Pieter Friedrich on 7 day hunger strike against persecution of Christians in India


Today is the second day of my seven-day hunger-strike for the persecuted Christians of India.

As I said yesterday, 2021 was the most violent year on record for Indian Christians. In total, they suffered nearly 500 attacks — more than one every day. That’s almost four times as many attacks on Christians as were reported in 2014, the first year that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to national power with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at its head.

Over 300 of those attacks on Indian Christians were reported in just the first nine months of 2021. That statistic is shocking enough, but what is even more terrifying is that around 95 percent of those were mob attacks.

That means that hardly any of these violent incidents are isolated events perpetrated by solitary, rogue actors. There are certainly some incidents like that, such as in early December of 2021 when a man in Karnataka entered a church to chase a priest with a machete. But almost all of the attacks have, instead, been conducted by organized mobs of 50, 100, or even 500 people.

Imagine being a Christian in India. You’ve gathered on Sunday, as Christians do, to practice our ancient tradition of worshipping Jesus Christ through prayers and songs and communion. Suddenly, a screaming mob of hundreds of angry young men, many armed with iron rods or other weapons, barges into your peaceful prayer hall to begin thrashing worshippers and dragging them out of the sanctuary while they smash everything in sight.

This has become routine for Indian Christians living under BJP rule.

If and when police show up, they often arrest you instead of your attacker. They might haul you down to the police station, throw you behind bars, beat you, even torture you, and demand to know why you are a Christian. But why would the police be on the side of your attackers?

One reason is that many of these mobs are organized by the Bajrang Dal, a radical, militant Hindu nationalist group that is connected to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh paramilitary. The Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is the religious wing of the RSS. While the RSS’s militant subsidiaries are in the streets attacking religious minorities, its political wing, the BJP, controls the national government — as well as most of the governments of the states where the worst of this anti-Christian violence is occurring.

In the words of a former member of the RSS: “There is no difference between the BJP and RSS. BJP is the body. RSS is the soul, and the Bajrang Dal is the hands for beating.” These days, those hands are doing a hell of a lot of beating.

So why are the police complicit with mob attacks on Christians? Because, in most places where these attacks happen, the police are controlled by the BJP. And the BJP is ideologically dedicated to using its grasp on political power, at every turn, to criminalize Christianity.

We saw this in October, in the state of Chhattisgarh, where top leaders of the BJP — which is not currently in power there — ordered their party members to make lists of Christians throughout the state, keep them under surveillance, and work aggressively to “fill the jails” with believers. That same month, top BJP officials in Chhattisgarh sat on stage and applauded while a hate-filled Hindu nationalist demagogue instructed people to behead Christians. He ordered them not to wait but to be proactive and be the first ones to “ignite the fire.”

We also saw this late last year in Karnataka, which is ruled by the BJP. The state’s intelligence department was ordered to spy on Christians and make a list of churches. Meanwhile, tax officials were ordered to go door-to-door to find houses where people had converted to Christianity. When one official returned to report that he had found no evidence of anything illegal, he was transferred.

Beyond this harassment, the BJP is hard at work passing laws to criminalize religious conversion. Ten of India’s 28 states now have so-called “anti-conversion” laws; four of these were passed in BJP-ruled states in the seven years since the Modi regime came to power. BJP-ruled Karnataka is about to become the 11th such state to pass such a law, and two more BJP-ruled states are planning to do the same.

These laws, which essentially criminalize the most basic practices of Christianity, are rooted in the RSS-BJP’s ideological commitment to the xenophobic idea that India is a land of Hindus, for Hindus, and only for Hindus and that being Indian means you must be Hindu.

This idea was clearly articulated by the longest-serving and most influential Supreme Commander of the RSS, MS Golwalkar, who said that the only true “patriots” of India are people devoted to glorifying “the Hindu Race and Nation.” He claimed that “all others are either traitors and enemies to the National cause or, to take a charitable view, idiots.” Speaking about converts to Christianity (and Islam), he said that they had undergone “not merely a case of change of faith, but a change even in national identity” and accused them of “treason” for joining “the camp of the enemy” and “leaving their mother-nation in the lurch.”

That’s the hateful ideology guiding the actions of today’s RSS-BJP: for them, Indian Christians are “traitors.”

The BJP’s anti-Christian policies create a poisonous climate of suspicion and distrust of the Christian community, portraying them as anti-nationals incapable of being loyal and patriotic Indian citizens simply because they are not Hindu. Those policies, while effectively criminalizing not just religious conversion but the very practice of Christianity, provide legal cover and justification for violent mob attacks.

The world is turning blind eyes to this tragic reality. It seems that Western democracies care only about profit, not people, and are so entangled in the broader geopolitics that, even if they know about it, they are willing to ignore the on-the-ground realities of life for the beleaguered Christians of India. Meanwhile, most churches — especially American churches — remain unaware of the issue, and are often entirely ignorant that there is even any persecution of Indian Christians, let alone the extent of it.

I want to see that change. That’s why I’m on hunger-strike for seven days. If the American Church cannot hear the screams of the beaten and bloodied and sometimes crucified Christians of India, can they at least hear the growling hunger of my empty stomach as I refuse food in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters of the Indian Church?

It’s time to wake up.

Pieter Friedrich is a freelance journalist specializing in analysis of South Asian affairs. He is the author of Sikh Caucus: Siege in Delhi, Surrender in Washington and Saffron Fascists: India’s Hindu Nationalist Rulers as well as co-author of Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent. Discover more by him at PieterFriedrich.net.

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