So many of us have heard of the Christian persecutions in the Middle East and in African and Asian countries where Islam prevails. Yet who would think that in all places such oppression would be happening in India? According to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List, India ranks as the 10th most dangerous country in the world for Christians to live in — a first in the history of the list in over two decades; approximately 64 million Christians live in India but constitute less than 5% of the total population of 1.3 billion. It is so bad that Indian nationals, by law, must have a Hindu name — Christian names are not legally recognized. In this case, however, the aggressors are not necessarily Muslims but Hindu nationalists who revert to Mohandas (Mahatma: holy, ascended) Gandhi’s nationalism.
The Christian Post reported on September 27, 2019 that there have been over 1,400 incidents of persecution against Christians in India have been reported since the year Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rose to power in 2014. International Christian Concern — a Christian advocacy group in India — reports that they have documented over 200 incidents of anti-Christian violence in just the first eight months of this year; this averages to 27 incidents of violence per month.
A case in point, on January 27 at Calvary Gospel Ministry Church, located in Shantipur village in India’s Chhattisgarh state, Indian nationalists shouted at the worshippers, accusing them of insulting their Hindu gods and goddesses. Forced to vacate their church, ten Christians, including women, were terribly beaten by the protesters. In addition, two bibles were torn to pieces, three musical instruments were damaged, and a motorbike was destroyed. When police were called to the scene, they suggested the assaulted Christians come to a compromise with their assailants. When they refused, the police declined to register their complaint and even threatened to throw them in jail. To date, no criminal complaint has been registered against the Indian nationalists by police in Shantipur village.
Just last week, police in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state have put several house churches under surveillance in order to stop worship, in violation of the country’s secular constitution, sources said. “We are going through a tough time — there is immense pressure from the police administration in Tiruppur District that Christians are not allowed to gather for prayers even within the four walls of their homes,” Pastor Kumar said. “The pastors of these small churches have been harassed to seek permission from district officials to conduct prayer services.” All of this because of Hindu-Indian nationalism. In other instances, Christians have been physically beaten for distributing leaflets explaining their faith unto other Indians.
It was in the 1920s when Hindu nationalism merged with Indian nationalism, the latter adopting, for example, Hindu symbols, but without explicitly declaring Muslims (and others) as outsiders. This ideology has always been part of the National Congress and Indian activists, such as the first Deputy Minister — at the time of independence — Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and by the Indian Congress Party under Mahatma Gandhi. Nationalists also refer to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a supremacist and terrorist organization founded in 1925. It is widely recognized as the parent organization of the BJP — promoter of a Hindu nationalist ideology that seeks to eliminate all religious minorities from the country — Gandhi eventually broke ties with the RSS.
Gandhi is internationally considered the icon of peaceful resistance to injustice in helping seek independence for Indians from the British. But behind this positive aspect, while wanting to pass over his contribution to one of the longest and most irreconcilable conflicts of the modern era caused by the division between India and Pakistan, it should be emphasized that the great “defender” of the oppressed is identified by some scholars as the one to whom Hindus refer to in their justification to persecute Christians.
Gandhi, while publicly promoting religious pluralism and affirming that his mission was to bridge the gap between Hindus and Muslims, constantly divided it by marginalizing the Muslim elite. He even coerced the would-be first Governor-General of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), to create an independent and sovereign nation. Originally, Jinnah only wanted an autonomous state within India in order to protect the 30% of Indian Muslims from Hindu oppression. Incidentally, Jinnah also never wanted Islam to be the state religion when Pakistan was eventually formed in 1947 — this only occurred one year after his death in March 1949 when the country’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, introduced the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly.
Indian Muslims found that Gandhi imperceptibly assimilated his Hinduism with his Indian identity, wearing the Hindu habit and using in political terminology of the Hindu religious idiom. He used, for example, the term ram rajya (the government of the divine Ram) to indicate that an “order” would prevail after independence, alluding to a mythical (Hindu) era of gold before the advent of Islam in India, which naturally imposed on their monotheistic belief. They also felt discriminated against with the term “Mahatma.” As a result, they felt their identity threatened, especially because Congress welcomed the “Mahtama” as the undisputed leader of the party and did not proceed with any act without his consent.
Seven of India’s 29 states today have adopted have adopted a Freedom of Religion Act, which is commonly referred to as an “anti-conversion law.” In practice it usually means that while Christians can, technically, talk about their faith, but as soon as a hearer decides to convert to Christianity, the speaker has caused a religious conversion, which is illegal. Other religious acts and laws outline consequences and penalties for people converting from Hinduism to another religion, including:
- If a parent of a Hindu child converts to Christianity, he/she loses the right to guardianship over that child.
- If a Hindu wife converts to another religion she can lose her right to marital support from her husband. (Muslims in India who convert to Christianity are often subjected to harassment, intimidation, and attacks by Muslims.)
- Conversion from Hinduism can be grounds for divorce.
Gandhi is attributed to have said: “I love your Christ but I hate your Christians because your Christians are unlike your Christ.” This does not mean that he actually wanted to persecute Christians, providing he actually said this. However, given his Hindu puritanism and misogynist views — Gandhi thought that women who were raped lost their dignity and also justified being killed by their fathers for the good of the family and the honor of the community — it is understood why the “Mahatma” would be considered by Hindu nationalists as their inspiration to persecute Christians and other non-Hindus.