VIOLENT sectarian conflict in Delhi, in which at least 46 people, mostly Muslims, have died, not only follows decades of build-up but is likely to get even worse, it has been warned.
Mobs of Hindu nationalists last week set fire to mosques in the north-east of the capital, and many Muslims fled their homes.
Tension has been increasing between the two faith groups since the introduction of a new law, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, by the Hindu nationalist government, which grants citizenship to every one of the main South Asian faith group, except Muslims. The law sparked protests and was called “fundamentally discriminatory” by the UN’s human-rights office (News, 17 January).
The Revd Dr Anderson Jeremiah, an priest from the Church of South India who is now undertaking academic research at the University of Lancaster, said that the violent clashes had been “building up for three decades” after the decline of the Indian National Congress party, which had ruled India since independence, and were spurred on by the rhetoric of the nationalist government, led by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
Dr Jeremiah said that “while the current focus is Muslims, Christians will be next”, referring to a ruling this month from India’s Supreme Court which said that states were not obliged to provide “reservations”: protections that offer equality of employment to low-caste groups, many of whom are Christians.
Christians already face significant restrictions, and have come under frequent attacks. The charity Open Doors, which composes an annual watch list, says that India is tenth on the list of countries where it is least safe to be a Christian. Eight out of 29 states in the country have passed anti-conversion laws, which government ministers have suggested should be introduced across the country.
The nationalist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which won a decisive victory last year, is likely to be in government for at least five years owing to the split between opposition parties. Church leaders had forecast at the time that the election victory would mean “polarisation of faith” (News, 31 May 2019).
“We will see more conflict,” Dr Jeremiah said. “The current situation has been carefully constructed over the last three decades. The message from the government is very clear: if you do not subscribe to the BJP view of India then you do not belong in India.”
President Trump was in India last week as the riots broke out. Although it had been said in advance that he would raise concerns about religious freedom in India in his meeting with the Prime Minister, he instead praised Mr Modi at a press conference, insisting that “he wants people to have religious freedom.”