India is the world’s largest democracy. It is nominally wedded to secularism. Article 25-A of India’s Constitution provides for religious freedom. Yet, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom called for putting it on religious freedom blacklist. The report noticed, ‘In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault’. Not only Muslims but also Christians, Dalit (downtrodden) and other minorities are persecuted communities.
The US has burgeoning politico-economic and strategic ties with India. As such, it did not heed the lead on India. It is, however, understood that there is bipartisan support for designating India `a country of particular concern’ because of persecution of minorities in India.
US Senators’ letters to Secretary of State
Fourteen U.S. Senators have sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reminding him of the recommendation by US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to designate India a country of particular concern. The Senators went on to demand that “targeted sanctions” be imposed against Indian agencies and officials responsible for escalating religious intolerance and violence.
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According to USCIRF, violations of the religious freedom rights of minorities have reached a point where India should be considered amongst the world’s worst violators. The Senators when on to request the Secretary of State to provide Congress with reasoning as to why the USCIRF recommendations are not being followed and why India is not designated a CPC.
Religious freedom in India has always been constrained. A Christian preacher was burnt alive right in front of his two minor kids in Orissa by a serial killer Dara Singh. Several Indian states have passed anti-conversion laws. They are aimed at restricting the right to propagate religion, which is guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
India claims to be a secular country but unfortunately, the country’s legislative history, relating to the issue of conversion underscores the reality that the government always harbored a grudge against conversion. Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have passed Freedom of Religion Acts. A common feature of these anti-conversion laws is that they made so-called ‘forced conversion’ a cognizable offence under sections 295 A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code. Several Indian states have passed anti-conversion laws.
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Cognoscibility of the offence licensed police to harass missionaries and converts under the influence of Hindu fanatics or government functionaries. Some Indian courts have intervened to stop the persecution of converts or Christian preachers. For instance, Chief Justice A.N. Ray in Reverend Stanislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1977 SC 908), and Yulitha v. State of Orissa and others, ruled that propagation is different from conversion. Ray observed adoption of a new religion is freedom of conscience, while conversion would impinge on ‘freedom of choice’ granted to all citizens alike. But the state governments remained nonchalant to the courts’ observations.
To discourage Dalits from converting to Christianity, not only the center but also the Indian states have deprived ‘Dalit Christians’ of minority-status privileges
The courts’ decisions being declaratory (certiorari), not mandatory (mandamus), remained un-implemented. Interestingly, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (February 1981) advised the state government and union territories to enact laws to regulate change of religion on the lines of the existing Acts in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh.
There are iron-clad guarantees in the Constitution for religious freedom. Yet, not only the born Christians but also Hindus who become Christians complain of persecution. It is not only Orissa, but also several other Indian states that have passed anti-conversion bills forbidding Hindus to convert to other religions. Such legislations violate the UN Charter of Human Rights which gives a person right to change his or her religion.
Harassment and social boycott of Dalits (down-trodden)
To discourage Dalits from converting to Christianity, not only the center but also the Indian states have deprived ‘Dalit Christians’ of minority-status privileges. Any Hindu who converts to Christianity is socially boycotted and tortured in different ways.
Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in 2014, religious intolerance and anti-Christian violence has surged across India
Six women at Kilipala village in Jagatsinghpur district (Orissa) had their heads tonsured by influential Hindus. Their offence was abandoning Hindu faith at their own free will. Christian missionaries are harassed, deported and even killed. Indian government ordered ‘deportation of three American preachers from Church of Christ in North Carolina on the first available flight to the US.’ To insult them even further, the preachers were even attacked by Hindu fanatics. Courts rarely punish people who manhandle Christian preachers. Dara Singh murdered an Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons.
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A few years back, Hindus attacked Christians as a response to a book which allegedly insulted Hindu deities. Investigations revealed that the book was not written by any Christian. But it happened to be displayed on one of the Emmanuel Mission’s bookshops for sale. The mission is a Christian organization that runs a chain of schools in various Indian states.
Hindus ignore the fact that Christian missionaries started coming to India, particularly the North-East, in the late 19th century. They promoted education and socio-economic developmental work in the region. In Rajasthan, the Emmanuel Mission, alone, runs over 50 schools. The bill makes religious conversion a non-bailable offence. While giving vent to Hindus’ against Christians.
Surge in persecution under BJP
Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in 2014, religious intolerance and anti-Christian violence has surged across India. In 2014, the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) documented 144 violent attacks on Indian Christians. In 2019, the latest data available, the number of attacks has more than doubled with EFI documenting 366 violent attacks.
Indian authorities had linked dozens of cases of COVID-19 to a Muslim missionary group (tableghi, preachers) that held its annual conference in Delhi in early March, and health officials raced to track down anyone who had contact with the participants.
Religious persecution caricatures India’s constitution. Not only Muslims but also other minorities have a miserable plight
Coronavirus fears and religious tension were already at a fever pitch in India, and it didn’t take long for the two forces to intermingle. Videos falsely claiming to show members of the missionary group spitting on police and others quickly went viral on social media, exacerbating an already dangerous atmosphere for Muslims.
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Since March 28, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad appeared over 300,000 times and were potentially seen by 165 million people on Twitter. The social posts were mostly fake. For instance, one post, purported to show a person spitting on a Hindu. The graphic post was fabricated in Thailand.
On the heels of the propaganda came religious pogroms conducted by Hindu nationalists leaving 36 Muslims dead, their houses and shops burnt, including some mosques where they took refuge, in Delhi. The pogroms were rooted in anti-Muslim hatred, dating back to pre-partition of the sub-continent. Subconsciously, Hindus believe that Muslims are untouchable. They are treated as a malaise. Several past events reflect how Hindus give vent to their antipathy toward the Muslim, and occasionally to other minorities.
The ruling BJP has a symbiotic relationship with RSS as is obvious from Babri Masjid demolition. The RSS publicly supported Gujarat chief minister and BJP leader, Narendra Modi’s 11-phase.
Religious persecution caricatures India’s constitution. Not only Muslims but also other minorities have a miserable plight. To stifle dissent, India clamps its draconian laws, like Public Safety Act, on dissidents. The preachers, including in-charge of Delhi preaching center, was challenged under anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws. Preachers of Muslim tableeghi jamaat were hounded and imprisoned throughout India.
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Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been writing free-lance for over five decades. He has served federal and provincial governments of Pakistan for 39 years. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies and magazines at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of eight e-books including The Myth of Accession. He knows many languages including French and Arabic. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.