We regret that the story is perhaps incurably political, for instance, stating that Madya Pradesh passed an anti-conversion law in 2021, when a little bit of research would have easily shown that the original bill was introduced and passed in 1968, when Congress, the opposition party was in power.
KJ ALPHONS IAS (Rtd)
The article in the New York Times titled ‘Arrests, Beatings, and Secret Prayers: Inside the Persecution of India’s Christians’ dated 22nd Dec 2021, is unfortunate and misleading.
It is a known fact that India is one of the earliest civilizations in the world. Today, we are also proud to be the largest democracy in the world. Freedom of speech, religion, association, and more are celebrated tenets of life in India. Close to 80% of the country are Hindu. Roughly 15% are Muslim and 2.3% are Christians. The percentage of Christians have remained steady (and hence grown as India’s population has quadrupled since Independence). For Indians, religion is a way of life.
In the spirit of not taking a defensive or political tone in response to the article, and to be respectful of everyone’s time, let me just illustrate three misleading claims from the article:
1. Anti-Christianvigilantes are sweeping through villages, storming churches, burning Christian literature, attacking schools and assaulting worshippers.
2. In 2014, all that changed…Anti-Christian hate crimes have doubled since 2014.
3. A few years ago, after Catholic churches in New Delhi, the capital, had been vandalised, Christian leaders pleaded with Mr Modi for help. He was disinterested, mocking them and never addressing the attacks, according to three clergymen who attended an important meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence in December 2014…he acted like a don.
The above passages give the impression that a concentration-like, ghettoized, persecution of Christians is rampant. This is so far from the truth, that frankly, we’re confused and at a loss on how to fittingly respond, except present facts. Christians run the largest number of schools, colleges, orphanages, old age homes and homes for the destitute in this country. Christianity is a powerhouse in India due to these institutions, even though they make up only 2.3% of the population of India. These institutions have made immense contributions to the country, and India as a whole is irretrievably dependent on it. If there is one overarching agenda the current government has propagated, it’s the welfare and development of the poor, and no institutional group aligns more with this than Christians. Yes, there have been stray incidents. We cannot be blind to these incidents. Those who perpetuate them must be brought to justice.
Regarding the third claim, I was in the delegation of Christian leaders, which met Prime Minister Modi on Christmas in 2014, a few months after he formed the government. I was there because, as a matter of fact, I organized the meeting. He was extremely cordial, cut a Christmas cake which was shared by everyone in the large delegation. It is a fact that we raised the issue of attack on churches that happened in Delhi prior to the elections in 2014. 11 churches were attacked under the cover of darkness a few weeks before the elections. I visited all the eleven churches. It was widely misreported in the national and global media that BJP elements were behind the attack and this would be the fate of all Christian institutions in this country if Modi came to power. The Prime Minister was categorical and emphatic when we raised the issue: he said that the criminals will be brought to justice, irrespective of religious or political affiliations. Investigations revealed that the BJP had nothing to do with the vandalization of any of these churches. Investigation revealed that most of the accused belonged to an upstart political party, trying to establish a base in Delhi by laterally positioning themselves as anti-BJP and stoke fears of BJP. I do not want to name the party behind the attacks. Religious tolerance is a deeply democratic belief that we take seriously and shouldn’t be turned into a political he-said-she-said.
Even a single incident of any attack on a minority group is an attack on us all and unacceptable. The Prime Minister did not mince words when he called these extremists “criminals”, and that they would be treated as such. He said that they were an insult to the country and their religion. He instructed the state governments to take stern action. Any such incident is taken very seriously.
The basic tenant of Indian civilization, which predates most western philosophies, is the belief in Vasudhaivakutumbhakam, that humanity is one. The slogan for Prime Minister Modi’s election campaign in 2014 was Sub ke Saath, sub ka vikas, which means with everybody, for everybody’s development. Addressing Christian leaders in Vijyan Bhavan, Delhi on 16th February 2015, Prime Minister Modi said “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith. Everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.” He added “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions. India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi. Equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian. We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard.” Following the 2014 meeting, I have taken the Cardinals of India to the Prime Minister at least three other times; every time he reiterated his commitment to ensuring that Christians were protected in this country.
India is a true democracy and therefore everyone has the freedom to accuse the Prime Minister or its governing party in any way they feel. However, we take any allegations that violate our democratic systems and beliefs extremely seriously and we thank the New York Times for expressing their side of the story. We regret that the story positions India as rife with extremism, when these are isolated incidents, and not a pattern, as they suggest, within a richly diverse country of 1.4 billion people. We also regret that the story is perhaps incurably political, for instance, stating that Madya Pradesh passed an anti-conversion law in 2021, when a little bit of research would have easily shown that the original bill was introduced and passed in 1968, when Congress, the opposition party was in power. But, again, we do not want to turn this into a political issue, as these are human rights concerns and we want to preserve the rich religious diversity.
(KJ Alphons is former member of Indian Administrative Service and is currently a Member of Indian Parliament. He was Minister of State (Independent charge) Tourism, India, 2017-19)