The Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission has tallied 134 attacks on Christians or their churches in the first half of 2016 — nearly as many as the annual totals for both 2014 and 2015.
The EFI, pointing out that the cases chronicled from Jan. 1 to June 30 were just a “fraction of the violence on the ground” (only “carefully corroborated” incidents were included), made several recommendations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist government, including the repeal of the controversial “anti-conversion laws.”
Named “Freedom of Religion Acts,” the laws officially aim to prevent religious conversions made by “force,” “fraud” or “allurement.” But Christians and human rights groups say that the laws, in reality, obstruct conversions generally, as Hindu nationalists invoke them to harass Christians with spurious arrests and incarcerations. Such laws are currently in force in five states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh — although they have been discussed in several others, such as in Maharashtra last year.
Nearly one-fifth of the reported incidents of anti-Christian violence occurred in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous, with over 200 million people, according to the EFI’s Aug. 16 report. After the 25 incidents in Uttar Pradesh, the second- and third-highest frequency of attacks took place in states with anti-conversion laws: Madhya Pradesh (17 incidents) and Chhattisgarh (15).
Tamil Nadu was the other high scorer (14). In 2002, this state passed its own “Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Bill,” but it was repealed in 2004 after the defeat of a Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition. The BJP (Prime Minister Modi’s party) is known for espousing a Hindu nationalist agenda and currently rules several states in central and western India, as well as controlling the federal government. The EFI report notes that Tamil Nadu is now governed by a Modi “ally”.
Last year, two BJP members of India’s Parliament — one in the Lower House and one in the Upper House — planned to introduce a Private Members’ Bill, each in their respective house, stated their intentions to introduce a national law against conversion from Hinduism, which would then force a debate in the Parliament.
The MP in the Upper House, Tarun Vijay, has noted that recent India census data indicates that, “For the first time, the population of Hindus has been reported to be less than 80 percent. We have to take measures to arrest the decline. It is very important to keep the Hindus in majority in the country.
“My argument is that religion must remain a matter of personal choice. But in India, it has become a political tool in the hands of foreign powers, who are targeting Hindus to fragment our nation again on communal lines,” Vijay claimed. “This has to be resisted in [the] national interest and in the interest of all minorities in India.”
The MP in the Lower House, Yogi Adityanath, a senior BJP legislator, is a Hindu head priest and founder of the nationalist Hindu Yuva Vahini social and cultural group of youths who seek to provide a right-wing Hindu platform.
In June 2015, Adityanath declared that those opposing yoga and Surya Namaskar, a Hindu salutation to the sun god within yoga, “should leave India or drown themselves in the ocean.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press, World Watch Monitor