As the Kandhamal riots of 2008 continues to be a blot on the nation’s supposedly secular fabric, BJP MP Bharat Singh claimed on Saturday that Christian missionaries are a threat to the unity and integrity of the country.
“Christian missionaries control the Congress. Sonia Gandhi, the mother of the Congress president Rahul Gandhi works on the directions of these missionaries. These missionaries are a threat to the unity of the country,” Singh said while addressing the reporters in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh.
“The North-East is under the influence of Christian missionaries. Democracy has weakened due to the conversion of people to Christianity there. The conspiracies hatched by these missionaries are a threat to the country,” he added.
Let us take a look at how BJP and its affiliates have treated the Christians in the past.
On January 22, 1999, Graham Staines, who had lived and worked among some of the poorest Adivasi communities in Odisha – was burned alive along with his sons Philip and Timothy by a group of right-wing activists. Dara Singh, a member of Bajrang Dal, was in the forefront to unleash the attack against Graham, who had spent 35 long years as a Christian missionary nursing the leprosy patients in Baripada, Odisha.
Again in August 2008, Odisha’s Kandhamal district had witnessed one of the worst incidents of communal violence in its history and our post-independence history. The violence erupted on the basis of alleged conversions from Hinduism to Christianity.
From August 25 to 28, 2008, Hindu mobs, who were angered by killings of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati and four others, unleashed violence on the Christian community. Though it was suspected that Saraswati and four others were killed by Maoist insurgents, Hindu mobs set fire to many Christian settlements and at least 59 people were killed in this arson. Besides, the two-month sectarian violence had left more than 50,000 homeless and thousands of houses and churches were brought down.
Following the violence, many were forced to convert to Hinduism. One of the most powerful right-wing outfits Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) led the conversion programmes. "If you go on being Christians, we will burn your houses and your children in front of you, so make up your minds quickly," one of the persons who had been forced to convert was reportedly told.
“I was scared. Christians have no place in this area now.”
The hate campaign against Christians in Kandhamal – the area which is mainly inhabited by Adivasis and Dalits, many among whom are also Christians – had begun since late 1960s and the area had seen a culmination of violence in the 1990s and 2000s. The history of this violence was portrayed by KP Sasi in his documentary Voices from the Ruins: Kandhamal in search of justice.
Ever since Modi has become the prime minister, violence against religious, cultural, political, linguistic and ethnic minorities has become routine in the country. Soon after the BJP government was elected to the Centre after the 2014 elections, Dharm Jagran Samiti’s (DJS) Uttar Pradesh head had said: “Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here. So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here.” DJS was also at the forefront of the Ghar Wapsi programme, which prodded or forced Muslims to “return” to Hinduism.
According to the World Watch Monitor, 410 incidents of attacks on Christians in India had been reported in the initial six months of 2017 – almost as many as the total for the whole year 2016 – 441. Again, India fell to number 15 in 2017 from 31 in 2013 in the list of countries “where the practice of Christianity is a high-risk activity.”
If we look at the recent attacks on Christians, the involvement of various right-wing outfits which are affiliated to BJP and RSS is very evident. On December 14, 2017, a group of priests and carollers were detained following a complaint by the Bajrang Dal in Madhya Pradesh. Eight priests who had gone to inquire about the detainees were also held by the police.
On October 23, 2017, seven Christian children were forcefully brought down from the train in Indore by Hindu Jagran Manch. Again, in June, a Catholic nun and four tribal girls traveling in the train were detained as per the complaint of Bajrang Dal saying that it was an attempt to convert.
The right-wing outfits keep reiterating that Hinduism is under threat due to the increasing number of Muslims and the conversion attempts by Muslims and Christians. At the same time, the party has built alliances with Christian community leaders in Kerala and North-Eastern states. All these strategies are, without a doubt, for political gains – for consolidating BJP’s vote bank.