Fr Stan’s arrest figures in UK Parliament: UK govt says, Indian authorities were ‘alerted’
Acknowledging that human rights defenders face growing threats, minister for Asia, Nigel Adams said, it has “directly raised the case of Father Stan Swamy with the Indian authorities.”
Will Father Stan Swamy’s arrest, especially the fact that he is a Christian and a priest, turn out to be major international embarrassment for the Government of India? It may well happen, if a recent debate on a resolution titled “India: Persecution of Minority Groups” in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament is any indication. While Jesuits have protested Fr Stan's arrest in UK and US, the resolution, adopted in the Parliament, said, “This House has considered the matter of persecution of Muslims, Christians and minority groups in India”.
Minutes of the debate on January 12 on the alleged persecution of minorities in India suggest that while MPs differed on “attacks” on Muslims in India (one of them, Labour MP Naz Shah, blamed it on RSS, “Trump 2.0 in charge in India” Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah), ironically, they seemed unanimous when it came to Christians, with Stan Swamy’s arrest, which took place in October last year, becoming an important reference point.
Moving his resolution, Jim Shannon of the Democratic Union Party (DUP), a major centre-right political force in Northern Ireland, said, “80 year-old Father Stan Swamy, who has been an advocate for the rights of the poor and marginalised in India for 50 years, has been unjustly held captive by the National Investigation Agency of India for alleged Maoist links”. He sought the UK government’s clarification on the issue.
Responding, minister for Asia Nigel Adams, talking about “the case of Father Stan Swamy”, stated, “Human rights defenders make an essential contribution to the promotion of the rights of their fellow citizens.” Acknowledging that human rights defenders face growing threats, and the UK government is working “with many international partners to support them”, he said, it has “directly raised the case of Father Stan Swamy with the Indian authorities.”
Even as extensively talking about how Muslims are being treated in India, Shannon particularly referred to the information he receives from different religious groups, “such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International, the Barnabus Fund and Open Doors”, which referred to how “an estimated 100 Christians from Singavaram village in India's Chhattisgarh state were also attacked” by a mob of around 50 people armed with home-made weapons during the night while they slept.”
Pointing out that “The mob burnt their Bibles and accused their victims of destroying the local culture by following a foreign religion” he said, “Christian organisations have noted worsening patterns of discrimination against our communities in India. There have been reports of Christians who will not participate in Hindu rituals being denied employment... Because they do not conform to what the Government want them to do, they are cut off from the water supply and prevented from even burying their dead... These are cruel actions by those in power.”
Sir Edward Leigh, Conservative MP, said, “Although in India the victims of persecution are overwhelmingly Muslims, the victims of persecution worldwide are overwhelmingly Christian.” Praising praising the UK government’s “courage to stand up more and more for human rights, especially of the right of Christians “to profess their faith”, he believed, there is a need to understand why one should “understand” that Hinduism is part of India DNA.
According to Leigh, “Hindus feel that theirs is the religion of India”, and appeared to agree to the popular view in India that Muslims are procreating in order to change the demographic balance. He said, “Despite the electoral success of Modi and the BJP, it has to be said that although Hindus are still the overwhelming part of the population, their proportion of the population has been declining. No doubt that engenders a feeling of threat.”
Referring to the the anti-conversion laws, he said, “Between 1967 and 2020, six states introduced laws or ordinances aiming to stop conversions. It is a dangerous thing to convert to Christianity in India.” Even as pointing out that “it is even more dangerous to convert to Christianity in Pakistan”, he insisted, “We have to condemn absolutely this feeling in many countries of the world that it is wrong to convert or change religion, in any direction.”
Quoting a reported by Aid to the Church in Need, he said, “There was no sign of anti-Christian violence abating during India's Covid-19 lockdown. In the first six months of 2020 one Indian NGO recorded 293 cases of persecution." He quoted Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur, who said, "It is a cause of concern with the Church because Christians are being killed and beaten. There are much more attacks than ten years ago. Fundamentalism is a real problem."
Claiming that the the Indian government's own figures show “an upward trend in inter-religious violence”, “In 2016, 86 people were killed in sectarian violence and 2,321 were injured in 703 incidents. The following year, that rose to 111 people killed and 2,384 injured; there were 822 incidents in 2017.” Singling out anti-Christians attacks, he added, “Between 2017 and the end of March 2019, there were more than 1,000 individual attacks on Christians.”
“The attacks are widespread”, he said, adding, “In recent years, they have taken place in 24 out of India's 29 states. In Odisha state in May 2019, local officials sent a team of 50 workers to demolish a Christian school and children's hostel near Lichapeta. The school's application for recognition of land tenure was suspiciously lost.”
Labour MP Barry Gardiner said, “I am a Christian and I therefore have an interest to prevent the persecution of my fellow Christians”, adding, “As a Christian, I remember the appalling murder of the Christian missionary Graham Staines in Odisha. He was burned to death with his two little boys, aged 10 and six, when Dara Singh led a group of Hindu militants who set light to the van that they were sleeping in.”
Another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, said, the Open Doors' World Watch List showed that for the last two years, “India has been in 10th place on that list of the worst countries for the persecution of Christians, and the position is not going to improve; 10 years ago it was down at number 32.” A third Labour MP, Stephen Kinnock, added, “According to Persecution Relief, between January 2016 and January 2020, there were 2,067 crimes inspired by religious intolerance against Christians in India.”
At least one, MP Barry Gardiner (Labour) resented the debate itself, wondering how would one react if “if there had been a debate in the Indian Parliament about the persecution of black people in Britain.” Chipping Barnet (Conservative), on the other hand, defended the Government of India, saying, “In a country as huge as India, there will be lawbreakers who attack others, including members of minority communities and faiths.” He believed, “I do not accept that there is evidence of systemic or state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities.”
This article was first published in Counterview.Org