It has been two months since Persia Jacob was repeatedly kicked in the face when she resisted a mob of Hindu extremists who tried to snatch her Bible away from her. She wakes up with a heavy head every morning, having to take medication to relieve her of the trauma, even if temporarily, so that she can get on with her day.
The 38 year-old Christian remained persistent that she would die and couldn’t be without the Bible as they pushed and slapped her, stripping off her saree as they tried to grab it [the copy of Bible] from her. The Bible was then set ablaze along with several other copies of Christian literature.
As well as attempting to force her to convert to Hinduism, the mob of men raided four other prayer halls in Madurai District of Tamil Nadu state, as Christians gathered for Sunday worship.
Within a week of being discharged from hospital and returning home, Persia Jacob and her husband, Pastor Ravi Jacob, received a notice from the house-owner ordering them to vacate the house within a fortnight.
The couple, along with their daughters aged 14 and 11, shifted to another rented house, only to be asked to vacate after the house-owner learnt about the attack on 11 March 2018. The couple could not find a place to live as the landlords refused to let out their houses to Christians, fearing the risk of violence from Hindu extremists.
The Jacobs’ family had to move house five times in one month before a Christian offered them a small portion of his house, where they currently reside. Aluminium sheets supported by iron poles extend the roof, where a total of ten families are expected to gather for worship on Sundays.
Ravi Jacob has said that he and his wife visited believers, and that many of them had turned down their invitation to gather for worship, fearing opposition from hard-line Hindus.
Court ruling in Tamil Nadu supports freedom of religion or belief
According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) India, a Christian advocacy group, there is almost one incident of hostility against Indian Christians a day, with Tamil Nadu leading the list.
The Tamil Nadu Building and Panchayats Act makes it mandatory for public places of worship to register with the authorities; they are only able to run with permission from the District Collector and Revenue officials. The Act does not, however, prescribe any such rule for house-churches, where a limited group of people assemble to pray.
In response to a writ petition filed by a Pentecostal Christian in Kanyakumari District, the Madras High Court Bench, presided by Justice S. Manikumar, passed a ruling that the police state administration must not entertain the frivolous complaints made to restrict the freedom to practice and profess any religion.
“As long as the petitioner or the members of his family and others did not indulge in any activity forbidden under law or their actions were not contrary to public order, morality and health or such other restrictions, there could not be any interference with his right to religion,” he said.
He added: “Nobody shuns a doctor or other nursing staff, who cleans up a patient in a hospital, on the grounds of caste, creed or religion. Though differences exist, nobody would ever think of it. Blood transfused in a hospital is not segregated on the basis of caste, creed or religion.
“Nor the person who requires blood would ever demand it only from a person belonging to his caste, community, creed or religion. If for his survival and existence, a person can consciously believe and accept that all are equal, irrespective of caste, creed, community or religion, then why this hatred and division?”
“Organs are transplanted. Blood and body have no religion or caste. When the blood and organs of a Hindu can save a Muslim or vice-versa and even a Christian, then why this intolerance?”
Experience of Christian families in Tamil Nadu
Despite this ruling, the experience of Christian families including Persia Jacob’s tell a different story.
Interviews with victims reveal that Tamil Nadu is on a path where religion is being used in a divisive way and the Hindutva ideology of intolerance is finding its way into the southern state.
A college student in her 20s and her mother targeted Pastor Sunder Singh during an attack on a church in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu state, just before Easter 2018. The mother and daughter duo stripped off the 54 year-old pastor’s shirt, punching him as they continued to abuse him using extremely foul language.
Despite the pastor’s family filing a complaint alleging ‘physical assault’, believing the police would conduct a fair enquiry into the matter, there was no evidence of a FIR (First Information Report) being filed. Instead, the church’s property was put under investigation by revenue officials and police. For weeks, the inquiry continued, and documents of land ownership pertaining to the 25 year-old property were inspected by the revenue board.
With the state government hand-in-glove with the ruling National Democratic Alliance, headed by the Hindu Fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there is an open invitation for hard-line Hindus from extremist Hindu groups, such as Hindu Munnani or Hindu Makkal Katchi, to be emboldened in their targeting of the Christian minority in Tamil Nadu.
Human rights defender Nehemiah Christie noted that “in several cases where Christians as a final step go to the police administration to lodge a complaint, they are surprised to discover a complaint already registered against them. When the government in power is evidently biased in its attitude and action, disrespecting the constitutional values of secularism, it is sending a highly faulty and illogical message to the public-at-large that a majority can have dominance over the minority, and that the minority can be subjected to violence and suffering in all forms, which is in no way justified.”
Guest post by Tejaswi Ravinder, a journalist based in India. She researches and writes on politics, religion, society and culture. She is particularly known for her coverage of atrocities against Christian minority in India. Her articles appear in Morning Star News, World Watch Monitor and UCANews.