• Steady rise in mob attacks on Christians, police look the other way, judges acquit

    Hanan Zaffar

    October 17, 2019

    Photo: Arindam Banerjee/Shutterstock

    On September 22 a dozen strong mob severely assaulted three Adivasi Christians – Kalantus Barla, Fagu Kachhap and Phillip Horo – in the remote village of Jaltanga in Jharkhand. Local residents accused the three of carrying a cow carcass of cow. By the time they were taken to the hospital, Barla, who was physically disabled, had breathed his last.

    Kachhap and Horo are still recovering from their injuries. Kacchap told the Indian Express that he was working in his field early in the morning when “Suddenly, a lot of people came and started assaulting me. They said I had slaughtered a cow. I said I had done nothing of that sort, but they tied my hands and beat me up for half an hour.”

    Police and local residents suspect the involvement of a local “cow vigilante” group which is being investigated but was left unnamed.

    The incident is not an aberration. Incidents of religiously motivated mob violence have drastically increased in the last few years in India, with minority communities like Muslims, Dalits and Christians facing the brunt of Hindu majoritarian violence.

    While the political representation of Muslims and Dalits – howsoever small – ensures that the violence perpetrated on them gets discussed and disseminated, and echoes in the national memory, the same cannot be said of Christians.

    As per a recent report by the Alliance Defending Freedom, India – an organisation that tracks and documents incidents of violence against Christians here – so far this year there have been 218 incidents of violence against Christians. Around 120 women and 180 children have been injured in these incidents. Most of these attacks (159) were carried out by “vigilante” mobs.

    Last April the Citizen reported that three Christian Adivasi survivors of a similar vigilante attack in Jharkhand were being denied medical treatment at the local government hospital, and had “cow slaughter” cases filed against them.

    “The modus operandi followed in all 159 cases of mob violence was the same. A mob accompanied by the police arrives at the prayer service, shouts slogans and beats up members of the congregation including women and children. Then the pastors are arrested or detained by the police under the false allegation of conversion,” the ADF India report reads.

    Attacks on Christians have increased consistently in the last few years. ADFI reported 208 cases of violence against Christians in 2016, 240 in 2017 and 292 in 2018. In 2014 the number was 147.

    Not astonishingly, in the World Watch List of 50 countries India has moved up to become the tenth most dangerous country in the world for Christians, as against 28th in the year 2014.

    The ADFI report also highlights the systematic and institutionalised impunity awarded to the perpetrators of violence. Of 218 incidents of violence against Christians this year, the police registered FIRs in just 25 cases. “This shows the tacit understanding between such perpetrators and the police, which obviously enjoys the patronage of local political leaders or officials. Sometimes the non-filing of complaints or FIRs is also due to fear of reprisals.”

    According to A.C.Michael, development director of ADFI and former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, “The successful campaign of the rightwing RSS and the ruling BJP in creating a notion that the Christian community forcefully converts people has created this situation. It has created an impression that the job of Christians is only to convert people of other religions.”

    Christians in India form a small yet significant minority, constituting 2.3 percent of India’s 1.25 billion people, but the community apparently has little say in national politics. “In census after census since independence, the population percentage of Christians is almost static. This could be one major reason that Christians are not receiving support either from the media or from the political class – as we don’t form a vote bank en bloc,” says Michael.

    Christians have also been seen as a community with “foreign” roots and divided loyalties, despite being present in India since the first centuries AD, and have faced ire particularly from Hindus. Cases of physical violence against Christians, and sacrilege and destruction of churches and missionary schools, have regularly occurred in the country’s post-colonial history.

    However, such attacks have risen abnormally in the recent past, particularly after the Kandhamal riots in Odisha in 2008.

    That violence, allegedly set off by the murder of a local Hindu priest Swami Lakshmananda, left at least 40 Christians dead. Organised mobs ransacked hundreds of villages, torching over 5,600 homes and leaving at least 50,000 people homeless, according to the National People’s Tribunal appointed by the government.

    The figures estimated by human rights groups were much higher. “Violence of this scale was perhaps the first ever witnessed against Christians in India. The intent to cause harm, and subsequently the large number of acquittals, have encouraged further violence against us,” said a Delhi based lawyer – wishing not to be named – who fights cases of Christians victims and those falsely implicated in “forced conversion” cases.

    Christian welfare organisations working in India also accuse the present government of unfairly treating them and viewing them with suspicion.

    The union home ministry recently declared that each functionary and member of a non-governmental organisation seeking registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act – which regulates the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contributions to NGOs – will have to file an affidavit declaring that they have not been involved in any act of religious conversion.

    “This is a pressure tactic. For more than 50 years there has been an anti-conversion law in place in many states but not a single person has been convicted in any court of law for forceful conversion. So where does the need for such a law arise?” asks Michael.


     

    First published in The Citizen.

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