Anti-Christian violence in India

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A Christian girl who was burned during religious violence in Orissa in 2008[1]

Anti-Christian violence in India refers to religiously-motivated violence against Christians in India, usually perpetrated by Hindu nationalists.The acts of violence include arson of churches, re-conversion of Christians to Hinduism by force and threats of physical violence, distribution of threatening literature, burning of Bibles, raping of nuns, murder of Christian priests and destruction of Christian schools, colleges, and cemeteries.[2][3] Violence against Christians has been seen by Human Rights organization as a tactic used to meet political ends. According to a Human Rights Watch report that was published in September 1999, the number of incidents of anti-Christian violence rose in the months following the victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in March 1998.[3] In early 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch about his government's commitment to maintaining peace and religious harmony and said that his government will strongly act against acts of religious violence. Speaking at the celebration of the elevation to Sainthood of Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia, Modi said, "The tradition of welcoming all faiths in India is as old as India itself...We believe that there is truth in every religion. This is critical for peace and harmony in the nation."[4]

Background[edit]

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.[5] In 1998 alone, 90 incidents were reported.[2]

The Sangh Parivar and related organisations have stated that the violence is an expression of "spontaneous anger" of "vanvasis" against conversion activities undertaken by missionaries.[6]

Overview[edit]

Incidents of violence against Christians have occurred in nearly all parts of India, it has largely been confined to north, central, and western India, in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and the capital area of New Delhi

In June 2000, four churches around India were bombed. In Andhra Pradesh, church graves were desecrated. A church in Maharashtra was ransacked.[7] In September 2008, two churches were partly damaged in Kerala.[8][9] Christian leaders described the events of September 2008 as deliberate acts by anti-socials and denied any religious motive in the attacks.[10]

Jammu and Kashmir[edit]

Muslims in India who convert to Christianity have frequently been subjected to intolerance,[11] harassment, intimidation, and attacks by Muslims.[12] In Jammu and Kashmir, the only Indian state with a Muslim majority, a Christian convert and missionary, Bashir Tantray, was killed, allegedly by militant Islamists in 2006.[13]

The Government of Jammu-Kashmir in 2010 asked Jim Borst, a Dutch Catholic Missionary, who was at that time one of the two members of the Institute Mill Hill missionary in the Kashmir valley, to leave the valley. Borst was also in charge of two schools there.[14] Nevertheless the spokesperson for Indian Christians, John Dayal rejected the claim that any forced conversion took place. John Dayal stated, "A fact finding team which went to Srinagar in the wake of the arrest of Rev Khanna, and interviewed Church personnel, Ulema, school authorities and the police, found no evidence of force or fraud in baptisms that have been carried out over a period of time. Each baptism has been proved to be voluntary".[15]

In January 2012, Sharia court of Kashmir announced 'Fatwa' against Christian schools in Kashmir. It asked three priests to leave valley with the charge that they were "luring Muslims to Christianity". The court not only instructed Jammu and Kashmir government to monitor such activities in future but to also take over the management of the Christian missionary schools.[15]

In April 2012, a Christian couple was arrested with that accusation of "promoting enmity". The policemen later explained that the arrest was made "as a precaution to prevent tensions in the area." However, their children tell a completely different tale: "Our parents went to Srinagar on April 16 last year to attend a wedding. The next day, while doing some shopping at the market, talking to a salesman our father said he was Christian and they were insulted, beaten and finally arrested by local police."[16]

In May 2012, in a premeditated arson attack Muslims set fire to a Catholic church.[17]

Concerning these issues Father Mathew Thomas, pastor of Holy Family commented "With these gestures, the Muslim community is trying to intimidate the Christian minority. But there are not even 400 Christians in Srinagar: I appeal to Omar Abdullah, chief minister, a Muslim who studied in Christian institutions. He must protect the entire population of Srinagar, including minorities."[17]

A Muslim mob with Imprimatur of Local Imam, in April 2013, attacked a group of seven British Christians including five women and two children, who were living in Shivpora for about four years. Muslims hurled stones at their vehicles and house. The reason they claimed was to stop conversion to Christianity.[11]

On 5 February 2013 eight Americans and four Koreans were attacked by an Islamic mob at 10 pm because of allegations of forced conversions propagated from a Facebook page. Some of the ruffians threw stones at the walls outside the hotel where the tourists were staying, but owing to the intervention of policemen, injuries were avoided.[12]

Madhya Pradesh[edit]

In Madhya Pradesh a church was destroyed and bibles were burnt in Mandla district in September 2014.[18] In March 2015, a Bible convention was attacked in Jabalpur, with allegations that religious conversions were taking place.[19] Christian tribals were said to be living in fear with the rising incidence of attacks.[20] Several community leaders said the attacks on Christians started to increase when the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rose to power back in 2003 and again in 2014.[21][unreliable source?]

Kerala[edit]

A Christian priest, K. K. Alavi in Manjeri, a 1970 convert from Islam,[22] thereby raised the ire of his former Muslim community and received many death threats. An Islamic terrorist group named "The National Development Front" actively campaigned against him.[23] Muslim clerics are known to hold up Alavi as a prime example of an enemy of Islam even during prayers.[23] In that area traditional Christianity is considered blasphemy.[23]

In the southern state of India, Kerala which has an ancient pre-Islamic community of Eastern Rite Christians, fundamentalists chopped off the hand of Professor T.J.Joseph due to allegation of blasphemy of prophet.[24] On 4 July 2010, a group of eight people in a Maruti Omni waylaid the Professor near his home at Muvattupuzha. Joseph was pulled out of his car along with his sister and his mother. They were attacked with knives, swords, axes and home-made bombs. Professor Joseph’s right hand was chopped off at the wrist and thrown away. He also suffered wounds to other parts of his body. His left hand from the wrist also has been severely damaged. His sister and his mother also suffered injuries.[25][26][27] According to police, the attack was carried out by an eight member team consisting of Savad of Asamannoor, Pareeth of North Vazhakkulam, Shobin of Kothamangalam, Nazar of Aluva, Shajil of Muvattupuzha, Shamsuddin of Perumbavoor, Shanvas and Jamal.[28]

Karnataka[edit]

Destroyed property inside Adoration Monastery, Mangalore, after it was vandalized by activists belonging to the Bajrang Dal, during the September 2008 attacks on Christians in Mangalore

The 2008 wave of attacks against Christians in Karnataka includes attacks directed against Christian churches and prayer halls in Karnataka by the Bajrang Dal, with the ruling BJP government accused of involvement. The violence started from 14 September 2008 when about 20 churches were vandalized in Mangalore, Udupi, Chikkamagaluru, and in other districts of Karnataka. Minor violence was later reported from the border state of Kerala.

Incidents of mob attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have been reported with increasing frequency in Karnataka. The attackers gather in gangs of 20 to 50 individuals to intimidate small groups of Witnesses engaging in the peaceful Christian ministry that they are well known for. Some of the mobs threaten to murder and rape the Witnesses.

Orissa[edit]

In a well-publicised case, Graham Staines, an Australian Christian missionary, was burnt to death along with his sons Timothy (aged 10) and Philip (aged 6), while they were sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Orissa in January 1999. He was running the Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj, an Australian missionary society.[3] In 2003, Dara Singh was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of leading the gang responsible.[29]

An outbreak of violence started on 24 December 2007 at Bamunigam village of Kandhamal District when Hindu activists forcefully removed a Christmas decoration placed on a site traditionally used during Durga Puja.[30][31]

In August 2008, Swami Lakshmanananda, a Hindu swami and VHP anti-conversion and reconversion activist, was attacked and killed, along with four associates by Maoist guerrillas.[32] The violence that followed resulted in the death of some Christians. The violence later spread to more than 600 villages in 14 of the 30 districts in the state, resulting in 5,600 christian houses burnt and 54,000 homeless. 38 christian people were murdered, while 18,000 were injured. Human rights groups estimated 100 deaths, including women, disabled and children. 295 churches and places of worship were destroyed, along with 13 schools and colleges and 5 non-profit organisation offices.[33] As of 2015, the Christian victims were still awaiting justice and rehabilitation.[34]

Gujarat[edit]

In 1997 in Gujarat, 22 churches were burnt or destroyed, and another 16 damaged.[35][citation needed] Recently, there has been a sharp increase in violent attacks on Christians. A Hindu group claims to have converted 2,000 tribal Christians to Hinduism. The attackers had vandalized places of worship and thus caused strike terror among the tribals. On 18 September, the Central Government issued an advisory under Article 355 of the constitution to the Orissa government along with Karnataka.[36][37][unreliable source?]

Since 2014[edit]

It was reported by some sections of the media that there has been an increase in the incidents of violence against Christians since the new BJP government under P.M Narendra Modi came to power after the 2014 general election.[38][39][40] Though in an investigation of crime records shows that church attack figures under NDA rule match those under UPA [41] Several churches were attacked in the capital Delhi since December 2014,[42] St. Sebastian's Church, which was burned.[43] A church in Mangalore was attacked in February 2015.[44][45] In March 2015, a 71-year-old nun was gang raped in West Bengal during an attack on a convent school in which the school's chapel was ransacked and sacred items stolen.,[46][47][48] later on the Police identified all the 8 perpetrators and arrested six of them, two of which were Bangadeshi nationals.[49][50][51] The next day, a church building under construction was vandalised in Haryana.[52][53] St. George church in Mumbai was also attacked by masked persons.[54] 4 people were arrested by the police including a person who operated a gambling den, the police claimed that the accused were taking revenge on the church because they suspected that a complaint from St. George's Church had led to a police raid on their illegal gambling den.[55] In the same month, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and more than a dozen people were injured.[56] The same cathedral had earlier been attacked in 2008 and the entire altar burnt down.[57] In April 2015, St. Mary's Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus were damaged.[58] Police arrested a Muslim man who reportedly was angry about being rejected by a Christian girl.[59] In June, a nun was sexually assaulted in Raipur.[60]

Politics[edit]

Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the sister organisations of BJP) are the most accused Hindu organizations for violence against Christians in India.[3] Sangh Parivar and local media were involved in promoting anti-Christian propaganda in Gujarat.[3] The National Commission for Minorities has stated that the State governments ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies provided support to the perpetrators.[61][62]

Response[edit]

US State Department[edit]

In its annual human rights reports for 1999, the United States Department of State criticised India for "increasing societal violence against Christians."[63] 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.[63]

National Commission for Minorities[edit]

In light of recent Anti-Christian violence in Karnataka by the Bajrang Dal activists, the National Commission for Minorities had 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.[61][62]

National Integration Council of India[edit]

On 13 October 2008, the National Integration Council of India called a special meeting chaired by Manmohan Singh, then Prime Minister of India and raised the voice against spreading anti-Christian violence in India. The Prime minister strongly condemned the violence supported by the hands of Hindu militant organizations such as Bajrang Dal, VHP etc.[64] The prime minister had earlier publicly admitted that the ongoing violence against the Christian communities was a matter of great "national shame". [65]

Pope Benedict XVI[edit]

On 12 October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI criticized 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.[66] Although the Mahatma had been very strong in his opposition to conversion, he had always denounced violence as an appropriate response.[67]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]