It was the rarest of rare ‘Christmas gift’ that the Christians in India never bargained for. Several Churches and their institutions were vandalized across the country, especially in BJP-ruled States, reportedly by the Hindutva forces during the Christmas week. The hooligans went around wreaking havoc, damaging churches, razing statues, disrupting Christmas celebrations and thrashing Christians. They ran amok with a vengeance; it is a clear message to those who still believe that the minorities are in safe hands of the present government.
- On Christmas eve, members belonging to the Bajrang Dal and other rightwing groups set an effigy of Santa Claus on fire in the middle of a street in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, while shouting “Santa Claus Murdabad”.
- In Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, a group of right-wing men carrying saffron flags protested outside the Matridham Ashram before a Christmas event was due to take place. The group of 20-30 people raised the “Jai Shri Ram” slogan, along with ‘Dharmantran band karo’ (stop conversion), ‘Church murdabad’ (death to the church) and ‘Isai missionariyo hosh mein ao’ (Christian missionaries come to your senses.)
- The conversion-by-Santa theme was voiced by a wing of the Bajrang Dal in Haryana, led by one Harish Ramkali who posted photographs on his Facebook account on December 23, saying that any school who would make a child dress as Santa Claus without the permission of their family would have a case filed against them and be closed. He followed this up with a post on Christmas Eve saying that the Bajrang Dal had begun visiting and ‘noting’ down the names of schools, attaching an image of conversations with people who are presumably school authorities, and children wearing Santa hats.
- Hanuman Chalisa was played by a few zealots in Kurukshetra, Haryana on a stage set up for Christmas celebrations.
- On Christmas night, a statue of Jesus Christ in the British-Era Holy Redeemer Church premises in Ambala Cantonment, was torn down by two unidentified miscreants.
- On Christmas day in Gurugram, Haryana, a group of Hindutva fundamentalists entered a school organising a Christmas event and stormed the stage, where one member was videotaped saying, “We are not disrespecting Christians, but I will say to the next generation…follow the rules…do not go to any religion from greed or Indian culture will be destroyed. You need to take resolution to protect it…Take that resolution and chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’.” The right wingers then led a series of slogans including ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘Sanatan Dharm ki Jai’ (Long live Hinduism) and ‘Adharm ka naash ho’ (May the irreligious be destroyed.)
- In Assam, the Bajrang Dal was also involved in impeding the Christmas midnight mass celebrations in Silchar. The men allegedly forced their way into the church and demanded that the celebration be shut down as Hindus could not take part in the festivities.
- Members of a Hindutva organisation stormed into a school in Karnataka’s Mandya district where a Christmas celebration was taking place and demanded that the teachers stop the festivities. Videos of the incident that took place at Nirmala English High School and College in Mandya’s Pandavapura town have gone viral. The visuals show a group of men shouting at teachers and others gathered in a school building. One person, from the group, can be heard asking if the school will allow a saffron shalya (shawl), over the shoulder.
- The latest to be added to the above list is the “refusal to renew the FCRA” of Missionaries of Charity sisters by the Home Ministry.
The scripts for the attacks and assaults seem to have been written well in advance by senior Hindutva functionaries. A BJP legislator in Madhya Pradesh recently made their objective explicit when he said, ‘Make India Chadar Mukt, Father Mukt’ (Make India free of veil-wearing Muslims and Christians).
A couple of months back, more than 1,000 people had gathered in the Surguja district of Chhattisgarh for a “Band Karo Dharmantran” (Stop Religious Conversions) rally. Addressing the gathering, Parmatmanand Maharaj, a far-right Hindu leader, urged the people to “arm themselves with axes to teach Christians indulging in conversions a lesson”. Such exhortations are an ‘advanced version’ of what former RSS Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar said: The minorities can stay in this country as second class citizens “claiming nothing…not even citizen’s rights”.
The most unkindest cut of all is the non-renewal of the FCRA registration of the Missionaries of Charity, whose members are known as ‘angels in the garb of nuns’, under some mysterious charge of ‘adverse inputs.’ The decision of the government would put the life of over 22,000 inmates at different centres run by the much-admired congregation which is into serving humanity selflessly. This action comes a couple of weeks after an FIR was registered against a children’s home run by the same Congregation in Gujarat.
The sant samagam’s war cry at Haridwar in Uttarakhand calling for genocide of the Muslim community has come as the last nail in the coffin of secularism or whatever is left of it. It is a scary situation that the Uttarakhand police have not even mentioned the name/s of the accused in the FIR, who openly called for genocide and violence, and till date none has been arrested.
Even as Christians are becoming sitting ducks to Hindutva activists, what is frightening is the indifference of law-enforcing agencies. When right-wing mobs take law into their hands and hound Christians, police personnel turn a blind eye to them. Instead of arresting the culprits and putting them behind bars, they are asking Christians to refrain from assembling for prayer services. The same law enforcement agencies spring into action when trumped up charges are levelled against minorities.
Narendra Modi government’s oft repeated slogan is alluring: Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Viswas (Together with all, for the development of all, and with the trust of all). It sounds good; it gladdens the hearts. But, it seems, the ‘all’ do not include the minorities in the country.
The proof lies in the increasing number of atrocities on them in many parts of country, especially in the Hindi heartland. The message is louder than the shots fired on the borders: The ‘ethnic majority’ seems to own the country and the minorities do not matter much.
Though there are half-hearted denials from some official quarters, the highway to Hindu Rashtra is being widened at break-neck speed. The increasing number of attacks on Christians seems to be a prelude to this mission.
A few weeks ago another saffron drama was played in Mirpur in Uttar Pradesh where two nuns were attacked by right-wing vigilante groups as they were boarding a bus. The same day, in another dastardly attack in the same State, seven pastors were dragged out of a worshipping place and taken to police station.
In some villages, decades-old churches have been vandalized. It was not long ago that two nuns and two postulates, travelling in a train, were attacked and forced to disembark in Jhansi and taken to police station on the trumped-up charges of conversion.
A senior secondary school, run by Catholic missionaries, in Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh, was recently attacked by hooligans, who came raising Jai Sriram slogans. The students who were giving examinations in the classrooms had a narrow escape. The reason for the attack has reportedly been a first Holy Communion function in a nearby church which the Sanghis construed as conversion. According to the latest report released by AC Michael of the United Christian Forum, there were 478 incidents of violence on Christians in 2021.
These attacks on Christians and their places of worship in the last couple of weeks send out some message. What is at stake is people’s fundamental right to live and freedom to practice a religion of their choice.
The indifference of law-enforcing agencies when right wing mobs take law into their hands and haul-up Christians is alarming. Police personnel turn into statues at the sight of marauding saffron brigade or they turn the other way when the hapless Christians are shoved around.
Christians’ right to be Christians is no less Constitutional than the rights of those following the majority religion. If there are forced conversions, as alleged by the Hindutva forces without any rhyme or reason, there are laws in this country to take care of it. The courts have not relegated that power to individuals or organizations.
The BJP governments and the Sangh Parivar offshoots are good at one thing: raking up non-issues to turn the tide in their favour when the going gets tough. Recent developments in some States ruled by the party are testimonies to these opportunistic moves devoid of any principles or rational explanation.
The Karnataka government’s decision, despite stiff opposition from various quarters, to conduct a survey of the Christian churches and institutions is a case in point. It is a sinister move as various wings of the government are in possession of the complete data on this count. Moreover, the survey covers only Christians, and not every community in the State, exposes the suspicious motive behind this vile decision. Ironically, the Central government run by the same party has said an emphatic ‘no’ to a pan-India survey of castes despite political parties, commissions and organizations have been battling for the same. In fact, a caste census is imperative as in the absence of it, the existing reservation benefits have gone lopsided.
In an equally sinister decision, the BJP Government in Karnataka has passed anti-conversion Bill in the Assembly which is seen as yet another move to persecute Christians. There is no dearth of laws in the country that could take care of forcible conversions, if any, as alleged by the government. Hence bringing in another law is nothing but an attempt to hound Christians in every possible way.
As if taking a cue from the government move, Sangh Parivar activists wasted no time in unleashing unprecedented attacks against Christians in Belagavi district in the State. They have barged into churches and prayer houses and assaulted people gathered there.
Whatever be the excuses and pretexts given by the Hindutva protagonists, their objective is beyond doubt: Make India a Hindu Rashtra and reduce the minorities to stay as second class citizens as envisaged by M. S.Golwalkar.
However, the Church hierarchy does not seem to have grasped the gravity of the situation. They are yet to realize that sand is slipping beneath their feet. Their knee-jerk reaction, through press releases without touching the real issues, is tantamount to turning a blind eye to the attackers. The government might try to sweep the attacks under the carpet, terming such incidents as isolated ones indulged in by fringe elements. It is time for every Christian denomination to come under one umbrella to protect the right to profess, practice and propagate their religion. The government’s sincerity in inviting the Pope to visit India will be tested in cracking the whip against the attackers of Christians and their institutions.
Suresh Mathew is the chief editor of Indian Currents weekly. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org