NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – With a report showing Christians in India faced at least 151 attacks last year, predictions that a Hindu nationalist party will win a general election beginning in April are stoking fears of more violence.
The New Delhi-based Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), which released its “Partial List of Atrocities on the Indian Christian Community 2013” last month, says the number of attacks could be much higher than the 151 recorded. The report comes days before India’s nine-phase parliamentary election, to be held April 6 to May 12.
Opinion polls point to a victory for the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that ruled the country from 1998 to 2004. Its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat state, has been one of the most prominent icons of the Hindutva ideology, which sees India as a Hindu nation with religious minorities as second-class citizens. Modi has been banned from entering the United States since 2005 due to failure to prevent the massacre of more than 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, a year after he became the chief minister.
The Modi-led alliance is likely to get between 212 and 232 of the total 543 parliamentary seats, according to a CNN-IBN poll released earlier this month. The BJP alone could win between 193 and 213 seats, according to the poll, conducted in six key states. The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which is led by the left-of-center Congress Party, is likely to be a distant second with 119 to 139 seats, of which the Congress Party could win between 94 and 110 seats, the poll showed.
The Rev. Richard Howell, general secretary of the EFI, told Morning Star News that Modi’s rise has led to “fear and insecurity” among Christians.
“The perception among certain pockets of the Christian community is that the scale of persecution of Christians will increase,” he said.
John Dayal, a prominent Christian activist, pointed out that most incidents of mass violence against Christians have taken place in states under the rule of the BJP.
“The record of Mr. Modi and of his party is terrible as far as religious minorities, especially Christians and Muslims, are concerned,” Dayal said.
Even in states not ruled by the BJP, the assailants were often led by members of Hindu nationalist groups, the EFI’s report confirms, alluding to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, India’s umbrella body of Hindu nationalist groups), which is widely believed to be the parent body of Modi’s party.
The report, noting that Alliance Defending Freedom-India contributed to the monitoring of cases, shows that the southern state of Andhra Pradesh topped the list of anti-Christian attacks with 41 incidents, followed by the north-central state of Chhattisgarh with 28 cases and southern Karnataka state with 27.
The incidents reported by the EFI include at least three cases of murder, including that of a child of a pastor in the northern state of Rajasthan. On Nov. 18, 2013, the body of a 7-year-old boy, who was tortured and killed, was found in Gamidi village in Rajasthan’s Dungarpur District. Extreme Hindu nationalists had long threatened to kill the boy, identified as Anugrag Gemethi. His family had converted from Hinduism to Christianity a few years ago.
Women, village pastors and home churches were the main targets of mobs, the report adds. For example, three Hindu extremists on Aug. 24 beat a Christian widow, Laxmi Sovi of Beda village in Chhattisgarh’s Kondagoan area, for refusing to reconvert to Hinduism. Sovi had to be hospitalized.
Attacks Constantly High
Attacks on Christians have remained constantly high since India witnessed its worst-ever series of anti-Christian attacks in the eastern state of Orissa (now officially known as Odisha) in 2008. Between 75 and 123 people were killed, close to 5,000 houses belonging to Christians were partially or fully destroyed, and at least 264 church buildings and prayer halls were desecrated and demolished in the violence, according to faith-based groups.
The BJP was part of the ruling coalition in Orissa at the time.
In 2012, the EFI recorded 131 attacks on Christians across the country, and 140 in 2011. In 2010, at least 149 incidents were reported, and the count in 2009 was 152.
The report points out that impunity is a factor behind the unrelenting persecution, as police rarely take action. It also complains that the national parliament failed to pass the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, which was promised by the UPA government. With the UPA, which has been in power for a decade, having little chance to return to power, India may not have a law to deal with communal violence.
Desperate to Win
It’s a do-or-die election for the RSS for at least two reasons.
One, until recently, the BJP and its ideology of Hindu nationalism were believed to be dying a natural death thanks to the party’s defeat in two consecutive general elections, in 2004 and 2009, which were widely attributed to its focus on Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism.
Modi raised BJP hopes after social activists launched a national anti-corruption movement in 2011, leading to widespread disillusionment with the Congress Party.
Modi has been portrayed as having a “clean” image vis-à-vis corruption and is credited with leading Gujarat to become an economically prosperous state. Indian voters generally appear to be overlooking the divisive ideology of Modi and his party in hope of economic prosperity.
Two, the RSS needs a government that would look the other way, given that members of some extreme Hindu nationalist groups have been accused of involvement in various terrorist attacks – including the 2006 blasts in Malegaon in Maharashtra state, the 2007 Mecca Masjid bombing in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh state, the 2007 Samjhauta Express train bombings in northern Haryana state, and the 2007 Ajmer Sharif Dargah blast in Rajasthan state.
Federal Home Secretary R.K. Singh told The Hindu newspaper on Jan. 22, 2013 that at least 10 people with close links with the RSS and its affiliated organizations were accused in various acts of terror across India. “We have evidence against them … there are statements of witnesses,” he reportedly said.
Further, Delhi-based The Caravan magazine in its February issue carried an interview with a Hindu seer accused of terrorism, popularly known as Aseemanand, who said the attacks were carried out at the behest of the RSS.
The Indian Express reported on Sunday (March 30) that the RSS is openly rallying behind the BJP in the election by going door-to-door and asking people to come out to vote.
Hindu nationalists appear to be emboldened by Modi’s rise, and Christians fear his possible victory will encourage them to launch attacks with increased intensity, frequency and assurance of impunity.
“The minorities have grave apprehensions on the conduct of a new government that may be led by the BJP and Mr. Modi,” Dayal said.
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