Communal violence, minority repression and violating religious freedom are nothing new in India. Quite often, India-world’s largest democracy experiences communal violence in its heart. However, violence against Muslims largely represents India’s violence against minorities. It also dominates the narrative of violation of Human Rights in India. But, it seems religious freedom is not at stake for the Muslims only in India but also for Christians as gradually, violence against Christians are increasing at alarming rate in recent times. Since the ascension of Prime Minister Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power, discrimination against religious minorities including the Muslims and the Christians has increased drastically. Even in his first meeting with Pope, PM Modi and Pope also discussed these issues. But after five months of the meeting, it seems anti-Christian sentiment is still running high as Karnataka BJP government is looking for opportunity to pass ‘Anti-conversion’ law in upper house assembly.
Christianity is the third largest religion in India with around 27 million followers. But in population, the number is very small (only 2.3%) comparing to 79% Hindu and 14% Muslim population. The concern for Christians in India is not new, rather it is ‘little known’ for the lack of media coverage. Since the 1990s, Christians are facing threats. Large attack against Christians took place in 1998, 1999 and various in later years including the 2008 attack. In 1999, Australian missionary Graham Stein was killed by burning alongside his two children by the Bajrang Dal.
As time passed, the discrimination against Christians only increased both in the hand of believers of Hindutva and also by laws. BJP and its various affiliates including RSS, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal are the alleged perpetrators in this regard. BJP affiliates such as RSS, VHP, and Bajrang Dal etc. are performing vigilante role and are promoting largely false skepticism of ‘disappearance of Hinduism’ by next century. The skepticism is largely false and fallacious because the threat is only 2.3%; while the victims, Hindus are 79% of total population. They also believe that, the missionary activities are international conspiracies and want to expel all the missionaries from India. In many states, these parties have given open threats. According to the Chhattishgarh State Coordinator of Bajrang Dal, “Whoever attempts to convert Hindus should be in fear of Bajrang Dal. Bajrang Dal was created for this very purpose.” Furthermore, these parties have launched ‘reconversion’ program to revert the lower caste Hindus back to Hinduism.
Apart from radical political belief, the violation of Human Rights is further bolstered by the notorious ‘Anti-Conversion’ law passed in 8 states of India. Apart from these 8 states, Karnataka has also passed this law in lower house only after two months of the meeting between the pope and PM Modi. The Anti-conversion law is highly criticized for its ambiguity and scope for abuse. Radical nationalists use this law and falsely accuse an independent conversion as ‘forced conversion’ and instigate violation of Rights. Moreover, the law also makes conversion a complex and lengthy process. Furthermore, there is also an authoritarian angle of this law as through this law, state directly intervenes into the religious choice of the citizens. Therefore, this draconian law allows state to control citizen’s religious identity.
Then again, the situation is worsening for the Christians in BJP’s India. In last four years, 1774 cases have been recorded with average of 443 cases each year. And only in 2021, 300 cases in nine months have already taken place; where the victims were mostly Dalits and tribal people who were converted to Christianity. Further breakdown shows that, highest number of incidents took place in September with 69 incidents. However, the hate crimes against the Christians also have increased by 40% in 2021. Violence against Christians includes murders, rape, arson, intimidation and most commonly vandalism. However, the highest incidents are recorded this year with 80 cases is in Uttar Pradesh, ministered by Yogi Adityanath- one of the top BJP leader.
The violence has reached to such a height that, the Archbishop of Bhopal had to write a letter to PM Modi for his intervention in October, 2021. Immediately after, in the same week, on October 30th, PM Modi met with the Pope Francis in Rome where according to analysts, they also discussed about the ongoing religious discrimination in India. Interesting fact is that, though Pope Francis had desire to visit India since 2016, he couldn’t till today. In the meantime, he also visited other neighboring states of India in South Asia such as Bangladesh and Myanmar. It seems the current Indian government was indifferent to give hospitality to the Holy See. But after the meeting, PM Modi invited the Holy See to visit India.
Communal riots are recurring events in India. Quite often it results in physical and mental trauma, vandalism, arson, rape and even murder. Apart from these, it also creates displacements. For instance, the Odisha riot of 2008 resulted in killing of 100 people and displacement of 50000 people including destruction of houses and Churches. These attacks are coming from the radical parties including BJP and its affiliates including RSS, Bajrang Dal, VHP etc. And their motive and objective suggests that, behind these attacks, there are fascist motives of ‘eliminating others’. BJP’s activities regarding other minorities and dissidents also support such claim. Since 2014, BJP has created narrative of ‘Us vs. Them’ against all the minorities and challengers of ‘Hindutva’. For instance, BJP and its affiliates have propagated Muslims as outsiders, and have instigated violence against them. On the other hand, Hindutva has labeled its critics as the ‘Urban Naxals’, and has put them in an exclusionary process through this narrative. Its treatment against the Christians, the anti-conversion law and its promotion, and the political belief against Christianity also suggest that, Christianity has no place in ‘Hindutva’ India.
India’s religious discrimination narrative is largely dominated by the repression against Muslims because of the geopolitical settings. But Anti-Christian violence was always there since the 1990s. Gradually, the violence is growing especially under the rule of BJP. The anti-conversion law and political interventions are violating Human Rights and Rights of Religion for the Christians in India. Moreover, as the Dalits and Tribal people are the main victims of this violence, it also represents the plight of the powerless in the hands of the powerful. Though many might think PM Modi’s meeting with Pope would reduce the violence in coming days, without any practical action, it is hard to believe such. Karnataka BJP’s effort to pass ‘Anti-conversion Law’ in upper house also suggests the same. Without any practical action, it seems all the efforts are only political stunt for ensuring the Christian votes in the upcoming elections. But it is high time for the minorities in India to come together and stand for each other. Otherwise, the coming decades may only remind them the famous poem of Niemoller,
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Author Biography: Doreen Chowdhury is a Doctoral Researcher at University of Groningen. Her areas of interest are Comparative Politics, Globalization, South Asian Studies, and Migration Studies.