13 Jun

Hindus force Christians to flee Indian village

Police in the eastern Indian state of Odisha has filled a first information report after Hindus attacked Christian families for their faith and excommunicated them from their village.

A radical group destroyed the houses of Christians in Sikapai village of Rayagada district and chased them from the village on June 8, according to Father Purushottam Nayak, a priest of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese.

The Christians are staying in a thatched house in a nearby forest, he said.

“The Christians filed a report at Kalyansingpur police station and it is under investigation. The village is dominated by 32 Hindu families and there are only eight Christian families,” Father Nayak told UCA News on June 10.

He quoted Pastor Upajukta Singh as saying that the radical group could not tolerate the presence of Christian families in Sikapai and were jealous of their progress.

Pastor Singh said the Hindus had previously humiliated some Christian women when they went to fetch water. They even broke the bore well, forcing the women to go home empty-handed.

The cycles of violence and hatred in Rayagada are ominous signs of bigotry

“Despite the threats, Christians here are still firm in their faith and have been practising Christianity for the last 14 years,” he said.

Nori Konjaka, one of the Christians in Sikapai, said that “the attackers can destroy our homes but not our belief in Lord Jesus Christ.”

Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told UCA News that Rayagada district is a new crucible to experiment with anti-Christian violence.

“The cycles of violence and hatred in Rayagada are ominous signs of bigotry. We urge the Odisha chief minister to take visible action to curb the lumpen elements in our society for the safety and security of all sections of society,” the Christian lay leader said.

George said anti-Christian violence is nothing new in Odisha.

One of the worst anti-Christian riots started on Aug. 23, 2008, after Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was shot dead as Hindus celebrated Janmashtami or the birth of Lord Krishna.

Hindu radicals rounded on Christian targets after describing the murder as a Christian conspiracy. The violence that continued for seven weeks killed some 100 people, rendered 56,000 homeless and destroyed 6,000 houses and 300 churches.

Soon after the murder, four Christians including an illiterate 13-year-old boy were picked up by Hindu activists, beaten and dumped in police stations. It was not the police but Praveen Togadia, the leader of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who made public their names and accused them of killing the Swami.

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03 Jun

Christian persecution peaks amid impunity in pandemic-era India

Religious freedom suffers in the push for a majoritarian or Hindu nation framework in India with laws targeting minorities.
The absolute sense of impunity generated in the administrative apparatus of India by the pandemic lockdowns, and the consequent absence of civil society on the streets and in the courts, has aggravated targeted hate and violence against Christians by non-state actors in major states and the National Capital Territory, as seen in the 327 or so cases recorded up to December 2020.

The Evangelical Federation of India’s Religious Liberty Commission and other Christian agencies, including a national helpline co-founded by the ecumenical United Christian Forum five years ago, recorded the murders of at least five people. Six churches were burned or demolished, while in 26 cases Christian communities faced social exclusion.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of incidents. The near-collapse of the media, and the inability of activists to investigate cases in distant villages because of lockdowns and restrictions on transport, have severely constrained more accurate data collection of targeted hate and violence. Even in normal times, the police were loath to register cases. Covid-19 seems to have aggravated that. Victims also find restricted access to courts for relief.

There was ample warning for all religious minorities in the consummately organized hate campaign against the Muslim population in December 2019 and the massive targeted violence in New Delhi in January 2020. And much is common in the police complicity, the methodology of violence and the use of social media.

The state of religious freedom must be seen in the context of an unbridled push for a majoritarian or Hindu nation framework in India with laws tweaked against minorities in various ways.

Social scientists, political scholars and activists have lamented the shrinking democratic space. As one of them wrote, “federalism has ceased to exist and the last vestige of trust has been exterminated. The space for free speech has been drastically curtailed: dissent has been rechristened as anti-nationalism and sedition, and dozens of academics, social workers, students, activists and journalists have been incarcerated for being critical of the government. Hate speech laws are being applied selectively, sending a clear signal that remarks against a particular community will attract no punishment.”

The laws ostensibly punish forced or fraudulent religious conversions, but in practice they are used to criminalize all conversions

The most alarming development has been the expansion and scope of the notorious Freedom of Religion Acts, popularly known as the anti-conversion laws and earlier enforced in seven states, to many more states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the pro-Hindu party the supports the Hindu nation agenda.

Once targeting only Christians, they are now also armed against Muslims in the guise of curbing “love jihad.” This is an Islamophobic term coined some years ago to demonize marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women and the resultant conversion. The laws ostensibly punish forced or fraudulent religious conversions, but in practice, they are used to criminalize all conversions, especially in non-urban settings. Punishment can be as much as 10 years in prison.

Last October, Ajay Bisht, alias Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, announced that a law to curb love jihad would be passed by his government. With no legislative discussion, it became law by an ordinance passed by the government.

Similarly, in December, Madhya Pradesh state in central India approved a similar bill even though it already had strict anti-conversion laws. Anti-conversion laws now cover eight states — Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have anti-conversion laws that are not in force for various reasons, while Tamil Nadu passed but soon repealed its anti-conversion law.

By December, 14 anti-conversion cases had been filed in Uttar Pradesh with 51 arrests, of whom 49 persons are now in jail. Only in two cases did the female “victim” sign a complaint. The rest of the cases were filed by others including relatives. Two of these cases were against Christians.

Responding to several writ petitions, the Supreme Court of India agreed to examine the constitutional validity of laws enacted by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand if they were first challenged in the respective state high courts.

Christian activists fear that the expanding footprint of the anti-conversion laws brings a step closer to the BJP’s manifesto promising a nationwide law to check evangelization by “missionaries,” a term designed to impute a Western conspiracy to Christianize Dalits and tribal people.

This propaganda, together with the accusation of a Muslim population explosion because of a high birth rate, feeds the orchestrated rhetoric that the Hindu population will become a minority, which underpins electoral propaganda in India.

Undercover of anti-conversion laws, religious minorities can now be targeted by just about anyone, especially vigilante groups often complicit in the mob violence of earlier years in campaigns against beef and the slaughter of cows.

The burden of proof lies on the person accused of illegal conversion to prove that it is not illegal

The former chairman of the National Law Commission, Justice A.P. Shah, has called out this law, saying it “reflects the philosophy” of tribal courts and strikes “at the very root of right to life and liberty guaranteed under the constitution.”

He added: “In any criminal case [where] conversion is presumed to be illegal, the burden of proof is usually on the prosecution. In this ordinance, every religious conversion is presumed to be illegal. The burden of proof lies on the person accused of illegal conversion to prove that it is not illegal. So there is a presumption of guilt. The offence is cognizable. It is non-bailable and the police can arrest anyone.”

Uttar Pradesh once again heads the list of states where the Christian minority has been targeted. The Religious Liberty Commission registered 95 incidents against the Christian community in the state in 2020, followed by Chhattisgarh with 55 incidents, most taking place in the tribal area of Bastar, now saturated by volunteers from Hindu right-wing organizations posted to counter Christian influence. In Chhattisgarh, as in contiguous tribal regions, these groups face almost no political challenge. The Catholic Church has been present in the state and in the region for the last 200 years.

The push of the Hindu right-wing in Jharkhand is ominously similar to that in Chhattisgarh and has resulted in violence and social boycotts of Christians. Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh registered 28 and 25 incidents respectively. Tamil Nadu in southern India had 23 incidents.

The most horrendous case of 2020 was the lynching of a 14-year-old boy in Odisha’s Kenduguda village in Malkangiri district on June 4. He was allegedly crushed to death with a stone by a group of people who then chopped his body into pieces and buried them in several places.

In the preliminary case sheet, police noted that the victim and his family including his father had adopted Christianity three years earlier. Christians in this village have been facing many threats and harassment from religious fanatics.

A social boycott and attacks followed when villagers refused to denounce their Christian beliefs or leave the village as demanded by local political groups 

A typical attack happened in May 2020 in Budhakaman village of West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand when a group of people set the church cross on fire.

Last September, in three villages of the Kondagaon district in Chhattisgarh, around 16 houses were razed by villagers egged on by Hindutva groups. A social boycott and attacks followed when villagers refused to denounce their Christian beliefs or leave the village as demanded by local political groups. The police did not take any concrete action. Instead, the administration sought to condone the violence and solve the matter through negotiations.

The most bizarre incident, which caught the eye of the international media, took place in March this year in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh state. Two nuns and two student nuns from the Delhi Province of the Sacred Heart Society were removed from a train on their way to Odisha. A group of Hindu youths, also on the same train, accused the nuns of taking the students for religious conversion. The youths approached the police when the train stopped at Jhansi station. The police arrested the women without listening to them.

Around 150 youths, mobilized by phone calls and social media, accompanied the women in a procession to the police station. The terrified nuns were released at 11.30 pm after strong intervention by advocacy groups and scrutiny of their documents.

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02 Jun

Indian police arrest Muslims in religious conversion case

Archbishop D’Souza suspects the case in Uttar Pradesh is a government attempt to ‘hide its failure’

Police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh claims to have busted a nationwide mass religious conversion racket after arresting two Muslim men on June 21.

The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of state police told media that Umar Gautam and Jahangir Alam, both from national capital New Delhi, were engaged in converting more than 1,000 people from other faiths to Islam.

They claimed the men received funding from overseas organizations and targeted disabled children and other vulnerable groups.

“As expected, reports of religious conversion, hate crime and communal harmony will intensify in the near future as the government has to hide its failure and prepare for the assembly election,” he told UCA News.

“Most of the governments in Utter Pradesh, especially the government run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, never took heed of minorities and never bothered to listen to the plight of poor and downtrodden people, who are always treated as second-class citizens.

It is because the government has nothing else to give to the people — it is a complete failure

“Now, when the state is due for an assembly election early next year, it has nothing to offer the people except the communal card. Divide people in the name of caste and creed as usual.”

Archbishop D’Souza said the anti-conversion law passed in Uttar Pradesh in February could be misused for political gain.

Prasant Kumar, additional director general of police in Lucknow, told media that the two arrested men were involved in the illegal religious conversion of people of different faiths to Islam in Uttar Pradesh in other parts of the country.

“Our teams investigating the case are working to identify other members of the group and their supporters,” Kumar told a press conference.

Police claimed that they came to know about the case in early June following the arrest of two Muslim men who tried to enter a temple complex in Dasna in Ghaziabad district pretending to be Hindus.

“Further interrogation of the two men led us to Gautam and Alam. We summoned Gautam and Alam for questioning on several occasions and they were arrested after we had gathered enough evidence against them,” said Kumar.

Muhammad Arif, chairman of the Centre for Harmony and Peace, told UCA News that “many more such reports will come in future as the state election come closer. It is because the government has nothing else to give to the people — it is a complete failure.”

Arif, whose organization is based in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi, said that all are against religious conversion through allurement for political or religious gain but nobody can stop a person from embracing any faith with his free will.

“The government should constitute a team of experts who can check religious conversion as many times it blames only minorities,” the Muslim leader said.

The case was registered along with relevant sections of the state’s new anti-conversion law

Meanwhile, the ATS has lodged a first information report in state capital Lucknow against the Muslim men and the Islamic Da’wah Centre under the Indian penal code — cheating and dishonesty, criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration, injuring or defiling places of worship and attempting to commit offences.

The case was registered along with relevant sections of the state’s new anti-conversion law, the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, police said.

The new law states that no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion.

If any person reconverts to their immediate previous religion, the same shall not be deemed to be a conversion under the ordinance.

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24 Mar

Police interrogate sisters after false allegations of breaking conversion laws

Indian nuns, postulants face railway ordeal. A video circulating in social media shows a nun and a student facing questioning from Hindu activists inside a train in India.

Two Catholic nuns in northern India were forced to change out of their religious habits midway through a rail journey on March 19 and wear civilian clothes to protect themselves and two postulants with them from possible attacks by right-wing Hindu activists.

The young nuns and postulants had been taken to a railway police station the day before where they were interrogated for hours following accusations they were with the postulants to convert them.

They were released late on the same day after five hours of intense questioning following intervention from senior police and Church officials.

“Our sisters and the postulants were on their way to Rourkela,” in the eastern state of Odisha, said Sister Usha Maria, Delhi provincial of the Sacred Heart Congregation (SH). The nuns were traveling “to drop the postulants off at their homes at the start of their summer holiday,”  she told UCA News on March 22.

As they reached Jhansi station in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, several Hindu youths questioned the nuns, asking if they were Christians and asked about the postulants who were in civilian clothes.

They told the youths that all of them were Christian since birth, but the Hindus accused the nuns of taking the postulants for religious conversion.

The youths then began causing a commotion and as the train reached Jhansi station at 6.30 pm some 150 youths gathered and accused the nuns of violating the state’s anti-conversion law.

A police officer called to the scene entered their compartment and told them to accompany him, even though they had valid documents.

Despite their protests, the policeman demanded they go to the local railway police station and forced them out of their compartment, Sister Maria said.

As they disembarked from the train the Hindu youths shouted abuse against them, she added.

One of the nuns insisted that they would not accompany the male officer without a female officer present so two policewomen were sent to take them to the station.

The youths continued to accuse them of violating the anti-conversion law in the state outside the police station.

The nuns and the postulants were quizzed for five hours and released after officials from Jhansi Diocese intervened by contacting senior police officials.

“We also provided all legal documents proving they were Christians to secure their release,” Sister Maria added.

The diocesan officials provided accommodation that night and the next day they were allowed to continue their journey on another train with a police escort fearing retaliation from the right-wing Hindu activists.

“The nuns had to change out of their religious habits and put on civilian clothes in order to avoid the attention of Hindu extremists,” Sister Maria said.

She refused to reveal the identities  of the nuns and the postulants saying “they were still traumatized by the ordeal.”

Uttar Pradesh is a state where Christians and Muslims say they have faced immense hardship after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of Hindu monk Yogi Adithyanath took the reins of government in 2017.

“This incident with the nuns is an indication of what is in store for us,” one local churchman told UCA News on condition of anonymity.

“We don’t carry our baptismal certificates when we travel and any other documents to prove our religious identity. They had valid railway tickets and their Aadhar [identity] card, but still, the police did not respect such documents and forced them off the train and harassed them,” said a Catholic leader.

“The fact that officials acted in such a way based upon someone’s suspicion despite being presented legal documents … is a matter of serious worry for all of us,” the churchman added.

“These kinds of activities are indications that we as a country are heading towards chaos rather than good governance.”

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15 Mar

Eight Indian Christians hospitalized after attack by Hindu mob

Hindu fanatics accuse Christians of conversions in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

Watch >

Eight Christians were injured and hospitalized when Hindu radicals attacked them and accused them of religious conversion in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

More than 150 Christians were praying in a house church on March 8 in the Dantewada district when the Hindus attacked them with axes, stones and wooden clubs, injuring several of them, local media reported.

“We heard on March 9 about the attack on Christians who belong to the Pentecostal church in Dantewada district. As of now the police have not filed a first information report because most of the time they try to solve the problem amicably,” Bishop Joseph Kollamparampil of Jagdalpur told UCA News on March 14.

“This is a communally sensitive area, so the administration tries to handle the situation carefully and avoid creating any communal tension in the area.

“There are several reasons Christians are attacked in that particular area and one of the main reasons is both the parties try to provoke each other. Both Christians and Hindus should respect each other to avoid unnecessary situation.

“There are more than 70 denomination churches in the area and we have no control over them. We have a united Christian forum, a platform where all Christian leaders come and share their views and discuss things, and I hope this will help us clear our differences.”

According to media reports, a mob of 30, led by a local radical leader named Ando Guddi, attacked a house church where more than 150 Christians had gathered for worship on March 8. The mob claimed the Christians were involved in illegal religious conversions to justify their attack.

During the commotion, many Christians were injured, including eight who sustained serious injuries and required hospitalization. The mob also burned a motorbike and several bicycles belonging to the Christians.

“There is an attempt by the local politicians to divide people into religious lines, and it is not the first such incident reported in this area,” a local Christian told International Christian Concern (ICC), a persecution watchdog.

“The police and the administration do not help the local Christians as they do not even file a first information report.”

Eight Indian Christians hospitalized after attack by Hindu mob

Catholics pray during the Good Friday service at a church in East Delhi on April 14, 2019.
(Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)

Pastor Samson Bhagel, who has been leading congregations for the past 11 years and who was among the injured, told ICC the Christian community has been living in fear and insecurity.

Many critics say that attacks on minority groups have increased since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, .

Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.

Uttarakhand became the ninth state to enact a religious conversion law in 2018. The other states are Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu.

Such conversion laws require the person officiating an act of conversion to inform state officials a month ahead of the ceremony. It also criminalizes any act of conversion using fraud, force or allurement with jail terms and fines.

Chhattisgarh is India’s most densely Hindu state with 98.3 per cent of its 23 million people being Hindu. Muslims account for 1 per cent, while Christians, mostly tribal people, account for 0.7 per cent.

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04 Jan

Punjab govt fails to protect 181-year-old church, a protected monument

Even after 8 years, the Punjab government has failed to act on the application for bringing 174-year-old Christ Church at Fountain Chowk here on the list of protected monuments in the state, which will only help the land mafia eyeing the property.

In January 2014, senior members of the Christian community of Ludhiana had taken a request to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to declare the church a heritage site under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The Church authorities have no reply from the CM office or the ministry of cultural affairs, so far.

Church priest Pankaj Malik and his wife, Pamela, have said that Christ Church in Hoshiarpur, which is as old as the Ludhiana cathedral, was declared a heritage building in 2008, and now is a protected site of the ASI.

Threat from land mafia

Owing to its prime location, the church is on the land mafia target for the past two decades. Having fought a lone battle against land grabbers, Malik and Pamela now are running from pillar to post to save the property. The mafia, which has political patronage, created repeated law and order problems to disrupt the Sunday prayers, following which, the police closed the church in June 2013.

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08 Jun

Indian state’s new law aims to end Christians’ educational rights

Christians fear the law will eventually bring all church schools under government management

Christian and other religious minorities in western India’s Gujarat state are upset about a new state law that they say curtails their right to manage their educational institutions.

Religious minorities jointly moved the state’s High Court on June 7 seeking to quash the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (Amendment) Act, 2021, which came into effect on June 1.

“The new law has practically withdrawn the rights of all religious minorities guaranteed in the constitution to establish and manage educational institutions,” said Father Teles Fernandes, secretary of Gujarat Education Board of Catholic Institutions.

Until now church-run educational institutions enjoyed the right to appoint non-teaching and teaching staff including the principal. They also framed rules and regulations for the administration of the institution and to discipline the students and staff.

“But the new law has withdrawn all such powers,” Father Fernandes told UCA News on June 7.
The new law says all minority-run institutions that receive the state’s financial aid should appoint staff, including principals, according to government norms.

Other religious minorities such as Muslims and Jains are also opposed to the new law

All appointments, the law says, will be done by the government through its Central Recruitment Committee, which will select and appoint staff in minority schools as per their merit list.

Church-run institutions mostly select Catholics, often priests and nuns, as heads of schools to retain the Catholic character of the institutions. Church leaders say the new law will take away the Christian identity of church-managed schools.

The law says school managements have to confirm appointments within seven days. In cases of delays, punitive action will be taken against the school management, including derecognition of the school’s registration.

Gujarat Education Board of Catholic Institutions manages 181 schools that diocese or religious congregations have established. But 63 of them get financial aid from the government to pay the salaries of teachers.
Christian leaders fear that all church-established schools will eventually come under state management.
Other religious minorities such as Muslims and Jains are also opposed to the new law.

“We have jointly filed a petition in the High Court challenging the new law,” said Father Fernades.Christian leaders suspect if the Gujarat government succeeds in taking away religious minorities’ rights, the same law will be replicated in other states where the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) runs the governments.

Gujarat, where the BJP has been in power for 26 years, has been described as the laboratory of right-wing Hindu groups and the BJP to experiment with their anti-minority policies that aim to make India a nation of Hindu hegemony.

The state also amended its 17-year-old anti-conversion law last April, construing even a blessing or sponsoring a child’s education as an attempt at religious conversion and a crime that can be punished with up to 10 years in jail.

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19 May

Christians struggle to check pandemic’s spread in northeast India

Illiteracy, poverty and lack of electricity are among challenges in fighting Covid-19 among tribal people

Catholic dioceses in India’s northeastern states have joined other Christian groups to contain the spread of Covid-19 among vulnerable indigenous people, especially those working in tea gardens.

Leaders of Christian volunteers said their prime concern is to stop the virus from spreading among more than one million people working in some 800 tea gardens in Assam state.

Bishop Albert Hemrom of Dibrugarh Diocese, which covers some tea garden areas, said in the initial stage of the second wave cases were restricted to major cities in Assam.

“But now it has reached villages, especially among poor and largely illiterate tea garden workers,” said Bishop Hemrom.

Besides creating awareness of ways to check the infection, Christian volunteers are busy distributing food to poverty-stricken daily wage earners on tea estates who have been made jobless following lockdowns in northeastern states, he said.

India’s eight northeastern states are cut off from the mainland but for a 20-kilometre-wide corridor called the Siliguri Corridor, and four of them — Arunachal Pradesh Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland — are Christian-dominated.

We never had a problem in the first wave but now hundreds of fresh cases are reported daily from our villages and tea gardens

The region, which includes Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Sikkim, was largely free of Covid-19 cases in the first wave that started in January 2020, but the second wave that began in April changed the situation.

Assam, the most populous state in the region with some 30 million people, continues to report more cases. It reported more than 4,000 new cases daily in the first week of June with some 40 people dying daily.

“We never had a problem in the first wave but now hundreds of fresh cases are reported daily from our villages and tea gardens. It is a matter of serious worry for us,” Bishop Hemrom told UCA News on June 4.

He said the infection can spread faster as most tea garden workers live in clusters and small rooms. “If one person is infected, it will lead to infection of the entire cluster and in such a situation it would be disastrous,” the bishop said.

Father Caesar Henry, a parish priest heading the relief and awareness operation in Golaghat district in Dibrugarh Diocese, said awareness creation is an important part of their work.

“The indigenous population in the tea gardens are largely unaware of Covid-19 protocols. They can hardly follow any serious social distancing, sanitization and other measures,” he said.

With the help of Christian volunteers, the priest has launched special awareness campaigns among indigenous people to inform them of the importance of social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, sanitizing their homes and the need for vaccination.

They are also afraid to go for vaccination because they believe it might lead to death or other health issues, the priest said.

“Now we are urging them to follow Covid-19 protocols and encouraging them to get vaccinated,” Father Henry told UCA News on June 4.

He said of the 4,000 Catholics in his parish only four people had been vaccinated as of June 4. The four were government employees, he said.

Father G.P. Amalraj, deputy secretary of the North Eastern Regional Bishops’ Council, said problems are similar in the entire region, which is dominated by tribal people.

The priest said they are mobilizing funds from within the region and other resources to support the poor in 15 Catholic dioceses.

We can only work with government agencies to help save their lives with our limited resources

Christian volunteers provide medical facilities, cooked meals and dry rations to the hungry poor in villages, Father Amalraj told UCA News on June 4.

The regional Church has also launched a toll-free number for online counselling to people living under stress.

Allen Brooks, the spokesman of the Assam Christian Forum, said the situation is “very bad” in the region.

The largely illiterate indigenous people are unable to follow Covid-19 protocols as the literature related to them is not in their indigenous language.

“Even the young people willing to be vaccinated are unable to register their names online for vaccination because of the frequent power outages and poor internet connections,” Brooks said.

“We can only work with government agencies to help save their lives with our limited resources, and we are doing it the best way possible.”

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04 Jan

British report scolds India govt over religion-based violence

Modi govt is not proactively tackling spiralling religiously motivated violence, report says.

A British parliamentary report has criticized the Indian government for failing to protect religious minorities from violent Hindu hardliners.

A report by the British All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief said the rise of nationalist “Hindutva” ideology — which defines ‘Indian’ as exclusively Hindu — has led to an increase in religious oppression in the country.

The Dec. 31 report titled ‘Commentary on the Current State of Freedom of Religion or Belief’ said anti-conversion laws in seven of India’s states are also used to threaten Muslims and Christians.

In its India chapter, the report said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has finally, condemned mob violence against minorities, but his government has remained largely inactive in proactively tackling spiralling religiously motivated violence.”

The report said a “particularly worrying” situation emerges from media reports that some members of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have close affiliations with the Hindu hard-line group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Founded in 1925, the RSS draws on its vision from a mix of Hindu legends and ancient Indian history. It claims that India is a Hindu land and religious minorities should accept Hindu supremacy if they want to live in the country.

Rights activists have agreed with the concerns expressed in the report. They have said that the situation worsened since the BJP came to power in 2014, with Hindu hardliners seeing the party’s victory as a mandate to push for their goal of Hindu nationhood.

Adil Hussain, a New Delhi based rights activist, said he feared that the violence targeting religious minorities will only get worse.

“Now with national elections due in April this year, there are fears that religious violence could spike,” said Hussain.

He cited recent meetings of Hindu groups pushing for the construction of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya, in India’s Uttar Pradesh where Hindu hardliners demolished a mosque 26 years ago in the same location.

“The leaders of nationalist groups have openly asked Hindus to produce more children and train them in weaponry to fight Muslims,” said Adil. “This poison is spreading across the country and is leaving minorities in dire straits.”

Christian leader A.C. Michael told that numerous reports have revealed a clear pattern of rising religious intolerance against Christians in India.

Those involved in anti-Christians attacks have a certain level of impunity due to tacit approval from government officials and the police, Michael said.

A report by ADF-India, an organization defending Christian rights in the country, stated there were 219 incidents of Hindu violence reported against Christians, mostly affecting women and children, between January and October 2018.

“Despite hundreds of anti-Christians incidents, police registered a crime in only 12 cases,” Michael said. “What is more shocking is the fact that the political leaders in the country have maintained a silence over the incidents and haven’t condemned a single one.”

Ishmail Ahmad, a political commentator based in New Delhi, told that surveys reveal that minorities — especially Muslims and Christians — disapprove of the way the BJP government functions.

Most he said do not want the BJP to retain power in India and will vote accordingly in the April election.

India has some 170 million Muslims in a population of 1.2 billion people, according to the official census. There are 28 million Christians scattered across the country.

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