By Ananya Bhardwaj
On 14th December 2017, members associated with a right-wing Hindu group attacked Catholic Christmas carollers in Satna, a district in Madhya Pradesh. A priest’s car was also set ablaze and the carollers were detained, instead of actions being taken against the attackers. The attacks were a sign of protest against religious conversion undertaken by the priests.
Christian community responds
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), stated that, “From the point of Christian community, this whole incident of attack on priests and seminaries in Satna and the state government’s move to file cases against the priests, arresting the poor and the innocent instead of finding the culprits, do not help us to keep our confidence in the government intact. We are losing our confidence in the government”. “The country is being divided on the basis of religious belief. It is bad in a democratic country. I want my country to be united in a secular fabric. But now, this country is being polarised due to religious affiliations. We should fight against it,” he added. While the authenticity of these allegations is yet to be completely determined, it is a worrying case of religious divide rearing its ugly head in a democracy that boasts to be the most diverse in terms of religion and culture.
Societal unrest in India
In terms of India’s population, a majority of the citizens are Hindus, followed by Muslims, and then Christians, Parsis, and Sikhs. Religious divides have ripped India apart for centuries, but they gain grave significance in the post-Independence era. The partition of India and Pakistan saw some of the bloodiest conflicts between Hindus and Muslims across the border. The anti-Sikh riots threw Punjab and the rest of North India into the throes of civil unrest after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Mumbai saw horrific riots in 1992 as a reaction to the Babri Masjid demolition. The Godhra train burning incident led to a state-wide war on Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat. In 2008, some churches were lit on fire, and India was said to have high levels of violence against Christians in a survey by Human Rights Watch in 1999. Over 2005 to 2009 period, an average of 130 people died every year from communal riots, and 2,200 were injured, as found in a report by Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi. As per the Catholic Secular Forum, assaults climbed more than 20 percent from 2014 to 2015. From holy places being wrecked to ministers, nuns, and parishioners being beaten, as per the Christian human rights group International Christian Concern (ICC), and additionally four homicides of Muslim men by Hindu hordes over their utilization of meat, there have been 36 assaults on Christians in the former half of 2017 alone.
Explaining the attacks
On checking the brutality, Christian groups say the assaults have agreed with a solid ascent in Hindu patriotism, which envelops a wide range of Indian political developments, yet revolves around the possibility that Hindu conventions and convictions should fill in as a guide for the state and its natives. The more extremist Hindu patriots are blamed for mounting the assaults. The fanatics have been disregarded, if not out and out approved, by the nation’s leader, Narendra Modi, who came to control in the midst of the rising patriot tide. “It’s a radical Hindu philosophy,” said William Stark, a specialist in South Asia with ICC. “In the event that you see somebody Muslim or Christian, they’re following an outside confidence, and they’re contaminating India since they’re following a remote confidence.”
The government has remained eerily silent on these issues, on both a national and local level. It is imperative that measures be taken to combat festering hatred and animosity amongst religious sects and groups because tensions run high in the wake of incidents like the Satna attacks, the most recent in a line of what can only be seen as an ever-expanding list of religious conflicts.
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