Christmas Violence Shakes India’s Christian Community
A series of attacks on and arrests of Christians celebrating Christmas has left India’s Christian community shaken this holiday season. The violence started two weeks ago when over 30 Christians out caroling were attacked and arrested because Hindu radicals claimed the carolers were attempting forcefully convert people to Christianity. Attacks on Christians and their places of worship have dramatically increased under the current BJP-led government. In just the first six months of 2017, Christians in India had already endured over 410 separate attacks. Will Christians in India have to continue to endure these attacks?
12/24/2017 India (The Guardian) – The strains of Hindi carols have rung out in the Aligarh Church of Ascension every Christmas since 1858. Armed police on the grounds is a more recent tradition.
This year the officers will be out in force. On Thursday night in the north Indian city, Rahul Chauhan was playing tabla drums while the rest of his Seventh–Day Adventist choir sang Christmas songs in the home of a follower.
Outside, a small group of men had gathered. One forced his way into the room. “He kicked the musical instruments before trying to attack my brother with a knife,” said Jitesh Chauhan, a singer in the group.
He claims the men cast anti-Christian slurs and damaged the instruments. Rahul and the 30 carolers were unharmed but shaken.
Days earlier in Aligarh, hardline Hindu activists distributed letters warning Christian schools in the city against involving Hindu students in Christmas activities. In nearby Mathura, seven Christians were arrested by police while praying inside a home. In Satna, Madhya Pradesh state, an entire choir was detained while going door to door.
Worries about religious persecution in India usually center on the country’s 180 million Muslims. Lynchings of Muslim dairy and cattle traders by “cow protection” vigilantes have become increasingly frequent. Hindu groups including members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) openly lobby to stop Muslims buying property in Hindu neighborhoods.
The series of Christmas incidents has turned the spotlight on another minority. More quietly, Indian Christians are also feeling the walls close in, says John Dayal, the secretary general of the All-India Christian Council, following a surge in attacks last year. “Anything that impacts the Muslims in a different way impacts the Christians,” he says.
In 2014, Indians elected a Hindu nationalist government in a landslide. Its leader, Narendra Modi, is a lifelong adherent of “Hindutva”, the conviction that India’s culture and institutions ought to reflect an inherent Hindu nature. Religious minorities – regarded as Hindus led astray by foreign influence – are tolerated, provided they acknowledge Hindu hegemony.
Modi has repeatedly emphasized his government will promote “complete freedom of faith”, but his elevation has been a green light for radical Hindutva groups, says Dhirendra K Jha, an author whose latest book studied these “shadow armies”.
“After Modi became prime minister, these groups started thinking they have assumed power, it is their government,” Jha says. “So they have gone amok. They don’t fear law and order or any democratic institution. They are on a rampage.”
A “perfect parallel”, he says, is the growing boldness of white nationalist groups in the US under Donald Trump.
“Modi would never come out and openly help them,” Jha says. “But he rarely criticizes them. Because of his silence, the message goes to the state machinery that they don’t have to take action against them.”
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