INDIA: CHRISTIANS FEAR MORE VIOLENCE IN ELECTION YEAR
Hindu nationalists are likely to intensify attacks to polarize voters along religious lines.
NEW DELHI, January 15 (Compass Direct News) – With elections due in 10 states this year and a general election scheduled for 2009, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is apparently planning to use religion-related issues to polarize voters. This tactic, Christians fear, will increase the incidence of anti-Christian violence.
While state legislative elections are expected to take place early this year in Karnataka, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, elections are scheduled for the second half of the year in Jammu and Kashmir, Mizoram, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The BJP holds power in three of these states: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Persecution of Christians is already a cause for concern in these states. The party is planning to hold major rallies in almost all state capitals by the end of March in preparation for the general election, reported The Hindu on January 9. Parties have begun preparing for the general election in 2009, when the five-year term of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-led by the Congress party will end.
“There will be increased violence against Christians in the 10 states that go to the polls – and in other states, too,” said Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC).
Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), agreed with Dayal. “The climate for the Christians is likely to be volatile this year,” he said. “Hindu nationalism has grown over the years, and there are severe threats, life risks, and several other challenges from the Hindutva extremists and their leaders.”
Hindutva is a political ideology of Hindu nationalism asserting that India belongs to Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of the 1-billion-plus population, and that religious minorities such as Christians are “outsiders.”
Ram Puniyani, a social activist who has long been working for religious harmony in the country, warns that the recent victory of BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the state legislative election in Gujarat is a “shot in the arm for fascist forces [Hindutva extremists],” and that they are likely to intensify their “tirade against the minorities” in other parts of the country as well.
Modi is widely known for persecuting minorities, including the Christian community. He allegedly allowed Hindu extremists to organize large-scale violence in 2002 in which more than 2,000 Muslims were reportedly killed.
The BJP has won twice in Gujarat assembly elections, most recently in December, as voters split along religious lines, Christian leaders say.
Disillusionment with Congress Party
Christians who have traditionally voted for the Congress Party are now becoming disillusioned with it, saying it is soft on Hindutva at the federal level.
“The politicians of the Congress Party will silently utter the same words the Sangh men do more loudly. That is routine,” said Dayal.
“Sangh” refers to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps or RSS), the chief Hindutva umbrella organization for numerous extremist groups. The BJP is its political wing.
The Congress Party enacted an anti-conversion law, seen as restricting the rights of people to convert out of Hinduism, in Himachal Pradesh state last year, allegedly to woo Hindus before state elections that took place in December 2007. The BJP, however, defeated the Congress Party.
Before coming into federal power in 2004, the Congress Party promised to fight Hindutva extremists by enacting a comprehensive law against religion-related violence, but the legislation has yet to be passed with the party’s term about to end around April 2009.
Implementation of Hindutva
Referring to Hindutva, Dayal said he cannot countenance an ideology “in which I have no place, or in which my faith makes me a second-grade citizen.”
“I cannot take this lying down,” he said. “I refuse to flee and become a refugee or a non- resident Indian. I intend to live in India and fight for what I think is the real idea of India.”
Dayal recalled how Christian persecution rose to new heights during the BJP’s rule at the federal level through the coalition it leads, National Democratic Alliance (NDA), from 1998 to 2004.
When Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines was burnt to death in his jeep with his two sons by Dara Singh and his “mad men” in January 1999 in Orissa, then-Indian president K.R Narayanan called it a blot stain on the Indian civilization, Dayal said. He added that only a month before the gruesome murder, three dozen or so village churches had been destroyed by “similar mad men” in a distant forest in Dangs district of Gujarat state.
“Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then-prime minister, responded [to the killing of Staines] by calling for a national debate on conversions,” he added. “Interestingly enough, his party, now under his then-deputy Lal Krishna Advani, is calling not just for a debate but for a national law against conversions.”
On December 10, the BJP named Advani as its prime ministerial candidate in the 2009 general election, reported The Indian Express newspaper. Advani, leader of the opposition coalition at the federal level, the NDA, is seen as the leader who revived Hindutva in the early 1990s.
Puniyani also said that a “deeper communalization [penetration with Hindutva ideology]” of the country had been intense.
“The coming to power of the BJP signifies the polarization along religious lines,” he said. “In Karnataka, an anti-minority atmosphere is heating up, while, in Orissa, the blatant attacks on the Christian minority community are a sign of times to come.”
GCIC’s George indicated that Dalit (formerly known as “untouchables”) and tribal (aboriginal) Christians will bear the brunt of the attacks expected this year.
“We have documented over 525 cases in the last two years, and 85 percent of the victims are of Dalit or tribal origin,” he said.
George added that it is not common Hindus, “for whom religion is a matter of personal faith and inner realization,” but Hindutva extremists who oppose the religious freedom of Dalits and tribal peoples. “We have deep regard for Hindus who respect the liberty of others to choose and pursue any faith.”
Thus far in modern India, 2007 was the most violent year for Christians. With more than 800 attacks around Christmas time in Orissa state, the number of attacks on Christians last year crossed 1,000 for the first time since India’s Independence in 1947.
The AICC, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the Christian Legal Association recorded at least 200 incidents of anti-Christian attacks, including four murders, before violence erupted in Orissa’s Kandhamal district that killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches.
According to the latest government figures (2001 Census), Christians account for only 2.3 percent of the total population.