Report on the persecution of misplaced Christians

Report on the persecution of misplaced Christians

The article in The New York Times titled ‘Arrests, Beatings and Secret Prayers: Inside the Persecution of India’s Christians’ December 22 is pitiful and misleading.

It is a fact that India is one of the first civilizations. Today, we are also proud to be the largest democracy. Freedom of speech, religion, association and more are celebrated principles of life in India. About 80 percent of the country is Hindu. About 15% are Muslim and 2.3% Christian. The percentage of Christians has been stable since independence, so their absolute number has grown, along with the increase in the general population of India.

In the spirit of not adopting a defensive or political tone in response to the article and respecting everyone’s time, let me illustrate three misleading claims from the article:

1 Anti-Christian vigilantes are razing towns, raiding churches, burning Christian literature, attacking schools, and assaulting the faithful.

2 In 2014, all that changed … Anti-Christian hate crimes have doubled since 2014.

3 A few years ago, after Catholic churches in the capital New Delhi were vandalized, Christian leaders begged Modi for help. He was disinterested; taunting them and never addressing the attacks, according to three clergymen who attended an important meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence in December 2014… he acted as a gift.

The above passages give the impression that a persecution of Christians in a ghetto, like a concentration camp, is rampant. This is so far from the truth that, frankly, we are confused and do not know how to respond adequately except for the present facts. Christians run the largest number of schools, colleges, orphanages, nursing homes, and homes for the homeless in this country. Christianity is a powerhouse in India because of these institutions, even though they represent only 2.3 percent of the population.

These institutions have made an immense contribution to the country. If there is a general agenda that the current government has propagated, it is the welfare and development of the poor, and for Christians, it is natural to strongly align with these objectives. Yes, there have been street incidents. We cannot go blind to these incidents. Those who perpetuate them must be brought to justice.

As for the third claim, I was in the delegation of Christian leaders that met with the Prime Minister on Christmas Day 2014, a few months after he formed the government. I was there because, in fact, I organized the meeting. He was extremely cordial, he cut a Christmas cake that was shared by all in the large delegation. It is a fact that we raised the issue of the attack on churches that occurred in Delhi before the 2014 elections. Eleven churches were attacked under cover of darkness a few weeks before the elections.

I visited all 11 churches. In the national and world media it was wrongly reported that elements of the BJP were behind the attack and that this would be the fate of all Christian institutions in this country if Modi came to power. The prime minister was categorical and emphatic when we raised the issue: he said criminals will be brought to justice regardless of their religious or political affiliations. Investigations revealed that the BJP had nothing to do with the vandalism of any of these churches, that most of the defendants belonged to an upstart political party, trying to establish a base in Delhi by laterally positioning themselves as anti-BJP and stoking the fears of the BJP. I don’t want to name the party behind the attacks. Religious tolerance is a deeply democratic belief that we take seriously.

Severe action

Even a single incident of an attack on a minority group is an attack for all of us and unacceptable. The prime minister did not beat around the bush when he called these extremists “criminals” and that they would be treated as such. He said they were an insult to the country and its religion. He instructed state governments to crack down on measures. Any such incident is taken very seriously.

The basic principle of Indian civilization, which predates most Western philosophies, is the belief in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam that humanity is one. The slogan of Modi’s election campaign in 2014 was Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas, which means with all, for the development of all.

Addressing Christian leaders in Delhi on February 16, 2015, Modi said: “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith. Everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of their choice without coercion or undue influence … My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or minority, to incite hatred against others, openly or covertly. Mine will be a government that respects all religions equally. We cannot accept violence against any religion under any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act energetically in this regard ”.

After the 2014 meeting, I took the Indian Cardinals to the Prime Minister at least three other times; each time he reiterated his commitment to guarantee the protection of Christians in this country.

India is a true democracy and therefore everyone is free to accuse the prime minister or his ruling party in whatever way they feel. However, we take very seriously any allegation that violates our democratic systems and beliefs and we thank the NOW for expressing his version of events. We regret that history positions India as a country plagued by extremism, when it comes to isolated incidents and not a pattern, as they suggest, within a country with a rich diversity of 1.4 billion people.

We also regret that the story is perhaps incurably political, for example stating that Madhya Pradesh passed an anti-conversion law in 2021 when a little research would have easily shown that the original bill was introduced and passed in 1968, when Congress , the opposition party was in power. But again, we do not want to make this a political issue, as it is about human rights concerns. We just want to reiterate our undying commitment to preserve the rich religious diversity of our beloved land.

(The writer is a former member of the IAS and current deputy. He was Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Tourism during 2017-19)

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