We have called it the biggest atrocity in the Indian subcontinent on the Christian community since the tragedy of the West coast Catholics who were taken into captivity and marched to Seringapatam.
The question facing us today is; have we as Christians, now remembering Kandhamal, ever had empathy for other victims of targeted religious violence? Do we see the political and social linkages that exist even in recent history of targeted violence in India? Do we see the connect between the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi, Kanpur and Bhilai, the earlier killings and forced disappearances in the Punjab, the scores of terrible massacres and pogroms against Muslims even before 1992 and the demolition of the Babri mosque, and certainly the many more after that?
The current phase of lynching, “goli maro sa**** ko, the fake FIRs, the lying charge sheets, and the bigoted magistracy are the common links. They trace the route of the virus of communalism in Indian politics, and in the criminal justice system.
Many rulings of the Supreme court in recent months have sent us reeling, shaking our faith in the system. The media was never on our side, really. Today it is ranged against us, a part of the battery of weapons marshalled by the religious nationalist forces.
The Education policy, the food policies, the environment policies, each one of them seems weaponised.
The impunity generated by the Corona pandemic lockdown, and the consequent absence of civil society on the streets and in the courts, has aggravated the environment of targeted hate and violence. The targets are not only Muslims, but also Christians in most of the major states and the National Capital Territory. This is complemented with the insufficient, even suppressed, data on crime recorded in the country.
Thousands of decent journalists in the Covid economic crash have also severely constrained accurate collection of data from the field about the persecution of religious minorities, especially of the Christian community. Even in normal times, the police were loath to register cases. Communally motivated crime is either unreported, or under reported. The victims have no recourse to the normal systems of reporting to the police, and severely restricted access to courts for relief.
The consummately organized hate campaign against the Muslim population, beginning mid-December 2019, and erupting violently in mid-February 2020 in the North eastern suburbs of Delhi has raised structural questions on the security of all religious minorities in the country, with the Christian community questioning how safe they are if the Muslims are so brutally targeted. Islamophobia reigns. And Christo phobia is as potent.
In the violence that was unleashed in Delhi, nine mosques were burnt to the ground, as were academic institutions and the small shops that were the economic stay of the Muslims. Thousands were rendered homeless. At least 43 Muslims and 10 Hindus were killed. Front-line lieutenants of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party called upon their followers to shoot the ‘@#$*! %’, a thinly veiled targeting of Muslims and activists protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the government.
Reports of the Delhi Minority Commission, Amnesty International and others detail them in shocking minutiae.
The Christian community perhaps had supported the citizen agitation against the CAA, particularly the protest at Shaheen Bagh, the site of the protest by women which triggered over 250 similar agitations across the country by women and youth. But not as vigorously as Sikhs, Dalit and Tribal people also joined the protests.
Alas, not many come to our aid, or join our movements against persecution, for the rights of Dalit Christians.
In the year 2019, the Christian community in India continued to face incidents of targeted violence and hate crimes. Incidents collated by the Religious Liberties Commission of the Evangelical fellowship of India, the United Christian Forum Helpline and Persecution Relief showed over 370 cases of violence against Christians during the year. These included violence, intimidation or harassment against worshippers and priests, as also attacks of various intensity on church buildings and house churches in villages.
Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India maintained its position as the worst offender in the persecution of Christians. Compared to the 2018 high of 132 incidents, anti-Christian violence in Uttar Pradesh reduced somewhat to 86 incidents with the focus shifting from the eastern districts around Jaunpur which had been targeted in the past.
Disturbingly the state’s Law Commission, in November 2019, drafted a controversial report recommending heavy penalties of up to seven years in prison to persons deemed to be violating a proposed new law against conversions. The cover page graphic and illustrations of the 268 paged report are taken from www.hindujagruiti.org, the website of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, whose explicit goal is to establish a Hindu Rashtra.
The situation has remained grim after the Covid Lockdown. Targeted violence against Christians seems to continue unabated. Most distressing is the massive ostracisation and misuse of state machinery in rural India. All too many cases have been recorded by Church groups despite the national lockdown being in place.
In most incidents, Christians were summoned to village meetings when they refused to participate in religious rituals that violate their conscience. They were called on the pretext of working out a compromise but were instead threatened to either comply with the diktats of the village council or face consequences. When the Christians refused to go against their own beliefs, they were physically attacked by mobs, often 50-strong.
Jharkhand, which had seen two cases of lynching of Christians in 2018 during the rash of similar cases against Muslims by cow vigilantes, saw four major assault cases in May alone. Though no one was killed, women were molested. On May 25, local authorities had banned Christians in Pundiguttu village from getting rations from the government outlet.
At a village council meeting at Pundiguttu village on May 27, 2020, the following decisions were taken: Christians should revert to their previous religion within a period of five days or else face the consequences; they will not be allowed to use the village watering well, or to buy from the local shops. In fact, they were not allowed to talk with non-Christians, and told they would be fined Rs. 5000/- if they broke these rules.
This is a call to our community, of course, but also to civil society. Targeted violence against Christians goes unreported, unseen, unrepresented. The victims cry alone in this sectioned environment. Only a collective, united struggle by all communities and the powerful civil society can stand up to the militant political communal elements. This alone will also persuade the Institutions of State to realise their duty to an India where people of all persuasions, all communities live not just in harmony, but in fraternity, as equal citizens. A secular India, as some of us call it.