Stop attacks on Christians

Targets of fundamentalists

Devotees attend the mass prayers on the occasion of Christmas at Katholik Church, in Patna on Dec 25, 2018. PTI

In early October, 60 persons belonging to a fringe group were booked for attacking a church in Varanasi, compelling Bishop Peter Baldev of the Church of North India to dash off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking action against those who indulge in violence against religious places.

A carol singing party comprising of a Catholic priest, members of the clergy and seminarians of St Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna were attacked by Bajrang Dal activists in Jawahar Nagar on December 14, 2017. Father George Mangalapilly was arrested on the basis of a complaint lodged by a person who claimed that he was lured with money to convert to Christianity. One should be too naïve to accept the version that a carol singing party would go on a conversion spree as part of Christmas celebration. Their car was set on fire and the Christian men had to spend the night in the biting cold at the police station.

On July 22, 2017, four women, including a nun and a girl, were asked to get off a train at Satna railway station by the Government Railway Police (GRP) and Hindutva activists on the charge that the girl was being taken to Bhopal to convert her to Christianity. The sub-divisional magistrate and the GRP in-charge found the allegations to be false and released them.

More recently, churches in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, were forced to close by Hindu fringe groups and complaints filed against a pastor and 270 others on the charges of converting the poor to Christianity. On the intervention of Allahabad high court, no action was taken against them. The churches have been closed.

Incidents such as these have been on the rise after the Modi government took the reins at the Centre. Though it was not unexpected, given the history of such atrocities committed by Hindu fundamentalists and the support such elements received from the powers that be, the demonic proportions it would assume was not presaged.

Open Doors International World Watch ranks India 15th among countries where Christians are persecuted the most. As many as 219 incidents of atrocities against Christians have been reported across the country between January and October 2018, with Uttar Pradesh recording the maximum of 71 violent incidents, followed by 37 in Tamil Nadu, 23 in Chhattisgarh and 20 in Jharkhand. Of these 219 incidents, only 12 FIRs were registered by the police, who have been playing a partisan role.

Such is the degree of intolerance in the country that even such innocuous comments as stating that communalism is dangerously being encouraged and the State itself is creating dissensions among communities invites the wrath of powerful politicians. Economist Jean Dreze was stopped from proceeding with his speech in Ranchi last year when he alluded to the State’s role in creating antagonism between communities.

The hurried enactment of the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017 last year speaks volumes of the mala fide intentions of the state government. The opposition walked out in protest against the hasty passage of the bill.

The Act stipulates that persons found guilty of converting women, minors, Dalits or tribals through blackmail or inducement can be incarcerated for upto four years in addition to or a fine of Rs 1 lakh. It would be three years jail term for conversion of anyone from any other community and this could be in addition to a fine of Rs 50,000. The Act leads one to believe that the government is of the opinion that women, the Dalits and the tribals do not have a mind of their own to think and can easily be led to conversion.

The brutal killing of Graham Staines and his sons Phillip and Timothy by a group of Hindu extremists in January 1999 in Manoharpur in Odisha is still fresh in the minds of the people. The brutality of killing an innocent man who was asleep along with his two sons in his vehicle on that cold wintry night haunts the people of the village who revered the man for his life of sacrifice.

Kandhamal violence

The massacre of over a hundred Christians, plundering of the churches and raping of the women, including nuns, in Kandhamal in Odisha in August 2008 left the Christians of the district devastated. According to reports of human rights groups, over a hundred were killed, about 18,000 injured while over 300 churches and 5,600 homes were razed to ground.

In their book “Kandhamal: Introspection of Initiative for Justice (2007-2015)”, two eminent lawyers Vrinda Grover and Saumya Uma stated that after the fast-track courts were set up in Odisha after the Kandhamal massacre, there were 3,300 complaints but only 820 were registered, of which a mere 518 were charge-sheeted. When the fast track courts were wound up, 200 cases were transferred to the regular courts.

It is beyond one’s imagination as to how anyone in this country can be forced to convert to any other religion. Allurements may perchance attract the poor to be drawn towards a particular religion but that is not “forced conversion”. When people convert to other religions of their own accord, there is no reason to get perturbed over it.

Faith is a matter of personal choice and the right to practice or preach any religion is enshrined not just in our Constitution but also in the International Declaration of Human Rights. It is rather baffling that a peaceful community dedicated to serving others is targeted by the fundamentalist elements. Let the Christians live in peace and serve the society as they have been doing for centuries, sacrificing their own comfort and luxury so that others live happily.

Every Sunday, Christians pray for the good health of and good governance by all government officials from the lowest ranking to the prime minister and the President, they pray for personnel of defence services and the para-military forces guarding our country. They firmly believe that wisdom will dawn on our rulers and peace will be maintained in the country at all times.

(The writer is retired IGP, CRPF)

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