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Indian Catholic leader underscores rise in Christian persecution

India has rejected a US State Department report raising concerns about ‘targeted attacks’ against minorities
Indian Christians protest against the rising violence against their co-religionists in the central state of Chhattisgarh, in New Delhi on Jan. 8

Indian Christians protest against the rising violence against their co-religionists in the central state of Chhattisgarh, in New Delhi on Jan. 8. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj)

Published: May 18, 2023 05:12 AM GMT
Updated: May 18, 2023 05:41 AM GMT

A Catholic lay leader in India's national capital, Delhi has pointed to a marked rise in the persecution of Christians as the federal government rejected a US State Department report citing deteriorating religious freedom in the country.

India’s federal Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on May 17 called the US State Department's 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom (USIRF) “flawed, motivated and biased.”

However, A.C. Michael, president of the Federation of Catholic Associations of Archdiocese of Delhi told UCA News, “I personally do not believe in another country interfering in our internal matters, but one cannot deny that well-orchestrated and pre-planned incidents of violence against Christians have increased drastically from 147 incidents in 2014 to 599 in 2022.”

Michael, a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission further said that “as a matter of fact in 120 days this year, 233 incidents of violence have taken place against the community across 21 states in India.” 

The US State Department report released on May 16 expressed concern about religious freedom worldwide, including in India where it highlighted targeted attacks on minorities and hate speeches, especially against Christians, Muslims and Dalits.

The timing of the report is significant as it comes just a month before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to the US and the latest sectarian violence reported in the northeastern state of Manipur that has claimed 71 lives so far and displaced several thousands of people, mostly tribal Christians.

"Hold accountable those who engage in rhetoric that is dehumanizing towards religious minorities"

The USIRF report also provides detailed information about instances of violence committed by law enforcement authorities against religious minorities in various states of India throughout 2022.

A senior US official interacting with media people after the report’s release said that he was “saddened” by the “continued targeted attacks” on the country’s religious minorities.

He said that regarding these concerns, “we are continuing to encourage the Indian government to condemn violence and hold accountable those who engage in rhetoric that is dehumanizing towards religious minorities.”

This is not the first time India has had a scathing report from the US regarding the state of minorities in the country.

Arindam Bagchi, the MEA spokesperson, told the media in Delhi, “We are aware of the release of the US State Department 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom. Regrettably, such reports continue to be based on misinformation and flawed understanding.”

Bagchi said that the “motivated and biased commentary by some US officials only serves to undermine further the credibility of these reports. We value our partnership with the US and will continue to have frank exchanges on issues of concern to us.”

"There are no forceful conversions taking place in our country"

The Indian prime minister is scheduled to embark on a state visit to the US on June 22. As per a press statement released by the MEA, Modi will be received by US President Joe Biden who will host a state dinner for him at the White House.

Michael told UCA News that besides the violent incidents, Christians were being targeted across various states through laws that ban religious conversions.

“The so-called ‘Freedom of Religion Acts’ implicate members of the community including their priests with false allegations of conversion,” he said.

The Catholic lay leader said that laws against religious conversion first came into existence in 1967 but “till today there has not been a single conviction in court on account of forceful conversion.”

Michael stressed that even though the Indian Supreme Court on Sept. 1, 2022, asked for a list of forceful conversions, the federal and state governments had failed to provide one “as there are no forceful conversions taking place in our country.”

The USIRF report noted that of India's 28 states, 13 have enacted laws that restrict religious conversions for all faiths. Some have even specific penalties in place to address forced religious conversions associated with marriage.

India has previously dismissed and raised objections to the unsolicited comments and observations, and in recent years, it has questioned the US' authority to pass judgment on other nations.

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