IT TOOK the video of a horrific attack on two women to bring the world’s attention to the persecution endured by many of India’s Christians.
The video captures the harrowing ordeal endured by the women in Manipur state in the north east of India on May 4. They were paraded naked while a mob of 80 to 100 men molested and beat them mercilessly. The younger of the two, aged only 19, was gang-raped in front of the enraged mob.
The barbarity occurred after the women from the mainly Christian Kuki tribe fled to hide in a forest after their village had been burned to the ground by a Hindu mob from the Meitei tribe. In search of safety, the women ran to police officers who offered help, but were dragged away by the mob.
While the teenager was gang-raped, her brother and father attempted to protect her. In the ensuing violence the two men were murdered.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Chief Minister Singh of the Manipur BJP state government delayed responding to the incident. Despite inter-tribal religious-based violence continuing for more than two months, it was only after the video of the attack went viral that Mr Modi addressed the issue.
The was no isolated incident. Dominic Lumon, Archbishop of Imphal, the capital of Manipur, reports that 249 churches belonging to Meitei Christians were destroyed within 36 hours of the start of the violence two months ago.
Archbishop Lumon questioned the role of the government and the armed forces in failing to maintain peace: ‘The elected government of the state and the centre have not been able to restore the rule of law in the state and put a stop to the mad violence . . . It is fit to state that there is collapse of the constitutional machinery in the state.’
He drew the conclusion that ‘an organised attack like this cannot just happen unless it was premeditated and planned. While the violence engulfed the state like a storm, the attacks seemed well-planned. The targets of attack also smacked of fanatic elements out to disrupt the existence of Christianity’. You can read a statement by the Archbishop here.
Until the 1990s Christians were relatively unaffected by inter-religious violence in India – any conflict was usually Hindu-Muslim. With the growth of the BJP this changed, and 1998 when the party gained nationwide power was a tipping point: anti-Christian violence dramatically increased.
The BJP lost power in 2004 and regained it ten years later in 2014, retaining it today. The party are committed to Hindutva (Hindu-ness), an ideology emphasising Hindu superiority. They seek to redefine India, a constitutionally secular state, as a Hindu country to the exclusion of other religions, on the grounds that the majority of Indians are Hindu.
The anti-Christian violence is mounting. A November 2001 survey by India’s National Commission for Minorities (NCM) reported 27 attacks on Christian institutions and Christians in 1997, 86 in 1998, 120 in 1999 and 216 in 2000. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the persecution of Christians had increased since the BJP came to power. An Open Doors report estimated that in the year to October 31, 2016, a Christian church was burnt down or a cleric beaten on average ten times a week in India, a threefold increase on the previous year.
Before international outrage at the video, India’s BJP government had chosen to issue defiant denials concerning anti-Christian violence rather than take action. They responded to a recent European Parliament resolution condemning the continuing violence in Manipur saying that ‘such interference in India’s internal affairs is unacceptable, and reflects a colonial mindset’.
Anti-Christian propaganda and its ensuing violence are not solely aimed at defending the Hindu religion: there are also economic reasons. A 1999 Human Rights Watch report showed that Christian institutions and individuals were singled out for violence because of their work in promoting education, better health and financial independence among the tribal and Dalit or ‘untouchable’ communities who are often considered subhuman. It was also noted that a significant reason for the hostility and violence towards Christians keeping these communities in a state of economic dependence amounting to servitude.
Such legislation in turn has helped create an atmosphere where anti-Christian violence is considered acceptable, even righteous. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom 2021 found that ‘in 2020, for example, mobs – fuelled by false accusations of forced conversions – attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services. In many cases, authorities did not prevent these abuses and ignored or chose not to investigate pleas to hold perpetrators accountable’.
That a nuclear-armed nation such as India should be governed by a party which not only condones but encourages violent anti-Christian prejudice, and considers many of its citizens to be ‘untouchable’, is alarming. Yet India, which has its own space programme able to launch moon orbiting spacecraft, received £2.3billion from the UK government between 2016 and 2021.
India receives 28 per cent of the global loans handed out by the UK’s development finance institution, British International Investment (BII). We should question the government’s oversight of how such money is used. A review by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact said BII’s large India portfolio, intended to make an impact on poverty, was providing benefits to middle-class consumers rather than the poor. One major investment in an Indian bank, intended to expand financial services for the poor, led mainly to expansion of the bank’s credit card business and corporate lending.
The UK taxpayer through the government appears to be financing a powerful anti-Christian government.