Last week, the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) released its annual report on Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India in 2021. It documented 505 individual incidents of violence across the country in 2021, including three murders, as well as other forms of harassment against Christians including disruption to worship services, social boycott and ostracisation, and forced conversion to Hinduism.
The report states: “No denomination – whether organized or a lonely independent worshipping family or neighborhood group – none has been spared targeted violence and intense, chilling hate, the worst seen since the general election campaign of 2014. The year 2021 saw calls for genocide and threats of mass violence made from public platforms, and important political and religious figures on the stage.”
Reverend Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the EFI, spoke to CSW about various issues facing Christians in the country today:
Pakistani weddings are extravagant affairs. Guestlists are filled with hundreds of names of relatives and friends. People come from various cities and even abroad for colourful celebrations filled with music and dancing. Often, brides’ homes are so packed with relatives that there is hardly room to move.
About a month or so before the wedding, smaller events take place at the homes of both the bride and groom. Friends and family begin to choreograph wedding dances and wedding songs to the rhythm of the dholak, a two headed hand drum.
A few days prior to the wedding, the Mayun takes place. This marks the start of the husband and wife-to-be being separated from each other until the day of the wedding, with brides beautifying themselves by refraining from wearing anything on their faces and undergoing herbal skin treatments to improve their complexion.
None of this occurred in the case of Arzoo Raja. In fact, this young Christian’s so-called ‘marriage’ is essentially a crime, because Arzoo was abducted on 13 October 2020 from the street outside her home in Karachi Railway Colony, Sindh Province, and forced to convert and to ‘marry’ a man more than twice her age. Under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, the legal age for marriage is 18, and being a child of 13, she was in no position to consent or escape.
In July 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government released a 62-page ‘New Education Policy’ (NEP) to much excitement. It had been 34 years since the last education policy was rolled out, so the excitement was understandable.
On the surface, the policy looks grand and attractive. It speaks of reformation and becoming a ‘Global Knowledge Superpower’. However, India’s religious minorities are dissatisfied. In the 18 months since its release, there have been several protests against it by Muslim and Christian groups, claiming that they have been left out of the central government’s glorious vision for the future.
Here are some of the key concerns.
Lack of representation of religious minorities
While the 1986 education policy focused on giving minorities and women access to education, reducing child drop out rates and introducing education for adults, the NEP 2020 seems to focus more on technology, new-age curricula and innovation, with hardly any specific agenda to uplift members of minority communities. In fact, the word ‘minority’ is only mentioned twice and ‘Muslim’ is mentioned once – ironically to admit that they are under-represented.
A year ago today, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar/Burma’s military, ordered his troops to take over government buildings, raid the offices of the governing party, arrest members of Myanmar’s democratically elected government and Parliament, shut down independent media, take control of the state media and seize power in a brutal coup d’etat. His decision turned the clock back by more than a decade, reversing ten years of fragile democratisation in which the country had seen credible elections, an independent media, the release of political prisoners, a vibrant civil society and opening up to the international community.
Of course, that decade of reform was far from perfect – not least because it included the genocide of the Rohingyas, continued conflict in ethnic states, particularly Kachin, Shan and Rakhine, and the rise of extreme religious nationalism leading to increased religious discrimination and persecution. But nevertheless, it allowed some seeds of political liberalisation to grow, and enabled the people of Myanmar to vote freely.
Twice – in 2015 and 2020 – Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) won an overwhelming mandate to govern. After years under house arrest, prison, hiding or exile, the NLD – whose mandate from the 1990 elections was never accepted by the military – was now in government.
“Hate has won, the artist has lost…,” Indian stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui tweeted hours after his Bengaluru show was cancelled. It marked at least the 12th time Mr Faruqui’s show had been cancelled after threats to the venue and the audience. Earlier this year, the 29-year-old Muslim artist spent a month in jail for allegedly joking about Hindu deities, an accusation that the police didn’t have any evidence for. That’s what a ‘joke’ can cost you in India today.
Or rather, in one of the two Indias that stand-up comedian Vir Das described in his Emmy-winning monologue which exposed the blatant hypocrisy prevalent in the country, including in relation to the plight of religious minorities, farmers, women and Dalits. The video went viral on social media, and immediately received a flurry of reactions, with right-wing activists calling for his arrest.