Gurpreet Singh: Christians under constant attack in Modi's India

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      This Christmas, world leaders need to wake up and recognize growing violence against the Christian minority in the world’s so-called largest secular democracy.

      Ever since a Hindu right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, the country's social environment has become toxic for all religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians.

      Modi himself belongs to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu supremacist group of which the BJP is a political wing. It wants to transform India into a Hindu theocracy.

      The RSS believes that India, which in its terminology is Hindustan, truly belongs to Hindus, while Islam and Christianity are viewed as alien religions. RSS leaders consider Sikhism and Buddhism as part of the Hindu fold, an idea that is vehemently denounced by Sikhs and Buddhists.

      Then there are other oppressed communities, like Dalits (considered untouchables by the orthodox Hindus) and Adivasis, or tribal people, who have their distinct identities. Yet the RSS tries to project them as part of the Hindu mainstream.

      Much like Sikhs and Buddhists, these groups have also been trying to resist attempts of assimilation either through religious conversions or mere false propaganda, by claiming that anyone whose ancestors were born in India is Hindu.

      Tensions between all these groups and the BJP government have grown rapidly.

      Meanwhile, the World Watch List 2017 ranks India 15th worst among nations where Christians are persecuted. Four years ago, India ranked 31st on the list.

      In addition to the lynching of Muslims following accusations of eating beef—Hindus consider the cow a sacred animal—Christians are being frequently targeted by BJP supporters. More than 700 cases of attacks on Christians were reported on the United Christians Forum helpline since 2014.

      Only recently, those out singing Christmas carols in the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) were attacked by the Hindu fundamentalists. Not only were their cars burned but a criminal case was filed against them, accusing them of forced religious conversions, an allegation often made by BJP supporters against Christian missionaries.

      As if this was not enough, threatening letters were sent to various schools in another state, Uttar Pradesh (UP), asking them not to allow Christmas celebrations.

      Both MP and UP are governed by the BJP and it is not surprising that the surveillance of churches has increased under the Modi government in the name of checking religious conversions, a practice also done freely by Hindu groups to bring Muslims and Christians into Hindu faith.

      The situation is no different in other BJP-ruled states where anticonversion laws targeting Christians have been enforced even as the Indian constitution guarantees religious freedom.  

      The RSS has a track record of being involved in anti-Christian violence. In 2008, an anti-Christian pogrom was organized by the RSS in the state of Odisha following the assassination of a Hindu preacher by Maoist insurgents.

      Even though Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder as they considered the slain preacher a class enemy creating fear among tribal Christians, the RSS goons went after innocent Christians to settle a score for the killing.

      It is the same state where in 1999 an Australian Christian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two sons, aged 10 and six, were burned to death by Hindu extremists.

      Staines’s murder followed well organized anti-Christian violence in the state of Gujarat in 1998. Gujarat has been under BJP rule since then.

      In 2002 when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, an anti-Muslim massacre was organized after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, leaving more than 50 Hindu passengers dead.

      The BJP government at the time blamed Muslim fundamentalists for torching the train, after which innocent Muslims were targeted across Gujarat. Human rights activists continue to allege Modi’s complicity in the bloodshed though he was never charged.

      Global leaders celebrating Christmas and sending out greetings to everyone on such an auspicious occasion must take a moment to find more about what is happening in India, which is becoming a favoured destination of many countries, like Canada and the U.S., for future investments and business transactions.

      If world leaders are really concerned about the growing threat of terrorism, they must also keep on Hindu extremists in India on their radar. They are trying to create a Talibanlike regime in a land that has always been known for its pluralism and diversity.

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan.