In India, anti-conversion laws reinforce the persecution of Christians


On January 15, a crowd of Hindu nationalists forced their way into a house where a Christian service was taking place. She beat several people, including women and children. In the world's largest democracy, attacks on Christians and other minorities are widespread and implicitly sanctioned by the Hindu nationalist government.

In this village of Odisha (formerly Orissa), Christians met this Sunday in mid-January for their worship meeting when a group of nationalists interrupted the meeting. Led by the village chief, residents of the locality and neighboring communities beat two families who had embraced the Christian faith four months earlier and refused to renounce it. Three people suffered serious internal injuries, including the pastor who was unconscious for almost an hour.

The victims went to file a complaint, but their chances of obtaining justice are very slim. A local pastor told the NGO International Christian Concern that the authorities are failing them as acts of persecution increase. “Last month a young Christian was beaten for refusing to renounce his faith. Even if we knock on the door of the police station all the time, we get little or no justice,” he said.

Authorities generally lenient towards Hindu attackers

By the end of summer 2008, Orissa had experienced the largest massacre of Christians in Indian history, 101 Christians had been murdered by angry mobs after the killing of a Hindu religious leader, Swami Saraswati, and four of his followers on August 23. On September XNUMX, Maoists had claimed responsibility for the assassinations, but justice had still condemned Christians and a communist.

The authorities had indeed falsely accused Christians of the crime, according to journalist and activist Anto Akkara. The latter claims that illiterate crowds had been encouraged by the authorities to take revenge on Christians. The Hindus had also destroyed nearly 6 houses and 000 churches in 300 villages in Kandhamal district. The fanatics had taken advantage of this to assassinate at least one convert to Christianity, Easwar Digal. He was beheaded.

In 2015, two senior police officials assured a judicial inquiry that the charges against the Christians had been fabricated. This had helped to spread throughout the country the rumor about a supposed Christian conspiracy.

According to Anto, it is “a disgrace to Indian democracy and its justice system, that seven innocent people are imprisoned in order to maintain a political fraud. The suffering of the arrested Christians, and that of the families of the victims of the violence, makes us think of the first Christians. These are courageous stories that inspire the whole Church in India”.

Orissa was, in 1967, the first Indian state to pass an anti-conversion law. Madhya Pradesh followed suit the following year. However, it took 35 years to see another state take this path.

Today, 11 Indian states have passed anti-conversion laws. These laws, coupled with a deep social intolerance towards Christianity, lead the police to turn a blind eye when Christians are attacked on the grounds that they have tried to convert their compatriots to their faith or have apostatized from Hinduism. In 2011, the Orissa police arrested two Christians, one of whom had been the victim of a theft committed by a Hindu. This last accused Christians of trying to convert him, without having to provide any evidence.

A nationwide persecution led by the BJP

The 2008 massacres were fueled by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu paramilitary movement close to the current ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Since its accession to the helm of the country, the BJP or Indian People's Party has never ceased to aim for the religious purification of India. Narendra Modi's government pursues a nationalist policy that includes defending the country's Hindu identity. On the model of local laws protecting Hinduism, the power intends to obtain an anti-conversion law at the national level.

From 2015, federal ministers have called for a debate for a law to protect Hinduism. In 2021, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by a BJP member lawyer asking for the universality of an anti-conversion law. The judges concluded that the measure would be contrary to the Indian Constitution which guarantees to all citizens the right to profess the religion of their choice and to proselytize:

“There is a reason the word 'propagate' is written in the Constitution. »

Christians are in the majority in three Indian states, Kerala, Meghalaya and Nagaland, but they are generally discriminated against and persecuted in the rest of the country, and they face the greatest constraints and threats in the states which have adopted anti-conversion laws. . Such a federal law would signify increased persecution and ensure that perpetrators of crimes against apostates from Hinduism have even greater certainty of non-prosecution, even in predominantly Christian states.

Dr. Yohan Murry, local partner of the NGO Portes Ouvertes and expert in Indian politics, shares the concern of Indian Christians :

“Anti-conversion laws encourage Hindu nationalists to harass and attack Christians. »

The violence ranges from the confiscation of Christian literary works to physical attacks, even during funeral services.

According to Portes Ouvertes, many Christians fear the imminent adoption of a law against the change of religion. Indeed, Modi's government has responded to the Supreme Court, following its 2021 ruling that the right to religious freedom does not include the right to adopt another belief, demonstrating its willingness to override the Constitution. .

The outlines of a federal law suggest that the conversion will be punishable by 10 years in prison. However, a law aimed at protecting Hinduism would more or less implicitly guarantee the right to convert to the majority religion, even under threat and violence.

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: / CRS PHOTO

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