhagwat, the generalissimo of the RSS, proclaiming that everyone in India is a Hindu, or else. . I have been keeping records since the mid 1990s. These are now kept by the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission, the United Christian Forum with its pioneering Helpline, and the Alliance Defending Freedom which coordinates with the Christian Law Association to bring legal aid to the victims.

More than 700 cases of attacks on Christians were reported on the United Christian Forum (UCF) toll free helpline number 1800-208- 4545 since 2014. Last year, 216 incidents were recorded and this year 216 incidents have already been reported as on date.

Out of 29 states in India, at least 19 regularly witness attacks on Christians. Tamil Nadu tops the list with 41 incidents as on November 30th(see map). The violence includes Ghar wapsi; refusal to grant permission to establish and run places of worship; false accusation of forceful and fraudulent religious conversions: physical and verbal assault on Church pastors and members; false and divisive propaganda; damage and desecration of places of worship and arson; disruption of prayer services and Restrictions on religious gatherings, says ADF.

Apart from the violence, social exclusions are also common tactic used to victimise minorities by denying basic human rights that are common to every citizen. These exclusion orders make Christians vulnerable to excessive violence and denial of social privileges like access to water, electricity and work. India is high on civil violence against religious minorities. The Modi Government admitted in Parliament on the 7th of February this year that over the last three years, over 278 persons have been killed and over 6,500 people were injured due to communal violence in over 2,000 incidents.

Shamefully, the World Watch List 2017, ranks India 15th in the list of countries where the practice of the faith is a high-risk activity. India was ranked 31 only four years ago. The police filed only 43 criminal complaints or First Information Reports (FIRs) in spite of the information about attacks against Christians being provided repeatedly to them in over 200 incidents. In states such as Madhya Pradesh, where the chief minister has launched scores of programmes for one community, the malicious targeting of Christians is now the norm. The state has a law against forcible and fraudulent conversions, which is used with indiscriminately to harass the Christian community.

On three separate occasions, Christian children traveling in a train for a Christian camp were taken into custody at railway stations by the Railway Police on the grounds that the children were being “kidnapped to be converted.” On May 22 and 23, 2017 nine elders and a minor were arrested by the Railway Police when they were accompanying 71 Christian children for a summer Bible camp to Nagpur from Indore. Then in June, a Catholic nun and four girls were detained at the Satna railway station. On October 21, two elders and seven children going for Bible Studies were detained and not allowed to meet the parents. There is still a week to go for the year to end. Will it end without adding to the dismal numbers?

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines