As England takes on India in the Cricket World Cup, an Open Doors partner reveals how the country is branding Christians as “anti-Indian”.
“In the past, India was known as a country of diversity. But today’s leaders don’t want diversity. They want uniformity and they want it by force,” said Maruc*, a church leader in India and an Open Doors partner. We all know that we are moving towards the goal of unifying India under one religion.
“Already the idea has taken root that we should change the preamble in the constitution which says that India is a secular country. If they want to remove the word ‘secular’, that will pave the way for changing the constitution.
“In the past, the taboo word was ‘conversion’. If you tried to convert someone, it was a big problem. But there are so many Christian countries outside of India and many are wondering, ‘What is wrong in being a Christian?’
“That’s why they have now remodified the word ‘conversion’ into what we call ‘nationalism’. So anything you do that is not acceptable to one particular group of people will brand you as anti-Indian.”
According to Maruc, Hindus are indoctrinated against Christians and are therefore unwilling to accept help from them: “In 2018 we had floods in Kerala state, South India. A Christian man took his boat and reached a remote house, which was completely inundated. The people were sitting on the roof and they needed someone to help them.
“They asked the boatman, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And when he said ‘yes’, they refused to get into the boat. It defies all logic, but that’s how things have grown. This is what is happening in our country.”
Attacks on Christians in India are increasing. In the first quarter of 2019, Open Doors recorded 216 persecution incidents against Christians, including two murders and 11 cases of attempted murder. Over 45 cases were physical abuse, where victims suffered temporary or permanent physical problems because of the assault.
Maruc has not experienced physical violence: “I have never been beaten or otherwise assaulted because of my faith. This happens to many rural Christians who were born into Hindu families but later became followers of Jesus. I have had my share of threats though.
“Someone may walk up to me in a fit of anger and say: ‘Okay, so these are your kids? I will kidnap them!’ or ‘I will get someone to shoot you dead! If that doesn’t work, I will come myself.’
“Everything that you take for granted is now under threat.”
WE’RE INDIANS TOO
Open Doors has produced We're Indians Too, a report into the escalating human rights violations against religious minority communities in India.
Dr Matthew Rees, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors said, “This report paints a shocking picture. Though religion-based violence has existed for years in India, this report demonstrates that Hindu extremists have created an environment of hate and intolerance toward India’s religious minorities. This in turn has seen an escalation of violence, and social ostracism.
“Government officials are complicit in this as they both turn a blind eye to, and directly participate in, religious persecution. Government authorities have also espoused public statements marginalising and inciting intolerance against religious minorities. Furthermore, rampant failure of local police to investigate credible claims of religious intolerance and persecution has created an environment of impunity for perpetrators.”
In 2013, India was ranked 31 on the Open Doors World Watch List, the annual ranking of the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. In 2019 it entered the top ten for the first time.
“It is shocking that India, the world largest democracy and the country which taught us the way of ‘non-violence’, now sits alongside Iran and Syria in the top ten on the Open Doors World Watch List,” said Dr Matthew Rees.
“This report shows that violent incidents against Christians are increasing. The toxic narrative that ‘if you’re not Hindu, you’re not Indian’ has taken hold and legitimises these attacks. Worryingly, some of the states where the Christian population is smallest are where the most attacks are taking place. Anti-conversion laws are confusing and are leading some in India to question whether any Christian activity in the country is legal.
“It is Open Doors’ hope that this report will highlight the grave situation which has manifested itself for India’s Christian community in recent years and that this will encourage the UK government to pursue international monitoring of violence against religious minorities in India, changes to anti-conversion laws and increased support for Dalit Christians who are especially vulnerable in the country. There is a need for decision makers to act immediately to avoid catastrophe for India’s beleaguered religious minority communities.”
POINT OF NO RETURN
“They want to redefine the identity of every person. The identity of India is at stake. It will all be brought under one umbrella, Hindustan.” Maruc said. “There will be a point of no return for India.
“We want to live a peaceful life, we want to live a godly life in the same country in which we were born.”
Some 64 million Christians live in India – less than five per cent of the total population. The Indian government is led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, who believe that being a Hindu is part of Indian identity. They frequently turn a blind eye to attacks on those of other faiths.
Christians in India face horrific levels of violence from extremists, with thousands of attacks taking place every year. Several states in India have brought in anti-conversion laws, and the BJP have made it clear that they would like to implement these laws in other states. Such laws are often used as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians, and make it difficult for Christians to share their faith with others.
*Name changed for security reasons