By Sajjad Shaukat
Although Christians are celebrating Christmas Day all over the world with fervour and zeal, yet like other religious minorities of South Asia, they have also remained target of other majority groups which include religious extremists in their ranks and files. As a result, these incidents take place when some biased leaders instigate the members of their parties against the Christian community under one or the other pretext. But unlike other countries of the region, a deliberate anti-Christian campaign has continued in India unabated with the secret support of Indian officials.
In this regard, on November 7, 2011, leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Pravin Togadia, in his furious speech questioned the past of Muslims and Christians, and further gave a call to Hindus to capture the Islamic holy places in Arab and Vatican of Europe. Especially, hinting towards the Christian community, he motivated Hindus to “behead anyone” who converts people from the Hindu community. In this context, the main aim of Togadia’s provocative remarks was to incite violence against Muslims and Christians.
However, on November 11, 2011, the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) condemned inflammatory speech of VHP leader Pravin Togadia. The NCCCI denounced the “hate campaign”, saying, “It is against the values preached by the Constitution of India, especially the Right to Freedom of Religion,” and demanded the government to take stern action and prevent such events in the future.
The All India Christian Council and the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), while condemning the speech of Togadia, said that it perceived this “as an attempt to ‘Talibanise’ India to perpetuate graded inequality.
Extremist Hindus often accuse Christians that they have converted low-caste Indians—especially Dalits or “untouchables” in Christianity with pressure tactics. While stand of the Bishops of the country is that the people of this caste voluntarily join Christianity. Sullivan remarks that India’s “untouchables” at the very bottom of the caste system are now known. He further elaborates, “When it comes to sharing power, to interaction and to sharing social status, low-caste Indians are very much marginalised.”
India which claims to be a secular state has broken all the records of violence, genocide and massacre perpetrated on various ethnic and religious minorities. In this respect, anti-Muslim move is permanent feature of India’s secular terrorism.
Nevertheless, apart from attacking other minorities and Muslims whom Hindus presume as their historical enemies, assaults on Christians have surprised the international community.
Unlike the previous similar tragic events, Christian persecution rose to new heights in the state of Karnataka after the BJP came to power in February 2006. Attacks on Christian holidays became common in the state like other regions. On the Christmas Eve of 2007, Hindutva (Hindu Nationalism) fundamentalists led a series of violent assaults on Christians and their property in Orissa, state’s Kandhamal district, killing eight Christians and razing at least 800 houses and 100 churches. In one of the events, in March, 2008, more than 150 intolerant nationalist Hindus stormed two Easter Sunday services and beat at least 16 Christians including two pastors in Bangalore and in Shimoga district. However, attacks on Christians, their property and places of worship have continued by the Hindu mobs in Orissa, Assam, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and other areas. The years of 2009, 2010 and 2011 also witnessed a number of such incidents of religious intolerance and harassment towards Christian community. For instance, in one of the incidents, at least 60 Christians have been assassinated by Hindu fundamentalists in the state of Orissa, and a Christian center defaced by Hindu extremists in December 2010.
Before almost every assault, the mob of the Hindu extremist groups RSS, VHP, and Bajrang Dal, armed with bamboo poles, sticks and rods, while beating drums, shout slogans in Hindi—he “who talks in favour of only Hindus will rule the nation.”
It is mentionable that historical background and religious beliefs which have formed the habits and national character of Hindus are quite different from the other ethnic and religious communities. Indians still have a strong belief in the superiority of their race. Indian Hindus are followers of Chanakya (Say some thing else and do some thing else). These facts have been verified by the misdeeds of Hindu fundamentalist parties like the BJP, RSS, VHP, Shiv Sina and Bajrang Dal which have missed no opportunity to communalise national politics of India even under the Congress rule. With the support of Indian officials, these parties have intensified anti-Christian campaign in the last decade coupled with the dissemination of Hindutva.
Nonetheless, under the mask of democracy and secularism, Indian subsequent regimes dominated by politicians from the Hindi heartland—Hindutva have been using state terrorism ruthlessly against churches.
It is notable that in 2009, west had broken its prolonged silence when the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had placed India on the watch list owing to its severe discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities. The USCIRF is emphasised President Barack Obama to put pressure on New Delhi for its largely inadequate response to fundamentalist violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 and Christians in Orissa in 2008-2009.
Meanwhile, Fr. Babu Joseph, the spokesman of the Indian Bishops’ Conference (CBCI) had stated that the decision of the USCIRF “is a clear indication of the growing concern of the international community to the repeated failure of India to take decisive corrective measures to curb religious intolerance.” But despite this, anti-Christian campaign kept on going in India.
In February, 2011, in a rare show of religious comradeship, Muslims in Mangalore and Karnataka have staged a rally in the city to protest against attacks on the Christian community by radical Hindu groups. In his speech, Ali Hassan said, “Christians educate children and provide medical care for elders. But they are rewarded with continuous attacks on their churches by Hindu extremists.” Another major aim of the rally was to protest against a biased report of the Indian commission which was released in the same month and which exonerated Hindu fanatics from attacks on churches in Karnataka in 2008.
On February 20, 2011, 500 church leaders joined as many as 19 Catholic and Protestant bishops to stage the protest against the report which had given a clean chit to fundamentalists belonging to some Hindu organisations behind a series of attacks on the Christian community.
Organised by the Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights and the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops’ Council, the church leaders pointed out that the report was “completely one-sided, biased, propagandist’, and was ‘totally unfair to all Christians.
Archbishop Moras regrettably indicated, “The Christians who were the target of attacks and the victims of the organised mayhem and vandalism have been converted into the perpetrators, while the real attackers and all forces and elements that had directly or indirectly supported have been given a clean chit by the findings of the report.”
Former state Women’s Commission president Philomena Peres said the government had ‘wasted’ huge amounts of money in producing a ‘biased and unjust report’ on anti-Christian violence.
In fact, Hindu culture, dominated by the RSS, VHP, Shiv Sena and other such fundamentalist parties—provocative utterances of their extremist leaders, propagating Hindutva are bound to result into more violence against the Christians.
No doubt, there are religious extremists in every religious community having its own brand of religious intolerance, fanaticism and militarism. But in this context, India, being a largest democracy, claming an arch secular state has surprised the world.
It is now clear that there is a co-relationship of Hindu fundamentalism, RAW and Indian officials which show new face of Hindutva terror.
It is the right hour that the US-dominated international community must take appropriate steps against anti-Christian campaign in India.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations