Written evidence submitted by Christian
The recent Political Declaration on the India-EU
Strategic Partnership, issued on 7 September under the Presidency
of the UK, included a commendable commitment to "work together
to uphold human rights in a spirit of equality and mutual respect".
Consequent to this commitment, there is need for the EU, and therefore
the UK in its outgoing Presidency, to raise concern with the Indian
authorities about the widespread and egregious human rights abuses
perpetrated in connection with the caste system in India.
Caste discrimination is the single largest human
rights concern in India, affecting around 250 million people.
The suppression of Dalits is considerable and wide-ranging, and
is well-documented. Not only are Dalits compelled to perform the
most menial and hazardous tasks, but many Dalit women are sold
into prostitution, and the use of Dalit child labour is widespread.
As hired workers, Dalits are typically paid under 50% of the minimum
wage, and the careers of educated, more influential Dalits are
hampered by their caste. Dalits are widely subjected to brutal
and degrading assaults.
Several of the issues surrounding caste discrimination
were highlighted during a recent hearing of the Subcommittee on
Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations in the
United States Congress. In particular, the plight of Christians
drawn from among the Dalits and Other Backward Castes (OBCs),
who comprise the vast majority of India's Christian population,
was raised. According to Congressman Christopher Smith, "Dalits
and tribal peoples are often the targets of Hindu religious extremism
. . . many Dalits and tribal groups have converted from Hinduism
to other faiths to escape widespread discrimination and achieve
higher social status. . . . Converts to Christianity are particularly
Caste discrimination, and the fact that the
overwhelming majority of Christians, are drawn from the Dalits
and Other Backwards Castes (OBCs) who, in embracing Christianity,
leave behind their place in the Hindu caste ladder, lies at the
root of the substantial problem of the persecution of Christian
in India. Dalit communities which adopt Christian faith en
masse constitute the chief targets of persecution. Christian
and Dalit leaders speak of a "double persecution": the
stigma attached to their caste remains with Dalit Christians,
in addition to which their Christian faith is a further taboo,
attracting social ostracism, harassment and in some cases, even
physical attacks and murders. It is worth noting that caste distinctions
are most pronounced in the villages, which is where the most severe
persecution of Christians is taking place.
The EU-India Strategic Partnership Joint Action
Plan stated that India is a paradigm of "how various religions
can flourish in a plural, democratic and open society". Nonetheless,
the persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians,
indicates a need to engage with the Indian authorities to ensure
the protection and full participation of all India's citizens.
2.1 Legal Discrimination against Dalit Christians
One element of restorative justice for Dalits
in post-independence India, was the introduction in 1950 of the
Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, which created a system
of "reservation", or quotas for Dalits in government,
employment and education. However, the 1950 Order contained the
proviso that if Dalits should convert from Hinduism to another
religion, they would lose their Scheduled Caste status, and the
privileges that this entails. In effect, this obstructs the freedom
of Dalits to freely adopt a religion of their choice, which is
in contravention of international standards.
The Order has twice been amended, to include
Dalits belonging to the Sikh and Buddhist religions, but Christians
and Muslims of Dalit background are still excluded from the "reservation"
system. The Indian Supreme Court is currently hearing a case on
the legality of the 1950 Order, which has been challenged by the
Center for Public Interest Litigation, a civil rights organisation,
in writ petition no. 180 of 2004. Following a hearing on 23 August,
the Government of India awarded responsibility for this issue
to the Justice Ranganath Mishra National Commission for Linguistic
and Religious Minorities.
Christian organisations within India have called
for the system of "reservation" to be extended to Christians.
It is widely argued that, although there should be no caste system
within Christianity, the pervasiveness of caste discrimination
throughout society warrants the application of the "reservation"
system to Dalits of any religion. According to a statement by
Archbishop Chinnappa of Tamil Nadu, "Dalits of all religions
live in the same society ruled by caste values. A change of religion
does not alter the socio-economic status of Dalits. The social
stigma and ostracism in society continue to haunt them wherever
they go. A Dalit is considered untouchable, irrespective of the
religious faith he or she may profess. As for atrocities, there
is no discrimination between a Hindu Dalit and a Christian Dalit."
The system of "reservation" may be
considered as no more than a first step towards addressing the
wider problem of caste discrimination. At present, the lack of
"reservation" for Christian Dalits is an important tool
for the subjugation of all Dalits, as it discourages conversion
from Hinduism. To alter the law would be to cut at the root of
this systemic discrimination.
2.2 Anti-Conversion Legislation
The freedom to embrace Christianity is curtailed
in a number of states by anti-conversion legislation. According
to Dr Kancha Ilaiah, testifying before the recent US Congress
hearing, anti-conversion laws "perpetuate Dalit slavery"
by obstructing their freedom to leave the Hindu religion.
Despite India's constitutional protection for
religious freedom (Article 25), anti-conversion legislation is
currently in place in Orissa (1967), Madhya Pradesh (1968), Arunachal
Pradesh (1978) and Chhattisgarh, which inherited that of its parent
state, Madhya Pradesh. A Bill was passed in Gujarat on 26 March
2003, though its rules are yet to be framed and it is therefore
not yet in force. A similar Bill is being proposed in Rajasthan,
and the state governments of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are
working on making their respective anti-conversion laws more stringent.
The chief object of the state Freedom of Religion
Acts is the prohibition of so-called forcible conversions. Article
3 the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA) 1967 provides that
"No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly
or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by
the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor
shall any person abet such conversion".
A number of specific concerns may be raised
in connection with these Freedom of Religion Acts. Firstly, the
terms used in connection with conversion are potentially open
to wide interpretation, which has contributed to a fear among
Christians that the laws can easily be misused against them. The
definition of "inducement" as given in the OFRA is that
which includes "the offer of any gift or gratification, either
in cash or in kind and shall also include the grant of any benefit,
either pecuniary or otherwise". This ambiguous definition
may potentially be misused to interpret charitable acts as "temptation"
to convert. Christian groups are involved in extensive charitable
work throughout India, particularly among the lower castes and
tribals, which is considered to be threatened by anti-conversion
legislation. The definition of "any fraudulent means"
is yet more ambiguous: "misrepresentation or any other fraudulent
contrivance". Such loose definitions are considered to render
the laws subject to capricious interpretation.
Secondly, if the purpose of the state Freedom
of Religion Acts was to restrict forcible conversion, the requirement
for all conversions to be registered with a District Magistrate
seems superfluous. This provision is, furthermore, based on the
false assumption that a ceremony must take place in order for
conversion to Christianity to occur (see for example Article 5(1)
of the Gujarat Bill). In reality, the ceremony of baptism takes
place only after a person has adopted the Christian faith, and
indeed many Christian denominations in India are only prepared
to baptise after at least three months of instruction in Christian
faith. This provision is therefore in violation not only of the
right to freely adopt, but also to manifest a religious faith.
2.3 Hindutva Groups
The activities of the militant "Sangh Parivar"
groups in promulgating a "Hindutva", or Hindu nationalist,
agenda, are of particular concern to the Christian community in
India. These Sangh Parivar groups, of which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh (RSS) and its daughter organisations are the largest, are
responsible either directly, or through incitement, for a considerable
number of attacks on Christian targets.
There has been increasing international awareness
of the nature of the activities of the RSS, particularly within
the USA. The US-based Terrorist Research Center recently labelled
the RSS as a hate group, while a document entitled "Exploring
Religious Conflict", published by US-based think-tank, the
RAND Corporation in August 2005, categorised the RSS as a "New
Religious Movement", affirming that, "[i]t espouses
a strong and militant religious philosophy based on exclusivity
and hate". During the recent hearing of the Subcommittee
on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations in
the US Congress, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the religious
and cultural wing of the RSS, was singled out for vilification.
Its militant wing, the Bajrang Dal, has been responsible for perpetrating
many of the violent attacks on religious minorities.
One manifestation of the Sangh Parivar's incitement
to religious hatred has been the VHP programme of "Trishul
Dikshas", or ceremonies for the distribution of three-pronged
trishul knives, which is a source of concern for the Christian
community. Reportedly, the ceremonies are used to promote support
for Hindutva, often among illiterate labourers, and are likely
to include inflammatory speeches and the distribution of provocative
literature against religious minorities. The trishul knives function
both as religious symbols and as weapons, six to eight inches
long and sufficiently sharp to kill. Recent distributions of trishul
knives by the VHP have been well-documented in Gujarat, Karnataka,
Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. A large-scale distribution of trishuls
was undertaken by the VHP in Madhya Pradesh on 4 September, the
day after a ban on the knives was repealed by the BJP state government.
On 16 August 2005, The Deccan Herald, a national newspaper,
reported that around 200 Bajrang Dal workers were supplied with
trishul knives by VHP General Secretary Praveen Togadia on 13
August at Rampura, in Surat, Gujarat.
There is need for a European condemnation of
the activities of the Sangh Parivar groups, particularly the RSS
and its daughter organisations, in inciting and carrying out violent
attacks, especially against Christian and Muslim communities,
which are drawn largely from among the Dalits, tribals and OBCs.
2.4 Violence Against Christians
Christian individuals and communities across
India, have suffered a considerable number of attacks at the hands
of Hindu fundamentalist elements. A recent statement issued by
the All India Catholic Union, whose President, Dr John Dayal,
is a member of the Government's National Integration Council,
projected that the number of recorded incidents against Christians
in 2005 may exceed 200. This report noted that the violence is
most severe in those states with a BJP government, given its likely
Spontaneous violence sometimes occurs, largely
where communal tensions have been inflamed. However, many attacks
are reportedly carefully planned or incited by Sangh Parivar groups,
whose grievance is consistently against the activities of Christian
individuals or groups among Dalits, OBCs and tribals, which, whether
evangelistic or relating to social welfare, are construed as attempts
to convert. Among the chief targets of these attacks are churches,
educational establishments, healthcare programmes and other welfare
The Roman Catholic Church, which undertakes
much charitable work among Dalits and tribals, has experienced
ongoing threats and considerable persecution. Among the most deplorable
incidents of 2005, the Teresian Carmelites Convent in Mumbai,
which operates a home for the elderly, was attacked on 23 January
2005. After the door and an exterior cross were damaged, a hand-written
notice was left, which read, "Run away, we will come back.
Go away, this country is ours; now it is the cross, next time
it will be your heads".
In 2005, a number of Christian leaders are known
to have been murdered at the hands of Hindu extremists. They include
pastors K Daniel and Isaac Raju, killed in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh,
in May, and Fr Agnos Bara, a tribal Catholic priest stabbed by
upper caste Hindus while leading a peaceful rally for tribal rights
in Jharkhand on 14 September. A number of other church leaders
murdered in 2005 may have been the victims of Hindu extremists.
Of a considerable number of attacks on Christian
targets which have been reported through 2005, a number of illustrative
examples are given. It is thought that a large number of attacks
have remained unreported.
On 14 October, a group of 10 Hindu extremists
attacked a large prayer meeting in a community hall in Dayal Pur,
Karaval Nagar Road, Delhi. They physically assaulted Pastor K
Y Babu, who was injured and taken to hospital, and pastors Victor
Masih, Justine and Robin Masih. The attackers also damaged some
equipment in the church. When members of the church went to the
police station to lodge a First Incident Report (FIR), they were
confronted outside by the local BJP Member of the Legislative
Assembly (MLA), Mr Mohan Singh, together with a group of 150 people.
The mob threatened to kill the Christians if they should continue
to conduct prayer meetings at this locality.
On 11 September, two churches in Raipur, Chhattisgarh,
were attacked by Hindu extremist group, Dharam Sena. The Teacher
Disciple Vineyard church in Jagannath Nagar, Raipur, was subjected
to physical damage, as a mob tore a cross from the building and
threw it into a septic tank. They also damaged other property.
The church had previously been attacked by the same group on 14
August. The Dharam Sena extremists also attacked a meeting of
the Christian Evangelist Assembly Full Gospel Church on 11 September,
physically assaulting the wife and brother of the pastor, and
accusing the church of undertaking conversions.
On 29 May, the Believer's Church in Lamding,
Thoubal District, Manipur, suffered its fourth attack in eight
months, with gunmen opening fire on the church. Although 30 were
present, none was harmed.
On 15 May, in Jamanya village, Jalgaon District,
Maharashtra, a community court asked eleven Christian families
to surrender their Christian faith, but all refused. On the following
day, a group of Hindu villagers attacked the male Christians and
violently sexually assaulted the female members of the families.
Pastor Sarichand Chauhan, area coordinator of the Indian Evangelical
Team, in reporting the incident to National Minority Commission,
stated that women and children were brutally beaten, that the
women were forcibly stripped naked and even that a stick was inserted
into the vagina of one woman. An FIR was registered by the police,
but it failed to record the alleged sexual assaults. Seven Hindus
were arrested on 18 May in connection with the attack, and later
released on bail. A counter-accusation was levelled against the
Christians on 18 May, of having desecrating Hindu gods. This was
denied by Pastor Chauhan, who suggested that local RSS members
had urged the villagers to break the idols and to accuse the Christians.
Thirteen Christians were arrested under sections 295, 506 and
34 of the Indian Penal Code, and subsequently released on bail.
On 1 May, in Mangalwarapete village, Karnataka,
a mob of extremists, reportedly belonging to the Bajrang Dal and
BJP and numbering around 500, attacked a house church in the village,
beating and injuring Pastor Paulraj Raju and his wife, and a church
elder. Raju had previously been beaten by local people in January.
On 19 February, in Kota, Rajasthan, Hindu militants,
armed with sticks, iron rods, bicycle chains, knives and swords
violently attacked Christian students and seminary staff arriving
at the Evangelical Mission in Kota. The Additional District Magistrate
warned the mission head that he would not give any protection
to those associated with the mission. A similar attack took place
on arriving students on 24 February. The Christians were dragged
to the police station, where they were beaten in the presence
of police officers. The authorities forced the Christians to sign
papers stating that they were Hindus who had arrived in Kota for
conversion to Christianity.
In some cases, the police has also been implicated
in violence against Christian individuals, or in failing to take
proper action in response to attacks against Christians. This
is most frequent in those states under BJP governance, or where
there is significant public sympathy for Hindutva and the Sangh
Parivar, manifested in prejudice against minorities, and occurs
for a number of reasons. Firstly, state police are under the control
of the state governments, and tend to closely reflect their political
sympathies; there is therefore substantial potential for political
authority to veto police activity. The structure of the police
force is currently governed by the Police Act of 1861, implemented
under British rule, which was designed to keep the police acquiescent
to political authority. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has indicated
a willingness to reform the policing system in India, which the
Christian community in principle welcomes. The second reason given
for anti-minority prejudice within the police, was that individual
police officers may be afraid of pressure faced from local RSS
leaders. Thirdly, in addition to the issues of police subjection
to political authority and to popular pressure, there is alleged
to be a prejudice endemic among the higher authorities of the
security forces against minorities.
One instance of police prejudice against Christians
occurred on 6 June, in Moti Chowk village, Durg District, Chhattisgarh,
which is under a BJP government. A group of 200 Bajrang Dal militants
attacked a church during a Sunday service. Pastor Jaichand Dongre
and other church members were physically assaulted during the
raid, and Bibles, Christian literature and musical instruments
were looted by the mob. Subsequently, nine church members were
taken to the police station and charged with "disturbing
the peace" under Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code. The
nine were held for two days before being released on bail. During
his custody, Pastor Dongre was reportedly physically abused by
police. Evidence of an anti-Christian bias on the part of the
local police was supplied when Mr Patras Habil, a representative
of the Minority Commission in Madhya Pradesh, telephoned the police
station and was initially informed that the beatings and arrests
were "deserved" by the Christians on account of their
Anti-Christian prejudice is exemplified also
by the case of Mr Montu Babubhai Dabhi (also known as Mr Amit)
in Gujarat. On 28 April, the police received a report from an
anonymous informant concerning a person named Montu being in possession
of a firearm. Of three suspects with this name, only the Christian
Montu was arrested by police. No complaint was filed by the police
office, and no evidence was brought against him. Mr Montu was
tortured in police custody: his legs were forced into a T-shaped
position, and stamped upon to the extent that his right leg has
become paralysed. Moreover, Mr Montu was discharged prematurely
by the hospital superintendent, allegedly under covert pressure
from senior police officials. Only following the intervention
of the High Court, in response to a legal appeal, was he readmitted
into hospital and the police questioned about his severe mistreatment.
This is an important and alarming example of the brutality and
anti-Christian stance taken by the state police.
While mindful of the need for each issue to
be tackled in a systematic and comprehensive manner, CSW calls
upon the United Kingdom to engage constructively with the Government
of India to raise concern about the discrimination and persecution
against Christians, particularly those drawn from among the Dalits,
tribals and OBCs. In particular, the Government of India should
to introduce legislation akin to
the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order Amendment Bill 1996
to enumerate Dalit converts to Christianity among the Scheduled
Castes, and to grant them the concomitant benefits of "reservation";
to intervene for the repeal of the
Freedom of Religion Acts in Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya
Pradesh, Orissa, and to prevent the implementation of Freedom
of Religion Acts in Gujarat, and its enactment in Rajasthan, on
the grounds that they are unconstitutional and in breach of international
standards on religious freedom;
to call the RSS to account for its
activities in inflaming communal tensions, and in inciting violence
against Christian communities;
to take measures to obstruct the
VHP programme of Trishul Dikshas;
to implement measures to guarantee
the independence of the police force from political authority,
and to increase its accountability, towards the protection of
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