Sharp rise in religious persecution in India shocks experts

Police and mob violence, government cover-ups and deliberate discrimination against religious minorities in India are so widespread and intense that investigators had never thought such persecution actually could be taking place.

“I had not expected the levels of extreme violence that we were hearing of against communities, such as children. I could not have imagined that these were things going on in a country that gets called ‘a democracy’ on a regular basis,” said one researcher and co-author of the Destructive Lies report released last week.

Persecution in India

A sharp rise in religious persecution of Christians and Muslims in Hundu-majority India shocked the independent researchers from London School of Economics and Political Science who compiled the report for Open Doors, an international support organisation for persecuted Christians.

Destructive Lies: Disinformation, speech that incites violence and discrimination against religious minorities in India is based on extensive research and field interviews with Christians and Muslims across India. It paints a disturbing picture: a deliberate campaign of violent persecution, ignored or even supported by police, judiciary, media and even many politicians. It offers key calls to action for governments, financial institutions and social media companies, including convening an international fact-finding commission on violence and human rights violations against religious minorities in India.

For safety reasons, the researchers and report co-authors wish to remain anonymous. ‘Researcher 1’ described their findings in an interview transcript obtained by Eternity from Open Doors UK.

“We are talking about harassment; we’re talking about police violence; we’re talking about police collusion and covering up violence; we’re talking about mobs entering people’s houses, ripping apart their Bibles; we’re talking about mobs arresting people and taking them to the police station for things they haven’t done … we’re talking levels of trauma that, I think, neither of us, as researchers, had ever encountered this systematically before.”

“I always knew in an abstract sense that this is happening,” the report’s second co-author (Researcher 2) added. “But the extent to which state and state actors are complicit in the violence was shocking to me because it was there even at the ground level.”

“The bureaucrats, the police, the lower court judges, all of them are clearly and not even trying to hide it, openly colluding to harass these minorities.”

India’s sectarian violence is getting “much worse”

Although researchers knew about sectarian violence in India, they found it had seriously escalated since 2014, the year Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi was elected prime minister.

“Things have been getting increasingly bad and more and more dangerous for Muslims and for Christians in India since 2014 … because the courts had stopped doing the impartial job they were meant to do and had begun to be staffed by members sympathetic to the Hindutva [‘Hindu nationalism‘] and Hindu Far-Right fraternity,” Researcher 1 explained.

Two brief examples were provided, one Muslim and one Christian.

Muslims have had their homes illegally demolished to build Hindu temples. Before 2014, Muslims could seek redress through the courts. Now, with the courts corrupted (according to the report’s authors), there is no avenue for them to seek justice or save their home.

The second example is of Christians who worship in their houses.

“If they are running a prayer meeting, it’s very easy now for a nexus of law enforcement, justice, and justice department, and also local Hindutva activists to come together and accuse those people of illegal conversions,” Researcher 1 explained.

“It’s not just worsening but also the nature of the violence is getting more spectacular.”

In the past, courts supported Christians’ constitutional right to practice their faith. Now, new laws are being framed and passed that make it even easier and more likely for them to be accused and convicted.

“Things are getting much worse … not just getting worse in gentle increments,” Researcher 1 said.

“In the last two years, from the testimonies that we’ve heard during our research, it is absolutely clear that the volume and the breadth of the different types of atrocities that are being committed against Christians and Muslims in India have ramped up massively. And that this happens particularly in the wake of elections, whether those be regional or state or local elections.”

“It’s not just worsening but also the nature of the violence is getting more spectacular. They’re acting with more impunity,” added Researcher 2.

Existential fear – well-founded or paranoia?

“Basically, there’s an underlying anxiety that the majority will not remain a majority. So, every other identity is seen as a potential threat …” explained Researcher 2.

Hardline Hindutva and far-right Hindu groups have “always had a narrative of existential threat to Hindus”, acccording to Researcher 1. One of the ways that paranoia has been stoked is by spreading the factually inaccurate narative that the Hindu population is decreasing and the Muslim and Christian populations are increasing due to birth rates. This stokes further fear about proselytising and conversion.

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

Muslims – although clearly not seen to be proselytising – are instead accused of forced marriages and ‘Love Jihad‘ (the belief that Muslims are seeking to deceive Hindu women through marriage and convert them to Islam). Christians are accused of paying people to convert to Christianity.

Many or even most Christians in India, in contrast, have well-founded existential threat for their continued existence in the country, the researchers said.

“Christianity is not an undifferentiated, homogenous entity. There are … different groupings within Christians. So, there is a group of Christians who are way more vulnerable or face existential crisis compared to some other Christians. It’s mostly what is known in the literature as ‘Charismatic Christianity’, Pentecostalism … They’re various smaller groups. These are the ones who are usually have followers in Scheduled Castes or Dalit communities or Adivasi or Indigenous communities as their followers. These are the ones that are the most vulnerable,” said Researcher 2.

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