Are we still a plural society?

Are we still a plural society?

Minority Report

“We did talk about religious freedom, and I will say that PM Modi was incredible and he said he wants people to have religious freedom in India,” President Donald Trump said at a press conference in New Delhi on February 25. While one would hope and be inclined to believe the statement, the situation in the country is quite contrary to it.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by Parliament in December, has largely emphasised on the “religious persecution” of minorities in neighbouring countries. Indeed, the humanitarian aspect ostensibly projected through the amendment is laudable, except for its keeping Muslims out of its purview. None would grudge the benevolence of the government towards the minority communities of other countries. But the situation in our own backyard of our own minorities is saddening.

The recent clashes between the pro-CAA and anti-CAA supporters, which were triggered by politician Kapil Mishra, goes to prove the bias of the police as they stood as mute spectators while the rioters had a free-for-all, vandalizing and killing. The rioters bayed for the blood of each other, resulting in the death of 53 of them, including a head constable of Delhi Police who was on duty at the spot. Over 300 are undergoing treatment in various hospitals, many of them in critical condition.

It is a widely acknowledged fact that Christians also are a persecuted lot, particularly after the present dispensation took over the reins of the nation in 2014. Not for nothing did former US President Barack Obama advise Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by subtle indications, to safeguard the constitutional commitment to allow people to freely “profess, practice and propagate” religion when he visited India in January 2015. He was alluding to the atrocities against minorities.       

On September 23 last year, President Trump stated at the UN, “With one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution.” He went on, “Stop the crimes against people of faith.”

Data compiled by Alliance Defending Freedom reveals that 275 incidents of violence were reported in the first 10 months of last year. In 2014, there were 147 attacks on Christians, which rose to 177 in 2015, 208 in 2016, 240 in 2017, 290 in 2018 and 275 till October last year. These figures do not cover the attacks that were not registered out of fear of a backlash by the fundamentalists. And this despite a missive sent to Prime Minister Modi by Bishop Peter Baldev after a church was attacked in October 2018 in Varanasi seeking action against hoodlums who attack religious places. Several churches in Jaunpur have been forced to close by Hindu fringe elements for the past several months. The police is not just a silent spectator but also hand-in-glove with the fundamentalists and threatening Church leaders.

Open Doors International World Watch had ranked India at 28th position in 2014 among the countries that are dangerous for Christians. With increasing atrocities against Christians, its ranking moved to 15th place last year. As of now, we are ranked 10th.

The orders of the government last year that all NGOs submit a certificate every year that they are not involved in any sort of conversion is largely aimed at the Christian community, as the government suspects NGOs to be indulging in conversion. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Had there been an iota of truth, the Christian population would not have dwindled to just 2.3% (2011 census) from 2.44% (1981 census).

Many eminent personalities in all fields have had the best of education in some of the top Christian schools and colleges of our country. How many of them were allured or forced into converting to Christianity? On the other hand, they credit these institutions for what they are today.

In the far remote corners of the country, dedicated Christians offer healthcare to the tribals and even Hindus without caring for their own comfort. Graham Staines, an Australian doctor who dedicated 24 years of his life providing healthcare to lepers in remote Manoharpur (Odisha), was brutally burnt alive, along with his two minor sons — Philip and Timothy — inside a jeep in January 1999. In true Christian spirit, his widow Gladys Staines forgave the killers and continues to carry on with her husband’s mission of caring for the lepers. Any other woman would have been baying for the blood of the perpetrators of such a horrific crime.

When people embrace Christianity of their own accord as a matter of faith, there is no reason to believe that Hinduism is endangered. The Constitution guarantees the right to practice and propagate any religion and any deliberate attempt to curtail or abrogate this freedom is not only criminal but unconstitutional, too.

That there is palpable fear among Christians in the country is evident from the fact that Vijayesh Lal, the general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, which represents over 65,000 churches, had to write to Prime Minister Modi in November last requesting him to issue a directive to police officials all over the country to be “sensitive to the situation” when Christians all over the country celebrate Christmas. He again wrote to the PM recently asking him to protect Christians who are being tormented in different parts of the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh.

It is time that laws are enacted to specify punitive action against those who attack places of religious worship or attack religious leaders or voluntary converts to another religion. The police, too, should be taken to task. If attacks by fundamentalist goons are not arrested, the day may not be far off when our country will top the list of countries where Christians are not safe. Can we then boast of our “plurality”?

(The writer is a former Inspector General of Police, CRPF)

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