VIOLENT attacks, the desecration of churches, accusations of
"forced" conversions, and a programme of "reconversion" have
produced "apprehension and fear" among India's Christians, the
country's church leaders have warned. The persecution is
compounded, they argue, by government actions that undermine rather
than protect the place of the country's minorities.
The Moderator of the Church of North India (CNI), the Rt Revd
Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, was among several Christian leaders who
signed a strongly worded open letter to the Prime Minister of
India, Narendra Modi, last month. It voices "great concern" about
"incidents of violence against our Churches and personnel",
concluding with a catalogue of abuses, including the communal
ostracisation of Christians (for example, banning them from using
common water facilities), physical assaults, and the desecration of
churches, including the burning of a Roman Catholic church, St
Sebastian's, in East Delhi, on 1 December.
The incidents reflect "extreme police and administrative
impunity", the letter argues, and a disregard for the country's
constitution, which guarantees free profession, practice, and
propagation of religion. They are not isolated, but "part of a
series of interconnected actions by various non-state actors,
closely associated with the ruling dispensation".
The letter draws particular attention to calls from government
ministers for a national law against conversion, and for the
Ghar Wapsi [homecoming] campaign - a programme led by
far-right groups including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which
seeks to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism.
Statements of support for the campaign by Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) MPs "question the identity and patriotism of India's several
religious minorities", the letter warns.
Several states in India have "anti-conversion laws". In Gujurat,
for example, a person who wants to convert to another religion must
first get permission from a district magistrate. Last year, the
UN's special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief condemned
them, warning that they "primarily threaten not the convert, but
the missionaries". The Bishops' letter says that they have been
used to "harass, arrest and punish clergy, religious workers and
"The call for a national anti-conversion law and debate only
solidifies the hate campaign against Christians," wrote the
President of the All India Christian Council, Dr Joseph D'souza,
last month, in a letter to Mr Modi. "The propaganda on forced and
fraudulent conversions continues to be used to demonise the Indian
Alongside accusations of forced conversions, India's Christians
fear the Ghar Wapsi campaign. There have been several
high-profile ceremonies in recent months, including one in Agra,
Uttar Pradesh, involving 200 Muslims, some of whom later said that
they were promised food ration-cards, or were unaware of the
purpose of the ceremony. Another mass-conversion ceremony for 5000
Christians and Muslims, planned to take place on Christmas Day in
the state, and backed by the BJP MP Yogi Adityanath, was prevented
from taking place by the police.
The national secretary of the All India Christian Council, Kumar
Swamy, said last week that Christians were being "threatened and
harassed" through the programme, whereby "people are forced to
convert back to Hinduism."
Mr Modi is under pressure to distance himself from the Ghar
Wapsi programme. In the wake of his election in May, some in
the CNI cautioned against expecting the worst for minorities under
his rule, and expected progress in development (News, 23
His record as Chief Minister of Gujarat, however, was
overshadowed by the riots that took place in 2002, during which
more than 1000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed (News, 8 March
2002). Although he was cleared by the Supreme Court in 2012 of
complicity in the violence, he is still dogged by accusations that
he allowed or encouraged what has been described as a pogrom.
His ruling party, the BJP, retains close links with the RSS, a
right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation that has been banned
several times. Mr Modi remains a member of it.
"While the Government won its mandate on a platform of
'development and good governance', the radical groups see it as an
endorsement of their programme of hate and religious nationalism,"
warns the Bishops' letter, which calls for "strong political will
and administrative action" to end "discrimination and targeted
On Tuesday, D. Solomon Raja (above), of the department
of ecumenical relations, ecological concerns and communications, at
the Church of South India Synod, said that many Indians were
calling for "concrete action" from the government. "Minorities
understood the limitations of Narendra Modi and his government
vis-à-vis the issues of the minorities," he said.
"They are aware that this government being led by Modi is an
offshoot . . . of the campaign: an ideology he has been associated
with for decades. . . And in that ideology, minorities stand
nowhere. The government must not give an impression that it
supports these Hindu groups. There must be a zero tolerance policy
against religious-targeted violence and hate speech."