New Delhi: With the 2019 general elections around the corner, several in the Christian community feel that another tenure for the current government will legitimise crimes against them and other religious minorities.
Recently, Open Doors, a Christian mission, enlisted 50 of the most unsafe countries for Christians, in which India was ranked 11th. The report published by Open Doors reads, "Because Hindu radicals view Christians as outsiders, they are experiencing increased persecution. These radicals are intent on cleansing the nation of both Islam and Christianity and employ violence to this end. Usually, converts to Christianity experience the worst persecution and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism."
The report further says, "Campaigns known as Ghar Wapsi (or homecoming) are used to get Christians to denounce their newfound faith. These converts are often physically assaulted and sometimes killed for refusing to deny Christ. The government continues to look away when religious minorities are attacked, indicating that violence may continue to increase in the coming years."
Issue more about caste than religion?
Tehmina Arora, who hails from Delhi and is an Indian representative of the Alliance Defending Freedom, says, "Christians are often blamed for trying to convert people by force or inducement, even though we form a minuscule population. Many new converts don't share their new faith because they fear violence, either from their families, society or anti-social elements."
"Many Christians, especially those who live in smaller towns and villages, are vulnerable," she adds.
A study on violence against Christians by ADF — which recorded incidents of physical violence, threats/intimidation and restrictions on religious assembly received via the United Christian Forum helpline — shows that between January and April 2018 alone, there were 155 incidents. Last year, 242 incidents were recorded, and 216 were recorded in 2016. This is only a fraction of what the community is experiencing, she says, as many cases don't get reported.
Responding to the question about the insecurities Christian community have, Father of Immanuel Marthoma Church (popularly known as ATS Green Church) Abraham Mathew says that hate crimes against Christians are increasing. "This has been a reality since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or other fringe elements commit crimes, and feel safe under this government," he says.
Adding to this, Father Mathew says that his community is in panic, and they are worried that the government won't take care of them. "We have participated in India's struggle for freedom, we were at the front during many agitations, take for example North East and Kerala. However, we are still seen as 'anti-nationals' — this is a serious problem," he says.
Shibli Peter, who works with Dalit Christians through a platform called Centre for Social Studies and Culture, says, "Majority of the Christian population is Dalits and tribals, and they are being continuously threatened. Hindutva outfits are launching campaigns such as ghar wapsi to attack and threaten them and convert them to Hinduism against their will, since the basic agenda of the RSS is to go against conversion." He further says, "Interestingly, the issue is political. If you look at caste structure, Dalits and tribals form the majority, and for the RSS, it's important to retain them to continue their rule. I think this is more about caste than religion."
Justy Alex, who is also from Delhi and is pursuing her Masters in social work, says, "The most affected are the Dalit Christians, who face double the discrimination."
'Deliberate attempt to demonise Christians'
Earlier in May, the archbishop of Delhi, Anil Cuotto, wrote a letter addressed to all the parishes and religious institutions under the Archdiocese of Delhi to pray for the country and its political leaders as the general elections inch closer. He wrote that the turbulent political atmosphere right now is threatening the principles of the Constitution as well as the secular fabric of the nation. This received a lot of backlash from the right wing, who called it religious interference.
Anil Barghese, a Christian resident of Kailash Colony, says, "The BJP and RSS wanted to create a fuss about the archbishop’s letter due to elections. They should know that in all churches in India, every Sunday, we pray for all our political leaders, it’s in our liturgy and written in our prayers. I think more bishops should come out with similar letters." He adds, "People part of churches are also voters, and you cannot isolate them."
Defending Archbishop Anil's letter, Father Mathew says that it was a personal one, and people should be vigilant enough to see what is happening in India. "A believer in democracy will see how it's unnecessary to say that churches are against the BJP. Why it is so that a temple priest can become a politician, but a Christian priest cannot have an opinion?" he questions.
Justy expresses her concern over the upcoming elections. She says, "Next year is a crucial one, especially when it comes to India's much-celebrated secularism, which is at stake in the hands of the current government. Since 2014, there has been an evident rise in the crimes against religious minorities. From vandalizing churches to mob lynching — we have seen it all in the past four years. Another tenure for the current government will further legitimize atrocities against minorities."
Shibi says it's a deliberate attempt by the RSS and BJP to demonise Christians and present them as outsiders and enemies. "This is being done to polarise the majority for the 2019 elections. Wherever Christians are in significant numbers, they are being made into enemies," he concludes.
(Anwarul Hoda is a New Delhi-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)
Updated Date: Jun 12, 2018 20:25 PM