India’s general election: The church in Jharkhand under direct attack by the state government

In the lead up to India’s elections from 11th April-19th May, CSW is focusing on some of the issues faced by religious minorities in the country.

Last month, CSW’s South Asia Team Leader detailed the anti-conversion narratives that are often used to fuel religious intolerance. In this post, a guest contributor from Jharkhand state, whose name has been kept anonymous for security purposes, outlines the spread of hate speech by government officials in the state:

“On 11 August 2017 the front page of all newspapers in Jharkhand published an advertisement sponsored by the state government with a photograph of Jharkhand Chief Minister Shri Raghuvar Das and Mahatma Gandhi which misused the statement of Shri Mahatma Gandhi claiming that “If Christian missionaries feel that only conversion to Christianity is the path to salvation, why don’t you start with me or Mahadev Desai? Why do you stress on conversion of the simple, illiterate, poor and forest-dwellers? These people can’t differentiate between Jesus and Mohammad and are not likely to understand your preachings. They are mute and simple, like cows. These simple, poor, Dalit and forest-dwellers, whom you make Christians, do so not for Jesus but for rice and their stomach.”

“There is enough place in state prison for all the pastors and preachers if they continue to carry out missionary activity in the state.”

The advertisement made clear the intentions of the Chief Minister, and his anger and hard-heartedness towards a particular religion. The minister was first responsible for public hate speech on 18 September 2016 when he gave a statement saying: “There is enough place in state prison for all the pastors and preachers if they continue to carry out missionary activity in the state.” He even created a toll free number to report the missionary activity in the state so that quick action could be taken against such work. Since the beginning of year 2016 whenever the Chief Minister participates in public meetings and events he uses the media to speak against Christians with the intention of creating fear among Christians and spread intolerance against the Christian community.

There is a 26% tribal population [sic] residing in the state of Jharkhand who have historically been exploited by the higher caste. Since the arrival of missionaries in this area they have stood against injustice and inequality by educating and empowering the tribal community, who is the main owner of this land, the  third largest mineral producer in India. It is Christian missionaries who have educated and empowered this downtrodden community to fight for their rights and justice. Politicians such as Raghuvar Das have so many problems with Christians and missionaries, who are the key obstacles in making his business with big industries in the state, so he and his government started targeting Christians to put them in a situation in which they cannot do anything for justice and equality.”

Second class citizens

“On 1 August 2017 the Jharkhand cabinet approved a draft anti-conversion bill which was passed by Jharkhand’s Legislative Assembly on 12 August 2017 and became state law on 11 September 2017. Since then 47 Christians have been arrested but none of them found guilty by court. Christian communities in rural areas have been mistreated by village councils and have been denied the enjoyment of any government scheme. There has been a rapid increase in the social excommunication of Christians and denial of access to health facilities in the name of religion. Since the BJP came into power in the state of Jharkhand not only Christians but also the Muslim community are being mistreated, and several cases of mob lynching have occurred which shows that Christians and minorities are being treated as second class citizens.

The first case under the anti-conversion law (Jharkhand Dharm Swatnater Adhiniyam) was registered in Manoharpur, East Singhbum on 12 May 2018 in which 10 laymen Christians were falsely accused of this act. These Christians are not connected with each other and are daily wage workers who make their living by selling street food, repairing bikes, and working in construction. Due to this case their family went through miserable pain, both physical and mental, for the three months until they were granted anticipatory bail.

Christian missions and ministries were very much active in organising public meetings in the form of conventions and crusades for the edification of their church members, and would also occasionally organise Gospel events, but due to this heated environment such Christian activity has been frozen and Christians are now considered as enemies of the state’s well-being.

Now whenever any issue regarding freedom of religion comes to any police station local police first try to arrest Christians without verifying the truth and try to terrorize the Christian community to compromise with people of other faiths. It seems the local administration is now governed and directed by the Chief Minister’s office.”

Laying blame on the church

“On the other hand, the state government continues accusing churches of being involved in provoking tribal people to work against government and also of funding such activities like Patthalgadi (an historic tradition of tribespeople in Jharkhand involving the erection of monoliths in the name of ancestors on the borders of villages). In June 2018 five women were gang raped, and the church was blamed for this case too, as one Catholic father-cum-school principal was arrested and sent to jail.

In June 2018 all of sudden the government brought this proposal to withdraw reservation facilities from all the tribespeople that had converted to Christianity, and also at the same time the government passed a land bank bill which later became law in Jharkhand. In this also the church was blamed, with claims that the church had taken huge amount of land from tribes. Recently the church was also blamed for human trafficking in a case in which a missionary of a charity sold a new born child.

There is so much enmity created and fuelled by the government and ruling party to divide Sarna and the Christian community.

Having seen such issues there is a need to unite churches together to respond to these allegations, forming a strong platform to create a united voice. Local youth and students must be strengthened and equipped to react positively to these problems, church and active leaders require education on political and legal issues, and frontline leaders need to been trained to respond to false allegations and to take precautions on the conversion issue.”