Remembering the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

There have been numerous case examples of acts of violence based on religion or belief from every corner of the world – but one that repeatedly stands out for me is the incident that occurred back in 2008, in Kandhamal district, Odisha, India.

Kandhamal is home to some of the poorest and most marginalized communities in Odisha. On 25 August 2008, it was the epicentre of widespread communal violence targeting the Christian community. Local monitoring groups estimate that over 90 people were killed with at least 54,000 displaced, over 300 churches destroyed, and unknown numbers of women brutally sexually assaulted by groups belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that espouse Hindutva ideology. More than a decade on, and most of the victims are yet to receive justice. In addition, attacks on religious minorities and on freedom of expression continue, and a lack of official condemnation towards acts of intimidation and violence has further empowered these groups. 

International Day Commemorating Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

In 2019, in an effort to recognise, respond to and prevent such acts from occurring, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), designated 22 August as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

The resolution establishing the international day does not highlight any specific religion or belief group, but refers to all victims, regardless of creed. It strongly deplores all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief specifically, and “any such acts directed against their homes, businesses, properties, schools, cultural centres or places of worship, as well as all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines that are in violation of international law”.

Remarkably, the resolution received broad support and recognition from UN Member States across the world. It was tabled by Poland alongside Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan and the USA, and subsequently cosponsored by over 80 states, including the UK. However, with global recognition comes global responsibility; both the responsibility to commemorate victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief, and the responsibility to protect and promote the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all.

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The death of secularism in India: ‘Homecoming’ in the name of the Hindu rashtra

In 2014, months after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power, Praveen Togadia, the former President of the Visha Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council [VHP]), said that his organisation will work towards making India a 100% Hindu nation.

This vision of a Hindu rashtra (nation) has continued to intensify over the past six years, with rhetoric promoting old narratives that all Indians are Hindus despite their religion or belief, as well as suggestions that Muslims in the country are perpetrating a “love jihad” campaign to strengthen Islamic influence, and that Western governments are providing support for the proselytisation of Christianity.

Misinformation and disinformation have been rife in India for decades. In 1999, false assertions about foreign missionaries preceded the horrific killing of the Australian Graham Staines and his two sons in Orissa (now Odisha). This marked a rise in suspicion towards and violence against Christians, which has continued to date.

Continue reading “The death of secularism in India: ‘Homecoming’ in the name of the Hindu rashtra”