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Divisive BJP accused over India's economic crisis

The world's largest democracy is suffering a sharp economic slowdown and the finger is being pointed at the pro-Hindu govt

Umar Manzoor Shah, New Delhi

Umar Manzoor Shah, New Delhi

Updated: September 24, 2019 04:28 AM GMT
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Divisive BJP accused over India's economic crisis

An Indian worker polishes a model of the controversial Ram temple in December 2018. The government is accused of worsening the financial crisis by pursuing divisive projects like this instead of focusing on the economy. (Photo by Sanjay Kanojia/AFP)

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The divisive policies of India’s pro-Hindu government and increasing attacks by hardliners on religious minorities are contributing factors to the country’s worsening economic crisis and growing unemployment, say Christian leaders.

The country is undergoing an unprecedented economic slowdown, considered the worst since Indian independence seven decades ago.

Media report that businesses have slowed down and smaller ones are closing — rendering millions jobless. Because of a liquidity crisis, there has also been weak private investment and selective lending by banks.

“The situation could turn catastrophic as foreign investments have begun to slump,” says Allen Francis, a Bombay-based Christian activist.

“Most manufacturing companies are in dire straits and many are winding up. Unemployment is at a 45-year high as companies refrain from new investments.”

The Indian rupee has depreciated more than 15 percent against the dollar since 2014, when the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The government’s focus “was more on creating religious divide” than attending to economic issues, said A.C. Michael of the Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF), a global organization which defends Christian rights.

The most discussed topic in the past five years has been the protection of the cow, a revered animal in Hinduism. The other was the proposed construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram in a controversial spot in northern India where Hindus demolished a mosque in 1992.

The government has been accused of tacitly supporting cow vigilantism, resulting in the lynching of several people, mostly Muslims, who have been charged with cow slaughter or eating or possessing beef. Cow slaughter is against the law in most Indian states. 

Christian leaders say Hindu hardliners continue to attack their people and institutions, accusing them without evidence of engaging in forced conversion. Christian pastors and nuns have been attacked and arrested on trumped-up charges, they say.

“The government has not had the time to focus on the economy. It is high time the top leaders stopped the theatrics and concentrated on getting the country out of this financial swamp,” said Michael.

Christian leaders also believe the violence against Muslims and Christians has created a negative image of India in the world, making foreign investors reluctant to invest. 

“The prosecution of minorities does have an impact on foreign investments. It leaves investors worried about peace and development,” said Michael.

Joseph Dias, who heads the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), agreed. “Foreign investors are maintaining a very strict vigil on issues like the Ram temple and the deepening wedge between Hindus and Muslims. It creates a very negative image of the country,” said the Mumbai-based leader. 

Religious discrimination

A report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom published in May painted a grim picture of religious freedom in India and accused the country’s government of encouraging violence against Christians and Muslims. 

Restrictions on religious freedom in India continued a downward spiral in India in 2018, said the 225-page report.

It further said that about one third of state governments in India were increasingly and discriminatorily enforcing anti-conversion and anti-cow slaughter laws against non-Hindus and Dalits alike. 

Roy Mathew, a New Delhi-based social activist, said the economic crisis has affected the poor most as they are the most vulnerable. 

He cited government data which revealed how the unemployment rate among Christian men was much higher than those in other religious communities. 

“The government itself revealed in July that 6.9 percent of Christian men in rural communities were unemployed, while in urban areas 8.8 percent of Christian men were unemployed,” said Mathew. 

On the other hand, he pointed out, unemployment among Hindu men in rural communities was just 5.7 percent, while it was 6.7 percent among Muslim men and 6.4 percent among Sikhs.

“With a plummeting economy and joblessness, the situation of Christians in the country is going to be precarious indeed,” Mathew said.

India, a country in which 80 percent of its 1.2 billion people are Hindus, has a seven-decade-long history of secular democracy. 

Muslims (172 million) form 14.2 percent of the population, while Christians, the second-largest religious minority, number around 28 million or 2.3 percent of the population.

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