Christian Activists Disappointed Trump Didn’t Prioritize Religious Freedom During India Visit

In his speech Feb. 24, Trump acknowledged that concerns about religious freedom and India’s months-long detention of political leaders in Kashmir were discussed privately.

Donald Trump and Narendra Modi greet one another before sitting down for bilateral talks Feb. 25 in New Delhi, India.
Donald Trump and Narendra Modi greet one another before sitting down for bilateral talks Feb. 25 in New Delhi, India. (photo: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — President Donald Trump’s Feb. 24-26 visit to India turned out to be a disappointment for India’s beleaguered Christian minority, who are worried about increasied attacks on religious minorities in an environment of aggressive Hindu nationalism.

“The Christian community in India, as well as in the USA, had great expectations from the U.S. President, Mr. Donald Trump, as he was meeting the prime minister of India, of whom he self-confessed to be great admirer, in India, but it turned out to be more of a political campaign for his own constituency back in the U.S.,” A. C. Michael, spokesman of the United Christian Forum, told the Register Feb 27.

“The Christian community in the U.S. had met [U.S. officials] and submitted the details of atrocities Indian Christians are facing in India and how it has increased since 2014,” said Michael, a Catholic who is one of the UCF coordinators who have been documenting attacks against Christians. “But he failed to understand and address these issues appropriately.”

“Year after year, since 2014 {when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power], incidents of attacks on Christians have increased consistently,” said Michael, citing UCF data documenting 147 such incidents in 2014, 177 in 2015, 208 in 2016, 240 in 2017, 292 in 2018 and 328 in 2019 — an increase of over 100% since Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took power.

These numbers, he noted, “represent only a portion of the violence that is actually being experienced by the community. Many incidents go unreported due to fear of reprisals.

“As a matter of fact, according to the World Watch List of 50 countries, India’s rank has slipped to 10th most dangerous country in the world to live in for Christians, as against 28th in the year 2014,” Michael noted.

More than half of the 29 states in India, at least 15 of them, Michael said, “regularly witness attacks on Christians: Uttar Pradesh tops the list, followed by Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. Christians are also particularly at risk of violence and harassment in the states of Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Punjab, Telangana, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.


Press Conference Comments

Nearly 40 people, most of them Muslims, have been killed as of Feb. 28 in New Delhi, in arson attacks by Hindu mobs that began a day before Trump set foot in India. But he declined to comment on “individual cases” of religiously motivated violence, or about India’s controversial new citizenship law which sparked the New Delhi violence, when questioned at a press conference he held in New Delhi on Feb. 25.

According to NPR, although Trump didn’t publicly comment on the Hindu-Muslim violence that erupted in Delhi during his trip he seemed to support what he called Modi’s desire for “people to have religious freedom.” In his speech Monday, Trump acknowledged that concerns about religious freedom and India’s months-long detention of political leaders in Kashmir were discussed privately, according to NPR.

Instead, the U.S. president praised Modi for “working very hard for religious freedom,” adding that they had discussed the situation with respect to both Muslims and Christians.

“We talked about religious liberty for a long period of time, in front of a lot of people. And I had a very, very powerful answer,” Trump said, but he did not reference any specific commitments given by Modi.

According to Michael, Modi sidestepped the question of persecution of Christians by pointing to tensions with India’s larger Muslim religious minority.

“Sadly, Trump was brought over by our prime minister, who told him that he is working for freedom of religion, but he complained to Trump that these people [Muslims] have grown from 14 million to 200 million in a short span of period.”


Visit to Gujarat

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, one of the most outspoken priests in the country, criticized the political agenda of the Modi regime with the “red carpet” welcome extended to Trump by the BJP state government in Gujarat, the home state of Modi as well as of Mahatma Gandhi, the prophet of the Indian nation.

Trump’s visit, Father Prakash told the Register, was “a shot in the arm for the BJP for political propaganda, and the possibility to steer away from more urgent domestic issues when the visitor happens to be U.S. president.”

“There was criminal waste of public expenditure,” he said. “Take for example, in Ahmedabad, millions of dollars were just splurged to provide cosmetics to some roads and the environs. … The sad part was that overnight, huge walls were built to hide the slums and the stark poverty, in places were the motorcade would pass.”

“President Trump would obviously not be very pleased to know that the ‘crowds’ that came to ‘greet’ him were not spontaneous,” said Father Prakash.

“These were all stage-managed; thousands of government buses were commissioned to bring in people from the villages and from other remote areas. The people were given ‘freebies’ from public money and many of them really did know what they were brought to Ahmedabad for; some were even seeing the city for the first time in their lives,” according to Father Prakash.


Missed Opportunity?

Though Trump did visit the famous Sabarmati Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi, Father  Prakash suggested that “he missed a golden opportunity of saying something about Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, and of Gandhi’s twin doctrine of ahimsa [non-violence] and satyagraha [the quest for Truth].”

Said Father Prakash, “One wonders who advised President Trump on what to be saying at the conclusion of the visit. India under Modi and his regime, has reached rock-bottom in religious tolerance and social harmony. … The fact that the president said the very opposite on ‘religious tolerance’ in India, despite U.S. State Department and USCIRF reports, clearly demonstrate that he was not well-informed of the realities here.”

Register correspondent Anto Akkara is based in Bangalore, India.