SHREYASI SINGHanalyses the findings of the recently published fact-finding report ‘Christians under Attack in India’ by Association for the Protection of Civil Rights, United Against Hate, and United Christian Forum to shed light on the growing menace of hate crimes against Christians in different parts of the country, especially northern India, by right-wing Hindu nationalist groups and the police’s blatant complicity in the same.
THERE has been a continuous increase in violence committed against Christians by Hindutva groups, which have largely been unnoticed in the media. On October 21, the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights, United Against Hate, and United Christian Forum jointly released a fact-finding report highlighting the series of attacks on churches and hate speech against Christians across India.
The report records at least 305 incidents of violence against Christians in the first nine months of 2021, but only 30 FIRs have been registered so far in these cases. The report mentions that September alone recorded 69 such incidents, followed by 50 in August, 37 in January, 33 in July, 27 each in March, April, and June, 20 in February, and 15 in May.
According to United Against Hate’s Nadeem Khan, one of the members of the fact-finding team, four north Indian states have together recorded 169 incidents of violence against Christians in these nine months, namely, Uttar Pradesh (66), Chhattisgarh (47), Jharkhand (30), and Madhya Pradesh (26). But there is one southern state which too is witnessing a high number of incidents of violence against Christians, which is Karnataka with 32 incidents. Apart from these, other states witnessing violence against Christians for their faith include Bihar (19 incidents), Odisha (15), Maharashtra (13), Tamil Nadu (12), Gujarat (9), Punjab (8), Andhra Pradesh (5), Haryana (5), Uttarakhand (5), Delhi (3), Telangana (2), West Bengal (2), Rajasthan (2), Assam (1) and Himachal Pradesh (1).
On analysis, at least 1,331 women, 588 tribals, and 513 Dalits were injured in these incidents, and in about 23 incidents, places of worship were damaged. On 85 occasions, restrictions were imposed on people to carry out religious ceremonies.
Each of these incidents was horrifying, and the report delves deeply into the nature of the offenses committed in light of the alleged facts.
First on the list is the attack of October 3, wherein a Hindutva mob of 250-300 persons barged into a Roorkee Church and attacked people, destroyed CCTV camerias, and vandalized the church premises.
The report states that while there were only 12 present in the church for prayers when the attack occurred. The report also contains the testimony of victims of the attack.
One of the victims stated in her testimony: “I had never seen those men. They held me tightly while the women abused and attacked me and the man stole my phone and molested me”. Another victim stated in their testimony that the mob was armed with sticks and iron rods, and was angrily chanting religious slogans like “Jai Shri Ram” and “Har Har Mahadev”.
The mob alleged that the church was illegal and occupied private property. However, the report mentions that the pastor’s family shared their land sale deed agreement with the fact-finding team to clear any doubts about their ownership of the property. Further, the family has reported suspicious activity to the police at least four times before the mob attack but it was not paid heed to by the authorities. Roorkee Police refused to entertain them and provide security to the church.
Further, during the time of the incident, police authorities were called to inform of the attack, and notable while the Civil Lines police station was less than a kilometer away from the church, the police team arrived a full hour after the violent mob dispersed on its own after the attack. The team noted that “[p]rima facie attack looked meticulously planned to build a fake narrative of conversion.”
As per the report, not only was the formal complaint filed by the victims was not looked into by the authorities, but a counter FIR was lodged against the pastor’s family and they were booked under several serious sections of the Indian Penal Code, including Sections 153A (promoting religious disharmony), 395 (dacoity), and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
The fact-finding report contains briefs on 89 attacks against the Christian community. Many of these are shockingly capricious and tyrannical.
For instance, in a case from Ghazipur, UP which occurred on August 10, a pastor and his family were denied their fundamental right to access clean drinking water by forbidding them access to hand pumps, along with restricting entry to the church building. The report mentions that all of this was on the basis of false accusations and social opposition by a group of villagers.
In a case at Azamgarh, UP, on August 31, a pastor was arrested after local extremists, along with the police, came in civil dress to a religious meeting saying that they want to know more about Jesus, and after 15 minutes, the pastor was taken into custody. In another incident at Azamgarh, police arrested a pastor while he was conducting a private prayer meeting on September 9 on the basis of an anonymous complaint.
There have been two notable incidents at UP’s Mau. The first case was an attack by a Hindutva mob, some of whom claimed to be activists of Bajrang Dal as well as the Hindu Yuva Vahini, on October 10. They lodged an FIR alleging that a pastor and six others were involved in “converting people into Christianity and insulted Hindu deities using abusive language” and forced the Christian worshipers to the police station.
The couple in whose house the worship took place pleased that no forcible conversions were taking place and that the worship in his house had been a regular one. The pastor, too, can be heard in a video stating that the prayer meeting was for the health and wellbeing of everyone, and was open to anyone to attend.
In the other case of Mau, two nuns, on October 12, were attacked by a mob at a bus stand accusing them of conversion, thrashed, and dragged them to the police station. One of the victims said that it was more shocking for her that no policeman intervened when the mob attacked them. The other victim mentioned that even the police asked them ‘are you converting’.
In Chhattisgarh too, there has been a steep rise in violence against Christians. The Guardian reported that “[i]n some villages, Christian churches have been vandalised, in others, pastors have been beaten or abused.” Chhattisgarh, according to the report, has the second-highest number of incidents against Christians.
Hindu extremists allege that Christian pastors and activists have been luring and allegedly converting people through force and coercion, specifically targeting the tribal communities and poor, lower-caste Hindu families by offering cash payments, free medical assistance, and foreign trips, funded by foreign donors. While no evidence to suppose such claims has been revealed, “anti-conversion” rallies have been held across Chhattisgarh in the past month.
The report refers to the August 29 attack by around 100 people on three churches in the district of Kawardha. Further, Chhattisgarh is one of nine Indian states that already have draconian laws regulating religious conversions. Those wishing to change their religion are required to gain permission from the local district magistrate, and anyone carrying out forced conversions can be punished with a three-year jail sentence. The report mentions two recent cases of physical violence, vandalism, and false accusation in Chhattisgarh.
A thread of arbitrary violence: analysis of documented cases
A closer look at the cases documented by the fact-finding report presents a common thread running through all the cases.
More than 50 percent of the cases are on the charge of forced conversion and proselytization being committed by the Christian community. It is noteworthy that as per the rules of evidence, such charges warrant a probe into the merits of the statement made and complaint filed. However, that is absent from all the reported cases. Moreover, such charges have been denied by the accused Christians but the authorities are not willing to consider their plea.
Almost all of such attacks are being committed by Hindutva groups on the pretext of patriotism and containing unruly elements of anti-nationalism in the State.
Another notable feature is the unwillingness of police authorities to act against the violence committed by Hindu religious extremists. In fact, the report lists multiple instances where the police authorities have themselves pushed for such violent acts and supported the violent Hindutva mobs. Mere submission of an FIR against the pastor or church, in general, has led to restraint on accessing the church premises and performing the prayer rituals.
Further, the report documents eleven incidents of social opposition or ostracization alongside physical violence, and two incidents wherein worshipping at the church has been forbidden in some manner.
There have been ten recorded incidents of harassment by religious extremists and twenty-nine arrests of Christian persons in the reported cases. There has also been vandalism of the church property in three of these incidents. However, no action has been taken against the mobs by the police authorities.
Clearly, the police, too, to that extent are complicit in threatening Christians, hauling them into police stations, and carrying out raids on Sunday prayer services.
The attacks are rooted in the baseless claim of the extremist Hindu nationalist groups that Christians are fuelling conversions of Hindus by luring people by means of cash payments, foreign trips, and medical assistance.
Clearly, targeted violence and hate crimes against the Christian community is a rapidly rising trend that must be taken cognizance of by the State and nipped in the bud before it spreads even further.
(Shreyasi Singh is a B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. The views expressed are personal.)