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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Human Rights Without Frontiers International – Pakistan PM premature in saying country will soon be ‘minority-friendly’

World Watch Monitor, 31 December 2016. Pakistan’s Prime Minister has said “the day is not far off when Pakistan will internationally be known as a minority-friendly country”.

Meanwhile, a Senate Committee has been set up to debate how “to prevent the country’s blasphemy laws being applied unfairly, despite opposition from religious conservatives”.

It has unearthed a 24-year-old report, which contains proposals for modifications, and Senator Farhat Ullah Babar says this would be the first time ever that a parliamentary body is to consider a formal proposal on how to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy laws.

Despite this, the Finance Minister on 28 Jan re-iterated that the blasphemy law could never be changed, saying: “Pakistan was the only country whose foundation was laid on Islam.”

And the same party that announced the new committee, the Pakistan People’s Party, has at the last minute withdrawn its Minority Protection Bill, due to come into force in the south-eastern province of Sindh, which borders India and so has many Hindus.

The bill, which prohibited forced religious conversions or even wilful conversions for those under the age of 18, had been passed in November, but was followed by protests by Islamic political parties. Police protection had to be provided for the parliamentarians who worked on the bill.

In October, the National Assembly had adopted a resolution, presented by Hindu parliamentarian Lal Chand Malhi, “urging the government to take necessary steps to stop forced religious conversions and marriages of women belonging to minorities”.

Hindus in Sindh have long decried many of their young girls being forcibly converted to Islam. (The abduction of Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari in 2012 became international news, though the apex court of Pakistan ruled that she had not been forced to convert).

After the PPP backtracked on its own bill, Hindu parliamentarian Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, of the ruling PML-N party, told World Watch Monitor that the PPP President had “caved in to religious elements” after meeting with the head of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic political party.

“The Hindu community has been further made vulnerable by this move and its consequences will be devastating,” he added. The bill had passed unanimously and needed only ceremonial approval by the governor.

Christians in Pakistan are closely watching developments in Sindh for the implications for them in Punjab and elsewhere. That’s because the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has recently said that any belief that religious minorities in Pakistan are suffering because of the blasphemy laws is unfounded.

He explained to the Senate House that data from Sindh proved that, of 129 cases of blasphemy registered in total, 99 cases were registered against Muslims. This meant that 76% of the total convictions were against Muslims.

In response to a question by PPP parliamentarian Beelum Hasnain, Mr. Khan said: “The facts and figures reveal that, in most blasphemy cases, the accused were Muslims. They point towards the fact that religious minorities are not being embroiled in blasphemy cases more than Muslims.”

However, his statement does not take into account the fact that religious minorities are disproportionately accused of blasphemy: some say 15% are Christians, when they only form around 2% of the population, and more Christians live in Punjab than any other province.

And in Punjab, 49 of those accused of blasphemy since 1990 have so far been killed outside the judicial process, according to the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.

External analysts are cautious about the realistic prospects of the blasphemy law being reviewed. Thomas Muller, an analyst for World Watch Research, notes: “There have been countless efforts to amend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws or at least to limit their devastating consequences, which particularly affect the country’s religious minorities.

But until now, radical groups have always proved stronger, at times even killing politicians they deemed too outspoken. It remains to be seen whether these commendable political initiatives will survive the opposition, most likely violent, which can be expected from the ranks of the radical Islamic groups in the country.”

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