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India: inquiries report growing violence against Christians and other minority faith communities

20 October 2023

Figures show increasing numbers being arrested under anti-conversion laws

Alamy

The scene in Sugnu, Manipur, in June, after attacks on the mostly Christian Kukis by the mostly Hindu Meiteis

The scene in Sugnu, Manipur, in June, after attacks on the mostly Christian Kukis by the mostly Hindu Meiteis

TWO inquiries into attacks on Christians and other minority faith communities in India have reported growing violence, and increasing numbers arrested under anti-conversion laws introduced in states governed by the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The United Christian Forum (UCF) has recorded 525 violent incidents in India this year, in the eight months to August: a rise of 45 per cent since 2022. It also recorded 520 Christians arrested and accused of forced conversions, including a couple arrested at their wedding, along with the pastor, after it was alleged that the wedding was a “conversion event”. The UCF is a coalition of Christian organisations which advocates on behalf of religious minorities.

The UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, told the US Commission on Religious Freedom, which is carrying out one of the inquiries: “India risks becoming one of the world’s main generators of instability, atrocities, and violence, because of the massive scale and gravity of the violations and abuses targeting mainly religious and other minorities such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs. . . It is systematic and a reflection of religious nationalism.”

The Washington-based Indian American Muslim Council said in its latest report that Muslims and Christians were facing targeted attacks and hate crimes in India, including demolition of their homes and places of worship. It recorded 255 instances of hate-speech gatherings, targeting Muslims, across 17 regions, in the first 181 days of 2023.

A surge in violence against Christians occurred in Manipur, a state in north-east India, in May (News, 12 May). More than 175 people from the minority Kuki ethnic community have been killed, and thousands displaced in fighting with the majority Meitei tribe. Sexual crimes against women have also been prevalent: the case of two Kuki women paraded naked through the streets before being gang-raped sparked international outrage when it was circulated on social media (News, 28 July). Violence is still continuing, and a buffer zone has been set up between the Meitei and Kuki communities. An internet blackout has been reimposed on the region by the government to try to calm tensions.

The charity Release International, which supports persecuted Christians, referring to a recent court ruling, said that there were some signs of hope for Christians. The High Court in Allahabad has granted bail to Christians accused of breaking the anti-conversion laws of the state by giving Bibles to children. The court ruled that the accused “were involved in providing good teachings to children and promoting the spirit of brotherhood among the villagers”.

The CEO of Release International, Paul Robinson, said: “We hope that other states will now review and reconsider their own anti-conversion laws.”

A second inquiry into attacks on minority religious groups is being carried out by the Indian Minorities Commission. But Christian leaders said that they were not reassured that the inquiry demonstrated the seriousness of the BJP about preventing persecution. There is reportedly no Christian member on the inquiry team.

India is currently ranked 11th in the list of the worst countries for the persecution of Christians, where religious minorities face extreme persecution.

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