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By ICC's India Correspondent,
International Christian Concern
"We are the sufferers," said Pastor Christopher, a victim of religiously motivated violence that took place last month in India's Telangana state. Joining other Christians in India, Pastor Christopher has raised concerns over the Indian government's attempt to deny the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's (USCIRF) Annual Report which labeled India a "Tier 2" religious freedom violator. After the report was released, the BJP-led government reacted sharply, slamming the USCIRF report publically questioning its validity and authenticity, despite the fact that attacks on India's Christian community continues to escalate.
"Tier 2" Violator of Religious Freedom
USCIRF released its annual report on April 30, placing India amidst more than 30 countries that meet a "systematic, ongoing, and egregious" standard for failing to protect religious freedoms. Because of this, USCIRF labeled India as a "Tier 2" country of concern, a status India has maintained since 2009. Specifically, USCIRF noted concerns about the operation of Hindu nationalist groups and forced conversion programs, locally known as "Ghar Wapsi", as well as attacks on churches and hate campaigns against religious minorities.
Government of India's Response
The government of India reacted strongly to USCIRF's Annual Report. External Affairs Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said that the Indian government will "take no cognizance of this report."
"Our attention has been drawn to a report of the USCIRF which has passed judgement on religious freedom in India," the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement. "The report appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society."
These statements made by the India government were made despite the well documented fact that Christian persecution in India has dramatically escalated under the Modi regime. As the USCIRF Annual Report noted, "Christian communities, across many denominations, reported a sharp increase in harassment and violence in the last year, including physical violence, arson, desecration of churches and Bibles, and disruption of religious services. The perpetrators are often individuals and groups associated with the RSS and VHP and operate with near impunity."
According to a report released by Evangelical Fellowship of India, "Human Rights and Civil Society groups have documented 147 incidents of religiously motivated attacks in 2014, and at least 2 people killed for their Christian faith. Reportedly, local police seldom provide protection, refuse to accept complaints, rarely investigate, and in a few cases encourage Christians to move or hide their religion."
India's Christian Community Responds
In an interview with ICC, Bishop. Rt. Rev. Pran Ranjan Praricha, Founder and President of the India Evangelistic Association, said, "The situation on the ground is far from what the government and its representatives are claiming. Muslims and Christians are feeling increasingly unsafe under Modi's regime."
"[Despite] Modi's repeated assurances to protect minorities of this country," the Bishop continued."His actions [do] not match to his words."
Pastor Christopher, who serves as rural pastor in remote village, was personally attacked several times over the past year, with the latest incident taking place on Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday, Hindu radicals deliberately placed a saffron flag, a symbol of Hindu victory, inside his church compound. When Pastor Christopher raised an objection to the saffron flag, the radicals beat him and dragged him and his assistant pastor to the police station to falsely charge him with a crime.
Reacting to the Indian government's response to the USCIRF Annual Report, Pastor Christopher said, "Our rights have been denied. We are discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens when it comes to [the] delivery of justice. The local authorities misuse their power and fringe elements are never brought to justice for their acts [because] they enjoy government impunity."
Dr. John Dayal, Spokesman for the United Christian Forum said, "The government of India, [specifically] the regime of Mr. Narendra Modi, has a guilty conscience and knows that the world knows its record in human rights. The world knows how the regime's political allies, the Sangh Parivar, assaults and attacks religious minorities, tribal and Dalits with targeted violence. This explains the government's state of denial when reports like that of the USCIRF Annual Report expose the reality and the truth."
"Even when Mr. Modi seems to be reassuring religious minorities of their security," Dr. Dayal continued. "He has never once, not one single time, castigated the RSS and its leaders who mouth obscenities and threats of violence and disenfranchisement against Muslims and Christians. No one has been sacked from government or party for hate speech."
As the old saying goes, there is no smoke without fire. In a sense, this has been the case for the reports of Christian persecution in India. As the government of India continues to deny the true state of affairs for religious minorities in India, Christians and other religious minorities will likely continue to suffer attacks, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech. Unless Prime Minister Modi makes good on his promises of religious freedom soon, persecution and religious intolerance in India will only continue to escalate. It is not far-fetched to foresee India making the jump from a "Tier 2" religious freedom violator up to "Tier 1."
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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