India’s Modi Government Invites Christian-Rights Watchdog to Discuss Concerns
Major grievances include anti-conversion laws enacted in 11 states, frequent attacks on Christian educational institutions, and continued discrimination against Christian Dalits.
Amid a wave of anti-Christian incidents taking place in India, the government’s National Commission for Minorities (NCM) in India has invited a national Christian network monitoring atrocities to engage in a discussion.
“We are happy that the government has called us to discuss our various concerns,” A.C. Michael, national coordinator of the United Christians Forum (UCF), told CNA Sept. 14. The UCF documents atrocities and issues of discrimination against Christians.
The NCM, Michael said, sent an email with the “invitation for meeting regarding issues related to [the] Christian community” on Sept. 21 at the commission office in New Delhi.
The invitation also acknowledged that “your letter dated 21.4.2023 addressed to Hon’ble Prime Minister raising issues regarding the Christian community, which has been received in NCM from the Ministry of Minority Affairs.”
This is not the first time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has engaged in outreach to Christians. He visited Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi on Easter Day, April 9, lighting a candle in front of the statue of the risen Christ in the cathedral. He also planted a sapling in the front garden of the cathedral in the presence of Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, Syro Malabar-rite Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, and Syro Malankara-rite Bishop Thomas mar Anthonios.
Two weeks later, Michael, on behalf of UCF, wrote a letter to Modi, whose ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is known for espousing a Hindu nationalist agenda amid the escalating violence against Christians.
“While we appreciate the valuable time you spent in and around the cathedral (on Easter), there were a few concerns I wanted to share. However, it was not the appropriate moment,” Michael wrote.
Three Major Grievances
The head of the UCF listed three major grievances including the “harmful” impact of anti-conversion laws enacted in 11 states, frequent attacks on Christian educational institutions, and continued discrimination against Christian Dalits.
Dalit (literally meaning “trampled upon”) refers to low castes, treated as “untouchables” in caste-ridden Indian society. Often, they eke out a living by carrying out menial jobs such as scavenging while living in segregation from upper castes in rural areas.
In 1950, the federal government listed Hindu Dalits as Scheduled Caste (SC) and made them eligible for free education and the 15% quota in government jobs and seats in legislatures to improve their social status.
Later, this statutory benefit was extended to Sikh and Buddhist Dalits. However, decades of Christian agitation for equal rights for Dalit Christians, who comprise two-thirds of the more than 34 million Christians in India, has fallen on deaf ears.
Amid steadily rising incidents of anti-Christian violence, the UCF also urged Prime Minister Modi in the letter “not to let a few misguided people strangulate … the peaceful coexistence in the great diversity of India.”
“We hope there will be a serious discussion and it will pave the way for bringing down the steadily increasing [incidents of] atrocities against the Christians,” Michael said.
Data on Anti-Christian Violence
As India geared up to host the G20 meeting in New Delhi, with heads of top 20 countries including U.S. President Joe Biden joining the summit, the UCF brought out stunning data documenting the increase in incidents of anti-Christian violence under the Modi regime.
“In the first 212 days of this year, 2023, 525 incidents of violence against Christians have been reported from 23 states of India in just eight months … All these incidents of violence are by mob violence led by vigilante groups of a particular faith who are allegedly receiving support from people in power,” the UCF press release pointed out. The organization operates a toll-free helpline number to register complaints and those who seek support.
“Attacks against Christians do not stop with mob violence only: 520 Christians have been arrested — accused of false forced conversions without evidence,” UCF elaborated. The organization noted that atrocities against Christians numbered over 100 when Modi took office in 2014 and shot up to 505 in 2022.
“We are disappointed that the media, too, ignored this shocking data while they were concerned about the rough treatment the government gave to the stray dogs during the G20 summit,” lamented Michael, former vice chairman of Delhi (state) Minorities Commission.
He referred to a Hindustan Times news story that carried the headline “G20 Summit: MCD defends self as outrage grows over treatment of dogs.”
“The media is very concerned about the ‘cruel treatment of the dogs’ but not about the steadily increasing atrocities against Christians,” Michael said.