Recent years have seen a worrying, increase in attacks against religious minorities in India. Even as the country marks the 68th anniversary of the constitution, which guarantees the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, there is evidence that there has been a dramatic rise in tensions between religious groups, due in large part to the validation of Hindu nationalism propagated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party, guided by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its ideological wing.
Recent video footage obtained by CSW of a physical attack against two Christians portrays the stark reality for many religious minorities in India today.
VIDEO: Two church leaders from Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Kadamalaikuntu, Tamil Nadu are seen here being threatened, ridiculed and forcefully detained by six men on motorbikes as they attempted to leave a village after distributing Christian tracts. They also had sacred ash forcefully applied on them.
Such incidences are becoming more and more commonplace in Prime Minister Modi’s India. Religious holidays are particular targets for harassment and attack. Last year, Hindu nationals carried out at least 23 attacks on Christians over the Christmas holiday period, leaving scores of Christians hospitalized and imprisoned. Further threats led many Christians to not celebrate Christmas at all through fear of attack.
Although not directly implicit in attacks on religious minorities, the deafening silence from the Indian premier has provided a tacit validation for the perpetrators of such attacks.
Upon taking office in 2015, Prime Minister Modi declared during a speech at a celebration honouring Catholic saints (the national celebration of the elevation to sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia) that his government would make sure the freedom of faith will be respected. However, his continued silence on the rising attacks on religious minorities is deeply worrying.
Modi was accused of being complicit in anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002, in which at least 1,000 people died, during his tenure as chief minister.
As prime minister, Modi has not sanctioned government ministers who have promoted religious intolerance. He failed to condemn chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, when he suggested that Muslims could only stay in the country if they gave up the consumption of beef. Although Khattar later apologized for these words, his place as a top politician in India has given more legitimacy to groups within India who have been blamed for ‘beef lynchings’: the assault and murder of Muslims who are found eating or storing beef, seen as an insult by hard-line Hindu nationalist groups as a desecration of a hallowed national symbol.
Civil society groups are concerned that under the BJP government, intolerance towards religious minorities in India is being normalised, and Hindu nationalists who carry out attacks against religious minorities are emboldened.
As the world’s largest democracy, signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and an adherent to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), which guarantee the right to freedom of religion or belief, India must bridge the gap between its commitments to ensure that all Indian citizens can freely exercise their right to FoRB, and the challenging reality currently experienced by the country’s religious minorities.
Affirmed by the ruling BJP, which was elected under a promise of Achche Din (Better Days) in 2014, Hindu nationalism has mushroomed into a cloud of sinister intolerance targeted at religious minorities. Led by current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP is in close alliance with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right wing Hindu nationalist organisation that has sought since 1925 the declaration of India as a Hindu Rashtra. On a state level, the BJP has control of a majority of state assemblies across India, spreading the message, and indeed desire, for Hindu Rahstra across the Indian nation through official legislative channels.
Seen by the RSS as a threat to Hindu identity, the manifestation of Christian and Islamic belief has been curtailed within state legislation in previous years; last month, Uttarakhand became the seventh Legislative assembly to pass an “anti-conversion law”, joining Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand in criminalising a legitimate manifestation by religious minorities of their belief. Similar laws exist in Arunachal Pradesh but have not been implemented yet.
The new laws coming into place across India have been joined by a marked increase in attacks on religious groups in and around these areas. The new anti-conversion laws are giving opportunities to hard-line nationalists groups to act with impunity, as a manifestation of one’s belief becomes synonymous with forceful evangelism. Indeed, in certain cases local authorities have been complicit in the persecution of these groups, arresting religious practitioners at the behest of the violent mob that attacked them.
By CSW’s South Asia Team Leader