NEW DELHI, March 24, 2015 (Morning Star News) – The number of incidents against Christians in India has increased 55 percent since Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi became prime minister in May 2014, according to figures from the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
During a protest by religious minorities near India’s Parliament House on Thursday (March 19), rights activist and Christian leader John Dayal said there have been 168 incidents against Christians in Modi’s first 300 days in power. That figure compares with 108 such cases in the 300 days before Modi took office on May 26, 2014, according to the EFI.
Reported attacks against the Christian community in January totalled 20, with another 20 in February and 13 so far in March, according to the EFI. By comparison, in the first five months of 2014 there were only 32 anti-Christian incidents before Modi took power.
Dayal, former member of the National Integration Council, told Morning Star News that the number of incidents in Modi’s first 300 days pertains only to reported cases and that the actual number is higher. Cases ranged from false accusations of “forcible conversion” to desecration of church buildings to violent attacks on Christians.
“Illegal police detention of church workers and denial of constitutional rights of freedom aggravate the coercion and terror unleashed in hate speeches and campaigns of ghar wapsi [‘homecoming,’ or reconversions to Hinduism],” he said. “Since 2014, there has been a marked shift in public discourse.”
During the first 300 days of the Modi’s government coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the state of Chhattisgarh topped the list of incidents against Christians with 28, followed by neighboring Madhya Pradesh with 26, Uttar Pradesh with 18 and Telengana, newly carved out of Andhra Pradesh, with 15, he said.
The tone set by Modi’s National Democratic Alliance government has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack non-Hindus, Christian leaders say. Coercion to convert to Hinduism continues.
“The fact that Christmas celebrations of 2014 in India were sought to be diluted by the government’s call to observe ‘Governance Day’ on the day most sacred to the Christian community in India is a matter of great concern,” said the Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, general secretary of the EFI.
On Christmas Day, 20 Christians were arrested and police stopped four Christmas functions in separate incidents across the country, according to EFI.
About 2,000 people from 80 civil society groups participated in the protest in central Delhi, asserting that the secular nature of government has been regularly under attack as Hindu extremist assaults on religious minorities have jumped to alarming numbers.
Incidents included vandalizing, burning and robbing church buildings, burning Bibles, disrupting worship meetings and Christmas functions, beating pastors and evangelists and stopping church construction.
Of the anti-Christian incidents, Dayal said 54 percent came in the form of threats, intimidation and coercion, often with police looking on. Physical violence accounted for 24 percent of all cases, including 11 percent against Christian women. Breaking of statues and the cross and other acts of desecration were recorded in about 8 percent of the cases, “but many more were also consequent to other forms of violence against institutions,” Dayal said.
“A disturbing trend was rising communal violence in West Bengal, where the BJP and the RSS [Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, of which Modi is a member] have redoubled their efforts to fill what they see is a political vacancy following the decline of the Communist Party of India Marxist and the Congress party in recent times,” he said.
Dayal said the list of violent incidents against religious minorities, including unreported ones, could well exceed 800.
A pastor of Good Shepherd Community Church in New Delhi, Joshua David, told Morning Star News that at every Sunday worship meeting since Christmas day, two policemen have been posted outside his church.
“Initially, it created a different kind of feeling among the church members, raising some sort of suspicion among them of the possible danger in attending church services, but we are getting accustomed to it,” he said.
Social activists at the demonstration said the Sangh Parivar family of Hindu extremist groups have relentlessly attempted to create a divide between Hindus and all others.
“The Sangh Parivar and the present Bharatiya Janata Party government, which is part of the Sangh Parivar, do not believe in diversity and wish to have everyone follow their own dictates,” said Navaid Hamid, general secretary of the Movement for Empowerment of Muslim Indians. “The basic tenets of the Indian constitution – the secularism and the pluralism – therefore are constantly under attack, and minorities are a part of that.”
The BJP has abused, ridiculed and threatened minorities, activists said, including hate statements by Union and state ministers and threats by members of Parliament and state politicians.
Renowned journalist Seema Mustafa said the main objective of the protest was to show solidarity and ensure that action is taken against perpetrators of violence.
“While communal incidents have taken place in the past as well, the difference now is that the BJP itself is in power,” she said. “Now the continuing violence and statements supporting the violence is vitiating the atmosphere and terrifying the minorities.”
Photo: Lists of incidents against religious minorities at protest in New Delhi. (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy)