Violence against Christians in India
Anti-Christian violence in India is religiously-motivated violence against Christians in India. Violence against Christians has been seen by Human Rights Watch as an tactic used by the Sangh Parivar origanisations to encourage and exploit communal violence to meet their political ends. The acts of violence include arson of churches, conversion of Christians by force, physical violence, sexual assaults, murders, rapes and destruction of Christian schools, colleges, and cemeteries.
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Christians in India
Anti-Christian violence increased dramatically since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) started its rule at the center in March 1998. The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are the most accused organizations for the violence.
Hundreds of incidents of violence against Christians are reported by various organizations every year. India's internal security and its National Commission for Minorities (NCM) officially list more than a hundred religiously motivated attacks against Christians each year.
As of 2020, USCIRF placed India as Tier-1 in minority persecution along with countries like China, North Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Context of violence
Indian Christians were relatively unaffected by communal violence until the end of the 1990s and they enjoyed social harmony with their majority Hindu neighbours. However, the late 1990s saw a significant increase in acts of anti-Christian violence, and the year 1998 was the tipping point. In the next years, they became a target of propaganda and violence by Hindu nationalist groups to prevent the defecting tribal and lower-caste voters. In the march of 1998, the BJP started its rule at the center and anti-Christian violence increased dramatically.
Historically, the BJP and the Hindu nationalistic Sangh Parivar organizations were more likely to accept violence against minorities than their rival Congress Party. In most reported cases the named perpetrators are members of the Sangh Parivar organisations. The Sangh Parivar are small subgroups that formed under the umbrella of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an umbrella organisation whose roots date back to 1925. The RSS, who promote a form of nationalism, oppose the spread of "foreign religions" like Islam and Christianity. The Human Rights Watch report stated that Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and RSS (the sister organisations of the BJP) are the most accused organizations for violence against Christians in India. Although these organizations differ significantly in many ways, have all argued that since Hindus make up the bulk of Indians, India should be a Hindu state. RSS volunteers are taught to believe that India is a nation solely for the Hindus and that Hindus have suffered at the hands of invaders, notably Muslim rulers and Christian British. The Human Rights Watch reported that the attacks against Christians are part of the right-wing Sangh Parivar organizations' orchestrated effort to encourage and exploit sectarian violence to raise their political power base. The National Commission for Minorities has reported that the State governments ruled by the BJP and its allies provided support to the perpetrators.
In many instances, Christian institutions and individuals have been singled out for their efforts to promote education, health and financial independence among the tribal and Dalit community. A significant reason in anti-Christian propaganda and violence is a vested interest to keep the Dalit and Adivasi population in a state of economic dependence.
India's internal security and its National Minority Commission officially list more than a hundred religiously motivated attacks against Christians each year, but the actual number is actually higher, as Indian journalists estimate that only about 10% of events are ever reported. These attacks include ransacking of churches, monasteries, and other Christian institutions, and burning of the Bible, desecration of cemeteries, murdering of priests and missionaries and sexual assault on nuns.
From 1964 to 1996, at least 38 incidents of violence against Christians were reported. In 1997, 24 such incidents were reported. Since 1998, Christians in India have faced a wave of violence. In 1998 alone, 90 incidents were reported. As per the Indian Parliament, between January 1998 and February 1999, there were a total of 116 attacks on Christians around the country. Much of the attacks have taken place in the north and west, where the Christian community is smaller and has strong Hindu nationalistic sentiments. A November 2001 survey by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) reported 27 attacks on Christian institutions and Christians in 1997, 86 instances in 1998, 120 instances in 1999 and 216 attacks in 2000. According to the NCM, the "persecution" of Christians had increased since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 1998. In 2001, the All India Christian Council reported that an attack against Indian Christians occurs every 36 hours.
Multiple news organizations reported an increase in incidents of violence against Christians after the new BJP government under Narendra Modi came to power after the general election in April–May 2014. In 2014 the Ministry of Home Affairs reported a “steep 30 per cent rise in the number of communal violence incidents in 2013 as compared to 2012, with the maximum number of cases being reported from Uttar Pradesh.” Reported incidents of abuse carried out against Christians in India went up to 177 in 2015, and escalated to 300 in 2016, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). In 2017 EFI reported an increase in attacks by right-wing activists on churches on Sundays and other significant days of worship, such as Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Christmas and Easter. The police are being used to disrupt and prevent worship in churches and homes, particularly Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Christian children travelling to Bible camps were put into detention and held for days on suspicions of conversion.
The persecution of Christians in India increased sharply in the year 2016, according to a report by Open Doors. India was ranked 15th in the world in terms of danger to Christians, up from 31st four years earlier. According to the report, it is estimated that a church was burnt down or a cleric beaten on average 10 times a week in India in the year to 31 October 2016, a threefold increase on the previous year. According to the All India Christian Council, there was an attack on Christians recorded every 40 hours in India in 2016. In a report by the Indian organization Persecution Relief, the crimes against Christians increased by 60% from 2016 to 2019. There were 330 incidents in 2016, 440 incidents in 2017, 477 in 2018 and 527 incidents of hate crimes in 2019. The organization reported there has been a direct link between BJP gaining power in a state and increase in the attacks against Christians in the state.
Causes and effects
Many nationalists especially the upper-caste Hindu nationalists are worried that with the arrival of non-Hindus, higher fertility rates among minority groups and conversions to Christianity, the Hindu majority might become a minority. Among upper-caste Hindu nationalists, this anxiety is especially intense because they themselves comprise a very tiny minority. It is only in combination with the larger population of middle castes, Adivasis and Dalits that the upper-caste nationalists can pretend to represent a majority. Christianity represents a political threat to the Hindu nationalist agenda through conversion of tribal people and the Dalits from the already weak and disorganized coalition. In the assumption that Christians have opposing allegiances, conversions to Christianity are portrayed as a national threat, because they reduce the population of those with a shared national identity, vaguely claimed to be Hindu. The percentage of Christians, however, has dropped from 2.53% in 1971, 2.43% in 1991 to 2.3% in 2011. The VHP which has a declared agenda of converting Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, however, opposes the constitutional right to follow any religion. Despite the small number of Christians, as per the BJP's declared agenda of a Hindu Rashtra, the other faiths are seen as enemies and must be ousted.
In the 2007 Khandamal violence, a pro-Kandha tribal group, the Kui Samaj, resisted the request of Pana Christians to modify the official recognition of Panas from Scheduled Caste to Scheduled Tribe that could have enabled Pana Christians to benefit from the reservation system even after conversion. The Kui Samaj planned a general strike to express their case. The members of the local Sangh Parivar who joined the strike made the rapid expansion of the violence by bringing the issue to the locals and also stopped adequate response from the police.
American political Scientist, Paul Brass argued that the generally insignificant, local communal conflicts in India are made into larger communal violence by groups he terms as 'conversion specialists'. Chad M. Bauman argued that the Sangh Parivar leaders followed the same technique in the 2008 Kandhamal riots by linking their local politics and clashes with broader national fears like extinction of Hinduism, a Christian demographic increase and even a 'Christian military coup'. Thereby providing justification for the anti-Christian violence and thus issuing a 'national call to arms' for the defense of the Khandamal Hindus.
The Hindu nationalist version of Hinduism with its Sanskrit overtones does not generally fascinate the adivasi people and Dalits. Affiliates of the Sangh Parivar such as the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram from late nineties begun setting up schools for adivasi people and Dalit where simple skills were taught with Religious teaching aimed at bringing the more Sanskrit and all-India upper-caste Hinduism to sync in with Dalit and adivasi faith and ritualistic practices. The presence of Christian educational institutions in these regions is becomes a competitive challenge and an obstacle to this Hindu nationalist project.
Even though the participation of the non-Christian tribals than the nationalists not from the Dangs district in the 1998 attacks on Christians in Dangs district is very marginal, which may stem from them benefitting from Christian aided development projects. Even before the violence, there were tensions between both the Adivasis and the Christian Adivasis primarily because Christianity was seen as a cultural disruption. Christians have often rejected alcohol, which is a significant part of the regional festivity. Christians often did not take part in village rituals, often performed for the wellbeing and security of the entire village, which were viewed un-neighborly. The very willingness of Christians to break the traditions of the village is seen as a cultural threat. Thus, many members of the lower caste and tribes claim of Christian conversion as something of a deculturation just in the same way as the Hindu nationalists of the upper-castes do.
According to Sushil Aaron, Christian societies in India are doing better on indicators of human development such as literacy, education, prenatal treatment, perinatal deaths, and this can be due to the activities of foreign and local missionaries in establishing medical and educational institutions. Therefore schools, including those where the major percentage of students are non-Christian, are frequently attacked in anti-Christian riots, and so was the case in 1998 attacks on Christians in Dangs district. In the 2007 Christmas violence in Kandhamal, the Dalit Panas Christians were the most targeted. Some members of the Kandha tribal community engaged in the riots as the two groups had grown over time in opposition to each other, with the Adivasi Kandhas traditionally believing themselves dominant to the Christian Dalit Panas. The strife was further fueled by the fact that the Pana Christians had become much more educated and affluent in the years before the riots. Many Kandhas assumed that the Pana Christians were using their education to control the Kandhas and deprive them of land. Similar pressures also prevailed in the Dangs between Christianized tribals and their non-Christian tribal neighbors owing to the fact that the latter seemed to have effectively resisted domination by non-tribal members through the creation of collectives, by better exposure to the outside world and also challenging the power of local village elites. In the Kandhamal violence, more affluent Christians were specifically targeted.
1998 attacks on Christians in southeastern Gujarat
During the 1998 attacks on Christians in southeastern Gujarat, the Human Rights Watch reported more than 20 incidents of Churches being burnt down and damaged in and around the Dang District. The organisation also reported assaults against Christians, damages and burning down of Churches and Christian institutions in at least 25 villages all over Gujarat from December 25, 1998 to the next ten days. In the previous year 1997, 22 churches were burnt or destroyed, and another 16 in Gujarat alone.
1999 Ranalai violence
The 1999 Ranalai violence occurred on March 15, 1999 in the village of Ranalai in Gajapati district of Orissa. The violence occurred after a dispute of adding religious symbols in the Khamani Hill of the village. A crowd of 2000 people, reportedly followers of the Sangh Parivar, armed with country made guns and weapons, completely burned down 157 Christian houses and looted the remaining Christian houses in the village. 14 Christians were injured including three injured by gun shots. An investigation by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) blamed the BJP for the violence.
2007 Christmas violence in Kandhamal
An outbreak of violence started on 24 December 2007 at Bamunigam village of Kandhamal District between the Sangh-affiliated Kui Samaj together with the groups led by Sangh Parivar organizations and Christians where more than 100 Churches and Christian Institutions were burnt down or Vandalized. 3 to 50 Christians were killed.
2008 Kandhamal violence
The 2008 Kandhamal violence refers to widespread violence against Christians purportedly incited by Hindutva organisations in the Kandhamal district of Orissa, India, in August 2008 after the murder of the Hindu monk Lakshmanananda Saraswati. According to government reports the violence resulted in at least 39 Christians killed and 3906 Christian houses completely destroyed. Reports state, more than 395 churches were razed or burnt down, over 5,600 – 6,500 houses plundered or burnt down, over 600 villages ransacked and more than 60,000 – 75,000 people left homeless. Reports put the death toll at nearly 100 and suggested more than 40 women were sexually assaulted. Unofficial reports place number of those killed to more than 500. Many Christian families were burnt alive. Thousands of Christians were forced to convert to Hinduism under threat of violence. This violence was led by the Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the VHP.
After the riots, 20,000 people were sheltered in 14 government established relief camps and 50,000 people fled to the surrounding districts and states. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that by March 2009, and at least 3,000 individuals were still in government relief camps.
During the riots a nun was gang-raped and later paraded half-naked in the streets, the incident received wide media attention.
2008 attacks on Christians in Southern Karnataka
In 2008, there was a wave of attacks directed against Christian churches and prayer halls in Karnataka by the Hindu organisation Bajrang Dal around 2008. The violence started from 14 September 2008 when about 20 churches were vandalised in Mangalore, Udupi, Chikkamagaluru, and in other districts of Karnataka. Minor violence was later reported from the border state of Kerala.The Christian leaders commented that BJP was inciting violence rather than working to calm the situation. On the other hand, the Central Government had strongly criticized and sent showcase notices to the state Government for not solving the issue effectively.
On October 2008, During the 2008 attacks on Christians in southern Karnataka the police reported 20 graves in a cemetery were desecrated in Tamil Nadu, three churches were stoned in the districts of Karur and Erode, bibles in the outer walls of Chennai and Coimbatore were damaged, a statue of Mary was stolen in Krishnagiri, a Virgin Mary icon was damaged in Kanyakumari and an idol of Jesus in Madurai was vandalized in the state of Tamil Nadu. Four members belonging to the Hindu Munnani were arrested on October 9 and the number reached 22 on the next day.
US State Department
In its annual human rights reports for 1999, the United States Department of State criticised India for "increasing societal violence against Christians." The report on anti-Christian violence listed over 90 incidents of anti-Christian violence, ranging from damage of religious property to violence against Christians pilgrims. The incidents listed in the report were attributed to local media reports and information gathered by Christian groups in India.
National Commission for Minorities
After the 2008 attacks on Christians in southern Karnataka by Bajrang Dal and Sri Ram Sena activists, the National Commission for Minorities accused the Karnataka government of serious lapses in handling the situation. They were found directly responsible for allowing the violence to spread, and claimed the police failed to solve the issue effectively as the violence continues. They also clarified that there were no reported complaints of forced conversion registered in the state.
National Integration Council of India
On 13 October 2008, the National Integration Council of India called a special meeting chaired by Manmohan Singh, then Prime Minister of India, where he condemned the violence of Hindu militant organisations such as Bajrang Dal, VHP etc. The prime minister had earlier publicly admitted that the ongoing violence against the Christian communities was a matter of great "national shame".
On 12 October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI criticised the continuing anti-Christian violence in India. On 28 October, the Vatican called upon the memory of Mahatma Gandhi for an end to the religious violence in Orissa. In a written address to Hindus, the Vatican office said Christian and Hindu leaders needed to foster a belief in non-violence among followers.
- Religion in India
- Religious violence in India
- Conversion of non-Hindu places of worship into temples
- Violence against Muslims in India
- Persecution of Christians
- Communalism (South Asia)
- Saffron terror
- 1998 attacks on Christians in southeastern Gujarat
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