Police and the government are helping attacks that target minorities thanks to the country’s new anti-conversion law, a new report says.
Last year, the Indian parliament passed a law aimed at preventing interfaith marriages or in other words fighting the so-called “love jihad” – an Islamophobic trope used to target Muslim men by alleging they lure Hindu women in a love trap and convert them to Islam.
But in present-day India, it's not just Muslims but also Christians increasingly feeling the burn of Hindu nationalism. Many far-right Hindu groups have waged a culture war against Indian Christians, accusing them of converting Hindus to Christianity through their missionary work. These types of allegations targeting minorities have become a cornerstone of Hindu nationalist discourse. It's common to see Hindu mobs attacking churches in India.
Between January and November 2021 alone, there have been 39 cases of threats or violence against Christians, a small minority group in the Hindu-dominated country, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
A new report by the New York Times, however, says the police and the government were often complicit in the growing attacks against the worshippers and churches, while anti-Christian sentiment is spreading quickly in the country. There are incidents in which worshippers have been assaulted, religious books burnt and missionary schools vandalised.
Here's a quick insight into the most common tactics the Indian police and institutions use to favour violent Hindu nationalist groups.
Fake religious conversion cases
In India, a report on an alleged conversion can lead to prison sentences up to 19 years. The idea of conversion by definition is vague. Every person who wants to convert to another religion now has to notify officials two months before the conversion, to seek the state’s permission, which is not guaranteed.
Any family member of a person who converted to another religion can file a complaint, and often, the person’s testimony saying that they have converted by choice is ignored.
The officials are entitled to declare any interfaith marriage null or void.
The anti-Christian wave in the country is also powered by a group of lawyers and clerks who file complaints against Christian organisations.
Denying protection requests
On December 6, when a Catholic school in India’s Madhya Pradesh state asked for protection from the police after a YouTube account alleged that it was converting Hindu students to Christianism, the police did not come to their rescue, the Vatican News reported.
The school authorities say the police denied protection to students and told them the incoming mob would hold a peaceful protest and leave.
Instead, a mob of 400-500 Hindu extremists armed with iron rods and stones vandalised the building while students were taking an exam.
According to the school’s principal, the police have downplayed the incident in its official report. The principal said the damage caused by the mob was estimated to be over $26,000 but the police lowered the amount to $10,500. The total number of attackers, which eyewitnesses believe was more than 400, was also reduced to 100 in the police report, says the principal.
Ignoring or helping the attacks
Dilip Chouhan, a member of an anti-Christian WhatsApp group of 5,000 people, told the New York Times that the online group is a constellation of Hindu nationalist organisations across the country. That includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharaiya Janata or BJP party.
In September, Chouhan and other BJP members stormed into a police station and beat up pastors, right in front of the police officers. In many cases, the police officers take the attacker’s side.
Last year, Christians were prevented from gathering for Christmas. A leaked paper showed that the officials in the state of Uttar Pradesh were involved in preventing Christmas gatherings, although India is a secular democracy on paper.
In Madhya Pradesh, the village elders increase pressure on a few Christian families by enforcing a fine that is the equivalent of $130 for families that allow Christians in their home.
"In several cases of hate crimes against minority communities, the perpetrators went scot-free as police refused to act on the complaints," the report said.
The police force is also accused of criminalising the people who file complaints against the attackers.
In one case, a Christian woman who helps her mother to lead Sunday prayers has filed a complaint after an attack in the church. The police, yet to arrest a single person, have in response lodged a counter-complaint against the mother, which includes 78 non-bailable sections.