Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Christian Man Brutally Murdered for His Faith by Radicals in India

According to Christian News, a 27-year-old Christian, named Kande Mudu, was attacked and murdered by a group of armed men in the Khunti district of India’s Jharkhand state.

The murder occurred the night of June 7, when a group of armed men showed up at Kande Mudu’s house and demanded he come outside. The radicals broke down the door and took Mudu out of his home by force. The radicals then brutally attacked Mudu and slashed his throat.

Bindu Mudu, Mudu’s wife, told Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “After hearing the men at the front door, my husband knew that our lives were in danger and that the men had bad intentions.” Mudu then reportedly told his wife, “He might be killed but assured her to remain strong and never to give up her faith in Jesus even if they killed him.

According to reports, Mudu became a Christian four years ago along with his family. They were the only Christians in their village. Prior to the June 7 murder, Mudu and his family faced constant harassment because of their faith. Now Mudu’s family, including his wife and daughters, have been forced to abandon the village.

Following Mudu’s murder, Bindu said that her father suggested she abandon her Christian faith and avoid being targeted by local radical groups. However, Bindu said, “I will live for Jesus and die for Jesus, but I will never turn back.

A First Information Report (FIR), a document required to begin a criminal investigation, has been registered in regards to the murder of Kande Mudu. To date, no suspects have been arrested and Mudu’s family remain displaced in undisclosed location.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Indian pastor forgives arsonists who razed church in Tamil Nadu

Pastor Ramesh Jebaraj says he forgives the arsonists who destroyed his church in Tamil Nadu State, southern India, in the early hours of 13 June.

Arsonists reduced the Real Peace Gospel church in rural Vayalur to a burnt out shell

The partially-sighted pastor who runs the Real Peace Gospel church in rural Vayalur said, “We don’t suspect anyone in particular. People of all faiths come here to pray. Someone may have done it out of jealousy, but we forgive them.”

Police are investigating the blaze that destroyed the thatched roof of the church, built ten years ago, and reduced the building to a burnt out shell. The charred remains of a drum, microphones and a table could be seen in the ruins.

No services had been held in the church since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown began in March. Pastor Ramesh said, “There is no possibility of any electrical short circuit. We use only rechargeable batteries during service and take them back.” The building was not connected to a mains power supply.

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Christians of India (GCCI), believes the fire was an arson attack, adding that extremists have continued to sow fear among Christians in Hindu-majority India, despite the lockdown. “We are alarmed by this attack while the government is grappling with the pandemic crisis,” he said.

“India is a secular democracy, and Christians are no threat to anyone. We represent only 2.3 per cent of the population, and declining. Despite this, radical groups continue to attack and intimidate Christians, burning their churches,” the Christian leader added.

In May, the Alliance Defending Freedom India Trust (ADF) reported that at least three Christian families in India’s Chhattisgarh State had been prevented from burying their loved ones by religious extremists as persecution and mob violence against believers continued during the Covid-19 lockdown.

ADF lawyers said they had also received reports of six incidents of targeted violence against Christians in Chhattisgarh State and three incidents of anti-Christian violence in Jharkhand State in April. In neighbouring Odisha (formerly Orissa) State, a 14-year-old Christian boy was tortured and murdered by local extremists in his village, in Malkangiri district, in June.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) said the number of recorded incidents of violence and hate crime against Christians rose in 2019 to 366 incidents, compared to 325 in the previous year. EFI’s annual report, published in March, revealed Tamil Nadu State had the second highest number of anti-Christian incidents in 2019, with 60 attacks, behind Uttar Pradesh State, which recorded 86 attacks.

From Barnabas Fund contacts and other source

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Peace rally demands justice for murdered Christian teen

Malkangiri, June 17, 2020: A peaceful rally of Christians in Odisha’s Malkangiri on June 16 demanded justice for a teenage boy hacked to death two weeks ago.

Suspected religious fundamentalists on June 4 killed Samaru Madkami in Kenduguda, a village in Malkangiri district.

More than 350 people attended the rally and submitted a memorandum to Ramprasad Nag, Inspector In-Charge of Malkangiri. ‘I assure you to fulfil the demands made by you,” he assured the Christians.

Anti-Christian groups used to harass three families who had become Christians three years ago. They had complained to the police.

At midnight on June 4 , miscreants kidnapped Samaru and brutally murdered him.

The memorandum pointed out that people from Dalit and Tribal communities accept Christian religion on their free will, but face threats and harassment from radical groups.

“We demand justice for Samaru and for the us the Christians who feel threat in life,” the memorandum said.

“We want safety and security for the family of Madkami and Christians,” it further demands.

The memorandum bemoans that the murders now roam freely in society. “They should be brought to justice” asserts the letter.

It also said Christians in Odisha face persecution just because of their religion.

The memorandum bemoans that Christians are ostracised from the village and their children face bias and discrimination in schools.

“The Christians are deprived of government’s benefits, and other privileges. Tribal people are harassed in the name of caste despite their caste certificate. Christians are denied for burial in the village cemetery,” it says further.

The memorandum also bemoans that Christians are denied drinking water in villages.

“There is persecution, threat and injustice to the Christians,” Pastor Bijay Pusuru. the vice-president of the union, told Matters India.

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Haryana to bring bill against religious conversion by force, marriage: CM Khattar

The Haryana government will bring a bill against religious conversion by force, inducement or through marriages solemnised for the sole purpose of adopting a new religion, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said on Tuesday.
He also said that if needed, the existing cow protection law in the state will be made more stringent. Speaking to reporters in Nuh, Khattar said there have been complaints that a handful of people indulge in cow slaughter. There have also been complaints about instances of religious conversion in Nuh.
Khattar said that while one has the right to adopt any religion, conversion by force, inducement, etc. are not tolerable. The Right to Freedom of Religion Bill will be brought in which there will be provisions against conversion by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement, marriage or any fraudulent means, Khattar said.
"Strict action would be taken against those involved in forcible conversions," he said. He also said a board would be constituted to look after the "religious assets of Hindus in those areas where they are in minority. This work would be done according to the demand of the people of the area concerned".
The chief minister said that various steps were being taken by the state government for maintaining mutual brotherhood and social harmony among the communities.
Khattar said that one issue which sometimes creates wedge and disharmony between two communities is when some people indulge in cow slaughter.
He said the state government has decided to hold trials against accused in cow slaughtering cases in fast-track courts in a bid to curb such incidents.
He said that to curb incidents of cow slaughter in Haryana and to take strict and prompt action against the accused, hearings of all such cases would be held in fast-track courts. 
Though Haryana has a stringent cow protection law, Khattar said, it does not deter people at times.
"Recently, 2,550 pieces of cow hides were recovered from a village... If needed, amendments would also be made in the Haryana Gau Sanrakshan and Gau Samvardhan Act, 2015, to ensure protection of cows," he said.
Earlier, the chief minister held a meeting with district officials and representatives of various social and religious organisations, a state government statement said here.
He appealed to the people that they should continue to maintain social harmony that has been prevalent through the ages by strengthening the spirit of brotherhood.
He said the state government plans to set up a unit of the India Reserve Battalion in Nuh district. The IRB battalion based at Gurugram will be shifted to Nuh and a new women IRB battalion will be established in Gurugram.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Pastor threatened in Haryana

On 14 June in Pinjore, Panchkula, Haryana, Pastor Tony Joseph was surrounded by the extremists in a believers’ house when he visited for a regular prayer meeting. Pastor Joseph is associated with AG Church and is frequent to the believer’s house for quite a few years. About 150 extremists were surrounding the house. Fortunately, the main door of the house was locked from inside, however, life-threatening comments with abusive words were made by the extremists. Subsequently, other believers arrived at the spot, rescued pastor Tony, and took him away with themselves. While the pastor was leaving the spot, he was manhandled by some of the extremists.

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Pastor threatened in Greater Noida

On June 11 in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, a businessman who has affiliations with RSS and BJP is threatening and harassing a pastor by falsely alleging that the pastor has converted his employee forcibly as well as through allurement. Pastor’s name is Vijay Pratap Singh and along with his senior pastor Madan Pal Singh, does ministry in Greater Noida. Pastor has amicably explained to businessman that as the citizens of the country they profess, practice, and propagate their faith and as a result of that, if any individual, out their own free will, would like to choose to follow their faith then it is his/her fundamental right. Pastor Vijay told him that they do not force or allure people to convert anybody.

Religious Liberty Commission of EFI

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Church in India Set on Fire by Suspected Radical Hindu Nationalist

(International Christian Concern) – On June 12, 2020, an independent church in the state of Tamil Nadu, southern India, was set on fire on Friday night by unknown aggressors. The fire brought down the entire roof, affected the building structure, furniture, speaker boxes, and amplifier, causing damages estimated around US $2,700. While the reason for the attack is not yet apparent, members of the church suspect radical Hindu nationalists, who have been egregious in that region in the last few years.

According to local sources, on the morning of June 13, Pastor Ramesh saw the flames and thick smoke coming out of the church. By that time, the roof, made of coconut leaves and bamboos, was completely burnt.

“I was shocked for a moment looking at the church engulfed with flames and smoke. I was broken, and it was so painful, there was absolutely no way to save anything from inside the church. The church structure, instruments, and furniture inside the church are ten years of hard labor,” Pastor Ramesh told ICC.

Pastor Ramesh leads 100 members of the ‘Real Peace Church’ in Vaylur, Changalpattu district, for the last ten years. He explained this incident is part of persecution against Christians and their work in the district, as he also has been threatened to stop Christian practice in the region.

“After I recovered from the shock,” Ramesh said, “I filed a formal complaint with the police, and the police promised that they carry on the investigation.”

In 2017, in the same district, a pastor was murdered only 5 miles from where Pastor Ramesh leads the Real Peach Church in Vaylur. “This place has been a difficult place for Christians,” Ramesh said, “and their numerous instances where the Christians have been facing increased intimidations”.

The state of Tamil Nadu is known for its sizable Christian population yet ranked two in the national tally of the most hostile state for Christians to live. The church fire in Vaylur proves the reality of discrimination and assaults against Christians based on religion.

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Thursday, June 11, 2020

India denies visas to US panel on religious freedom

India has turned down a travel request for members of a US government panel seeking to review its religious freedom, saying foreign agencies had no standing to assess the constitutional rights of citizens.

The visa snub to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Wednesday came as the US Congress released its own religious freedom report while a top Trump administration official said he was "very concerned" about the South Asian country's situation.

India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the government firmly repudiated the surveys of the USCIRF, which had little knowledge of the rights of Indian citizens, describing it as biased and prejudiced.

"We have also denied visas to USCIRF teams that have sought to visit India in connection with issues related to religious freedom," he told a legislator from Modi's governing party in a June 1 letter.

The step was taken because the government saw no grounds for a foreign entity such as the USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens' constitutionally protected rights, he said, adding that India would not accept any foreign interference or judgement on matters related to its sovereignty.

Reuters news agency said it has reviewed a copy of the letter to Nishikant Dubey, an MP who had raised the issue of the panel's report in parliament.

The US embassy in New Delhi referred all queries to the commission based in Washington, DC, which was not immediately available to respond.

Since taking power in 2014, India's Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced criticism for attacks on Muslims and other minorities.

In its report in April, the USCIRF had called for the world's biggest democracy to be designated a "country of particular concern", along with China, Iran, Russia and Syria

The panel had urged sanctions against officials in Modi's government after it excluded Muslims from the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December last year.

"In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault," the report said.

The USCIRF is a bipartisan US government advisory body that monitors religious freedom abroad and makes non-binding policy recommendations.

New US Congress report

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday released a new 2019 International Religious Freedom Report in Washington, DC. The report, mandated by the US Congress, documents major instances of violations of religious freedom across the world.

Referring to India, the report highlighted the revocation of Indian-administered Kashmir's autonomy by the Modi government in August, the passage of the CAA in December, and attacks by Hindu vigilante groups on Muslims and Dalits (community once referred to as "untouchables") over the cow, an animal considered sacred by Hindus.

"Mob attacks by violent Hindu groups against minority communities, including Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef," said the report, adding that charges were often filed by the police against the victims of mob violence.

Hours after the release, Samuel Brownback, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in the Trump administration, said the "trend lines [on religious freedom] have been troubling" in India, according to a report by the Press Trust of India on Wednesday.

"We do remain very concerned about what's taking place in India. It's historically just been a very tolerant, respectful country of religions, of all religions," Brownback said during a phone call with journalists on Wednesday.

"It really needs a lot more effort on this topic in India, and my concern is, too, that if those efforts are not put forward, you're going to see a growth in violence and increased difficulty within the society writ large."

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

16 year old boy killed brutally in Malkangiri, Odisha

Sambaru Makdami, a 16 year old boy from Kenduguda village in Malkangiri district was killed brutally by a group of villagers who had sworn to teach Christians a lesson. 

The village of 210 families has only three Christian families and all of them have been facing problems for a long time. 

Sambaru and his cousin brother Unga and one more boy of around 18 years of age were targeted but Unga and the other boy were able to save their lives by escaping the clutches of the killers. 

Sambaru was a student of class 8 and used to study in a school and live in a hostel away from his home. He was back in his house because of the coronavirus lockdown and since the pastor could not visit the village, Sambaru was leading worship for the Christian families there. 

The killers killed him brutally smashing his face with a large rock and through multiple stab wounds. They disposed off his body in the jungle where it was later found by the police when they went for its search along with his family and other Christian leaders who came to the village after hearing the news. 

The police has arrested 6 people but have given the story a twist saying that Sambaru was killed because the villagers suspected he did witchcraft. The pastor and his family deny this allegation and say that he was killed because he was a Christian. The leaders also say that elements from the BJP are also involved in this case.

A legal team from Human Rights Law Network is likely to look into the case soon.

Police Unresponsive or Hostile toward Christians Beaten in Jharkhand, India

HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – Police in Jharkhand, India refused to register a complaint about an attack that sent Christians to the hospital for treatment, while officers in another area falsely accused the victims’ relatives in an assault that left a woman unconscious, sources said.

A mob of about 400 animists of the tribal Sarna religion tore down parts of a church building under construction in Budhakaman village, West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand state, on May 10 and attacked Christians at the site, according to Suman Sinku, wife of the church pastor.

“They abused the Christians present there in extremely derogatory language,” Sinku told Morning Star News. “They held Suraj Chatomba and punched his jaws and back. The assailants then knocked another Christian, Muni Chatomba, to the ground and kicked her on her face and upper body.”

Another Christian woman, Bijayanthi Chatomba, ran over to rescue her but was struck in the nose with enough force for it to bleed, Sinku said.

“The mob forcefully held a female Christian, stripped off her clothes including her inner garments, leaving her half-naked, and continued punching her face,” Sinku told Morning Star News. “They thumped Shiromani Chatomba’s chest.”

Christians phoned police about the attack, which began shortly after 11 a.m., and officers showed up at about 2:30 p.m. and dispersed the mob, she said.

Village elders had summoned Christians to a meeting at 7 a.m. to question them about construction of the church building, but church members waited for three hours and no officials showed up, Sinku said. After the Christians had returned home, a mob formed at the meeting venue, ignoring social distancing norms to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, and then went to the church site to attack, she said.

The next morning, May 11, Sinku and others accompanied the injured Christians to the Jagannathpur police station, where officers refused to register cases against the assailants, she said.

“Police insisted that the villagers also must be allowed to share their grievances before deciding if cases must be registered against them,” she told Morning Star News. “We waited for the village elders, but nobody turned up.”
At last one Sarna representative showed up carrying his child in his arms, she said.

“The station house officer kept delaying the matter, so I had reminded him that as a law- abiding officer he must accept the victims’ complaint and must ensure that necessary action is taken against the assailants,” Sinku said. “But he tried to suppress the matter, and his driver harassed the victims mentally, abusing them in filthy language.”

Upon receiving information about the attack from Pastor Sudarshan Sinku and his wife, the Jharkhand Legal Aid Cell coordinator for Alliance Defending Freedom India, Sandeep Tigga Oraon, helped the injured Christians send a complaint to the West Singhbhum District Superintendent of Police, she said.

The village elders told the Christians to show certificates as evidence they had renounced the Sarna religion and had accepted Christianity, Sinku said. Village chiefs in the area assume arbitrary powers to deny tribal benefits to people who have left the traditional tribal religions, a source who requested anonymity said.

“There have been instances where the village chief refused to enroll the Christians converted from indigenous groups as members of the village,” the source said. “He would deny them residential and tribal status, making it difficult for them to apply for government subsidies, benefits for lower-income groups and also for higher education.”

Area village chiefs also send young adults to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) training sessions to develop a Hindu nationalist mindset to oppose Christian and Muslim minorities, he added.

On May 31, the tribal animists returned and set the church building cross on fire, and police later summoned both parties to the police station, Sinku said. Village chief Vignesh Tiriya again told the Christians to produce certificates to prove their Christian faith, she said.

“At the police station, I once again questioned the police if they were aware about the constitutional provisions for religious freedom and the special provisions for Scheduled Tribes,” Sinku said. “The inspector seemed clearly annoyed, asked me to leave the room where the discussion was going on and attempted to effect a compromise without listening to the Christians’ pleas.”
Morning Star News tried to reach the police inspector of Jagannathpur police station, but officers there were unavailable.

False Charges
Also in Jharkhand state, relatives of a woman beaten unconscious for refusing to renounce Christ learned on May 31 that police had falsely accused Christian family members in order to protect Hindu extremist assailants, they said.

Hindu extremists had stormed into the home of the Christian woman, 23-year-old Reena Kumari, took her outside and pressured her to renounce Christ, relatives said. The six upper-caste Hindus attacked Kumari in Bichagara village, Khunti District, on April 16, her mother Phulmani Devi said.

“They were after her that night tormenting her, ‘Will you leave Christian faith or not?’” the 61-year-old Devi said. “They badgered her.”
The next morning, the six Hindu extremists intruded into the family’s home and dragged Devi, her husband and three daughters out and presented them before the village council, she said.

Officials demanded that Kumari sign a document pledging to refrain from attending church services and telling anyone about Christ, Devi said. Under immense pressure from the village elders, she said, her daughter agreed to sign it but balked at their subsequent demand that her parents and family also had to sign, she said.

“My daughter told them that she had signed it and that should be enough, and that they must not force our family to sign it,” Devi told Morning Star News. “They went on to angrily hold her by her hair and punched her on her back and head.”

Reena Kumari’s brother, Suraj Kerketta, also witnessed the assault.

“They beat up my sister very badly, so that she fell unconscious,” Kerketta told Morning Star News. “We took her home, and in a short while we found that she suffered severe blows and must be taken to the hospital.”

A relative took Kerketta to the police station to file a complaint against the assailants, but an officer there said he was writing too slowly, snatched the paper from him and began writing it, he said.

“I dropped out of school to earn a livelihood from daily wages and support my parents,” Kerketta said. “I had no time to argue with the officer, as my sister was growing very weak. I rushed out of the police station to drop my sister at government hospital. Doctors told us that she had suffered internal injuries. A CAT-scan was done on her, but the medical staff refused to show the reports. They told us that they would only submit in the court directly.”

Kumari was hospitalized until May 28 and is still unwell, Devi said.

“Her head aches if she talks for a few minutes,” she said. “She also is unable to chew food, I am feeding her semi-solid food. She is fainting every now and then. We don’t know anything about her health. The doctors have not shared anything with us.”

On May 31, Devi and Kerketta went to the Khunti District Court as the case they had filed had come up before a judge. They were forbidden from passing through the court gates due to coronavirus restrictions, Devi said, but they noticed that police had made false accusations in their report.

“The police had noted names of our relatives who were actually helping us rescue our daughter from beatings as the accused in the case,” Devi told Morning Star News. “The next hearing is on June 15. We are hoping to bring this to the notice of the judge that the police wrongfully framed our relatives also in this case.”

Police at the Karra station were not available for comment.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on April 28 urged the U.S. State Department to add India as a “Country of Particular Concern” to its list of nations with poor records of protecting religious freedom.

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Hindus oppose German missionary's statue in Indian parish

Members of a Hindu group are up in arms over a statue of a German Jesuit priest outside an Indian Catholic church, claiming that the missionary worked against local people and honoring him insults tribal sentiments.

The tribal cell of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Feb. 13 petitioned police to remove the bust of Father John Baptist Hoffmann from the compound of Sarwada parish in Khunti district, about 55 kilometers from Ranchi, the state capital of Jharkhand state.

The petition called on police to remove the statue as it insults local tribal leaders like Birsa Munda, who fought foreigners for tribal rights, tribal cell leader Ram Kumar Pahan told media.

The group claims that in the 19th century Father Hoffmann and the British attacked the civilization and culture of tribals. Having his bust on tribal soil is unacceptable, Pahan said.

They have been protesting the statue intermittently since its installation in December but intensified their action in the second week of February as the country moves closer to a national election before May. Elections in the BJP-ruled state are due in December.

Church leaders say the BJP has deliberately made unfair claims against the missionary to create a controversy to divide tribal people, a major voting bloc in Jharkhand. Dividing tribal votes on religious lines could help the BJP garner non-Christian tribal votes, they say.

“The controversy is a ploy of the ruling BJP to divide tribal people,” said Father Masih Prakash Soy, secretary to Bishop Binay Kandulna of Khunti.

The BJP has “miserably failed to fulfil its promises and meet the aspirations of the people” and has “embarked on a divisive agenda” ahead of both state and national elections, the priest said.

Hindus are angry that a plaque near the statue claims that Father Hoffmann was the main architect of the 1908 Chotanagpur Tenancy Act that the British enacted to restrict the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal people. They claim Birsa Munda’s struggle led to the law.

Father Hoffmann (1857-1928) came to India as a Jesuit novice at the age of 20. As a priest, he worked mostly among the Munda tribal people in the present Jharkhand area and established several measures for their rights including a cooperative society and a bank.
Besides helping to enact laws to protect tribal people, he also contributed to their language and culture by providing a grammar book and a 15-volume encyclopedia on Munda culture and civilization, said Father Xavier Sorang, a Jesuit social worker based in state capital Ranchi.

Most tribal people understand the contributions of the missioner, said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

The bishop said the protest comes from “a small group which is trying to disturb the peace. But people are not foolish … they know who had done what for whom.”

He said the Church should ignore such protests because the intention of these groups is to divide and break society for political gains.

Jharkhand’s tribal population, who form 26 percent of 33 million people in the state, is politically decisive, as are its one million Christians, almost all of them tribal people.

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

India 10th Most Dangerous Country to Live in for Christians: Report

London: Political rhetoric and ambiguous interpretations of the Freedom of Religion Acts (or “anti-conversion” laws) are responsible for the high rate of Christian persecution in India, according to the UK-US-based monitoring group Open Doors that publishes an annual World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most dangerous to live as a Christian.

In 2019, India ranked tenth – a first in the history of the list in over two decades. Dr Matthew Rees who authored the report told The Wire that “India has been going up the list rather steadily for the past five years” and can now be classified as a country with extreme persecution. Approximately 64 million Christians live in India but constitute less than 5% of the total population of 1.3 billion.

This report is based on the data Open Doors collects annually through an extensive survey in 75 countries. Church leaders and other community volunteers administer questionnaires to Christians in their regions and then send the data to Open Doors offices in the Netherlands and North America, where researchers collate it to obtain a quantitative figures for persecution in each country.

The ranks are obtained by analysing the following:

1. Pressure experienced in five spheres of life: private, family, community, national and church;

2. Violence

A country with a score of more than 80 out of 100 is deemed to have extreme persecution. India has 83% persecution points and sits between Iran and Syria on the list. Pakistan ranks fifth. In 2014, India was ranked 28 with 55% persecution points.

Factors determining India’s rank

One of the factors that pushed India higher on the list is the “toxic narrative around this idea of the connection of Hinduism and being Indian,” says Dr Rees, adding that it is visible not just “from the extreme end of the RSS movement, but is also creeping into the language of the elected politicians and officials.”

The report mentions how the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, famously described Christians and Muslims as ‘foreigners of the nation’ in 2017 when he was the Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson and Ashok Singhal, the leader of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, declaring the BJP-led alliance in 2014 as the beginning of  a revolution that would turn India entirely Hindu by 2020.

Dr Rees is not hesitant to admit that research findings show that the increase in Christian persecution “is connected to the BJP party.” “When influential people use this language, it filters down to the rest of society and we think that is playing a big part in the mob violence and social ostracism,” he says. The report mentions how Christians in five villages in Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra faced mob violence and discrimination in August 2018 where ‘their faith was seen as a threat to that community’s wider Hindu identity’.

“If you are not Hindu, then your Indian identity is questioned, and if your identity as an Indian is questioned then also your right to the constitution is questioned,” explains Dr Rees.

He adds that a “big factor is the Freedom of Religion Act or ‘anti-conversion’ legislation” that is in force in eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. Data obtained by Open Doors shows that violence against Christians is higher in some of these states.

Open Doors’ data revealed that of the 16,000 violations, religious leaders were often accused of conversion activities when they were taking part in simple religious activities like prayer meetings or even marriages, which mobs would disrupt and report to police as a conversion activity. According to Dr Rees, legislation around ‘anti-conversion’ needs to be better defined.

“We don’t want to accuse the police of always being complicit; there are examples where the police are simply unsure about what to do. But we also have examples of the police taking part in beatings when Christians are taken into custody,” said Dr Rees, highlighting that Indian Christians face double persecution – based on religion and caste/class –  as almost 70% of Christians are Dalits.

Open Doors works with governments in the UK and US to lobby for changes in countries like India through diplomatic channels to highlight the plight of Christians and facilitate changes in laws and policies that protect minority communities. There are two main policy changes that they recommend.

The first is the inclusion of Dalit Christians and Muslims under the purview of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 to offer them additional legal protection and rehabilitation in case of caste-based violence. The second is a review and better interpretation of India’s Freedom of Religion Acts, so that it is neither misused nor misinterpreted.

The UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has shown his support to the Open Doors’ research by launching the World Watch List 2019 in January. He also expressed his shock and disappointment with India. “In countries where we might have hoped there wouldn’t be a serious issue, like India, we know that this is becoming a much bigger issue,” he said.

He has also called for an official review to be conducted by the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen on how the UK can support Christians worldwide. “I want to make absolutely sure when I am meeting a foreign minister, a prime minister or a president in another country, and there’s an issue concerning religious freedom, and in particular the rights of Christians, I want to make sure that it is absolutely on my list of things that I need to raise,” he said.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not reached out to the High Commission of India in the UK in this regard. The Wire has contacted the FCO to enquire if they have initiated any dialogue with India, but is yet to receive a response.

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