By the time you read this article, more Bishops may have voiced their concern on the ‘ political turbulence’ in the country following a pastoral letter of the Archbishop of Delhi, Most Rev Anil JT Couto, asking his flock to pray for the nation.
The World Watch List (WWL), which is an annual report of the Christians persecuted for their faith, released beginning of this year ranked India 11th in the list of countries where the practice of the faith is a high-risk activity and categorized ‘very high persecution’ country. The WWL had ranked India 31 just four years ago.
According the toll-free helpline number of United Christian Forum (UCF) launched in January 2015 the violence against Christians continues to be consistently high in past four years. By the end of April this year, 76 incidents were reported on UCF Helpline across eighteen (18) states, out of 29 states of India, which means Christians living in the region of over 60 percent territory of India are at risk to practice their faith freely as guaranteed under the constitution of India. The study shows that on an average there were 20 incidents of violence against Christians reported in a month and 5 incidents in a week.
What’s alarming is over 90 percent of these incidents are threats and intimidation in the form of mob attacks disturbing the peaceful gathering of people for prayer service. Since sixty percent of these gatherings consist of women and children, they are the worst affected by these mob attacks. Report says physical violence like beating up of Pastors and Christians, including women and children, assembled for such prayer service is over 50 percent. And just about 10% of the incidents got FIR registration, which reflects the high-handedness of police system and dereliction of duty.
Talking to Indian Currents, Tehmina Arora, senior counsel to an NGO of Christian lawyers said: “Tamil Nadu continues to lead the chart with 17 incidents followed by Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh with 16 and 10 respectively in four months of 2018.”
Other states, wherein violence against Christians are reported: Andhra Pradesh (3), Bihar (4), Chhattisgarh (10), Gujarat (1), Haryana (1), Himachal Pradesh (1), Jammu & Kashmir (1), Jharkhand (1), Karnataka (2), Madhya Pradesh (1), Maharashtra (4), Odisha (3), Punjab (1), Tamil Nadu (17), Telangana (6), Uttar Pradesh (16), Uttarakhand (3) and West Bengal (1).
Arora goes on to add: “ Out of 18 states witnessing violence against Christians, 6 states are ruled by so-called secular forces and rest 12 states are by self-proclaimed nationalists”
The report says in the year 2017, the UCF helpline recorded 242 incidents of violence against Christians and 216 incidents in 2016. The year 2015 witnessed 183 incidents and 148 incidents in 2014 reflecting consistent increase of violence against Christians since 2014.
The study reveals that last year, a team led by the President of UCF, Dr. Michael Williams submitted a report to the lone Christian representative in Union Government, K J Alphonse for his intervention but till today he has not reverted. Many representations made to National Commission for Minorities too have not yielded any good results.
The study found that there are various kinds of violence against Christians. Most common among them is the Hindutva activists forcefully conducting Ghar Wapsi (drive to convert people back to Hinduism) ceremony. Some who refused to cooperate were beaten up and subsequently booked by the police under falsely-framed charges. Other ways of harassing the Christian community include:
• Refusal to grant permission to
establish and run places of worship
• Allegations of use of loud sound systems
• Restrictions of the free distribution of gospel tracts
• False accusation of forceful and fraudulent religious conversions
• Physical and verbal assault on Church pastors and members
• False and divisive propaganda
• Damage and desecration of places of worship and arson
• Disruption of prayer services
• Restrictions on religious gatherings
There is general feeling among Christians in the country that none of the political parties are interested in speaking out for the community, as they continue to maintain a deafening silence on these incidents. Sometimes even the media fails to report these incidents.
The only alternative left to the community is to take them up in courts of law. More than 90 cases are now pending in various courts including over 30 in the Supreme Court and various High courts.
Some cases pertain to ‘discriminatory laws and policies’ that violate the freedom of conscience and the freedom to practice, profess and propagate religious beliefs:
1950 PRESIDENTIAL ORDER: Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam are denied special benefits and protections guaranteed to other Schedule Castes.
ANTI CONVERSION LAWS: The Freedom of Religion Acts are used to harass and abuse the right of Christians who share the good news in the exercise of their fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate their faith. In 2012, rules framed under the anti-conversion law in Himachal Pradesh that required persons to declare beforehand to the District Magistrate any intent to embrace a certain faith was struck down by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla.
NO ENTRY FOR CHRISTIAN PREACHERS: In 2014-2015, several Panchayat resolutions were passed in Chhattisgarh to ban Christian preachers’ entry into certain villages. These resolutions were withdrawn by the government following a challenge to them before the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur.
RESTRICTIONS ON CHURCHES AND PRAYER HALLS: Across the country, Christians are being restricted from conducting private prayers peacefully in-House Churches and community halls. Even family prayers have been restricted in some cases.
(The writer is Former Member of Delhi Minorities Commission.)(Published on 18th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 25)