India is the world’s biggest democracy. It is wedded to secularism. Article 25-A of India’s Constitution provides for religious freedom. Yet, a 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, Dalits (downtrodden) and other minorities are persecuted communities. USA has burgeoning politico-economic and strategic ties with India. As such, there is virtually no chance the state department will follow its lead on India. After all, the USA never showed any effervescent empathy for Kashmiris under Guantanamo Bay (as former chief minister called it) long before the COVID 19 lockdown.
What forced the USA to be alarmed? Let us look at some bare facts. “National minority” status in India which is defined by religion. There are six `minorities’, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Zoroastrians.
The legal classification is not sacrosanct. Each caste has its sub-divisions. Even Muslims are practically subdivided into ajlaf, ashraf and arzal (various levels of superiority). A Hindu Dalit is not per se a Hindu. He can’t enter a higher-caste temple, ride a bike or a horse, and wear casuals (instead of going barefooted). A Dalit was murdered for daring to sit at a temple verandah. He can’t even eat in front of a Brahmin.
Dalits or Harijans
The disagreement over the use of ‘Harijan’ to refer to Dalits goes back to the 1930s. ‘Harijan’, meaning ‘children of God’, was a term first used by Gandhi to refer to Dalits in 1932. He even started three journals in English, Hindi and Gujarati in the same name in 1933. In some Indian states, Harijans used to gift their beautiful girls to temples. When grown-up they were a kind of divine prostitutes. Their children were called godchildren. Gandhi preferred to call Dalits instead of ‘untouchables’ or ‘bhangis’ then in vogue.
When Gandhi started using the term, many including BR Ambedkar objected to it, stating that it was condescending and obscurantist in nature, an attempt to side-step the real issue. India’s apex court also prohibited using the term Harijan.
Courts are reluctant to grant relief to members of lower castes or minorities. Patna High Court acquitted 26 men, 16 of whom had been handed death, owing allegiance to the outlawed upper-caste militia Ranveer Sena for killing 58 Dalits at Laxmanpur Bathe on December 1, 1997 (India today, October 9, 2013).
Demolition of Babri mosque was validated. The court, in a way, admitted that the mosque was ram janam bhomi, a place where god was born millenniums ago. In another judgment, the court held that a mosque was not necessary for worship. It outlawed triple divorce ignoring various points of views in Islam. Khushwant Singh, 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots: Victory to the Mob, Outlook India, August 22, 2005) Khushwant Singh says The Nanavati report to investigate post-Indira Gandhi-assassination Sikhs’ `massacre of is utter garbage’. `All the killers are roaming freely’.
India should be placed on religious freedom blacklist, US panel says https://t.co/rdgArfBolN
— The Guardian (@guardian) April 28, 2020
Some poignant events: Bhīma Koregaon
The 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence refers to attack on visitors during an annual celebratory gathering at Bhima Koregaon to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon victory. Stone pelting by anti-social elements on the gathering resulted in the death of 28-year old Rahul Patangale. Police took no action against the hooligans.
Instead, in August 2018 five activists, including Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha, were picked up. To gag them police slapped terrorism charges on them for, euphemistically, having `nexus with Maoists insurgents.
The Battle of Koregaon ended with the British-led Mahar, then untouchable, defeating Peshwa/Maratha soldiers.
Plight of Buddhists and Jains
A Buddhist girl, witnessing Republic Day Parade, was picked up and molested in a military truck. Hindu Bengali settlers and soldiers have raped native Jumma (Chakma) women.
Many Jain Temples were converted into Hindu Temples by Hindus. Many Jains were converted into Hindus at the time of Adi Shankaracharya, Sambandar, Basaveshwara in South India. Bhutala Pandya killed Thousands of Jaina Munis in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Thousands of Buddhists converted to Christianity at mass conversion rallies.
Persecution of Muslims
Propaganda heralds religious persecution whether in pre-World-War-II Germany (anti-Jew), Myanmar. 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 were racing to track down anyone who had contact with the participants.
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. “
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.
Harassment and social boycott of Dalits
To discourage Dalits from converting to Christianity, not only the Centre 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.
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 add insult to their injury, the preachers were even attacked by Hindu fanatics. They had a narrow escape. Courts rarely punish people who manhandle Christian preachers.
Read more: Modi’s new-found intolerant India
A serial killer Dara Singh murdered Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons.
A few years back, Hindus attacked Christians as tit-for-tat for 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 book-shops for sale. The Mission is a Christian organisation 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 their wrath against Christians,
Secret survey of Christians
Indian states sometimes conduct secret surveys of Christian population. With Narendra Modi, then as chief minister, the Gujarat government harboured xenophobic attitude not only towards Muslims but also Christians.
A survey of the Christians’ living in northern and central Gujarat, in February 1999 was withdrawn after protests. Modi restarted the survey March 2003 and May 2003 in Christian – inhabited areas (Ahmedabad, Sanaskantha, Jabarkantha, Kutch, Rajkot, Patan, Vadodara, Anand and Banaskantha).
Attacks on churches
In June 2000, four churches around India were bombed (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). A church in Maharashtra was ransacked. In September 2008, two churches were partly damaged in Kerala. In 2015, a church building under construction was vandalised in Haryana. St. George church in Mumbai was also attacked by masked persons.
Moreover, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and more than a dozen people were injured. The same cathedral had also been attacked in 2008 and the entire altar burnt down. In April 2015, St. Mary’s Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus were damaged. A Church in Kachna area of Raipur was attacked by a mob during a Sunday service and five people were injured when they tried to stop the assailants.
Several churches were attacked in the capital Delhi in recent years. They include St. Sebastian’s Church (burned), St. Stephen’s college chapel May 5, 2018 (vandalised and the cross desecrated with pro-Hindutva slogans).
In Madhya Pradesh, a church was destroyed and bibles were burnt in Mandla district in September 2014. In March 2015, a Bible convention was attacked in Jabalpur, with allegations that religious conversions were taking place. So on.
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 the Public Safety Act, on dissidents. The preachers, including in-charge of Delhi preaching centre, was booked under anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws. USA’s `concern’ is understandable.
Mr. Amjed Jaaved is an editor to The Consul. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.