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Religious Intolerance

Hindu-Christian violence in India

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1996 "Freedom of Religion Bill"

Mangalprabhat Lodha, a member of the Bharatiya Janatha party, introduced a "freedom of religion" bill in 1996-DEC to the Maharashtra State Assembly. The bill appears to be poorly named, because its prime aim is to prevent religious conversions and severely limit people's freedom to proselytize in that state.

Lodha claimed that Christian missionaries have set as their goal the conversion of 100,000 Hindus to Christianity. The bill, if made into law, is clearly unconstitutional. The Indian constitution guarantees all of its citizens the right to select and change their own religion, and the right to communicate their religious beliefs to others.

Maharashtra state has a population of about 80 million and includes the city of Bombay.

Examples of Hindu violence towards Christians:

Hindu nationalist groups promote the concept of Hindutva -- a pure Hindu nation -- where Hindus have a position of dominance over Christians, Muslims, and believers of other religions, and in which the caste system is restored and rigidly preserved. Their natural enemies are various Christian and Muslim groups who promote the concept of a classless society without a caste system.

The Washington Times reports that charitable groups in the U.S. collect funds from Indians living in that country and funnel the money to Hindutva groups in India. Priya Abraham of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy discusses the findings of  California-based anthropologist Angana Chatterji who has been monitoring the transfer of funding for years. Abraham writes:

"According to Ms. Chatterji, there are four major Hindutva-affiliated groups in the United States that have funded numerous organizations across India. The U.S. groups register as charities with tax-exempt status and carry stated goals of providing development and welfare work for needy Indians. In reality, Ms. Chatterji says, the charities offer facades for vast political activities that include the education, conversion and indoctrination of Hindutva ideology in traditionally poor and often illiterate tribal and low-caste Indians." 6

Some Hindus have accused Christian missionaries of offering money and goods to Tallit (a.k.a. untouchables) and other lower caste Indians as an inducement to convert to Christianity. Although the caste system has been officially outlawed for many years, it is still followed by many Hindus -- particularly in rural areas. There are accusations that some low caste Indians have converted to Buddhism or Christianity in order to escape from the caste system. This is viewed as a destabilizing force by many Hindus.

Christians experienced increased oppression after  the nationalistic Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power federally in 1998. Violence continues, even after the BJP was replaced by the Congress Party in 2004.

Some examples of inter-faith violence:

  • 1999: Graham Staines, an Australian Christian missionary had worked for 30 years with leprosy patients in Orissa state for three decades. In 1999,  he and his two young sons -- Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6, were trapped inside a car by Hindu fundamentalist militants who set fire to his vehicle. All three were burned to death. In 2003, 13 men were convicted of mass murder. Dara Singh was sentenced to hang; his 12 accomplices, were sentenced to life in prison. 1

  • 2000: During the first half of the year, there were 35 violent incidents in which Christians were victimized. These include bombings, church arson, beating deaths, and assaults. Roman Catholic Archbishop de Lastic stated: "There is a definite strategy and plan at the national level -- these forces at work want to intimidate Christians."

    Some Protestant and Catholic leaders blamed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). This is a Hindu spiritual group, from which the BJP political party grew. The All India Christian Council wrote that Christians are "sick of the statements and are not fooled by the utterances of the central government." 2Herod Malik, spokesperson for the United Forum for Catholics and Protestants said: "We are scared. We have to go to international organizations because we have no faith in the Indian government." 3

    Federal government leaders denied that the RSS is responsible. They accused Pakistani security forces. 1

  • 2007: During the Christmas holiday period, about 10 people were murdered, 90 churches were burned and 600 homes were destroyed in Orissa state. 4

  • 2008: Clashes continued in Orissa state. According to a commentary in the Washington Times, on AUG-23, a hard-line Hindu swami was murdered. Extremist Hindus went on a rampage agaisnt Orissa's minority Christians, burning homes, destroying churhes, battering people and raping women,including an nun. The Baptist World Alliance claimed in August that the death toll had reached at least 25. They reported that more than 600 churches had been demolished and that 4,000 Christians had been forced to flee from their villages.

    The Associated Baptist Press reported in 2008-AUG-27:

    "A nun died and a pastor was hurt when fire swept an orphanage in the Bargarh District. Apparently none of the 21 children housed there died."

    "In an Aug. 26 e-mail to the BWA, Swarupananda Patra, General Secretary of the All Orissa Baptist Churches Federation, said, 'All Christian villages [are] empty in Kandhamal as Christians, old and young, sick and pregnant mothers [are] hiding in forests exposed to the non-stop monsoon rains without food. Kandhamal is the hardest hit, with at least eight Christians killed and almost all Christian homes demolished,' he reported.  'I appeal to the governing authorities in India to intervene to save the lives of the many who are being victimized in the current crisis,' BWA General Secretary Neville Callam said in a press release. 'Respect for the principle of religious liberty and the sacredness of human life requires nothing less'." 5

    Eventually, during four months of violence, about 70 people died and 50,000 were displaced into refugee camps. 6

  • 2010: Religion News Blog reported that over 1,000 anti-Christian attacks have ocurred in Karnataka state in southwest India -- "... once a symbol of India’s economic progress and of freedom [Karnataka] has now become a hub of right-wing Hindu extremism, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Christian investigators say Christian persecution increased after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became Karnataka's main ruling party in 2008.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Hindu given death for killing missionary," The New York Times, 2003-SEP-23, at: http://query.nytimes.com/
  2. Religion Today news summary, 2000-JUN-13
  3. Religion Today news summary, 2000-JUN-14
  4. Robert Marus, "BWA officials condemn violence against Christians in Indian state," Associated Baptist Press, 2008-JAN-04, at: http://www.abpnews.com/
  5. "Reports: Several dead in India after Hindu-Christian clashes," Associated Baptist Press, 2008-AUG-27, at: http://www.abpnews.com/
  6. Priya Abraham, "Uncharitable Giving," The Washington Times, 2009-FEB-08.
  7. "Over 1,000 anti-Christian attacks in Indian State, report," Religion News Blog, 2010-MAR-24.

Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-MAR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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