India’s brutal campaign to persecute Christians and Muslims exposed in shocking report

Christian and Muslim communities in urban and rural India are traumatised and fear for their lives due to a coordinated, state-sanctioned campaign of persecution and violence, a shocking new report reveals.

Destructive Lies is a damning account of the “existential threat” to many Indian Christians and Muslims under far-right Hindu and Hindutva organisations which dominate India’s public and political sphere.

The report was commissioned by Open Doors and conducted by researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who adhered to the highest research standards. It details the findings of comprehensive ethnographic research conducted in February and March, in multiple locations in India.

The results are damning, with Destructive Lies providing a record of faith-based violence and discrimination that stems from the Indian government and permeates its judiciary, law enforcement, local authorities, media and society.

Here, in this first installment of Eternity’s coverage of this important report, key findings are outlined.

Trauma, fear and anxiety experienced in everyday life

“‘Being in the wrong place at the wrong time’ no longer covers the ways in which Christians and Muslims in India can end up being harassed, arrested, beaten, raped or dead. It is now frequently the case that violent squads or vigilante mobs of Hindutva men with connections to local and national politicians or ambitions to be noticed and rewarded by local or national politicians intrude into the homes and places of worship of these communities, looking to start violence and to cast the Christian and Muslim communities as instigators or perpetrators.”  – Destructive Lies

In Destructive Lies, researchers report that an “atmosphere of deep trauma, fear and anxiety” pervades Christian and Muslim communities in rural areas of India. Also, this is experienced by many Christian and Muslim communities in medium-sized towns and villages, as well on the outskirts of larger cities.

“These fears and anxieties are based on thoroughly evidenced experiences of exclusion, discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation, violence and injustice. It would not be too far-fetched to say that the circumstances in which we found our research subjects living was one of imminent existential threat,” the report says.

“There is a group of Christians who are way more vulnerable or face existential crisis compared to some other Christians.”

A London School of Economics researcher who is co-author of the report was asked about this existential fear in an interview transcript obtained by Eternity from Open Doors UK.

“You’ve actually said that a number of Christians in India are genuinely afraid that this is an existential threat for their continued existence in the country. Do you think it is a well-founded fear?” the Interviewer asked.

The researcher replied that it was a well-founded fear for certain groups of Christians that included more lower-class followers.

“There is a group of Christians who are way more vulnerable or face existential crisis compared to some other Christians. So, it’s mostly what is known in the literature as ‘Charismatic Christianity’ or ‘Pentecostalism’ … ” explained LES Researcher 2 (the report’s authors chose to remain anonymous, for safety reasons).

“They’re various smaller groups. These are the ones who usually have followers [from] Scheduled Castes or Dailts communities or Adivasi or Indigenous communities … These are the ones that are the most vulnerable.”

The reality of a hostile state

“The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Ajay Bisht (also known as Yogi Adityanath) has consolidated his politics by frequently discriminating against Muslims and/or promoting a hardline Hindu majoritarian ideology. The dominance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the national level and Bisht’s success in Uttar Pradesh has emboldened Chief Ministers in other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-states to promote similar hardline majoritarian politics. This kind of politics is not only prevalent in political discourse, but also translates to regressive laws (such as those seeking to punish Christians for ‘forced conversions’ or punish Muslims for ‘love jihad’). On the ground, various state actors such as district administrators, lower court judges, police officials and local government bureaucrats use loopholes and misuse procedural provisions to harass religious minority groups.” – Destructive Lies

When asked how coordinated and systemic are attacks upon Muslims and Christians, researchers explained that they began their work with the premise that reported attacks were one-off incidents. Researchers believed they would find attacks to be the result of individual gripes over issues, such as land ownership in isolated villages.

But they discovered that their premise was incorrect.

“… It goes to the point where even relatives of the victims have been pulled into conspiracies against the victims through networks of the Hindu Far-Right”

“As we progressed through the research, it became absolutely evident to us that there is a massive, systematic, coordinated campaign which includes many organisations of the Hindu Far-Right, Hindutva organisations – both their youth branches, as well as their localised versions – and that they are almost playing to a script in terms of how to provoke situations and incidents in which they can go in, either to churches or mosques, or into people’s houses, where they are engaging in private prayer and, not just disrupt those situations, but utilizs those situations in order to demonise the community,” said LES Researcher 1.

The researcher continued: “It is absolutely systematic and coordinated, not only with the knowledge and consent and legitimacy of many in local law enforcement [and] many local bureaucrats, but it goes to the point where even relatives of the victims have been pulled into conspiracies against the victims through networks of the Hindu Far-Right.”

Mainstream media and social media used to spread disinformation and propaganda designed to prejudice

“The importance of media narratives is understood and mentioned repeatedly by perpetrators and victims alike. One of the first things that vigilante mobs do is to snatch phones so the victims are unable to document violence, while perpetrators unfailingly make digital records of their own violent actions and then post it to various social media platforms. These posts advertise the perpetrators to other Hindutva groups and politicians as bold Hindu nationalists and consolidate their reputation for safeguarding Hinduism.” – Destructive Lies

Destructive Lies outlines how traditional local and national media, and social media, are used powerfully in India to maintain a cycle of disinformation and prejudice that results in violence and legitimises the persecution of religious minorities.

Vigilante mobs use their victims’ phones to film violence against them. This prevents victims from documenting violence against them, which has been used powerfully by victims in other countries.

Perpetrators use violent posts in their own social media circles to bolster their reputations with those who see the persecution as protecting Hinduism.

On social media … disinformation against Christians and Muslims continued to multiply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report says that when vilgilantes post acts of violence, they “serve as a warning to the police that the groups do not see their violence as being against the law, or that vigilantism functions as a parallel law-outside-the-law”. In addition, they discourage other religious minority groups from practicing their faith.

These violent social media posts may or may not be picked up by mainstream media. “In some instances where it is not possible to spin the incident against religious minorities, the media simply does not cover the incident,” the report says.

When India’s mainstream media does report on incidents of violence and discrimination, researchers found victims’ accounts were systematically excluded from reportage. At a local media level, television and newspapers which do cover these stories “often echo the version pushed by Hindutva mobs and vigilantes”.

On social media, researchers found disinformation against Christians and Muslims continued to multiply in volume and type during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was despite numbers from both groups participating whole-heartedly in relief work – in separate organisations and alongside some Hindu and Sikh peers.

“Images and tropes involving the denigration of Muslims and Christians – particularly a refusal to receive blood from transfusions given by them; refusal to be treated by Muslim doctors; a repeated connection of them and their faith habits of prayer and worship with the spread of the virus; accusations that they deliberately infect Hindus, and more – appear repeatedly on mainstream and social media platforms and apps,” the report reads.

“Only a small number of these are ever retracted or taken down.”

At the same time, “vigilante mob lynchings and attacks, state harassment, attempts to drive Muslims and Christians from their land and their homes, and censorship” are “metamorphosing in new and disturbing ways”.

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