India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has for the first time condemned violence against minorities, saying that everyone has a duty to fight the “menace” of mob lynchings.
But his critics say that, after four years in power at the head of a Hindu nationalist government, the comments have come too late.
Under Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the number of violent acts against Christians, Muslims and tribal Dalits (members of the India’s lowest caste) have increased.
Modi was “silent for the last four years when Muslims and Dalit people were attacked by fanatic groups in broad daylight and mercilessly killed”, said Saurbh Kumar, a political commentator based in northern Uttar Pradesh, as reported by UCAN.
He added that if Modi had taken a strong stance against these attacks and asked his officials to make sure that lawbreakers were punished, it could have saved many lives.
On Saturday, Hindu radicals attacked a Pentecostal church in Depura, a village near the city of Dalsinghsarai in north-eastern Bihar province, accusing it of conducting “forced conversions” of Hindus, reported AsiaNews.
The charges were “fabricated and baseless”, said Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians.
“When the police reached the village to investigate the accident, they had to face the resentment of the villagers. In the end, after much turmoil, Christians were rescued from the crowd and taken to the police station,” he told AsiaNews.
A mob of about 50 members of the Bajrang Dal, the militant youth wing of Vishva Hindu Parishad, returned to the village yesterday and reportedly threatened the Christians with “dire consequences”.
They also dragged a young Christian man to a nearby temple, where they shaved his head as part of his “reconversion”, or ghar wapsi. They reportedly told the man to go and “purify” himself in the Ganges, which flows from west to east through the province.
‘Don’t you know the BJP is in power?’
Last month, in central Madhya Pradesh, a pastor and his son were hospitalised after being attacked by a group of 30 Hindu radicals while on their way home from a prayer meeting, according to International Christian Concern.
When the pastor tried to file a complaint with the police, the officer in charge told him that he would send him to jail “for preaching about Jesus”, adding: “Don’t you know that the BJP is in power?”
“I couldn’t argue further with the police officer as he spoke same language as the attackers. We had nobody to defend us”, the pastor, Ramesh Vasunia, told ICC.
The pastor and his church in Jaida village were also attacked in October 2017. He was then jailed for six months, on charges of forced conversion.
Madhya Pradesh is one of the seven Indian states that has an “anti-conversion law”. Although ostensibly aimed at preventing “forced” conversions, in reality such laws are often used to prevent all conversions – whether by force or through free choice – and especially conversions to minority religions such as Christianity.
Targeted for singing Christian songs
In another recent incident, four well-known Karnatik singers were criticised on social media for singing songs about Jesus, reported Christian Today.
One of them, O.S. Arun, cancelled his participation in a Christian musical event, while another, Nityasree Mahdevan, promised she would no longer sing devotional songs for non-Hindu deities.
The furore started after a recorded phone conversation between Arun and the founder of Rashtriya Sanadhana Seva Sangam (RSSS), S. Ramanathan, during which he chastised Arun for performing at the Christian event, was made public.
In response, criticising the growing influence of Hindu nationalist groups in all of society, well-known musician T.M. Krishna tweeted: “Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Karnatik compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one Karnatik song every month on Jesus or Allah.”