India’s Fading Promise of Religious Freedom: Part 3
By ICC’s India Correspondent
12/04/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Religious freedom is a fundamental right promised to all Indians by their founding fathers. This promise is enshrined in India’s constitution. Article 25 gives Indians the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice.
Religious freedom has been the law of the land for seven decades.
However, a worrying trend of increasing religious intolerance and religiously motivated violence has many concerned India is tilting away from its promise of religious freedom. Fueling much of the violence is an ideology of Hindu nationalism that stands in direct contrast to India’s democratic and secular history.
In October and November, International Christian Concern (ICC) has shown how anti-conversion laws and government benefits are used to restrict the religious freedom rights of hundreds of millions of Indian citizens. While both of these issues affect a broad segment of the country’s population, they are not the whole story. Unfortunately, the normalization of social hostility against religious minorities is another critical factor in India’s decline of religious freedom.
According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), violent attacks on Indian Christians have more than doubled the recent years. In 2014, the year the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rose to political power, EFI recorded 147 violent attacks on Indian Christians. In 2019, after five years of BJP rule, EFI recorded 366 violent attacks.
EFI’s data was corroborated by a report released by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) India. ADF reported at least 328 incidents of targeted violence against Christians in 2019. Similar to EFI, ADF’s 2019 data represented an increase in violence when compared with previous years.
However, the incidents reported by EFI and ADF likely only represent a portion of the violence experienced by India’s Christian community. Most incidents go unreported due to fear of reprisal and lack of confidence in India’s justice system.
The data collect by EFI and ADF shows a clear pattern of the increasing social hostility experienced by Indian Christians. However, what the data doesn’t show is how genuinely terrifying it is to endure these incidents of violence.
“They came prepared to burn us,” Pastor Hanok Steven recently told ICC in an interview. “I saw someone from the group taking petrol out of the fuel tank of motorbike and heard others shouting for the petrol to be used to burn us.”
On November 4, five Christians were brutally attacked by radical Hindu nationalists in the Meerpet neighborhood of Hyderabad, India. The attack resulted in the Christian victims sustaining multiple serious injuries.
According to Pastor Hanok, a Christian woman named Sadhya invited several church members, including himself, to a prayer meeting. Before the meeting, Sadhya received permission from her Hindu landlord to hold the meeting in her home.
At around noon, only minutes after the Christians gathered at Sadhya’s home, 15 nationalists broke into the house and attacked the Christians with wooden clubs and sticks. The landlord joined the nationalists and helped drag Pastor Hanok out of the house, where he was further assaulted and threatened with being set on fire.
“I was panicked as all of this was going on,” Pastor Hanok recalled. “For 30 minutes, the attack continued, but we eventually managed to run in different directions and reached the police station.”
As a result of the attack, three Christians were seriously injured, and Pastor Hanok’s car was damaged. A Christian man named Janaiah had his eardrum completely shattered, and a Christian woman named Annamma lost six teeth.
In another incident, this time in India’s Jharkhand state, six Christian families had the electricity cut from their homes and were banned from accessing the village well for more than five months. All of this happened after the Christians refused to recant their faith at a village meeting publicly.
On July 5, the village council of Petrudu, located in the Latehar district, demanded that the six Christian families of the village recant their faith. When they refused, they were attacked and brutally beaten.
After the attack, a devastating social boycott was instigated against Christian families.
“We walked for miles to fetch water for almost six months,” Joginder, one of the victims, told ICC. “Most of the time, our phones don’t work as we do not have electricity. We have to walk to neighboring villages to charge our phones.”
“We are completely cut off,” Joginder continued. “No one gives use daily wage work in the village, and we are not allowed to have any association with the other villagers. This has been a painful experience.”
Joginder and his fellow Christians have taken legal action against the people that attacked them on July 5. They are also fighting for the court to declare they are legally allowed to practice the faith of their choosing in the village without social consequence.
Across India, similar reports of social hostility against Christians are being reported on almost a daily basis. Unchecked inflammatory rhetoric used by political leaders and widespread impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators are among the leading reasons why social hostility against Christians continues to rise across India.
A report released by ADF documented 247 instances of persecution in just the first eight months of 2019. According to ADF, First Information Reports (FIRs), a report filed by police to initiate an investigation, were only filed in 28 of the 247 cases documented.
If Indian Christians are to fully realize the religious freedom promised to them in the constitution, authorities must protect Christians and punish those responsible for attacks. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the direction India is currently heading. Instead, India’s leaders are allowing the constitution’s promise of religious freedom to slowly fade from reality for hundreds of millions of religious minorities.