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INDIA: The Hindu festival of Ram Navami sparked anti-Muslim riots across India

INDIA: The Hindu festival of Ram Navami sparked anti-Muslim riots across India

By Thaïs Chaigne


The Observers France 24 (19.04.2023) – In India, anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence increased across the country on the occasion of a Hindu festival on March 30, 2023. Several videos document the unrest in Vadodara, Gujarat. In a state where communal conflicts have already claimed many lives, our Muslim Observers are concerned about the rise of Hindu nationalism supported by the government.

In Vadodara, Gujarat, the Hindu festival “Ram Navani”, which celebrates the birth of the god Rama, was the scene of violent clashes. Videos posted on Twitter show processions filled with saffron-coloured flags – the symbol of Hindu nationalists – and men throwing stones or cinderblocks at Muslim homes and mosques. They also chanted Hindu nationalist slogans in the city’s Muslim neighbourhood.

Shaukat Indori is a lawyer in Vadodara and a member of an Islamic civil rights association. He said that a number of Muslims were wrongfully arrested after the festival.

“Unfortunately, what happened is that police took action only towards the Muslim community. In the FIR, the first information report, which was lodged by the police department, they mentioned that there was a mob of 500-600 people, Hindu and Muslim. And they quarrelled and stone-pelting took place. But in the FIR, that complaint the police officer made, all the accused are Muslims. Around five women also were arrested by the police department. They were not part of the mob or any part of the stone pelting.”

The scenes of arrests in Vadodara have been described as unjust and abusive by several Muslim community members. A video showing the arrest of a Muslim woman just as she and her family were preparing to break their fast for Ramadan was particularly controversial.

The five women arrested were released on bail on April 14, 2023.

For several years, this Hindu religious festival has been the scene of heated tensions between the Muslim and Hindu communities in Gujarat. So much so that most members of the Muslim community simply do not dare to go out, as Indori explains:

“It is a celebration of the victory of Ram, Lord Ram according to the Hindu scriptures, but for the last four or five years the way they have been celebrating this Rama Yatra is targeting the Muslim community,

Fundamentalist organisations […] use this festival to teach a lesson or to tease and harass the Muslim community. They want to polarise the whole political scenario. They want to tease and target the Muslim community as an enemy, and they celebrate in this way, not like they celebrate Diwali or other festivals.”

The festival has caused tensions throughout the country, including in Delhi, Bihar and Kashmir.

Gujarat has a history of violent communal conflict between Muslims and Hindus. In 2002, up to 2,000 Muslims were killed in three days of bloody riots in Gujarat, in retaliation for the death of 58 Hindu pilgrims.

Since then, Muslims have been increasingly marginalised and have looked on with concern at the rise of Hindu nationalism in Gujarat and throughout the country.

Minhaz Saiyed (not his real name) is a Muslim man from Gujarat.

“The 2002 incident has had a very bad impact on the lives of all Muslims in Gujarat. Before that, my family and I lived in a community mixed with Hindus. Then it became too risky, we could be targeted, so we moved to a community where there were only Muslims.

Discrimination against Muslims is routine. You don’t even have to be religious, I have a name associated with my religion, so people associate me with that. Usually they ask me if I am from Gujarat – because some Hindus say you can’t be a Muslim from Gujarat. But I was born and brought up here.

[As a Muslim,] I don’t feel very safe, it’s a bit scary if you ask me. We are supposed to be in a democratic country, but religious fanatics today are taking more and more space in politics.

The politicisation of Hinduism worries all religious minorities. In general, religion is becoming really political, and discrimination is increasing.”

The Hindu nationalist party BJP has been India’s ruling political party since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014. The BJP controls 16 of India’s 30 regional governments, including that of Gujarat, Modi’s home state.

Photo: Gujarat was one of at least six Indian states where Hindu nationalists targeted mosques and Muslims during the Hindu festival of Ram Navami. © Observers

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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INDIA’s Manipur still tense after 400 churches burned and 60 Christians killed

INDIA: India’s Manipur remains tense weeks after 400 churches were burned, 60 Christians killed

By Anugrah Kumar


The Christian Post (21.05.2023) – The northeastern Indian state of Manipur remains in a tense state of unease weeks after a devastating spate of violence led to the deaths of at least 73 individuals, most of them Christians, and the burning, damage or destruction of nearly 400 churches.


Kuldeep Singh, a security advisor to the Manipur Government, told reporters Saturday that 488 weapons and about 6,800 rounds of ammunition looted amid the strife had been retrieved, Ukhrul Times reported.


The Assam Rifles additionally recovered 22 pounds (10 kg) of explosives and 2,000 BIPL detonators.


The largely Christian tribals belonging to the Kuki-Zo communities, who reside on the hills of Churachandpur district, say two groups of the predominantly Hindu Meitei community — Arambai Tengoll, also known as “black-shirts,” and Meitei Leepun — were behind the violence.


Meiteis are primarily settled in the Imphal Valley.


The violence, which began on May 3, primarily engulfed the Imphal Valley and Churachandpur, causing at least four days of turmoil. The region remains fraught with tension as authorities fear possible reprisal attacks due to the significant accumulation of weapons within both involved communities.


The Indian Express earlier reported that over 1,000 weapons and 10,000 rounds of ammunition were stolen from the Manipur Police Training College, two local police stations, and an IRB battalion camp in Imphal by members of the Meitei ethnic group. The report also noted, without stating specific figures, that police stations in Churachandpur were attacked and looted by the Kuki community.


During this period of hostility, the escalating violence has not only claimed a minimum of 73 lives, out of which about 64 were Christian tribals, but also left 200 people injured. More than 1,700 residences suffered damage, complete destruction or saw their homes set ablaze. The turmoil has forced about 50,000 individuals to abandon their homes, of whom roughly 35,000 belong to Christian tribal communities.


The houses of Meiteis in the Christian tribal-majority Churachandpur have also been damaged or destroyed.


A local source informed The Christian Post that the violence and ensuing tensions have caused a complete exodus of tribal residents from the Imphal Valley. Similarly, all Meiteis previously residing or working in Churachandpur, including government and police officials, have fled the area.


According to the source, Christian organizations in the area have recorded the burning, damage, or destruction of 397 churches and six Christian institutions amid the wave of violence. Significantly, these churches primarily served as places of worship for Meitei Christians. It is alleged that these structures were primarily targeted and destroyed by Meitei Hindus.


Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal, whose jurisdiction covers the entirety of Manipur, has launched an appeal for funds to assist those impacted by the violence.

He warns of a “general sense of hopelessness and desperation” throughout the region, acknowledging that all communities, regardless of their affiliation, are affected by the ongoing strife.


Fr. Varghese Velikakam, Vicar General of the Diocese of Imphal, criticized local police for their failure to prevent the attacks and questioned the lack of guards after attempted assaults.


Videos of the violence show police looking on or participating in the violence on tribal people.


Despite the apparent targeted nature of these attacks, Fr. Varghese advised the Church to act cautiously, maintain neutrality and promote peace and unity.


Northeast India has had long-standing ethnic tensions. In Manipur, the Meiteis and the tribal communities have long been at odds over issues such as land ownership and affirmative action policies.


After winning the 2017 state election, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, reclassified the majority of tribal settlements as reserved forests, effectively treating them as illegal immigrants. This move, along with the Meiteis’ ongoing quest for recognition as a tribal group, has significantly exacerbated tensions between the two groups.


Manipur’s highest court’s recent instruction to the government last month to consider the Meiteis’ demand for legal recognition as a tribal group has further stirred anxiety among the tribal communities. The recent outbreak of violence was triggered when a tribal student group protested against this demand.


The Hindu Meiteis and Christian tribals each constitute approximately 42% of the state’s population. Despite this balance, the Meiteis have historically held dominance in the state’s political and economic spheres.


Critics also point to Chief Minister Singh’s past orders to demolish churches in Imphal, under the allegation of illegal construction on government-owned land, as a significant strain on inter-community relations.


The widespread violence and targeted attacks against the Christian community have raised concerns about the potential escalation of religious conflict in the region.

As these communities grapple with the aftermath, Manipur remains under a dark cloud of uncertainty, its future dictated by both the government’s ability to quell tensions and the communities’ willingness to engage in peace-building efforts.


Photo: An Indian army soldier (R) stands along with villagers in front of a ransacked church that was set on fire by a mob in the ethnic violence hit area of Heiroklian village in Senapati district, in India’s Manipur state on May 8, 2023. Around 23,000 people have fled the unrest which erupted last week in the hilly northeast state bordering Myanmar.

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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INDIA: 600 Christian tribals flee from forced de-conversion

600 Christian tribals flee from forced de-conversion

Christians flee into forest after Hindu mobs vandalize their homes, churches for refusing to re-convert

By Anugrah Kumar


The Christian Post (25.12.2022) – https://bit.ly/3VnAAMA – More than 600 Christian tribals remained displaced on Christmas Day in India’s Chhattisgarh state, a week after radical Hindu nationalists launched a spate of attacks on them in 20 villages, vandalizing their homes, churches and properties for refusing to “re-convert” to Hinduism.


The attacks took place last Sunday in 20 villages in the districts of Narayanpur and Kondagaon as Christians gathered for worship, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said.


The attackers used bamboo sticks to attack Christians and looted and destroyed their homes and desecrated three churches, ICC continued. Several people were severely injured and hospitalized, while others fled to the jungle or to nearby police stations, it added.


The attacks were reported in the villages of Borpal, Modenga, Palna, Gohda, Aamasara, Modenga, Kongera, Mainpur, Kibai Balenga, Puswal, Kokdi, Kulhad, Khargaon and Shantinagar, among others.


“Small kids and women with their families were sitting in open places in biting cold, with no food or water, warming their hands with their breath,” a witness was quoted as saying.


Christians reported the attacks to authorities but police allegedly told them to fend for themselves.


Some of the displaced Christians are being kept in community halls and a stadium in the region.


Attacks against tribal Christians have increased since radical Hindu groups launched a campaign in 2020 to stop the country’s tribal, or indigenous, people from converting to Christianity. These groups have been demanding that the government ban those who convert from receiving education and employment opportunities.


Most tribals do not identify as Hindus; they have diverse religious practices and many worship nature. However, the government’s Census deems them to be Hindu.


“Christian persecution has skyrocketed in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party) took power in 2014,” ICC President Jeff King said. “With the goal to set up India as a Hindu nation, they have passed laws and enforced policies targeting Christians. The attacks this week are the result of this overarching hostility toward followers of Christ. It has created an increasingly dangerous climate for Indian believers.”


In September 2020, tribal villagers vandalized 16 houses belonging to Christians from the same tribe in three separate attacks in Chhattisgarh, forcing most of the Christian women in those villages to flee into jungles for safety at the time.


Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population, and Hindus comprise about 80%.

The watchdog group Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reports that “Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences.”


“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet on India explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”


ICC quoted a local Christian leaders as saying that the large-scale violent attacks in Chhattisgarh brought back “traumatic memories” of the violence in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district, which is also a tribal-majority district.


The leader was referring to August 2008 when radical Hindu nationalists killed at least 39 Christians and destroyed 3,906 homes. “These incidents have shocked the entire Christian community in the state, and the sad thing is that the people in authority did not bother to help.”


Photo: Getty Images

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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INDIA : 30 pastors incarcerated in the state of Uttar Pradesh

30 pastors incarcerated in Uttar Pradesh

Indian Christian group seeks release of jailed pastors

UCA News (07.11.2022) – https://bit.ly/3tjamiB – A group of Christian pastors in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has appealed for the release of some 30 fellow pastors incarcerated in different jails across the province.

Pastor Jitendra Singh, general secretary of the Pastors’ Association, Uttar Pradesh, told UCA News that all of them were falsely charged with indulging in religious conversions.

Most of the arrests were made after the state’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government criminalized religious conversions through allurement, force, or coercion among other means, by enacting an anti-conversion law in February 2021.

“We want justice for the pastors who have been victims of persecution by Hindu nationalists,” Pastor Singh told UCA News on Nov. 7.

The group has sought the intervention of the police commissioner in Kanpur city to protect the Christian pastors from harassment and persecution.

The pastors in their memorandum have alluded to how the hardcore nationalists groups and individuals disrupt Christian prayers gatherings, ransack churches and prayer halls, destroy copies of the Holy Bible and manhandle pastors, priests and nuns, by citing violations of the state’s anti-conversion law.

The pastors also urged the police commissioner to provide protection to the community members and their places of worship.

Police Commissioner Bhagirath P Jogdand has assured the group that he would look into their grievances.

“Persecution of Christians has increased since the anti-conversion law came into being,” Brother Joy Mathew says adding that this was since the BJP government came to power.

“Many Christian leaders were sent to jail, but so far no one has been convicted as the cases do not stand legal scrutiny in the court. We proclaim the Word of God strictly within the purview of the constitutional safeguards and the state’s laws but those attacking us are violating the legal and constitutional mandate. They must be punished,” he added.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state with 200 million people. Christians make up 0.18 percent of its population.

Data on Christian persecution collected and released by the rights group, United Christian Forum reveals that the number of violent incidents against Christians rose to 486 in 2021 from 279 in 2020.

The Supreme Court on Sept. 1 directed the federal government to verify allegations of the attacks on members of the Christian community, and asked eight states including Uttar Pradesh, with the maximum number of such cases, to submit reports within two months on the action taken on each complaint.

Photo: Christian devotees participating in a prayer meeting in the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Facebook)

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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INDIA: Law preventing free religious conversion in Karnataka

Law preventing free religious conversion in Karnataka is “contrary to the Constitution and human dignity”

Agenzia Fides (05.10.2022) – https://bit.ly/3SPJCS2  – The recent bill that seeks to regulate religious conversions in the Indian state of Karnataka – a state in Southwestern India with more than 64 million inhabitants – goes against the Constitution, violates human dignity, freedom of conscience and religious freedom: this is what Father Irudhaya Jothi, a Jesuit committed to works and social services in the State, declared to Agenzia Fides.


The legislation that the Upper House of the State of Karnataka (the “Karnataka Legislative Council”, in the bicameral system) has definitively approved – after the approval of the Lower House in December 2021 – “is a draconian law is unjustified”, observes the religious. “Its objective is to scare Christians and members of other communities, to strengthen support for Hindu nationalist parties”, he argues.


The current provisions of the bill “can be misused to discourage poor and oppressed communities, especially Dalits (untouchable and marginalized groups) and tribal communities, from education, employment and social assistance programs,” observes the Jesuit.

Father Devasagayaraj M. Zacharias, former secretary of the Office for Dalits of the Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), agrees: “The Constitution of India – he reminds Fides – enshrines the fundamental right of the person to profess, practice and propagate any conscientiously chosen religion. The enactment of the anti-conversion law is contrary to the Indian Constitution and must be challenged in court”.


“The procedure to convert from one faith to another – he points out – is so cumbersome and bureaucratic that it is almost impossible to complete the religious conversion”. In particular, all Dalits who wish to convert to Christianity “will be hampered only by a political issue.”


The “Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill” was passed by the Karantaka Lower House on December 23, 2021, but was not presented to the Upper House because the “Bharatiya Janata Party” (BJP), the Hindu nationalist formation that promoted it, did not have a majority in that assembly at the time.


In 2022, thanks to some administrative votes, the BJP also obtained a majority in the Upper House, with 41 members out of 75. On September 15, the bill was introduced by the BJP and approved.


“The Supreme Court has affirmed that freedom of religion does not allow forced conversions. There is freedom of conversion, but not under duress or seduction”, said Karantaka’s Interior Minister, Araga Jnanendra, when presenting the bill on September 15 and justifying the legislation.


“Religious conversion must be regulated: this is the intention behind the bill. We do not want to deprive anyone of a right, nor violate Article 25 of the Constitution [which guarantees the right to practice and propagate religion, ed.]”, stated the Prime Minister of Karnataka, Basavaraj Bommai, explaining the purpose of the law: “We want to maintain law and order and prevent religious conflicts”.Catholic writer and journalist John Dayal comments to Fides: “This is not the way to prevent conflicts.


In fact, the law violates the rule of law and religious freedom. Let us remember that India is a democratic republic that has always sanctioned and protected the fundamental rights of the people, including the freedom to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion.”


According to the bill, “no one can convert or attempt to convert, directly or indirectly, another person from one religion to another by false statement, force, undue influence, duress, seduction, or any fraudulent means, including through marriage; no one will encourage or organize religious conversions of other people”.In case of violation, a prison sentence of three to five years and a fine of 25,000 Indian rupees (307 dollars) is foreseen, while the prison sentence is raised to 10 years and the fine of 50,000 rupees (614 dollars) for those who convert minors, women and people from the “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” communities, considered marginalized and vulnerable groups.


According to the established procedure, if a person intends to change his faith, the minister of worship must notify the magistrate, who will announce it publicly on a notice board, pending the objections that, where appropriate, will be examined. Subsequently, if no doubts have arisen, the interested party will be summoned by the magistrate to verify his identity and confirm the content of the statement. In addition, family members, relatives or friends of a person who claims to have changed their beliefs can file a “complaint for forced conversion” in court.


The practice of proposing regulations that regulate or restrict religious conversion has taken hold for some years in the Indian Federation, thanks to the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Several states in northern, western and eastern India such as Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand have passed laws restricting religious conversions. Karnataka, in southern India, has been the latest to enact such a law.


Indian Christians have always opposed these measures, and in some cases have filed legal challenges.


Photo: fides.org

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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