INDIA: Hindu extremists beat and shame four Christian women
Hindu extremists dragged four Christian women from a prayer meeting, publicly beat them and stripped one of her sari.
In India’s eastern state of Jharkhand (shown on map), eleven Hindu extremists burst into a home prayer meeting in Navardi, Chatra, on 8 February and dragged four Christian women out onto the road, reviling them for praying to Christ, said local church leader Rampath Nayak. The womens’ husbands were working in the fields at the time.
The extremists took Shanti, Samudri, Sonamati and Yasoda (surnames withheld for security reasons) to a public meeting place, put them on a platform and beat them with their hands and shoes. Later, they stripped off Yasoda’s sari, tore her blouse and mocked and hurled obscenities at her, saying she was the leader and was responsible for more people joining the prayer meeting.
Weeping, the traumatised woman told Morning Star News: “I asked them what crime did I do for them to do this to me and asked them to stop, but they would not stop and said that I should stop following Christ and stop praying to Jesus, and that then all this will cease.”
As they continued cursing and slapping Yasoda, the attackers tried to force the women to sign a paper stating that they would be charged a fine of 50,000 rupees (€710) if they continued to pray to Jesus, and threatened to falsely charge them with stealing and put them behind bars if they did not worship Hindu deities.
The women went home with swollen faces, bruises and abrasions, and their families took them to hospital that evening. Yasoda is refusing to show her face in public because of the shame she feels.
“They are all recovering, except that Yasoda is still complaining of pain in the left part of her chest,” said Pastor Nayak.
Local Police Station House Officer Ajay Kumar Gupta said that officers have registered a First Information Report against the attackers, and that further protection will be given to the Christians.
The four women and their families became Christians in 2010. One of them said, “We will give our lives for Christ, we are not frightened, we will only worship Christ.”
Evangelical Fellowship of India’s 2014 Annual Persecution Report
On 4 February 2015, the Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that there were at least 147 cases of persecution against Christians in India in 2014. Physical violence made up 24 percent of cases, while 54 percent of cases involved threats, intimidation and coercion, often with police looking on. Violence against Christian women, an increasing trend, constituted 11 percent of cases.
The state with the highest number of incidents was Chhattisgarh with 28, followed by neighbouring Madhya Pradesh with 26 and Uttar Pradesh with 18. The new state of Telengana, carved out of Andhra Pradesh, registered 15 cases. At least two Christians were killed for their faith, one in Odisha state and the other in Andhra Pradesh.
In a statement accompanying the report, EFI leaders said: “Violence against Christians… continues today as vicious hate campaigns, physical violence, police complicity and state impunity contribute to the persecution of the Christian community in many states of India.”
They added that much of the violence has taken place since the new government of the National Democratic Alliance, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came into power in May 2014. Mr Modi’s government is headed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BHP).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi vows to protect all religious groups
Critics of Narendra Modi say that his government has failed to protect religious minorities from Hindu extremists. He has been criticised for not speaking out against recent attacks on churches in New Delhi (at least five churches have been torched and vandalised in New Delhi alone since December) and for failing to respond to concerns raised by US President Barack Obama over rising religious intolerance in India. During President Obama’s trip to India in January he warned against religious intolerance and said India’s success depended on its not splintering along religious lines.
However, Prime Minister Modi has been praised for a statement made on 17 February, in which he vowed to protect all religious groups. Speaking at an event organised in New Delhi by the Syro-Malabar Church (SMC), Mr Modi said, “I condemn all incidents of violence where religious minorities were targeted… We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard… My government will ensure there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions.”
The Syro-Malabar Church (Syro from Syrian, Malabar from a region in south India) is the oldest expression of Christianity in India and traces its heritage back to the tradition of the apostle Thomas, believed by the SMC to have reached the Kerala coast in 52AD and to have been martyred in India. The gathering addressed by Mr Modi was hosted by Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the SMC, and was attended by over 1,000 people, including twelve bishops and hundreds of priests and nuns.
Mr Modi’s statement, which was telecast across the nation by nearly forty news channels, drew several rounds of loud applause from the audience.
Fr Cedric Prakash SJ, director of the Prashant Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace in Gujarat, spoke to AsiaNews about the Prime Minister’s statement in defence of religious freedom, saying: “Sooner or later Narendra Modi’s bluff will be called… many are wondering if he will actually ‘walk his talk’.” He added that Narendra Modi “was groomed and nurtured by the right-wing Hindu groups commonly referred to as Sangh Parivar. He is an integral part of them, shares their ideology and worldview. It is they who catapulted him to power… At no point in his speech did he condemn or take a position against attacks on Christians and other minorities in India.”
Sangh Parivar groups (which are close to the ruling BJP) believe in Hindutva, an ideology that advocates that India become one hundred percent Hindu, with no place for religious minorities. In Mr Modi’s youth, he was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a paramilitary organisation that is part of the Sangh Parivar.
Opposition parties have reminded Prime Minister Modi that it is “not enough” to make declarations but “time to act” against those in the Hindu nationalist groups who have been carrying out violence, threats and propaganda against the religious minorities.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, or VHP) described Mr Modi’s statement on tolerance as “aimed at Christians only“. The VHP has been conducting Ghar Whapsi (“home coming”) re-conversions of Christians in several places and is threatening to re-convert all the 150 million Indians who, it says, have forsaken Hinduism since Indian independence in 1947.
The editorial in the Times of India on 18 February commended Mr Modi for “Breaking Silence”: “Modi has done well to uphold religious freedom and the right to choose.” However, the editorial reminded Mr Modi that “he must openly counter BJP’s ostensible well-wishers… Only by walking the talk on inclusive development and sidelining the extremist fringe can the government repay the faith the people have reposed in it.”
Pramod Singh, President of the Christian Legal Association of India, said: “The statement made by the PM should be welcomed and acknowledged by us wholeheartedly. We should be thankful to God for whatever or whoever has prompted making of this statement… In the fitness of things we should mark the words and remind the concerned of these words if, God forbid, such a situation arises in future.”
(Asia News, Morning Star News, Reuters, World Watch Monitor)