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What is triggering anti-Christian violence in India?

October 05, 2022
topics: Discrimination
by: Rishabh Jain
located in: India
tags: BJP, Christians, discrimination, India, religious freedom

As the number of attacks against Christians in India continues to rise, some push to revisit the anti-conversion laws passed by various state governments. Others point to the importance of grassroots peace-building.

In early May this year, a 65-year-old Christian mother and her son living in the Bastar district of India's Chattisgarh State were threatened with a social boycott by the panchayat - a village council - if they declared their faith in Christ.

The two insisted they were, and would always be, Christians. They were then beaten up and sustained serious injuries. The woman required hospitalisation, suffering many wounds - including one to the skull. She and her son had filed an official complaint to the police. 

This, however, was not an isolated incident.

According to a recent report by the United Christian Forum (UCF) - an interdenominational organisation fighting for the rights of the Christians in India - by the end of July, a staggering 302 incidents of violence targeting the Christian community in India were recorded, a drastic increase from the 186 incidents reported in the same period last year.

In another similar attack, a pastor was targeted while leading a prayer service in the Jaunpur region of Uttar Pradesh, as a mob reportedly consisting of members of right-wing parties stormed in his church. The mob dragged the pastor out and beat him up, claiming he was converting people.

Instead of pursuing the attackers, the police detained the pastor and charged him under Section 295A of the IPC of conducting deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings. He could only walk free in early June, after the police failed to present sufficient evidence at court. 

These violent incidents include harassment and social exclusion, sexual assault, threats and intimidation, vandalism and degradation of religious sites and interruption of prayer services, among other acts of aggression. 

Commenting on the rise in the number of attacks on Christians in India, UCF National President Michael Williams stated: "This data flies in the face of statements by government functionaries and leaders of the ruling parties at the centre and in the states that there is no persecution and that there are only a few stray incidents by fringe elements."

The data released by UCF highlights that there were 41 incidents in January, 35 in February, 35 in March, 40 in April, 58 in May, 38 in June and 55 in July. Uttar Pradesh, currently ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tops the list with 84 reported incidents of violence targeting Christians.

Police corruption

In a statement, UCF said that the police, who were supposed to protect citizens during these incidents, had failed to do so.

"It is ironic that the culprits, many of whom film their acts of vandalism and physical violence on unarmed women and men, seem to defy the law, whereas peaceful pastors and others are arrested on charges of 'conversion' during routine prayer services," the statement reads.

"In all such cases, the police are either a mute spectator or active participant in the persecution," it goes on. "Despite our appeals to senior officials and administrators, the police have failed to follow protocol, rules, and investigations." 

A 2021 report by the US Department of State also found that India has seen an increase in attacks on people over religious intolerance and at places of worship.

The report also highlighted that attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults and intimidation, occurred throughout the year. The country's anti-conversion law was found to be a common tool for state agencies to leverage against the Christian community.

The Anti-Conversion Law

India has had an anti-conversion law since 1967, but many states either do not enforce it or haven’t  enacted it yet. Certain states, however, including Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, are tightening such laws.

In 2020, the Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance was passed to replace the 1967 law, and punish people convicted of forceful conversion with up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 50,000 rupees (USD $700). 

In such states, a person who wants to change their religion after getting married must apply to the local government, and it is up to the converted to provide evidence indicating they are not a victim of compulsory conversion.

Rights groups argue that this interpretation of the law is stirring anti-Christian violence and hatred and is stifling religious freedom. 

Although no federal law currently prohibits religious conversions, a dozen Indian states, many of which are governed by the BJP, have passed anti-conversion legislation.

In response, some experts opine that the implementation of such laws might be violating the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

Aditya Giri, a Supreme Court of India attorney, told FairPlanet that the anti-conversion law should be examined in light of the country's recently enacted right to privacy.

The right to privacy is an expansion of the rights to "life" and "liberty" guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits both the public and private sectors from invading people's privacy.

As the controversial law punishes both the converted and the converter, the recently implemented Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance 2020 sets a hazardous precedent, according to Giri. 

Similar sentiments were echoed by India’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Felix Anthony Machado. He said that the anti-conversion law targets the Christian community and spurs violence - including the more than seven hate crimes against Christians reported across the country that disrupted the 2021 Christmas celebrations.

Claiming to be attempts at forceful conversions, the Hindutva mob disrupted celebrations across several places by barging into schools, churches and other places. 

"It is to be noted here that many attacks must have been missed out as the report is solely based on the calls received by UCF," Archbishop Machado said.

With the number of attacks on Christians on the rise, experts say it has become necessary to protect the constitutional freedom to live by one’s faith.

Commenting on the growing number of attacks against Christians in India, Williams of UCF said that one solution would be to simply "uphold the law of the land," pointing out that "Article 25 provides us the right to practice, profess and propagate one's own religion without disturbing the public order."

He further added that the Christian community has complete faith in the judicial structure of the country and that it will uphold the values enshrined in the constitution of India.

Another solution he proposed is holding regular peace meetings between people of all faiths.  "Recently, some meetings between members of the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian faiths were held in Delhi and Punjab," he told FairPlanet, advocating to hold such meetings at regular intervals. 

Image by Ismael Paramo.

Article written by:
Screenshot_20210902-004609
Rishabh Jain
Author
India
A staggering 302 incidents of violence against Christians in India were recorded by the end of July 2022.
In early May this year, a 65-year-old Christian mother and her son were threatened with a social boycott if they declared their faith in Christ. They were then beaten up and badly injured.
"Recently, some meetings between members of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian faith were held in Delhi and Punjab."
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