India’s year of fear. Rising Hindu nationalism, hate speech and violence pose a real threat to Christians and other non-Hindu groups: John Dayal
It has been a year of fear in India. The trauma of mass deaths in the Covid-19 pandemic — the bodies floating down the holy River Ganges or waiting hours for their turn at cremation grounds — has not faded.
By the end of the year, the fear of death in the pandemic was perhaps replaced by an uneasy feeling in the pit of the stomach over fears of being butchered by nationalist fanatic mobs whose baying was heard on Christmas Day.
The politicians, government officials and police just looked on, helpless or in complicit silence, as they had done in the spring months of April and May.
On Christmas Day, speaking long-distance to the Sikh community that was commemorating one of its gurus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused at length on the atrocities committed by medieval Muslim emperors on Hindus and Sikhs.
Even as he was speaking, violent Hindu mobs, now called Hindutva elements in a generic and politically correct collective phrase, attacked, churches, congregations in prayer and groups celebrating Christmas in 16 cities and towns across India. The incidents covered states as varied as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi in the north to Assam in the far northeast and Karnataka in the south.
With these latest attacks, targeted anti-Christian violence this year has peaked at over 400 separate incidents, with one estimate by the United Christian Forum putting it at perhaps 460.
The United Christian Forum, its law associate Alliance Defence Freedom, Persecution Relief and the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India all agree this is the highest total since the pogroms in Orissa (now Odisha) in 2007 and 2008. At that time, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed vital ministries in Orissa in a coalition government.
Accompanying the physical violence this year was a heavy structural dose of punitive legal measures, with Karnataka in the south joining several others in the north by targeting minorities.
Karnataka’s legislative assembly voted to enact a law that all but criminalizes religious conversions and targets Muslim and Christian men who may want to marry a Hindu woman. Ironically, such anti-conversion laws are officially christened Freedom of Religion Acts.
If the law is passed by the upper house, Karnataka will join Orissa, Arunachal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Rajasthan in having such laws on the statute books.
The laws are apparently against conversions (mostly to Christianity) by force or fraudulent means, including monetary inducements, medical aid and free education. But in recent times they have been fine-tuned to criminalize Muslims marrying Hindu women in what is termed “love jihad.”
The laws have also been used against such national icons as the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, which was set up by the redoubtable Mother Teresa, a Nobel laureate and Bharat Ratna, the highest Indian national honor, and now a saint of the Catholic Church.
As this column is being written, the foreign funding license of the congregation, which runs orphanages and homes for the dying and destitute in almost every state, has been blocked by the Modi government. No reason has been given.
Modi, who hugged Pope Francis when he called at the Vatican on his way to the global climate summit in Scotland, has remained silent.
He has invited the pope to India, a move that Hindutva organisations have vociferously opposed since the late Pope John Paul visited the country in 1999 to launch the document Ecclesia in India.
Blocking the sisters’ funding could well be a dog whistle to his followers. It is quite possible the license will be restored within months. The global institution is much too big to be trifled with in such a summary matter.
Modi is also silent on targeted hate with his followers inviting Hindus at large to join in the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Christians. These calls have been made several times by high-profile religious leaders and at meetings called Dharm Sansads, or religious parliaments. One was held in mid-December in Haridwar on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, with another in Raipur, the Chhattisgarh capital.
But a few months earlier, on Sept. 29, Jagadguru Paramhans Das of Ayodhya said he was going to commit jal samadhi — take his own life by immersion in water — unless the government declared India a Hindu nation by Oct. 2. He also called for the termination of the citizenship of Muslim and Christian Indians.
On Sept. 21, he had put out a video calling for the murder of Christians and Muslims. In a Facebook Live session, he said: “Each of the Christians and Muslims will be driven out. Every Hindu who has been murdered will be avenged. Christians and Muslims who have converted Hindus, those Christians who have killed Hindus, will be avenged. The end of Christians and Muslims has begun. We have come here and there are many swords and weapons to be seen.”
The theme of the event in Haridwar was “Sanatan’s future in Islamic India: Problems and solutions.” As wire media reported, many major religious leaders, right-wing activists, fundamentalist militants and Hindutva organisations came together from Dec. 17-19. Over the course of three days, this event witnessed an extraordinary outpouring of hate speech and mobilizations to violence.
“We have to make preparations,” said Swami Prabodhanand Giri, president of the Hindu Raksha Sena, of Uttarakhand. “Either you prepare to die now, or get ready to kill, there’s no other way. Like in Myanmar, the police, politicians here, army and every Hindu must pick up weapons and conduct this cleansing. There is no solution apart from this.”
Sadhvi Annapurna (aka Pooja Shakun Pandey), an abbot of the Niranjani Akhara and general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, said: “Nothing is possible without weapons. If you want to eliminate their population, then kill them. Be ready to kill and be ready to go to jail.”
Star participants included BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay and BJP Mahila Morcha leader Udita Tyagi.
Make no mistake, the call to wipe out Muslims in India and the anti-conversion laws are genetically linked. Civil society in India is waking up to this threat. The Muslims are a worried lot. But major Christian organizations seem not yet fully awake to the threat, other than a few leaders such as Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore and Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi.
The international community has been shocked by the Indian government’s apparent crackdown on Mother Teresa’s sisters and their orphanages and destitute homes. Top international newspapers such as The Times of London, New York Times and Washington Post have front-paged the persecution of Christians and of Muslims.
But Western governments are silent as they see India not just as their main weapons market but also as a key strategic part of their countering China’s expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.
The US State Department has ignored recommendations by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom to name India on its “red list” of countries engaged in “systematic, ongoing and egregious” violations of religious freedom — for the second consecutive year. India is the only designated major defense partner of the United States.
Such is the world at the end of 2021.