[The following is the text of the Press statement issued by Dr John Dayal in Rome on 16 October 2012. Dr Dayal is a Member of the National Integration Council of the Government of India, is past National President of the 93 year old All India Catholic Union and secretary general of the ecumenical All India Christian Council. He lives in New Delhi, India and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]
VIOLENCE AND HATE CRIMES AGAINST RELIGIOUS MINORITIES INCREASE AS HINDU FUNDAMENTALIST AND HYPER NATIONALIST GROUPS TARGET CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS
PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS ERODE CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES ON FREEDOM OF FAITH, CASTE DISCRIMINATION
THOUSANDS OF CHRISTIANS DISPLACED, WOMEN TRAFFICKED AFTER THE POGROM IN KANDHAMAL, ORISSA STATE IN 2007 AND 2008; AVERAGE OF 3 CRIMES A DAY AGAINST CHRISTIANS REPORTED FROM HIGH-RISK STATES
India has one of the most diverse cultural religious pallets in the world. According to Census 2001, Hindus constitute 80.5% (827,578,868), Muslims 13.4% (138, 188,240), Christians 2.3% (24,080,016), Sikhs 1.9% (19,215,730), Buddhists 0.8% (7,955,207), Jains 0.4% (4,225,053) and other religions & persuasions constitute 0.6% of 1,028,610,328 population in India. The population is now reported at 1.25 billion, but the data of the 2011 is yet to be published. The government routinely delays religious data, as it is perceived to be of a politically sensitive nature with the Hindu majority accusing the Muslims in particular of multiplying at an alarming rate, allegedly threatening to overwhelm the majority community and their faith, an accusation not supported by demographers and cultural sociologists. There is no official data for India’s many indigenous native religions that predate Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, because the government lumps them together with Hinduism. Adherents of such numerically small religions protest, but their voice is not heard.
Surveys show that religious minorities are economically poorer and socially discriminated. This has been pointed out by human rights and civil liberties activists in their submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review which was held from March through September 2012 in Geneva. Only 6.5% have access to institutional finance, 40% [by habitation]do not have health facilities, 35% do not have education facilities and 65.02% live in huts or temporary shelter.
This press statement is based on the Report to the UPR and independent studies by the author and by the All India Christian Council.
The Constitution of India defines it as a secular state; the laws discriminate on the grounds of religion and caste. Scheduled Castes, formerly known as untouchable castes, who are given reservation in education, employment and politics, lose these if they chose to profess Christianity or Islam. The legality of the Presidential Order 1950 on which this denial rests, has been contested in the Supreme Court of India in 2004, is still in force as the government delays its response.
Religious minorities have been victims of targeted violence since India’s independence on 15th August 1947. Minister of State for Home Mr Ajay Maken told Indian Parliament there were over 6,000 cases of such violence in the first decade of the 21st century. On a lower scale, attacks take place on a regular basis in various parts of the country. In such attacks, violence against women is not incidental. Gender-based violence has played a fundamental role as an engine for mobilizing hatred and destruction against religious minorities. Violence has reached barbaric dimensions since 1992 when the historic Babri Mosque was destroyed by Hindu right wing activists in 1992. In 2002, thousands of Muslims were killed and many more thousand displaced in Gujarat. 24th August 2008 marked the beginning of gruesome violence against Dalit and Adivasi Christians in and around the Kandhamal district of Orissa.
The Kandhamal violence is the worst such recorded in the last three centuries against the Christian community. The purported trigger for the August 2008 violence against Christians in Kandhamal was the killing of Lakshmanananda, a Hindu religious leader, and four of his disciples, on 23 August 2008, by attackers unknown at the time. According to government figures, more than 600 villages were ransacked, 5,600 houses were looted and burnt, 56,000 people were left homeless and 38 people were murdered. Human rights groups estimate that over 100 people were killed, including disabled and elderly persons, children and women during the violence from August to December 2008, in Kandhamal district alone. Large number of people suffered severe physical injuries and mental trauma. Women were sexually assaulted, but many more such victims are believed to have been intimidated into silence. 295 churches and places of worship were destroyed. 13 schools and colleges or offices were damaged. Over 2,000 people were forced to renounce their Christian faith. More than 10,000 children had their education severely disrupted.
Christian organisations are reporting as many as 1,000 cases of hate crimes against the community, including violence against pastors and “home churches” in states such as Karnataka, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
A major area of concern is the complicity of state and public officials through culpable actions and failure to act.
Regretfully, relief and rehabilitation have been tardy and grossly inadequate. Worse is the issue of justice. In the 30 cases of murders, there has been only one conviction. All the rest of the accused have been set free. Witnesses have been coerced and there are serious allegations of religious bigotry against civil, police and judicial officers.
There is severe structural violence as several provincial governments have criminalised conversion to Christianity. Change of religion has been a part of Indian reality. In Manipur, entire communities became Vaishnav Hindus when their King changed his faith. In Punjab and other States, many changed their faith from Hinduism to Sikhism in the early Twentieth century. The Shuddhi or purification movement, started by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, aimed to “reconvert” those who had left the folds of Hinduism. The Arya Samaj continued this trend, and now the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has sharpened it into a “Ghar Vapasi” [home coming] political campaign specially among indigenous groups who are primarily animists.
The so-called anti-conversion laws enacted by seven states including Orissa, ironically titled the Freedom of Religion Act, violate freedom of religion guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. These laws are being used to harass and intimidate those who voluntarily change their faith from Hinduism. But the same laws do not address forcible conversions to Hinduism. A general prohibition of conversion by a State necessarily enters into conflict with applicable international standards. These Acts prohibit persons from converting or attempting to convert any person from one religion to another through force, fraud or inducement. They prescribe imprisonment and fine for violations (and harsher penalties for conversion of children, women and persons belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes), and some of them prescribe a procedure for permission from state authorities prior to the intended conversion.
The religion-based matrimonial laws in India contain many provisions that adversely impact a person’s exercise of freedom of religion. Under Hindu law, if the husband gets converted into Non-Hindu faith wife is entitled to live separately without forfeiting her right of maintenance but if she herself also ceases to be Hindu, she loses her claim of maintenance. A Hindu wife will lose her right to maintenance if she converts to Islam and Christianity. Conversion also constitutes a ground for divorce.
Though provisions of the Indian Penal Code exist to tackle individual and group violence, conspiracy and creating enmity between groups, there is no legislation to deal with the particular circumstances in which violence is perpetrated against religious minorities. The National Advisory Council of the Government of India has recently evolved a draft law, provisionally called the Targeted Violence [Prevention, Control and Reparations] Bill 2011 which addresses issues of hate speech, impunity and rehabilitation, resettlement and reparations. The government has not taken necessary steps to introduce this Bill in the Parliament. The Bill however has been put in cold storage.
Lack of political will to prosecute perpetrators, inadequacy of laws and procedures to deal with mass crimes, lack of impartial investigation and prosecution and a lack of sensitivity to survivors’ experiences and needs have been among some of the major hurdles in victims’ and survivors’ access to justice and accountability The criminal justice system has failed to respond promptly and positively to targeted violence against religious minorities. One major concern is the complicity, connivance, participation in and support to the violence by public officials through acts of omission and commission. Deliberate sabotage by the police through a combination of refusal to register crimes, shoddy investigations, failure of the judiciary to appreciate the available evidence in the context of realities on the ground, and rampant intimidation of victims and witnesses makes justice for victims and survivors of religion-based targeted violence illusive.
Civil society and Christian organisations have consistently demanded a recall of the anti-conversion laws, the grant of full rights to Christians from the former “untouchable castes”, reforms in the marriage laws and enactment of a comprehensive law against communal and Targetted violence with a national code on relief, rehabilitation, reparation, witness protection and an end to impunity.
Adivasi: Literally means “original dwellers / inhabitants” and refers to indigenous peoples or Scheduled Tribes.
Dalit: The term means “oppressed people” and refers to persons belonging to a category at the
lower end of the caste system, who are considered “untouchables
Ghar Vapasi: Literally means “return home”; it refers to rituals conducted by Hindutva forces in relation to converting a person into the Hindu fold
Shuddhi movement: A movement for converting and re-converting persons into the Hindu fold