Biased Media Reporting in India Helps Fuel the Persecution of Christians
By ICC’s India Correspondent
11/24/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A few years ago, a local Telugu newspaper called Andhra Jyothi published a story about my church’s pastor. I was shocked to see how the story’s facts, which I was aware of first-hand, were twisted by the newspaper to fit an anti-Christian narrative. However, what is more, disturbing is the ongoing consequences my pastor and others continue to face as a result of that article.
According to Andhra Jyothi, my pastor was caught red-handed and punished for converting Hindus to the Christian faith. In reality, my pastor merely attended a birthday celebration with a member of my church.
The church member was having a birthday celebration in his village and invited my pastor and several other Christians to join him. After they gathered, a mob of more than 100 radical Hindu nationalists attacked. To justify their assault, they falsely accusing my pastor of being involved in converting Hindus to Christianity.
Instead of reporting what happened, Andhra Jyothi published the nationalists’ narrative as fact. On its face, this narrative is easily disproven. Christians only were invited to the birthday celebration. How then was the pastor involved in any conversion activity?
Unfortunately, the police based much of their investigation on the article in Andhra Jyothi. As a consequence, my pastor was banned from entering the village where the attack took place. Local Christians have also reported enduring increased pressure from nationalists who were emboldened by the entire incident. The host of the birthday party was eventually forced to relocate.
In India, biased media reports, particularly targeting Christians and other religious minorities, are common and have real-world consequences. Biased reports reinforce false narratives used by nationalists to promote hate, justify physical violence, and pass policies that curtail Christians and other minorities’ rights.
Recently, Pastor Vinod Nayak, a pastor from the Shivmoga district of Karnataka, reported an incident in which an anti-Christian media report led to an attack.
On November 4, radical nationalists attacked Pastor Nayak and falsely accused him of committing blasphemy against Hinduism. After the attack, Pastor Nayak fled the village, leaving behind his wife and children. He did this because he feared being arrested by police acting upon the false blasphemy allegation.
On November 3, the day before the attack, a local daily publication in Kannada published an article that blatantly called for people to punish individuals who convert Hindus to other religions. Pastor Nayak believes there is a direct connection between the article and the November 4 attack.
“This has been the pattern of the radicals,” another pastor from Karnataka explained. “There have been numerous media reports regarding religious conversions across the country. These reports have pushed Christians into a more vulnerable situation.”
These false narratives, reinforced by biased media reports, have also been used to justify legislation that would curtail Christians’ religious freedom rights.
Last year, a legal panel in Uttar Pradesh submitted a draft bill for the state government to regulate religious conversions and criminalize fraudulent religious conversions. These laws are commonly referred to as anti-conversion laws and have a history of being overwhelmingly used to target and persecute India’s Christian community.
While addressing the media, Sapna Tripathi said, “There is no data as such to say how many forced conversions have taken place. However, in 2014, CM Yogi Adityanath himself raised the matter, and we gave him a set of news clippings of the past six months to prove our point.”
As can be seen, by this statement, news clippings, not data, were used to justify the curtailment of religious freedom in India’s most populated state. Although Uttar Pradesh’s Legislative Assembly has not passed the proposed anti-conversion law, the legal panel report did incite more anti-Christian violence.
Across India, media reports, particularly regarding religious freedom, continue to be published with a distinctly anti-minority narrative. This has empowered the agenda of India’s nationalists. It has also led to bitter consequences for the country’s Christians and other religious minorities.