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Amidst anti-conversion 'intimidation', violence, Christian population goes down

By Ram Puniyani* 

As sectarian nationalism is becoming more assertive, religious minorities are being subjected to intimidation and violence on a regular basis. As such there is an alarming increase the frequency of this phenomenon during the last decade. Anti-Muslim violence is noticed and partly reported, but anti-Christian violence, for various reasons, is not brought to the fore.
One reason is, it is a scattered community, and the violence is of low intensity. Hence, it does not make headlines. This is the conclusion of a citizens’ fact-finding report, which went in to investigate various incidents of anti-Christian violence in recent times.
The report laments, “Human rights groups which monitor atrocities against Christians in India, have been recording regularly the cases of violence against Christians by Hindutva groups from all states. But they have largely been unnoticed in the media or even in the human rights circles.”
This report chronicles the violent acts against Christians in various districts of Uttar Pradesh, and investigates the attack on Roorkee Church, October 2020. In this violence it observes that though the police was given prior information, it did not take preventive steps and when the attack began, it arrived too late, once the attackers had left. The aim of the attack seems to be to build a narrative that Christian groups are doing conversion work.
On similar lines the other incidents which the report has compiled from different sources this year. Some of these are Shahjahanpur January 3, Indore January 26,  Kanpur January 27, Bareilly February 16, Ambedkar Nagar 21 February, Prayagraj 25 February, Kanpur March 3, Agra March 14, Kerala March 22, Maharajganj April 19, Bijnor June 23, Gonda June 25, Azamgarh June 25, Rampur June 26, Rai Bareilly June 28, Shahjahanpur June 29, Aurayia June 29, Jaunpur July 3, Hoshangabad October 3, Mahasamund October 3, Bhilai October 3, Mau October 10, and Satna October 25.
This compilation shows that higher number of incidents are taking place in different places in UP, followed by Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In most of the cases it is prayer meetings which are targeted and these are labeled as attempts at conversion. The assertion of the VHP-Bajrang Dal in these matters is so intense that in Satna, the members of this group demanded on October 25 that the idol of Goddess Saraswati should be installed in the school run by Catholics.
In tune with the rising majoritarianism the religious minorities are projected in adverse ways and Christians in particular are accused of conversion through force, fraud and allurement. A large section of Christians do feel intimidated. It is this trend which made Julio Reibero, the ex-police officer who served the nation with distinction, state that “as a Christian suddenly I feel stranger in my own country”. Since the time he stated it way back in 2015, things are worsening at rapid pace.
Persecution Relief, a group monitoring and anti Christian violence in India states in 2020 “The watchdog group recorded 293 incidents of anti-Christian persecution in the first six months of the year. Six of those cases resulted in murder. Two women were raped and killed for their faith, and another two women and a 10-year-old girl were raped for refusing to renounce Christianity. Uttar Pradesh “remained the most hostile state against Christians in India,” noted the report. Sixty-three hate crimes were reported there.”
According to its founder Shibu Thomas, these are just what they have records of; there may be many more cases that have gone unreported. Open Doors, another organization working with local Churches points out, “Christians are persecuted in all areas of public and private life, and anti-conversion laws (currently in nine States, with more considering adoption) are abused to harass and intimidate Christians. Few people are actually convicted under these laws, but cases can drag on for years.” India figures in their list of 10 most dangerous places for Christians to live.
Despite claim that missionaries are involved in conversion, Indian Christian population in1971 was 2.60%, it went down 2.30% in 2011
As the Karnataka government is planning to introduce ‘anti conversion laws’, it has already set up massive intelligence gathering exercise on the Churches and the Christian Congregations. At a rally in Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh (October 1) Swami Parmatmanand called for targeted killings of minorities involved in conversion work. This he stated in presence of leaders of BJP.
While the propaganda is made through various channels about missionary work of conversions, the population census tells a different tale. As per the census figures Indian Christian population was as follows: in 1971 it was 2.60%, in 1981 it was 2.44%, in 1991 it was 2.34%, in 2001 it was 2.30% and in 2011 census it was 2.30%.
It is projected as a foreign religion but it is very old Indian religion, its advent in India being marked with the coming of St Thomas in AD 52 at Malabar Coast. The Christian missionaries, while some of them overtly claim their aim of converting the people, have been working in the arena of health care and education in the remote areas or among the poor Dalit communities. The educational institutes set up by them are known for their quality education. There is a heavy competition for entrance in them.
The anti-Christian tirade picked up in the decade of 1970s when the VHP and Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram extended their work in Adivasi areas. In Dangs, Gujarat, April-August 1998 witnessed violence. Here Swami Aseemanand, who was accused of being part of various bomb blasts set up the Shabri Mata temple, organized Shabri Kumbh. 
In Jhabua area of Madhya Pradesh the followers of Asaram Bapu (now in jail) also organized similar congregation, leading to violence on September 23, 1998. In Orisha Swami Laxamananand set up his work. Here the Kandhamal violence of 2008 took place. Prior to this Pastor Stains was murdered by the Dara Singh aka Rajendra Singh Pal (1999) who was part of the Bajrang Dal.
While the accusation on Pastor Stains was that he is converting gullible Adivasis into Christianity, the Wadhwa Commission report which went into this ghastly murder concluded that he was neither involved in the work of conversion nor the population of Christians showed any statistical increase in Keonjhar, Manoharpur (Orisha), where he was working.
While freedom of religion is a human and social right, it is also part of the Indian Constitution. It is being challenged in practice through different mechanisms and that’s what is leading to constantly increasing violence against Christians and Muslims.
---
*Political commentator

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