05/27/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A fresh wave of violence against India’s Christian community broke out in the days following the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) releasing its annual report on international religious freedom. In this report, India was once again designated as a Tier 2 violator of religious freedom by the Commission.
Earlier this month, USCIRF, backed by the US administration, included India in its Tier 2 list of countries, expressing concern over severe violations of religious freedom in its 2016 annual report. India has, once again, rejected the report with the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Vikas Swarup, claiming, “We take no cognizance of the report.”
This rejection and refusal to recognize USCIRF’s concerns follows an incident earlier this year in which the Indian government failed to issue visas to USCIRF, which planned to investigate the growing number of reported religious freedom violations.
Franklin Sudhakar, a Christian activist from Telangana, spoke with International Christian Concern (ICC) regarding the increased number of attacks on Christians following the release of the USCIRF report.
“These attacks have to be seen [as] country-wide reactions to the report [that is] contrary to their ideology,” Sudhakar said. “The ultra-Hindu nationalists have [a] clear mandate, extensive support from the Sangh leaders and a very good network in place to vandalize churches and beat up pastors.”
Media outlets reported nine attacks on churches that took place in the week that followed the release of the USCIRF report. This number is suspected to be significantly higher considering that the vast majority of incidents go unreported.
In one of the incidents that followed the release of the USCIRF report, a church in Narsampet was attacked by Hindu radicals who broke into a church and completely devastated the inside. This took place on May 4.
“They broke open the locks of the church main gate and main door,” explained the pastor. “It was very painful, as I went into the church they had destroyed everything including the pulpit, sacramental objects, tables, church lights and systems, and more and more.”
According to locals, two unknown men had been stalking the church grounds the day before the attack. Now everything within had been utterly destroyed.
“It took years for us [to] secure these things, now all of [the] sudden everything is gone,” the pastor told ICC. “The church members are economically poor and it is through their sacrificial offerings we bought these things over the years.”
On the very same day, May 4, the Siyyon Church in Jobad was stoned by an angry mob of more than 500 Hindu extremists. The attack was instigated by an accusation that the church had damaged a saffron flag, a symbol of Hinduism.
Pastor Emmanuel Ariel explained, “The flags were probably torn because of strong winds. However, the BJP president led the mob….and not only stoned the church but also attacked Christian women.”
“Most shocking is that all this happened in front of the sub-divisional office of police, and the police stood there as mute spectators,” Pastor Ariel told ICC.
Whether the persecution is a direct reaction to the USCIRF report or if it is a mere continuation of activities led by hate-filled radical Hindu nationalists, it is the victims who should be the focus of concern. Whether the government of India takes cognizance or not, the severe violation of minorities’ constitutional rights cannot and should not be ignored and the perpetrators of this violence must be punished.