Human Rights Without Frontiers – Indian Christians charged with ‘hurting religious sentiments’ by handing out Easter tracts

Tejaswi Ravinder

World Watch Monitor, 05 April 2018. Four Christians, including the wife of a church leader, have been charged with “hurting religious sentiments” after they handed out Christian tracts during an Easter procession in India’s southern Telangana state.

Rayapuri Jyothi, 38, Meena Kumari, 52, Mahima Kumari, 35 and Bagadam Sudhakar, 45, were taken into custody by police in the state capital, Hyderabad, at around 5.30 pm on Easter Sunday following a complaint by the leader of a local group affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

They were later charged and released on bail on Tuesday, 3 April.

Jakkula Vinay Kumar, the patron of the Hindu Jana Shakti group, alleged the 20-25 Christians taking part in the march had entered the slum in the Dayarguda area of the city and attempted to convert the uneducated people there to Christianity.

But the Christians’ lawyer, Sudheer Kumar, told World Watch Monitor his complaint was only lodged after the Christians had already gone to the police to file their own complaint against Hindu Jana Shakti members, whom they accused of abusing them as they handed out the gospel tracts, which they were given permission to do by the local police.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Bhujanga Rao confirmed to local media that the Christians, members of New Blessings Church, had been given permission to hand out the tracts as part of their Easter procession.

“On the eve of Easter, yesterday, Christian brethren celebrating Easter in Dayarguda area were opposed by some men from distributing gospel tracts,” he told local media on Easter Monday.

“With permission from the police, we [the church] took out a peaceful procession, singing hymns, distributing tracts around our area,” one female church member said in a video that circulated on social media.

“When we were about to wind up and return back to the church premises, in the last moment, they [Hindu Jana Shakti members] attacked four Christians, and we went running back to their rescue.

“[The men] physically attacked the Christian youth and misbehaved with the women, and even tried to apply vermillion [a cosmetic powder] to the pastor’s wife.” (Vermillion is traditionally worn by married Hindu women, and only their husbands are permitted to apply it for them.)

She added that when she told the men they had obtained permission from the police, they grabbed her hand and ripped the bangles from it, shouting at her: “Do you know the law?” She said they then tore up the letter of permission she showed them, and started beating up some of the young Christian men in the group.

Some of the other church members told World Watch Monitor the men had said to them: “How dare you promote a religion! Will you also accept if we apply vermillion [a Hindu custom] to your forehead?”

“When we [Christians] resisted, they [Hindu Jana Shakti] paid no heed,” the church members told World Watch Monitor. “They called the women prostitutes and the Christians ‘children born out of prostitution’, and many such extremely foul words in the Telugu language spoken in the area.”

“We submitted a complaint to the police narrating the incident,” the leader of the church, who wished only to be identified as Andrew, told World Watch Monitor. “But they [Hindu Jana Shakti] ran ahead of us, to try to be first to give a complaint.”

In the First Information Report (FIR) lodged by the Christians, the Hindus were accused of assault, criminal intimidation, promoting enmity between classes and using force against a woman with the intention to “outrage” her modesty.

“The Hindutva elements are targeting small churches because we are weak, with less members, and also we don’t usually get the high level support from Christian leaders from all frontiers.”

The police assistant commissioner confirmed that three of the Hindu Jana Shakti members had been arrested, including its president Lalith Kumar.

A local source, who requested anonymity, told World Watch Monitor that several politicians from the Hindu nationalist BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, came to the police station to give their support to Kumar and pressure police to file a counter-FIR against the Christians.

“The police filed the FIR against the Christians without any evidence, but only because of the pressure,” the source said.

“What happens is the accused side will now try to silence the voice of witnesses, by threatening them, and, by hook or crook, they will see that no witness appears before the court during the trials, and with no witnesses or evidence, the benefit of doubt goes in the favour of the accused, resulting in their acquittal,” a legal expert, who did not wish to be named, told World Watch Monitor.

Police Inspector Prasanna Kumar remained unavailable for comment.

“Since the Christians were arrested post the court hours, I went to the magistrate’s house to release them on bail on 3 April,” the Christians’ lawyer, Sudheer Kumar, explained.

“The next day [4 April], we furnished the bail procedure. To safeguard themselves from the accusations, [the Hindus] filed a complaint against the Christians. All the BJP top cadre were at the police station, and have ensured the registration of [the] FIR.

“That evening after their [Hindu Jana Shakti] leaders were released on bail, they went to the church and threatened the Christians; I rushed to the police station and filed another FIR against them [which included charges on outraging the modesty of women].

He said they had used their contacts within the BJP to file the charges.

Pastor Andrew told World Watch Monitor that he and his church members were being spied on by members of the Hindu group and that he had received death threats. He said he is “very scared”, that he fears his phone is tapped and that he was told he would be killed “soon”.

“The Hindutva [hardline Hindu] elements are targeting small churches because we are weak, with less members, and also we don’t usually get the high level support from Christian leaders from all frontiers,” Pastor Andrew said.

“The reason the pastor and the church members are being threatened is they don’t want anyone to speak up when the matter is presented before the court,” said lawyer Kumar.

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Human Rights Without Frontiers – 2017 ‘one of the most traumatic years for Indian Christians

Anto Akkara

World Watch Monitor, 19 February 2018. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) has described 2017 as “one of the most traumatic” years for Indian Christians in a decade after it recorded 351 verified incidences of hate crimes against Christians during the year.

The Religious Liberty Commission of the EFI, which brings together Christians from more than 50 Protestant denominations, said the government needed to restore Christians’ trust in its ability to protect them.

The figure of 351 in the commission’s annual report, ‘Hate and Targeted violence against Christians in India’, was not exhaustive, the authors added.

“Most cases go unreported either because the victim is terrified, or the police, especially in the northern states, just turn a blind eye and refuse to record the mandatory First Information Report [criminal complaint registered by the police].”

The report, which was published on 16 February, said the commission had said that non-Hindu communities were being targeted “with impunity” and urged the Indian government to punish those who were “spreading hatred” against them.

The report’s authors drew parallels with the scale of violence experienced last year and what they termed the “pogrom” that took place in Kandhamal in 2008, when nearly 100 Christians were killed, 6,000 Christian houses and 300 churches were plundered, leaving 56,000 Christians homeless.

The number of recorded hate crimes against Christians in India shows a rise in recent years from 147 in 2014, to 177 in 2015, to 134 in the first six months of 2016.

The new report listed four murders, 110 incidences of “physical violence/arrest”, 70 of “threats and harassment”, 64 occasions when worship was forcibly stopped, and 49 cases of Christians being falsely accused and arrested.

The report noted that India’s Hindu-nationalist government had acknowledged in Parliament that “communal violence”, the term used to define clashes between religious groups, “increased 28 per cent over three years to 2017”.

EFI’s general secretary, Rev. Vijayesh Lal, told World Watch Monitor today (19 February) the situation for Indian Christians “is deteriorating pretty rapidly”.

He suggested that the rise in anti-Christian violence was eroding Christians’ trust in their government. “The confidence of the community in the government needs to be restored. We are presenting this report to the government to take necessary corrective action,” Rev. Lal said.

“I am afraid the worst will unfold in 2019,” Rev. Lal added, suggesting that there could be an escalation in anti-Christian violence around next spring’s elections, to stigmatise Christians as threat to “Hindu India”.

The report suggests the violence is focused on Sunday worship and Lent and Christmas. Many incidents targeted church services and 54 cases were recorded in April, and 40 in December, both above the monthly average of 29.

“It is distressing to see even private worship being attacked by Hindu right-wing activists violating the privacy and sanctity of an individual or a family and trampling upon their constitutional rights,” the report noted.

It also recorded new ways in which Christians were targeted. “Christian children going to attend Bible camps with their parents’ permission, being taken into custody [by police] and detained for days on suspicion of conversion is bizarre and unheard of,” the report noted.

Except for the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which reported the highest number incidents (52), most of the other incidents reported took place in central Indian states ruled by the BJP – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, which is known for pursuing a Hindu-nationalist agenda.

The violence in Tamil Nadu, the report noted, has “a disturbing overlay of caste discrimination”. Victims generally come from the so-called “lower castes” in villages where the dominant groups object to prayer houses and even the entry of missionaries, it added.

In the states run by the BJP, which include Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the reported said “the Sangh [Hindu nationalist] cadres have free hand, with the police and administration either looking the other way, or complicit”.

The report claimed that the criminal justice system at the village- and small towns-level “routinely ignores or violates provisions in the law” and said constitutional provisions for religious freedom, right to life and freedom needed to be “available to the poorest person in the most remote village”.

While focusing on the targeting of Christians, the report said the commission is “alive to the persecution of, and pressure on, other religious minorities, caste discrimination against Dalits, and the situation of women”.

The report accused some state governments and their heads of using public money “to denounce Christianity publicly”.

It warned that the political environment had begun “heating up” ahead of general elections in spring 2019. “Foot soldiers of the BJP … have shifted into high gear in hate campaigns and targeted violence against individuals and groups, mainly religious minorities and Dalits,” it added.

Statistics revealed in India’s parliament on 6 February confirmed a long-standing allegation by rights groups that religious-based violence is growing under the premiership of Narendra Modi.

The figures contradict the assertion by Alphons Kannanthanam, a member of the BJP and the first Indian Christian in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, who said: “There has not been even one instance when a church was burnt or Christians attacked anywhere in the country after Modi came to power,” Kannanthanam said.

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Human Rights Without Frontiers – Indian Christians faced almost as many attacks in first half of 2017 as all of 2016

World Watch Monitor, 8 August 2017. In the first six months of 2017, Indian Christians were harassed, threatened or attacked for their faith in 410 reported incidents (248 in the first quarter), almost as many as the total for the whole of 2016 (441).

This is according to figures compiled by partners of Open Doors, the global charity which monitors the treatment of Christians worldwide to produce an annual World Watch List of the 50 most difficult countries for them to live in.
Last year, India was at its highest ever on the List, at no. 15; it looks set to rise higher in 2018 if present trends continue.

In January, April, May and June the number of incidents this year were more than double that of 2016.

In February and March the number is nearly double that of 2016.

There were two killings in the first half of 2017.

Eighty-four incidents were of violent assault (by Hindu extremists in 99% of cases): most beatings were severe.

In 32 of them, Christians would have died if timely medical-aid had not been provided.

A local partner told Open Doors, “When Christians are beaten up by extremists, they are injured mostly on their heads or vital body parts. There was one incident earlier this year when the victim was attacked by a sword to his head.

He was bleeding profusely and was critically injured… Attackers do not care if the person dies. They know they will not be punished because the Government (and hence the judiciary) will take their side. In most cases attackers go unpunished.”

In 37 incidents, victims were socially boycotted, or threatened with it, by Hindu villagers if they didn’t change their religion back to Hinduism.

In a further 34 incidents, victims were forced to leave their homes since they didn’t want to leave Christianity. (In 14 of these, victims had to completely leave their village or city).

The number of incidents against Christians in the six-most-populous Indian states has also been recorded.
The increase in persecution incidents in India has never been at such a great rate, say analysts.

In Maharashtra, which last week passed a bill to criminalise social exclusion based on religion, caste or race, 80 incidents against Christians were recorded (32 last year).

In Chhattisgarh, one of five states to have an ‘anti-conversion’ law, 122 incidents were recorded (72 last year).

This week, Jharkhand is the latest state to bring to its Parliament a bill for a similar “anti-conversion” law.

Hindunisation

Although the current ruling party, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), talks about secularism and unity, the background reality is that it is a centre-right party built as the political wing of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). RSS, a Hindu nationalist organisation, is widespread and openly upholds Hindu values and a conservative agenda.

So India is in a process of “Hindunisation”, born from the “Hindutva” ideology (literally: “Hindu principles”) of nationalism, which holds that the Indian nation can be a cohesive and aspiring force only if the tenets of one religion, one culture, and one nation are maintained.

RSS founder M S Golwalker identified five defining features of the Hindu nation, geographical unity, racial unity, cultural unity, linguistic unity, and the slogan “Hindu, Hindi, and Hindustan”.

He said:

“The non-Hindu people in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of the Hindu religion, that is, they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude towards this land and its age-long tradition, but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizens’ rights”.

One Christian leader said, “Before I converted to Christianity, I used to be a staunch Hindu. I also joined RSS at that time and started working with them. The party upholds Hindutva ideology and believes that if Christians in India aren’t controlled, they would convert all the Hindus in the country and Hindutva would lose its identity.

Hence RSS wants to do their best to stop Christians from preaching about their faith. They would go to any extremes for that. I myself persecuted many Christians until I came to the Christian faith and realised what I had been doing.”

The BJP, led by the federal Prime Minister Narendra Modi, rules many states. Modi categorically denies persecution of Christians or other minorities. During a TV show he said he has no knowledge of the burning of churches or other types of persecution.

It has been said by an official linked to Hindu extremists that India should be “free of Christians by 2021”.

Meanwhile, Christians face social exclusion, expulsion from villages, detention, threats, abuse, physical violence and sometimes killings. Open Doors’ partners have identified a pattern. They say:

Hindu extremists apply a five step process to ‘bring Christians home’:

1. Pastor is chased out of the community. Church members not allowed to contact him or to leave their village and worship with other Christians.
2. Extremists prevent Christians from participating in the society. They are not allowed to have a government job, trade, draw water from the well, buy food and other products from local stores or even to talk to other people in the village.
3. As the numbers show, physical violence happens more frequently too. Families are threatened, Christians are beaten up, girls and women may be raped, children may be kidnapped.
4. At some point, the Hindu priest will come to indoctrinate Christians, to remind them that they were born as Hindus and to persuade them to come back to the religion of their community.
5. If they still resist, they are often forcibly taken from their house, pushed into a Hindu procession and dragged to a temple. There they have to bow to idols, recite scriptures and are often smeared with cow dung and/or cow urine (to “cleanse” them).

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