By A C Michael
New Delhi: There is a clear pattern of rising religious intolerance across the country, especially against the minorities.
According to the World Watch List 2017, India is now ranked 15th in the list of countries where the practice of the faith is a high-risk activity. We were ranked 31 only four years ago.
Out of 29 states in India, at least 19 regularly witness attacks on Christians. Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh tops the list with 36 incidents as on October 30, followed by Uttar Pradesh (26), Madhya Pradesh (21), Maharashtra (16).
Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttarakhand and West Bengal are the other states.
More than 700 cases of attacks on Christians were reported on the United Christian Forum (UCF) toll free helpline number 1800-208-4545 since 2014. Last year, 216 incidents were recorded and 203 incidents have already been reported by the end of October this year.
The happenings in Madhya Pradesh are suspected to be politically motivated attacks. On three separate occasions, Christian children traveling in a train for a Christian camp were taken into custody at railway stations by the Railway Police on the grounds that the children were being “kidnapped to be converted.”
On May 22 and 23, nine elders and a minor were arrested by the Railway Police when they were accompanying 71 Christian children for a summer Bible camp to Nagpur from Indore. On June `3, a Catholic nun and four girls were detained at the Satna railway station. On October 21, two elders and seven children going for Bible Studies were detained and not allowed to meet the parents.
There are various kinds of incidents 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
The Christian community in the country has started to feel 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 80 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:
1. 1950 PRESIDENTIAL ORDER: Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam are denied special benefits and protections guaranteed to other Schedule Castes
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. RESTRICTIONS ON CHURCHES AND PRAYER HALLS: Across the country, Christians are being restricted from conducting private prayers peacefully inhome churches and community halls. Even family prayers have been restricted in some cases.
VIOLENCE MONITOR: OCTOBER 2017
(A C Michael is the Consulting Director of Alliance Defending Freedom)