News Analysis |
Six carol singers have been arrested in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh after a man accused them of trying to convert him to Christianity. The latest incident highlights the state suppression of minorities as well as support to Hindutva militants who attack non Hindus.
Police in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh arrested 32 Christians for singing Christmas carols and then a group of Hindu extremists set fire to a car belonging to a Catholic priest. Madhya Pradesh is one of five Indian states where missionaries need permission to try and convert individuals and the 32 Catholics were detained for trying to convert people.
These Christians are often from the lower castes, such as the Dalits in India who face huge socioeconomic problems. They are an easy target for Saffron militants, who target them with impunity.
But the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Theodore Mascarenhas, said it was “laughable” and they had simply been singing Christmas carols. “The charge of conversion on which the priests and seminarians were detained is frivolous and laughable,” Mr. Mascarenhas said in a statement on Friday, December 15th. He said carol singing had been a part of the Christmas tradition in Satna for at least 30 years.
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The police said a resident had made a complaint about being “lured by a group of Christians to convert.” After the group had been arrested another group of eight priests went to the police station in Satna to enquire about their detention and their car was then torched by members of a Hindu extremist group, the Bajrang Dal. The eight priests were then themselves held. The 40 Catholics from St Ephrem’s Theological College were later released but nobody has been apprehended in connection with the attack on the priests’ car.
In Madhya Pradesh, which is governed by the Hindutva fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party, people need to give formal notice in advance to the authorities to change religion. In Madhya Pradesh missionaries can be sent to jail for up to a year if convicted of converting someone without the authorities’ permission.
The 40 Catholics from St Ephrem’s Theological College were later released but nobody has been apprehended in connection with the attack on the priests’ car.
Some Christians say this leaves villagers open to harassment by Hindutva groups. In recent years, the state has seen a surge in the harassment and intimidation of religious minorities. The news comes as India’s Christian minority sounds the alarm over a recent rise in attacks on churches and members of the faith, blaming the violence on Hindu hardliners, who they say have become emboldened since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government swept to power in 2014.
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These incidents are worrying given India’s long history of minority persecution that includes the Babri Masjid incident in 1992 that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Muslims, 2002 Gujarat riots in which Hindu extremist groups with approval from the state targeted Muslims in broad daylight and 2008 communal rioting in Uttar Pradesh that killed more than two hundred Muslims which also included burning alive of six members of a Muslim family, apart from many similar incident that have taken place in India in the past.
Christians are also the target of the wrath of Saffron terrorists. The persecution of Christians in India has risen over the past year, pushing it up a league table of countries where the practice of the faith is a high-risk activity, according to a monitoring organisation. The world’s second most populous country has risen to No. 15 on the 2017 World Watch List, up from 31 four years ago.
Police in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh arrested 32 Christians for singing Christmas carols and then a group of Hindu extremists set fire to a car belonging to a Catholic priest.
The watchdog estimated that a church was burnt down or a cleric beaten on average 10 times a week in India in the year to 31st October 2016, a threefold increase on the previous year. These Christians are often from the lower castes, such as the Dalits in India who face huge socioeconomic problems. They are an easy target for Saffron militants, who target them with impunity.
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According to Zaheer Babar “The concerted attack on Christians and churches, the cynical equivocation on the issue of conversions by a Prime Minister who the media never tires of labeling as a “moderate,” the conscious attempt to once again use religion to now label Christians as “un-Indian,” promises a dramatic escalation of violence in the dismantling, construction and appropriation of radically different notions of the Indian nation.”
Around 80 percent of India’s 1.2 billion population is Hindu, but it is also home to large numbers of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.