New Delhi (Agenzia Fides) - Violence against Christians in India continues to grow and in 2020 it reached the number of 327 cases of violence against Christian persons or institutions: this is stated by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) which - using its own research and monitoring bodies such as the Commission for Religious Freedom and the telephone service "Helpline" - has published the 2020 annual report, entitled "Hate and targeted violence against Christians in India". The text, sent to Agenza Fides, documents among the 327 cases of violence, the murder of five people, six churches burned or demolished and 26 episodes of boycott or discrimination on religious grounds.
"This is by no means an exhaustive list of incidents, many of which remain mostly unreported and unrecorded, due to fear of further atrocities, especially in rural areas; the faithful doubt or openly refuse to report cases of religious violence. because of fear", Reverend Vijayesh Lal, Protestant pastor, Secretary General of the EFI, told Fides.
"The situation of religious freedom in India - he explains - must be seen in the context of the pressures from the political scene, where the majority parties have modified laws or approved new measures against minorities in various ways", explained Lal.
The Commission for Religious Freedom notes that "legal literacy is decidedly insufficient; the police almost as a rule do not want to register cases reported by Christians. Even if the police register a case, the attackers are rarely prosecuted in court". "On the other hand, the complainant runs the risk of reprisals",said Lal.
On the monitoring method, the incidents mentioned in the report are first recorded by volunteers who transmit the information to the Commission, which then verifies with the victim or witnesses, also contacting local police stations.
Out of the 327 recorded cases, Uttar Pradesh tops the list of regions where the Christian minority has been most targeted, with 95 incidents against the Christian community in 2020. Chhattisgarh follows with 55 incidents, most of which occurred in the tribal region of Bastar, which is now saturated with volunteers from Hindu organizations sent to "counter Christian influence". There is a well-planned political campaign by these groups - the text reads - to promote "Hindutva", or the ideology that preaches an "India to Hindus", excluding other religious communities. In Chhattisgarh, as in the neighboring tribal regions, these groups have a free hand and political support.
Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh recorded 28 and 25 incidents respectively. In Tamil Nadu, in southern India, 23 incidents occurred. The state recorded the second highest number of cases in 2019, with 60 violent incidents against the Christian community.
According to published data, the months of March and October saw the highest number of incidents registered in the country against Christians, with 39 and 37 incidents respectively. May was the lowest, with only 12 incidents, possibly due to the nationwide lockdown for Covid-19.
Another alarming fact noted by the Report is the approval of the "Freedom of Religion Acts", popularly known as "anti-conversion laws" in two other Indian states (in addition to the 7 where they are already in force) ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party that also holds the federal government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Report points out that Muslim faithful are also targeted by the new measures, under the pretext of curbing the so-called "Love Jihad". An Islamophobic term coined a few years ago to demonize marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women, especially those belonging to the Hindu upper castes. The laws apparently punish forced or fraudulent religious conversions but, in practice, they are used to criminalize all conversions, especially in non-urban settings. Furthermore, the laws in question deprive Hindu women of their freedom, rejecting or controlling their free will and leaving them at the mercy of the patriarchy, further strengthened by the political framework. The rulings of the High Courts in several states, which reiterated that adult men and women have the freedom to choose their partners, had no impact.
On October 31, 2020, Yogi Adityanath, Prime Minister of Uttar Pradesh, announced that the law to stop "Love Jihad" would be approved by his government. Without legislative discussion, it became law with an ordinance passed by the state governor, Anandiben Patel. With the passing of the "conversion ban" ordinance, Uttar Pradesh became the eighth state in India to introduce an anti-conversion law. Similar laws exist in the states of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand.
In December 2020, Madhya Pradesh passed an anti-conversion bill along the lines of Uttar Pradesh, becoming the ninth state. In late 2020, the BJP-ruled states - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka - planned to prevent so-called "forced conversions" through marriage. The punishment for this offense can be up to ten years in prison.
The states of Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan passed anti-conversion laws that did not go into effect for various reasons, while Tamil Nadu passed and then repealed a similar measure.
Christian organizations fear that the expansion of anti-conversion laws will lead to a step towards the BJP manifesto that promises a nationwide law to "control evangelization by missionaries", a term designed to blame the alleged "Western conspiracy" which, according to the manifesto, would seek to convert Dalits, tribals in rural areas, and in urban suburbs. This, together with the alarm about the explosion of the Islamic population due to the high birth rate among Indian Muslims, feeds the orchestrated rhetoric according to which "the Hindu population will become a minority in India": a statement that - notes the Report - is the basis of the election propaganda in India.
As a result of the anti-conversion laws, religious minorities can be targeted by anyone, especially by "vigilante" groups, real civilian militias controlled by Hindu extremist groups who are accomplices or promoters of violence. Furthermore, these laws place the burden of proof on the person who has been accused of conversion.
"We appeal to the Indian government and their respective state governments to guarantee the rule of law and the safety of religious minorities in India", says Lal. "We appeal in particular to the state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh to address the various extremist organizations operating in these states whose main objective is to create an climate of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities", concludes Pastor Lal.
The Commission for Religious Freedom within the EFI was established to facilitate reconciliation, to promote religious freedom and fundamental freedoms, and to seek justice for those who are abused. Formed in 1998, it is conceived as a platform for all Christian groups that protect freedom of religion or belief and other fundamental freedoms. Since 2009, an annual list of incidents affecting Christians in India has been published.
Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) founded in 1951, is the national alliance of Evangelical Indian Christians. It includes over 54 Protestant Christian denominations and related congregations (over 65,000 Churches), more than 200 Church-related missionary agencies and organizations. EFI is one of the founders of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), a global organization of evangelical Christian churches, serving more than 600 million evangelicals, founded in 1846. (SD-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 21/1/2021)