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By: ICC's India Correspondent
International Christian Concern
As the world is shaken by news of atrocities being committed against Christians by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, overlooked Christian communities in India continue to suffer at the hands of radical Hindu nationalists seeking to transform India from a secular nation to a "Hindu nation." Christians in Uttar Pradesh (UP), one of India's northern states, are under increasing pressure as Sangh Parivar, an umbrella Hindu nationalist group, and its associate organizations make anti-minority hate speeches and lead attacks on pastors and churches, pushing UP's Christian community to the brink. Eerily similar to the anti-Christian events in Iraq, Christians across India fear the proliferation of radical Hindu nationalism and the escalation in persecution that follows.
A Church Transformed into Hindu Temple
In UP, Hindu radicals belonging to a group called Shuddi are targeting Christians with violence to make "Christian free" villages. The forceful conversion of Christians and other minorities to Hinduism under the Shuddi (re-conversion) movement has become a cornerstone of the group's activities.
As reported by the Times of India on the 28th of August, a church in UP with a cross in it that belonged to the 7th Day Adventists, was converted overnight into a Hindu temple. It was adorned with a portrait of Shiva, a Hindu god, after what some Hindu groups in Aligarh termed the "successful ghar wapasi" (reconversion) of 72 Valmikis who had become Christians in 1995.
According to that report, there was an elaborate shuddhi karan (purification) ceremony on the 26th of August, inside the church in Asroi, 18 miles from Aligarh. Children from the village took over the premises and were seen playing in the church by Wednesday afternoon. The church's cross was allegedly removed and placed outside the gate as a portrait of Shiva installed.
Khem Chandra, Sangh pracharak and pramukh of Dharam Jagran Vivad in Aligarh, said, "This is called ghar wapasi, not conversion. They left by choice and today they have realized their mistake and want to come back. We welcome them. We can't let our samaj (community) scatter; we have to hold it tight. I have told them that honor comes from within the community and not from outside." Chandra added that, "In the years that followed their adoption of Christianity, he met heads of the eight Valmiki families numerous times to convince them to reconsider their decision."
Purging Christians from India's Villages
Dr. John Dayal, a member of the Indian government's National Integration Council, said that, "There has been a sharp rise in hate campaigns against Christians by political organizations. This threat of purging Christians from villages extends from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to now Uttar Pradesh, and to the borders of the national capital of New Delhi."
In another incident that shocked the Christian community of UP, a church in Sahakarinagar village was rampaged by a mob belonging to the Bajrangdal group, another radical Hindu nationalist group. The attack took place while members of the church were participating in a Bible study around 2:30 in the afternoon on the 16th of July. A group of twenty five Hindu radicals led by Hemanth Singh, a leader in the local Bajrangdal group, stormed into the church and started beating Rev. R. C. Paul and other Christians who had gathered for the Bible study.
Rev. R. C. Paul, who has been the church since 1991, said, "We were shaken and are very scared of the situation in the area. We are concerned of our safety, even going alone outside looks very dangerous at the moment".
Rajeshwar Singh, the coordinator for the western UP region of a radical Hindu nationalist organization called 'Religious Awakening', told The Hindu newspaper that, "From August 23 to September 15, there would be rallies in all districts against conversions." Mr. Singh said,
"The real test of strength would be in December, when our organization plans to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism in two separate programs." "On December 23rd, the martyrdom day of Swami Shraddhanand (the leader of the 19th century Shuddhi [re-conversion] movement) we will convert Muslims to Hinduism in at least 50 locations in west UP." Singh continued. "On December 25th, the day when Christians convert people to their religion, this year, we will do the reverse - by converting them back to Hinduism. In two-three years, the rural hinterland will be free of Christians."
In yet another incident in UP, the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that, on the 7th of July, a church in the village of Saraiya was attacked by members of local Hindu nationalist groups. The local BJP leader, Harendra Pratap Singh, and the leader of the local Shiv Sena, Acche Lal Tiwari, were witnessed leading this attack.
Following the attack, instead of protecting the victimized Christians and registering a complaint against their assailants, the local police took the pastor and eleven other Christians into custody.
On the 30th of August, a pastor in the village of Noida, UP was attacked by a mob of Hindu radicals. According to local Christian leader Rev. Victor Das, a mob of radicals stormed into the house of Pastor Wilson Joseph and beat him and other members of his family. The attackers alleged the pastor and his family created disturbing noise in the residential area when leading church services.
Rev. Victor Das told ICC that, "This attack took place in the wake of several attacks and hate speeches carried out by Sangh Parivar across the state in recent days and weeks. The mob wants to create terror in the minds of Christian and other minorities."
Following the attack on the pastor, local police were informed of the incident and took the pastor and other believers into custody. Fortunately, all of the Christians were released from custody later that evening.
The Right to Religious Freedom under Threat
In a press statement, Archbishop Anil J. Couto expressed concern over the attacks on Christians and churches. He said, "It is very disturbing, and we request local authorities to take adequate measures to bring to book the miscreants threatening to weaken the social fabric of this great nation."
"The Sangh Parivar plan [is] to carry out shuddhikaran - attempts to re-convert Christians to Hinduism," the Archbishop continued."This move by fundamentalist groups is a grave assault on the fundamental rights of individuals and people and groups."
Although, news of Christians being persecuted in Iraq by ISIS will likely continue to dominate headlines, the international community must take notice of the issues of Christian persecution globally. Like Christians facing ISIS in Iraq, millions of Christians across India are facing persecution at the hands of radical Hindu nationalist groups. Without drastic change, this difficult situation will likely only get worse, as radical Hindu nationalist groups popping up across India have been given almost complete impunity under the new Hindu nationalist government led by BJP and Narendra Modi.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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