Some 245 million Christians living in the top 50 countries suffer high levels of persecution. (Photo: Vatican News)
In 2007, the well-known journalist and activist John Dayal brought out a detailed report on violence perpetrated against Christians in India. He began his report with these ominous words: "India, by Constitution a secular, democratic republic, continues to be not a very safe place for its tiny Christian minority."
But not just in India. The Pew Research Centre found that in 2016, Christians were targeted in 144 countries, a rise from 125 in 2015. The charity 'Open Doors' also revealed in its World Watch List that "approximately 245 million Christians living in the top 50 countries suffer high levels of persecution or worse". And according to 'Persecution Relief,' 736 attacks were recorded in India in 2017, up from 348 in 2016.
Why are Christians persecuted all over the world?
It helps to place the question correctly. Christians' persecution has risen considerably worldwide, but this persecution is found mainly in the global South, where Christians are usually poor and a minority.
Christians who live in western Europe or America are rich and powerful and still influential, even though their societies may be secularized and hedonist.
In the last century, totalitarian regimes such as Communism or Nazism, avowedly atheist, saw Christian believers as threats to a fully regimented society, and either killed them or deported them to slave-labor camps.
Today, Europe is different.
In many parts of that society today, the Christian faith is despised as archaic and oppressive, and the pressures against religion are usually disguised under 'the freedom to believe'.
Actually, the western world is more correctly called "post-Christian" or "secular", in that governments seek the "common good", and not that of a particular faith. There is, therefore, a degree of religious tolerance, even though racism and sexism do exist covertly.
In many Islamic societies, Christians are a minority, and public preaching is banned. The Christian faith is seen as a relic of white privilege, a symbol of an earlier colonial epoch. This is a biased view, as many Christian communities in West Asia antedate Islam.
Most Muslim societies still exist within a medieval framework, where faith and politics operate as one. Equal rights for those of another belief system simply don't exist – even for Muslim minorities, who are treated with hostility (eg. the Shias, Ahmediyyas, Hazaras...)
And in many countries, the penalty for giving up one's Muslim faith is death.
However, what is significant is that you are more likely to be persecuted if you are poor and politically weak. Since most Christians in South Asia are such, they become a 'soft target' for criminal or terrorist gangs who use religion as a cloak for their violence. How often today have you heard of the persecution of the Parsis, or the Jains?
In this, Karen Armstrong (Fields of Blood) is surely right: it is politics that uses religion as a cloak for its vicious purposes, and not the other way around.
Yet Other Problems
Still, the problems remain. One of these has been caused by economic migration, where large groups from the former colonies arrived in the 'mother country' on work and now stay on as permanent citizens with civic rights – but often with a different faith. The case of Muslims in Europe is perhaps the most tension-ridden.
It's curious to note that all the rights that Muslim migrants demand of their Christian host countries, they will not concede to their own Christian minorities living in Muslim countries!
It has also been repeatedly asked why so many Muslims from poorer Asian and African nations do not seek entry into the rich countries of the Muslim world? – into the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and Turkey? Despite their so-called hatred of the West, why is it that hordes of Muslims wish to settle there in preference to their own faith societies? Will any Muslim dare to answer this question?
A similar anomaly has been noticed with caste Hindus, who migrate to the West. Not satisfied with seeking "the better life" for themselves, they also try to enforce their caste prejudices upon other Indians in their countries of adoption.
The general answer to the questions above lies in the experience of freedom of expression and opportunity, for which most western societies are known, even though covert forms of racism and sexism persist.
Living with Persecution and Oppression
Most Asian countries, by contrast, are still feudal, oligarchic, and still medieval in outlook. Human rights are unknown, for the most part. Or if granted, as easily taken away.
The agenda of the Sangh Parivar, or Hindu fascist forces, in today's India, affects not just Christians and Muslims but the whole of society. This is why Christians are persecuted for "conversions", Muslims are branded as "terrorists", tribals are designated as "Naxalites" and modern Indian women described as "sluts and whores”, deserving of rape.
The ultimate aim of Hindutva is not just to crush the minorities, but to convert present-day democratic, secular India into a feudal, retrograde Hindustan, ruled over by an upper-caste. It is important to understand this insidious new perspective.
So let's state it bluntly: Christians are persecuted in India, not because of religious conversions (as the Hindu fascists claim), but because Christians stand for human rights.
Through their schools, Christians reach out to every kind of Indian – urban, tribal, Dalit, women -- and are committed to building an educated and egalitarian society. The Hindu fascists, by contrast, want to create a society based on caste privilege. What they call 'education' is little more than crude indoctrination.
Christian welfare services are attacked because they work for the poor and the marginalized, to give these a sense of human dignity – as contrasted with the evil system of caste privilege.
Which makes me ask whether the violence against all minorities (religious or social groups) is not in actuality a matter of human rights abuse of gigantic proportions. All the propaganda in this country does not conceal this fact.
In this day and age, it is the persecution of those who stand for human rights, not those of another faith system, which must seize our attention and organize us into a common resistance. The fight for human rights becomes the platform for the future.
Father Myron Pereira SJ is a media consultant based in Mumbai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.