- Not just Muslims are persecuted by India’s Hindu majority
India is the world’s biggest democracy. Article 25-A of its Constitution provides for religious freedom. Yet, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom called for putting it on the State Department’s religious freedom blacklist. The Report noticed, ‘In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault’. Not only Muslims but also Christians, Dalits and other minorities are persecuted communities. The USA has burgeoning politico-economic and strategic ties with India. As such, there is little chance the State Department will act as recommended. The USA never showed any empathy for Kashmiris under Guantanamo Bay (as a former CM called it) long before the covid-19 lockdown.
What alarmed the Commission? “National minority” status in India is defined by religion. There are six `minorities’, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Zoroastrians.
The legal classification is not sacrosanct. Each caste has its own sub-divisions. Even Muslims are practically subdivided into ajlaf, ashraf and arzal. A Hindu dalit cannot enter a higher-caste temple, ride a bike or a horse, or wear casuals (nut must go barefoot). A dalit was murdered for sitting in a temple verandah. He can’t even eat in front of a Brahmin.
The disagreement over the use of ‘harijan’ to refer to dalits goes back to the 1930s. ‘Harijan’, meaning ‘children of God’, was a term first used by Gandhi for dalits in 1932. When Gandhi started using the term, many including B.R. Ambedkar objected, as it was condescending and obscurantist in nature, an attempt to sidestep the real issue.
Courts are reluctant to grant relief to members of lower castes or minorities. The Patna High Court acquitted 26 men, 16 under death sentence, from the outlawed upper caste militia Ranveer Sena for killing 58 Dalits at Laxmanpur Bathe on 1 December 1997.The Babri mosque demolition was validated. The court, in a way, admitted that the mosque was the ram janambhoomi. In another judgment, the court held that a mosque was not necessary for worship. It outlawed triple divorce. Khushwant Singh wrote that The Nanavati report to investigate the post-Indira-assassination Sikhs’ `massacre is ‘utter garbage’..
The 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence refers to attack on visitors during an annual celebratory gathering at Bhima Koregaon to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, in which British-led Mahar, had beaten Marathas. Stone pelting caused the death of a 28-year-old. Police took no action.
Religious persecution mocks India’s Constitution. Not only Muslims but also other minorities have a miserable plight. To stifle dissent, India clamps its draconian laws. The USA’s `concern’ is understandable
Instead, in August 2018 five activists, including Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha, were arrested. Police slapped terrorism charges on them for, euphemistically, having `nexus with Maoist insurgents.
A Buddhist girl, witnessing the Republic Day Parade, was picked up and molested in a military truck. Hindu Bengali settlers and soldiers have raped native Jumma (Chakma) women. Many Jain temples were converted into Hindu temples. Many Jains were converted into Hindus at the time Thousands of Buddhists converted to Christianity at mass conversion rallies.
Propaganda heralds religious persecution. Indian authorities had linked dozens of covid-19 cases to the annual Tableeghi Jamaat conference in Delhi in early March, and health officials were racing to track down anyone with contact with the participants. Coronavirus fears and religious tension were already at a fever pitch, and it didn’t take long for them to intermingle. Videos falsely claiming to show Jamaat members spitting on police and others quickly went viral.
Since March 28, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad appeared over 300,000 times and were potentially seen by 165 million people on Twitter. The social posts were mostly fake. For instance, one post purportung to show a person spitting on a Hindu, was actually fabricated in Thailand.
On the heels of the propaganda came religious pogroms by Hindu nationalists leaving 36 Muslims dead, their houses and shops burnt, including some mosques where they took refuge, in Delhi. The pograms were rooted in anti-Muslim hatred, dating back to pre-Partition. Subconsciously, Hindus believe that Muslims are untouchables. They are treated as a malaise. Several past events reflect how Hindus showed antipathy toward the Muslim, and occasionally other, minorities.
To discourage dalits from converting to Christianity, not only the Centre but also the Indian states have deprived dalit Christians’ of minority-status privileges. Any Hindu who converts is socially boycotted and tortured.
Six women at Kilipala village in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, had their heads tonsured by influential Hindus for abandoning Hinduism. Christian missionaries are harassed, deported and even killed. Indian government ordered deportation of three American preachers on the first available flight. To add insult to injury, the preachers had a narrow escape when attacked by Hindu fanatics. Courts rarely punish people who manhandle Christian preachers.
Hindus attacked Christians for a book which allegedly insulted Hindu deities. Investigations revealed the book was not written by any Christian, but had been displayed at one of the book-shops of the Emanuel Mission, which runs a chain of schools in various Indian states.
Hindus ignore the fact that Christian missionaries started coming to India, particularly the North-East, in the late 19th century. They promoted education and socio-economic developmental work in the region. In Rajasthan, the Emmanuel Mission alone runs over 50 schools.
Indian states sometimes conduct secret surveys of Christian population. With Narendra Modi CM, the Gujarat government harboured xenophobic attitude not only towards Muslims but also Christians. A 1999 survey of Christians in northern and central Gujarat was withdrawn after protests. Modi restarted the survey in 2003 in Christian-inhabited areas.
In June 2000, four churches around India were bombed (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu), one in Maharashtra ransacked. In September 2008, two were partly damaged in Kerala. In 2015, a church building under construction was vandalised in Haryana. St George church in Mumbai was also attacked by masked persons. In the same month, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and over a dozen injured. The same cathedral had also been attacked in 2008 and the altar burnt down. In April 2015, St. Mary’s Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus damaged. A Church in Kachna, Raipur, was attacked by a mob during a Sunday service and five people injured.
Several churches were attacked in Delhi in recent years. including St. Sebastian’s Church (burned), and St. Stephen’s college chapel (vandalised and the cross desecrated with pro-Hindutva slogans).
In Madhya Pradesh a church was destroyed and Bibles burnt in Mandla district in 2014. A 2015 Bible convention was attacked in Jabalpur, with allegations of religious conversions.
Religious persecution mocks India’s Constitution. Not only Muslims but also other minorities have a miserable plight. To stifle dissent, India clamps its draconian laws. The USA’s `concern’ is understandable.