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Mainstream, VOL LX No 3, New Delhi, January 8, 2022

The Year of Fear | John Dayal

Friday 7 January 2022, by John Dayal

It has been a year of fear.

The trauma of mass deaths in Covid, the bodies floating down the holy River Ganges or waiting hours for their turn at cremation grounds, has not faded.

By the end of the year, the fear of death by a pandemic disease is perhaps replaced by a pit in the stomach for being butchered by a religious and nationalist fanatic mob whose baying was heard on Christmas Day.

The politician, the government official, the police will look on, helpless or in complicit silence, now as they had done in the spring months of April and May.

On Christmas Day, speaking long-distance to the Sikh community which was commemorating one of its Gurus, the Prime minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi focussed at length on the atrocities by medieval Muslim emperors on Hindus and Sikhs.

Even as he was speaking, violent militant Hindu mobs, now called Hindutva elements in a generic and politically correct collective phrase, attacked, churches, congregations in prayer, and groups celebrating the Christmas cheer in 16 different cities and towns across India. The incidents covered the States as varied as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi in the North to Assam in the far north-east and Karnataka in the South.

With these, the targeted anti-Christian violence this year has peaked at over 400 separate incidents, one estimate by the United Christian Forum putting it at perhaps 460.

Three groups which keep count, the United Christian Forum and its law associate Alliance Defence Freedom, Persecution Relief and the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India all agree this is the highest ever after the pogroms in Orissa in 2007 and 2008. At that time in Orissa, Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party headed vital ministries in Orissa in a coalition government.

Accompanying the physical violence this year was a heavy structural dose of punitive legal measures with the state of Karnataka in south India joining several others in the north of the country.

The Karnataka legislative assembly voted to enact a law that all but criminalises religious conversions, and targets Muslim and Christian youth who may want to marry a Hindu woman. Ironically such anti conversion laws are officially christened Freedom of Religion Acts. Karnataka may operationalise this early next year, they say, though it is not yet cleared by the Upper house of the legislature.

Karnataka will the join Orissa, Arunachal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Rajasthan which have such laws on the statute books.

The laws are apparently against conversions (mostly to Christianity) by force or fraudulent means, including monetary inducements, medical aid and free education. But in recent times they have been fine tuned to criminalise Muslims marrying Hindu women in what is termed as Love Jehad.

The laws have also been used against such national icons as the Nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, which was set up by the redoubtable Mother Teresa, a Nobel Laureate and Bharat Ratna, the highest Indian national honour, and now a Saint of the Catholic Church.

As this column is being written, the foreign funding licence of the organisation which runs orphanages and homes for the dying destitute in centres in almost every state, has been blocked by the Modi government. No reason has been given.

Mr Modi, who hugged Pope Francis when he called at the Vatican on his way to the global climate summit in Scotland, has remained silent.

He has invited the Pope to India, a move the Hindutva organisations vociferously opposed since the late Pope John Paul visited the country in 1999 to launch the document Ecclesia in India.

Blocking the sisters’ funding could well be dog whistle to his followers. It is quite possible the licence will be restored within months. The global institution is much too big to be trifled with in such a summary matter.

Mr Modi is also silent on targeted hate with his followers inviting Hindus at large to join in the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Christians. These calls have been made several times by high-profile religious leaders and at meetings called “Dharm Sansads," or religious parliaments. One was held in mid-December in Haridwar on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, and second in the Chhattisgarh capital, Raipur.

But a few months earlier, On September 29, Jagadguru Paramhans Das of Ayodhya said that he was going to commit ‘jal samadhi’ — take his own life by immersion in water — unless the government declared India a ‘Hindu Nation’ by October 2. He also called for the termination of the citizenship of Muslim and Christian Indians.

On September 21, he had put out a video calling for the murder of Christians and Muslims. On a Facebook Live session, he said “Each of the Christians and Muslims will be driven out. Every Hindu who has been murdered will be avenged. Christians and Muslims who have converted Hindus, those Christians who have killed Hindus, will be avenged. The end of Christians and Muslims have begun. We have come here and there are many swords and weapons to be seen.

The theme of the event at Haridwar was ’’Sanatan’s Future in Islamic India: Problems and Solutions.’ As wire media reported, between December 17 and 19, a large collection of major religious leaders, right-wing activists, fundamentalist militants, and Hindutva organisations came together. Over the course of three days, this event witnessed an extraordinary outpouring of hate speech, mobilisations to violence.

“We have to make preparations,” said Swami Prabodhanand Giri, president of the Hindu Raksha Sena, of Uttarakhand. “Either you prepare to die now, or get ready to kill, there’s no other way. Like in Myanmar, the police, politicians here, army and every Hindu must pick up weapons and conduct this cleansing. There is no solution apart from this.”

Sadhvi Annapurna aka Pooja Shakun Pandey, an abbot of the Niranjani Akhara and general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha said “Nothing is possible without weapons. If you want to eliminate their population then kill them. Be ready to kill and be ready to go to jail.

Star participants have included BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay and BJP Mahila Morcha leader Udita Tyagi.

Make no mistake, the call to wipe out Muslims in India and the anti-conversion laws are genetically linked.

Civil society in India is waking up to this threat. The Muslims are a worried lot. But major Christian organisations seem not yet fully awake to the threat, other that bishops such as Peter Machado of Bangalore and Anil Couto of Delhi.

The international community has been shocked by the Indian government’s apparent crackdown on Mother Teresa’s sisters and their orphanages and destitute homes. Top international newspapers such as London Times, New York Times and Washington Post have front-paged the persecution of Christians and of Muslims.

But western governments are silent, as they see India not just their main weapons market, but a key strategic part of their countering China’s expansion in the Asia pacific region.

The US State department has not accepted ignored recommendations by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom to name India to its "red list" of countries engaged in "systematic, ongoing and egregious" violations of religious freedom — for the second consecutive year. India is the only designated Major Defence Partner of the United States.

Such is the world at the end of 2021.

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