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Indian Christians unite to protest against hate crimes

Thousands march in Delhi against rising number of attacks, especially in anti-conversion law states
Christians protest against rising hate crimes against them in New Delhi on Feb. 19

Christians protest against rising hate crimes against them in New Delhi on Feb. 19. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)

Published: February 20, 2023 07:13 AM GMT
Updated: February 20, 2023 11:39 AM GMT

Thousands of Christians, representing nearly 79 denominations, staged a protest march in India’s capital on Feb. 19 against a growing number of hate crimes against them.

More than 2,000 Christians demanded the federal government, judiciary and civil society take action to stop atrocities against them, with particular concern for those in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Jharkhand.  Most of these states, ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, have enacted sweeping anti-conversion laws. 

“Our prime minister speaks of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas' [collective efforts for inclusive growth], but what is happening to the Christian community in the country?..., the rising incidence of violence against Christians is an unhappy situation,” Sister Anastasia Gill, a former member of the provincial state of Delhi's minority commission, told UCA News.

We are here to attract the attention of various stakeholders like the government, the Supreme Court and civil society to our plight, the nun said.

Michael William, president of the United Christian Forum (UCF), a New Delhi-based human rights group, told the gathering: “We share the anguish of our fellow citizens whose fundamental rights are being snatched.”

According to the UCF, 598 incidents of hate crimes, including intimidation, mob attacks, brutal assaults, vandalism and closure of churches, sexual violence, social ostracization, denial of burial, and false reports under the draconian anti-conversion laws took place in 2022.

"Indian Christians suffered a financial loss totaling US$56 million in legal fees and other expenses"

However, the annual report by the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA), released on Jan. 30, claimed a much higher number of 1,198 hate crimes in 2022, an astronomical 157 percent growth compared with 2021.

According to the FIACONA report, Indian Christians suffered a financial loss totaling US$56 million in legal fees and other expenses due to the psychological and emotional strain because of co-ordinated attacks on their institutions and the faithful. 

Citing incidents in the tribal majority state of Chhattisgarh in eastern India, Sister Gill said the state witnessed a slew of attacks against tribal Christians accused of the false charge of religious conversion. 

Two weeks after hundreds of tribal Christians were forcibly evicted from their villages in Narayanpur and Kondagaon districts in the state, a mob attacked the Sacred Heart Church in Narayanpur on Jan. 2, Sister Gill said. 

The southern region of Bastar in Chhattisgarh has witnessed a series of attacks on tribal Christians over the past few months, she added. 

The bone of contention is that non-tribal Christians are insisting that their Christian counterparts give up their faith and return to traditional animist practices.

A fact-finding team probing the recent attacks said in a report that tribal Christians were subjected to social ostracization.

Human rights activists allege that non-tribal Christians are targeted by the fringe elements from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"We find it difficult to understand why the police watch in silence"

A. C. Michael, president of the Federation of Catholic Associations of Delhi Archdiocese, said almost all incidents follow “a pattern of threats, coercion and aggression by vigilante mobs comprising religious extremists.” 

These elements enjoy a sense of immunity as police and local media often accompany them as supporters of their claim. They barge into prayer gatherings, alleging forcible conversions.

We find it difficult to understand why the police watch in silence, Michael said.

The participants at the Christian protest, which comes ahead of polls in two Christian-majority states, signed a memorandum to be submitted to President Droupadi Murmu, India's first tribal head of state.

The memorandum will remind national and state leaders that impunity has crossed all limits.

“We will give memoranda to the president, prime minister, home minister and the speakers of both houses of parliament,” Sister Gill said.

We will also submit memoranda to every chief minister in the country, she said.

Minakshi Singh, general secretary of Unity in Compassion, a charity organization based in Uttar Pradesh, the state where the highest number of attacks on Christians occurred and where the anti-conversion law is in force, said through the memoranda we want to ensure the constitutional right to religious freedom for religious minorities.

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