by Arielle Del Turco
May 31, 2019
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected for another five-year term last week in a decisive victory. The Hindu nationalist party he represents, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), secured a majority in the lower house of Parliament, earning the most seats in the history of the party.
All of this is bad news for the Christians living in India.
Persecution of Christians has grown significantly worse during Modi’s leadership and the rise of the BJP. The BJP advances a growing narrative that suggests “to be Indian is to be Hindu.” The fact that Christian and Muslim minorities have chosen a faith other than Hinduism is seen as an attack on the national identity of India. Earlier this year, BJP Member of Parliament Bharat Singh even claimed Christian missionaries were “a threat to the unity of the country.”
The popularity of the BJP’s ideology is reflected in actions taken not just by the government, but also by mobs and vigilante groups. Militant groups are known to patrol neighborhoods “looking for those who do not conform to society’s religious norms.” For Christians in India, mob violence is a continual threat. Violence against the Christian community has included beatings, sexual assault, and forced conversions to Hinduism. In 2017, there were 736 reported attacks against Indian Christians. That’s up from 358 reported attacks in 2016.
Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List ranks India as one of the top ten countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian. Before Modi was elected to his first term as Prime Minister in 2014, India was listed as No. 31.
At the recent Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum, speakers addressed India’s use of anti-conversion laws to target Christians and limit the natural expression of beliefs which is part of religious freedom. The provisions of India’s anti-conversion laws prohibit “fraudulent” conversions or offering “inducements” to convert. For instance, when a Christian claims the price for not accepting Jesus is hell (part of the basic message of Christianity), that’s seen as coercive and a violation of the anti-conversion law.
This has already had consequences for the people of India. Hindu radicals have begun to display “a pattern of accusing Christians of forced conversion, which is a crime in certain Indian states that can be punished with imprisonment.” In 2017, Christian humanitarian aid organization Compassion International was accused of actively attempting to convert children. They were subsequently forced to stop operating in the country. The organization was India’s largest single foreign donor and had provided medical care, meals, and tuition money for Indian children.
Christians aren’t the only victims of the BJP’s attempts to make India an exclusively Hindu country. Muslims in India are also fearful about Modi’s second term and the increasing influence of the BJP.
Modi’s right-hand man, Amit Shah, who was newly given charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Modi’s new cabinet, has been particularly critical of Muslims. Shah has called Muslim migrants “infiltrators” and “termites” and promised to “remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs.”
Like the Christian community, Muslims have also been the victims of Hindu mob violence. They are often targeted because they eat beef, an offense to Hindus who believe cows are sacred. Since 2015, 36 Muslims have been killed by mobs in the name of “cow protection.”
Religious minorities in India are concerned about what Modi’s re-election and the BJP’s parliamentary victory means for religious freedom in the next few years. As people who care about religious liberty, we need to be monitoring developments in India and praying for the persecuted.
The Trump administration currently wants to maintain a positive relationship with Modi’s government because we need strong allies in a region that continually poses a risk to U.S. national security. There is value in that strategy. Yet, even as U.S. leaders continue to work with the government of India, they should make clear in that relationship that the U.S. values religious freedom and that we notice the way our allies treat their religious minorities.