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Violence Against Religious Minorities in India Affects Muslims and Christians

Violence Against Religious Minorities in India Affects Muslims and Christians
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum on Sept. 25, 2019, in New York.
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

The following article from Religion News Service brings attention to the plight of Christians in India under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi was in Houston, Texas, Sept. 22, and his presence drew opposition protests. The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is in the first week of November. The Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice has resources for congregations.

Watching some 50,000 of her fellow Indian Americans line up outside a Houston stadium to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi take the stage at last month’s “Howdy Modi” rally, Sarah Philips felt sick.

“As an Indian Christian who grew up in this city … I stand here disgusted that a man who is responsible for persecution against religious minorities, violence against Dalits and so much more evil is standing in that stadium,” Philips, an organizer with Azaad Austin, declared into a megaphone at the South Asian American-led protest she helped coordinate against the rally on Sept. 22. “You are celebrating a man who has a singular view of what India is: a Hindu state. That view is violent, and you aren’t celebrating us.”

The opposition to Modi and his party’s Hindu nationalist agenda has largely been framed as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims—who comprise India’s largest minority as well as majorities in Pakistan and Kashmir.

But Philips’ family, which immigrated to Houston from the Indian state of Kerala in the 1970s, is Catholic.

From mob violence to anti-conversion laws to clampdowns on churches, the effects of rising Hindu nationalism under Modi have left India’s estimated 28 million Christians—who at 2.3% of the population make up the country’ third largest faith group—fearing for their future, too.

The opposition to Modi largely takes issue with the Hindu nationalist ideology of Hindutva espoused by his party, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party. Critics also point to the spike in violence that India’s Muslims have faced, from mob lynchings to attacks in the name of protecting cows; Modi’s recent revocation of the partial autonomy of Kashmir, which is still under an unprecedented communications blackout and lockdown that has lasted over 60 days; as well as his 2002 involvement in the brutal riots that killed an estimated 2,000 people, most of whom were Muslims, in the state of Gujarat.

“Modi’s hands were stained in blood. He committed genocide against Muslims,” said Obed Manwatkar, a Christian missionary from Nagpur, India, who moved to Chicago two years ago. “So when he was elected I said, ‘Oh, the hatemonger is coming for us, too.’ They were taking their revenge on Muslims, and nowadays Christians are the secondary target also.”

Three years ago, a new attack against Christians was reported every 40 hours, according to a report by the All India Christian Council. The situation does not seem to have improved in the years since. A report last month from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy group, documented 218 incidents of anti-Christian violence in India, including more than 150 acts of mass violence, in the first eight months of 2019. And in the past five years, the ADF has documented more than 1,000 acts of violence against Indian Christians.

In January, Open Doors International, an organization that works with persecuted Christians, published its annual World Watch List and ranked India as the 10th most dangerous country for Christians, sandwiched between Iran and Syria. Back in 2013, India ranked 31st. Its position has risen steadily since the Bharatiya Janata Party regained power in 2014.

Hindutva’s founder defined a Hindu nationalist as someone who equates the “homeland” with “the holy land,” explained the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Amit Pal, author of a forthcoming book on Hindu nationalism.

“That leaves two major religions out of the equation,” Pal, who described himself as a cultural Hindu, told Religion News Service. “So Muslims and Christians are the No. 1 enemies, as well as secularists, which they see as a Western import.”

“During Modi’s election there was a notion in the public that ‘Hey, our Hindu heartland is coming to power, so we will teach a lesson to Muslims and Christians,’” Manwatkar said. “So now they kill Muslims in mob lynchings and they attack the churches in villages where the Christians are living.”

From January 2009 to October 2018, the Hate Crime Watch database documented violence related to religious bias in India and found that 90% of the reported incidents occurred after the BJP rose to power with Modi’s May 2014 election and 66% of the attacks were reported in states governed by the BJP. The incidents, which include violence related to interfaith couples, primarily targeted Muslims, but 14% of the incidents were against Christians.

A pastor in India who is partnered with Open Doors told RNS that attitudes toward Christians began changing in 1996 when the BJP emerged as India’s largest single party. But in 2014, when Modi came into power and the BJP had gained control in many states, the pendulum swung even further right, he said.

“The religious minorities have always been threatened and persecuted, and there were many incidents that started happening since then,” said the pastor, Samuel. (The organization did not make his last name public to protect him and his congregants.) “The religious intolerance has increased and Hindu fanatic groups are getting stronger and violent because they have the support of the government. In the past couple of years the incidents of violence increased enormously.”

The Banner has a subscription to Religion News Service and occasionally re-publishes articles of wide Christian interest, according to the license. This story has been edited for length. The original story can be found here.

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