Hindu political groups set 2021 target to rid India of Christians and Muslim; the world must take notice
The government encourages them with call for national laws against religious conversions
On 18th December 2014, which is the official National Minorities Day, Mr. Rajeshwar Singh, the head of the Dharm Jagran Manch [Faith awakening forum] declared on national television news channels that the Manch had set a 2021 deadline to cleanse India of the “alien Islam and Christianity”. Another group said Christians would not be allowed in the Himalayan regions, sacred to the Hindus. The hate speeches went viral on social media, and then in the major newspapers across the country.
The Indian government of Mr. Narendra Modi, has so far not indicated if Mr. Rajeshwar Singh is being prosecuted under India’s strict laws against religious discord, used so far largely to target Christian pastors, and in recent months, Muslim youth active on Face Book who vent their anger against the State.
But members of Mr. Modi’s Council of Ministers, and official spokesmen of the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, which controls much of the Indian provincial governments, have been voluble in support of the Sangh Parivar. The Parivar is a very large and almost omni-present family of Hindu militant organisations created by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in the past two decades, of which the Dharma Jagran Manch, the Bajrang Dal and the powerful Vishwa Hindu Parishad are among the more prominent groups with aggressive cadres.
Political analysts have said it would be erroneous to assume that under the government of Mr. Modi, the RSS has reoriented its goals. Each time the BJP assumes power, its ideologues get emboldened. Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee was in power in New Delhi when major attacks took place on Christians. Over 30 village churches were destroyed in Dangs in Gujarat on Christmas Eve in 1998. Australian leprosy worker Graham Staines and his sons were burnt alive in January 1999, and of a Catholic priest Fr George Kuzhikandam in Mathura, not too far from New Delhi, as he lay asleep in his church in June 2000. Christmas eve violence in 2007 in Kandhamal, Orissa, was a precursor of the 2008 pogrom, was when the BJP was in power in coalition government. Mr. Modi has made no bones of the fact that he was a leader of the RSS, and continues to profess its ideology.
RSS affiliated groups have launched a campaign to convert the poorer Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, a process they call Ghar Wapsi, or home coming under their argument that every Indian is actually a Hindu, and Christians and Muslims are those who have strayed, or have been bought over by missionaries. In turn, the Sangh groups have called for a war chest for the Ghar Wapsi, earmarking Rupees 500,000 for every Muslim they convert, and Rupees 200,000 for every Christian. The different rates are presumably because Muslims are felt to be more difficult to “persuade’ for a change of faith.
In the central Indian State of Chhattisgarh, where some months ago radical groups enacted villages banning the entry of essentially Christian pastors and religious services other than those of the Hindus, the focus is now on Catholic Schools. In its Bastar Tribal region, Christian schools, which are otherwise in great demand, need to install statues of the Hindu goddess of learning, Saraswati. And priests running these institutions can no longer be called “father’, but need to be called “Pracharya”, a teacher. Protestant pastors are now beaten up, home churches raided almost as a matter of routine, with the police looking on, or an active participant. Santa Claus, of course, has been proscribed. Needless to say, the State has been governed by the BJP for the past 12 years.
The fact that the Sangh Parivar runs over 57,000 ideology based schools for children in villages across several states, and specially in areas populated by Tribals and the Dalits, groups once called Untoucbable, makes available a cadre of youth and their parents ready to do their bidding.
The BJP’s response has been to suggest that the religious cleansing deadline needs to be seen in the context of fiery speeches by Muslim TV evangelists and western campaigns to spread Christianity. The government’s senior minister, Mr. Venkiah Naidu, a former president of the BJP, has called for a national law against religious conversions. These laws exist in six states, and have been passed by two more states but yet made cleared by the Governors. It is a matter of a few months before they too are brought into force. These laws have also led to some considerable violence against religious groups in the years they have been in force.
United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteurs for Religious Freedom have slammed these laws as infringing the basic rights of freedom of faith and belief, enunciated in the UN bill of Rights, and in fact, an important part of the Indian Constitution.
Other ministers have suggested an immediate enactment of a Common Civil Code, seemingly a good thing, but rooted in the unsubstantiated premise that Muslims can marry four wives at a time, are breeding too fast, and will outnumber the Hindus soon. The law will also impact on Christian personal laws and customs, particularly in rural populations where tradition and custom are the glue that holds their society together.
Mr. Modi’s minister for education, the former TV actor Mrs. Smriti Boman Irani, who has ordered a revision of text books, particularly of history, to incorporate more of ancient Indian traditions including references of Hindu sacred texts. Various important councils in the ministry are now chaired by luminaries wedded to the thesis that India is the fountainhead of all knowledge in the world. The BJP and the Minister hold Hindu sacred texts are the 5,000-year-old source of knowledge on such diverse subjects as plastic surgery, aviation, nuclear weaponry and genetic engineering
Her officials passed orders earlier this month that Christmas Day will now be called “Good Governance Day” in honour of the birthday, not of Jesus, but of Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the first BJP Prime Minister who ruled from 1998 to 2004, and is now critically ill and has not been seen in public for several years. Academic institutions from junior schools to Universities were keep their doors open and organise social programmes for the students, supervised by the teachers. Christmas was not to be a holiday any more.
An outcry by Church and Civil Society, an acrimonious clash in Parliament where Mr. Modi still does not have a majority in the Upper House, Rajya Sabha, forced the government to dilute its order. Christmas remains a Holiday, but the “educational” programmes of declamations and other activities will also be held, with Principals and officials told to report to the government that they did indeed comply with the order.
Muslims and Christians feel they are being encircled in a vicious and tightening noose, in the villages and small towns by Sangh cadres who have the police on their side, and nationally by the Federal and State governments who seem to endorse the hate campaigns and the violence.
But for Civil society, the threat is to the Constitution of India which ahs evolved as a great international democratic document that protects the subcontinent-sized country’s hundreds of cultures, languages, races and faith. All too many people in office and heading Sangh groups have said the Constitution is a British inheritance that has no place in Hindu Rashtra, the Land of the Hindus.
This is something that must worry not just Indian religious minorities, but the world.