Originally published in Aleteia
The watchdog group International Christian Concern (ICC) said in a press release that nationalist groups have been directing hate speech toward Christians and leading attacks on pastors and churches in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Believers are reportedly worried that radical Hindu nationalism and persecution of minorities will escalate.
John Dayal, a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council, said: “There has been a sharp rise in hate campaigns against Christians by political organizations. This threat of purging Christians from villages extends from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to now Uttar Pradesh, and to the borders of the national capital of New Delhi.”
There have been reports of churches being turned into Hindu temples, and entire mobs attacking Christian houses. ICC shared details about one incident in July where a church in Sahakarinagar village was rampaged through by a group of 25 Hindu radicals, led by Hemanth Singh, a leader in the local Bajrangdal group.
Rev. RC Paul, who was leading a Bible study at the church at the time, was beaten along with several other members. “We were shaken and are very scared of the situation in the area. We are concerned of our safety, even going alone outside looks very dangerous at the moment,” Paul said.
In fact, there have been reports of sporadic violence against Christians are also coming from other South Indian States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where several anti social elements under the banner of Hindu Nationalist organizations have been going on the rampage attacking Christians in their churches and homes causing severe injuries and damage to Christian property, not to speak of desecration of the sacred objects that they could lay their hands on.
ICC noted in its press release that headlines will continue to focus on Christian persecution at the hands of terror group ISIS in Iraq, but argued that the international community “must take notice of the issues of Christian persecution globally.”
“Like Christians facing ISIS in Iraq, millions of Christians across India are facing persecution at the hands of radical Hindu nationalist groups,” the watchdog group added. “Without drastic change, this difficult situation will likely only get worse, as radical Hindu nationalist groups popping up across India have been given almost complete impunity under the new Hindu nationalist government led by BJP and Narendra Modi.”
Following the election in May of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, several Indian church leaders had said that they were not concerned that extremist groups would rise up against minorities. “Minorities, such as Christians and Muslims, are an integral part of the nation and of the social fabric of Indian society. Minorities are protected by the Constitution; I believe that the new government cannot and will not want to go against the Constitution. As Christians we are confident,” Bishop Stanley Roman of Quilon, in the state of Kerala, had said at the time.
President Barack Obama will welcome Modi to the White House for a Sept. 29-30 visit aimed at repairing frayed relations between their countries, the Associated Press reported. Modi’s acceptance of Obama’s invitation signals that the prime minister has laid to rest any lingering tension over the U.S.’ decision to deny him a visa to visit in 2005. The denial was based on Modi’s alleged complicity in deadly religious riots in 2002.
No one can deny that India’s Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) forces wanted the BJP to win power at state and federal levels with absolute majorities so they can rule outright and not have their Hindutva program hamstrung by coalition partners. Uniting Hindus to dragnet the Hindu vote was vastly important to Hindutva as India, which is almost 80 percent Hindu, has numerous political parties.
Pursuing the Hindu vote the Hindutva forces have unleashed propaganda of Indian harmony, culture, identity, security, sovereignty and territorial integrity being seriously under threat from indigenous Christian missionaries, whom they describe variously as terrorists, separatists and CIA operatives. The Christians under attack are more often than not from the lower economic strata. According to the Hindutva propaganda, the only way to save India is to unite behind Hindutva. “Arise Hindus, throw out the Christians!” is their slogan. Hindu nationalists are now committing attacks in front of television cameras, public meetings and even in the parliament. There have also been TV images which portray the perpetrators as Hindutva cult heroes.
Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and general secretary of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, added that sometimes “small groups of fanatics can give us concern,” but argued that the Church “will continue in its mission to pray for the new government and contribute to the common good of the nation, supporting democracy, respect for pluralism, the rights of all and a secular concept in the political agenda.”
New Delhi Archbishop Anil J Couto has also raised concern at the rising attacks on Christians and churches in India in recent months. “It is very disturbing, and we request local authorities to take adequate measures to book the miscreants threatening to weaken the social fabric of this great nation,” Archbishop Couto said.
“The Sangh Parivar plan [is] to carry out shuddhikaran — attempts to re-convert Christians to Hinduism,” the archbishop continued.” This move by fundamentalist groups is a grave assault on the fundamental rights of individuals and people and groups.”
Other persecution watchdog ministries, like Open Doors, have also noted a rise in Hindu extremism targeting Christians. The group ranks India as number 28 on its list of countries where Christians face the most persecution.
In May, a village council in India passed an ordinance attempting to ban all Christian religious activity in a festival area. That came after some Christians in the village refused to pay a festival tax to a local Hindu temple. As a result of the village council’s efforts, Hindu radicals in other parts of India have attempted to get similar ordinances in their area. In some cases they were successful. The council decrees were eventually overturned when they reached the district administration, but Stark says that isn’t helping ease concerns.
In late July, the Chief of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), a prominent Hindu Nationalist Organization, courted controversy saying the world recognized India as a Hindu nation. “So Hindutva is India’s identity. It’s the identity of everybody staying in this country. Except the Jews and the Parsis, everybody’s ancestors in India were Hindus. We are all influenced by the Hindu culture.”
Bhagwat said the sole aim of the RSS was “to mobilize the Hindu society on the basis of Hindutva.”
“Mobilising those who have forgotten that they are Hindus is the next task in line,” he said. The RSS, regarded as the ideological head of the BJP, had backed Narendra Modi for the general elections.