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 the organization Human Rights Watch as a tactic used to meet political ends. The acts of violence include arson of churches, conversion of Christians by force and threats of physical violence, sexual assaults, murder of Christian priests and destruction of Christian schools, colleges, and cemeteries.
In August 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ranked India’s persecution severity at “Tier 2” along with Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the past seven years, India has risen from No. 31 to No. 10 on Open Doors' World Watch List, ranking just behind Iran in persecution severity.
- 1 Background
- 2 Overview
- 3 West Bengal
- 4 Response
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
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.
In 1999 a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report stated that Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the sister organisations of the Bharatiya Janata Party) are the most accused organizations for violence against Christians in India. The National Commission for Minorities has alleged that the State governments ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies provided support to the perpetrators.
In most reported cases the named perpetrators are members of the Sangh Parivar organizations. The Sangh Parivar are small subgroups that formed under the umbrella of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an umbrella organization whose roots date back to 1925. The RSS, who promote a form of nationalism, oppose the spread of "foreign religions" like Islam and Christianity. According to Human Rights Watch, Sangh Parivar and local media were also involved in promoting anti-Christian propaganda in Gujarat. Mainstream Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians are targeted far less frequently than Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians.
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. As per a “secret report” of crime records shared with just one reporter, it is claimed that church attack figures under first 10 months of NDA rule match those under UPA during the preceding 10 months 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.
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. There were 26 documented cases of violence against Christians in the country between January and March 2016, while the central government refrained from speaking out against it. There were incidents of anti-Christian violence in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan around Christmas in December 2016.
Although incidents of violence against Christians have occurred in nearly all parts of India, they have 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 and Tamil Nadu church graves were desecrated. A church in Maharashtra was ransacked. In September 2008, two churches were partly damaged in Kerala. Christian leaders described the events of September 2008 as deliberate acts by anti-socials and denied any religious motive in the attacks.
In 2015, a church building under construction was vandalised in Haryana. St. George church in Mumbai was also attacked by masked persons. Four people were arrested by the police including a person who operated an illegal gambling den. The police claimed that it was a revenge attack because the accused suspected that a complaint from St. George's Church had led to a police raid on their gambling den. In the same month, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and more than a dozen people were injured. The same cathedral had also been attacked in 2008 and the entire altar burnt down. In April 2015, St. Mary's Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus were damaged. Police arrested a Muslim man who reportedly was angry about being rejected by a Christian girl. In June, a nun was sexually assaulted in Raipur. A Church in Kachna area of Raipur was attacked by a mob during a Sunday service and five people were injured when they tried to stop the assailants. There were reports of a mob "thrashing" women and children, however police maintained no women and children were injured.
Several churches were attacked in the capital Delhi in recent years,[when?] like St. Sebastian's Church, which was burned. On May 5, 2018 St. Stephen's college chapel was vandalised and the cross desecrated with pro-Hindutva slogans.
The small Christian minority in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, population 200 million, are the target of increasing violence. Citing an article by Institute for Leadership and Community Development, India Today lists Uttar Pradesh first among states of India which “tend to have the greatest number of incidents of religiously-motivated attacks and communal violence.” Considered by many[weasel words] the birthplace of both the religion of Hinduism and of India as a nation, Uttar Pradesh is a focal point for large Hindu festivals such as the Kumbh Mela, and for Hindu religious pilgrims from all over the nation.
In June, Christian families in Uttar Pradesh were beaten and denied water for their crops.
Jammu and Kashmir
|“||The anti-Christian intolerance in Jammu and Kashmir is reaching alarming proportions||”|
|— Sajan George, The president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC)|
Christians in India have frequently been subjected to intolerance, harassment, intimidation, and attacks by Muslims. In Jammu and Kashmir, a Christian convert and missionary, Bashir Tantray, was killed, allegedly by militant Islamists in 2006.
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. 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".
In January 2012, a Sharia court of Kashmir announced a Fatwa against Christian schools in Kashmir. It asked three priests to leave the valley on the charge that they were "luring Muslims to Christianity". The court not only instructed the government of Jammu and Kashmir to monitor such activities in the future but to also take over the management of the Christian missionary schools.
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 told 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."
In May 2012, unidentified arsonists, believed to be Muslim, set fire to a Catholic church.
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."
A Muslim mob with Imprimatur of Local Imam, in April 2013, attacked a group of seven British Christians consisting of five women and two children, who were living in Shivpora for about four years. Stones were hurled at their vehicles and their house. The reason they claimed was to stop conversions to Christianity.
On 5 February 2013, a crowd of people threw stones at the walls of the hotel where eight Americans and four South Koreans, who were accused of forcing conversion through a Facebook page, were staying. There were no injuries. The Facebook page of Gulmarg News showed an image of three oriental women and first line of a long caption stated, "Attention Kashmir!!! Islam in Kashmir is under attack, Christians trying to convert Muslims."
In Madhya Pradesh a church was destroyed and bibles were burnt in Mandla district in September 2014. In March 2015, a Bible convention was attacked in Jabalpur, with allegations that religious conversions were taking place. Christian tribals were said to be living in fear with the rising incidence of attacks.
A Christian priest, K. K. Alavi in Manjeri, a 1970 convert from Islam, thereby raised the ire of his former Muslim community and received many death threats. An Islamic group named "The National Development Front" actively campaigned against him. Muslim clerics are known to hold up Alavi as a prime example of an enemy of Islam even during prayers. In that area traditional Christianity is considered blasphemy.
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. 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. 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.
In 2008, there was a wave of attacks directed against Christian churches and prayer halls in Karnataka by the Hindu organization Bajrang Dal around 2008. 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. B.S. Yeddyurappa, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, said the attacks were provoked by conversions of Hindus to Christianity. He also alleged that a Protestant group had distributed literature which insulted Hindu gods. The Chief Minister however clarified that he was not defending the actions of those who attacked prayer halls and churches in Mangalore, Udupi and Chikmagalur on Sunday. Later, the Christian leaders denied it and commented that Bharatiya Janata Party (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.
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 Christian ministry that they are well known for.
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. In 2003, Dara Singh was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of leading the gang responsible.
An outbreak of violence started on 24 December 2007 at Bamunigam village of Kandhamal District when local activists forcefully removed a Christmas decoration placed on a site traditionally used during Durga Puja.
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. 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. As of 2015, the Christian victims were still awaiting justice and rehabilitation.
On March 16, 1999 a mob of 5,000 locals attacked Ranalai (PIN - 761 017) in Gajapati District and set houses on fire. and engaged in looting. Three people were injured. The CM of Odisha, Sri Giridhar Gamang, visited the next day.
In 1997 in Gujarat, 22 churches were burnt or destroyed, and another 16 damaged. 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.[unreliable source?]
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. The Police identified all eight perpetrators and arrested six of them, two of whom were Bangladeshi nationals.
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 organizations 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".
Pope Benedict XVI
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of the Catholic Church
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. Although the Mahatma had been strong in his opposition to forced conversion and Christian missionary activities, he had denounced violence as an appropriate response.
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