Written evidence submitted by Christian
CSW welcomed the commitment issued in the Political
Declaration on the EU-India Strategic Partnership, promulgated
under the UK Presidency in September 2005, to "work together
to uphold human rights in a spirit of equality and mutual respect".
The document also iterated a shared high regard for democracy,
pluralism and the rule of law. However, it is deeply concerning
that the religious prejudices inherent within Indian politics
have continued to severely damage the societal participation and
legal protection of religious minorities, particularly those of
a lower-caste background. This trend appears to have intensified
in recent months, and CSW urges that this issue be given high
priority in the relations of the UK and EU with India.
The ongoing discrimination against Dalits and
tribals forms the context for increasing political animosity towards
religious conversions in India. Although impinging on all religious
groups, the religiously-sanctioned caste system is associated
primarily with Hinduism. It is perceived by Hindu nationalist
or extremist groups, known collectively as the Sangh Parivar,
to be proper to Indian society, and therefore the embracement
of other religions by Dalits and "lower" castes to escape
caste discrimination attracts considerable opposition. India's
Christian population, in particular, is drawn primarily from among
the Dalits and "lower" castes.
Caste discrimination continues to blight India's
political scene and economic development, adversely affecting
her population of around 160-180 million Dalits and 70 million
tribals. 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 in Indian society, but Dalits
are also the chief victims of human rights violations such as
human trafficking, bonded labour and child labour. The careers
of educated, more influential Dalits are hampered by their caste.
Dalits are widely subjected to brutal and degrading assaults on
a broad scale.
The repression of Dalits has a number of different
dimensions: political, economic, educational and religious.
The ideology of "Hindutva" espoused
by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent organisation,
the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), continues to deleteriously
affect minority religions, particularly Christians and Muslims.
This ideology encompasses a vision of India as a Hindu nation
in which minorities must assimilate to and revere the Hindu religion,
race and culture.
India is a secular state with detailed constitutional
provisions for religious rights. Article 25 provides for freedom
of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate
religion. Article 19 further protects freedom of speech, expression
and association. Article 51 imposes a positive duty on citizens
to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood transcending
However, such ideals remain distant from the
political agenda of the opposition BJP, which holds power in the
state governments of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and
Rajasthan and forms part of ruling coalitions in Bihar, Karnataka
and Orissa. Each of the states in which the BJP holds sole power
has either introduced (in the case of Rajasthan) or strengthened
existing anti-conversion legislation in 2006, and there exists
a correlation between these states and those in which anti-minority
violence is at its worst, prompting widespread suggestions that
the nature of BJP governance is facilitating and fuelling anti-minority
prejudices and attacks.
Political commentators in India have increasingly
suggested recently that the BJP has developed a special focus
on the issue of religious conversions from Hinduism, as part of
its strategy to regain political ascendancy. The result, in the
states in which the BJP holds power, has been the vilification,
alienation, discrimination and persecution of the religious minorities
perceived as foreign to Indian culture; that is, Islam and Christianity.
Among the chief victims are the Christian minority, who have suffered
widespread attacks in BJP-administered states, particularly Madhya
Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Gujarat, which are often committed
The Gujarat government has recently been implicated
in the exploitation of religious divisions for political gain
in the state's Dangs district. In January 2006, Hindutva groups
organised the Shabri Kumbh Mela festival, for the "re-conversion"
(literally "homecoming") of tribals to Hinduism. The
state government was heavily involved in supporting the festival,
whose publicity materials scapegoated and vilified Christians,
to the extent of using slogans such as, "Arise Hindus, throw
out the Christians" and claiming that "[Christian missionary
activity] has fanned separatist and terrorist activities. The
[festival] has been organised to deal a death blow to such anti-dharmic
and anti-national activities". Christian leaders suggested
that the Gujarat administration employed such means in order to
garner political support in a traditionally unsympathetic area,
by promoting a Hindu sense of identity and belonging among the
predominant animist and Christian tribal population. This tactic
entailed the vilification of Christians, and there arose legitimate
fear of a repeat of the widespread anti-Christian violence in
the area in 1998, which occurred after similar incitement.
The Gujarat administration has also recently
offended the Buddhist and Jain communities by classifying these
as "denominations" of Hinduism, and thereby failing
to recognise their distinct religious identities, under its recent
amendment to the currently inactive state anti-conversion law.
Legal judgements on the issue of the religious identity of Buddhism
and Jainism have been ambiguous; critics have therefore suggested
that this move represented a positive statement of differentiation
between religions perceived by the Gujarat government as "Indic",
and those perceived as "foreign", namely Christianity
State-level Freedom of Religion Acts, known
euphemistically as anti-conversion legislation, are increasingly
becoming a hallmark of BJP administrations. This legislation,
all of which is framed according to a similar pattern, ostensibly
aims to prohibit conversions by "force", "fraudulent
means" and "allurement" or "inducement",
but these categories are defined sufficiently loosely that a wide
range of legitimate religious activities may be targeted. The
laws also impose legal formalities on religious priests conducting
`ceremonies' for conversion and would-be converts.
In April 2006, the Rajasthan state government
passed an anti-conversion law. In July, the Madhya Pradesh government
amended its law to require potential converts to notify district
authorities one month in advance. In August, the government in
Chhattisgarh state, which was carved out of Madhya Pradesh and
inherited its anti-conversion law, passed an identical amendment.
In September, the Gujarat government passed an amendment designed
to overcome certain legal issues in the inactive anti-conversion
law passed in 2003, and thereby to expedite its implementation.
In its campaigns for upcoming state elections
in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, the BJP platform includes a promise
to introduce anti-conversion legislation.
Anti-conversion legislation is open to a number
1. It imposes restrictions on the constitutionally
or internationally protected rights to freely adopt, change, profess,
practice, teach and propagate religion. Of particular concern
are the requirements upon religious priests to either seek prior
permission or to send an intimation to district magistrates when
performing ceremonies for religious conversions, and the imposition
of similar legal formalities upon the potential convert.
2. The conditions under which conversions
are construed as illegitimate are defined sufficiently vaguely
as to allow a wide range of religious activities, including charity
or education, to be construed as attempts to convert. This leaves
such activities in a position of legal vulnerability and susceptibility
to social pressure or, as in many cases, violent assault.
3. The various religious parties and the
nature of conversion between them is defined inconsistently and
asymmetrically, leaving some religious groups vulnerable to the
unequal administration of justice. The recent amendment to the
Gujarat law defined the Buddhist and Jain religions as "denominations"
of Hinduism, thereby exempting them from the conditions imposed
by the law but failing to recognise their distinct religious identities.
The Arunachal Pradesh law specifically targets conversions away
from "indigenous" religions, defined as Buddhism, a
form of Hinduism and animism. Past legal judgements in India have
given an "open" and flexible definition to Hinduism,
leaving it in a dominant position.
4. The widely-used category of "re-conversions"
to Hinduism is excluded from all anti-conversion laws, with the
implication that these carry a certain legitimacy lacked by other
religious conversions. This is compounded by evidence of state
government involvement in the organisation of re-conversion ceremonies,
such as in Gujarat in January 2006. The arising assumption is
that the authorities empowered to give permission for religious
conversions would be more sympathetic to these "re-conversions"
than to conversions away from Hinduism.
5. The penal provisions are particularly
harsh in the more recent laws, exceeding even those given for
causing death by negligence. In the Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh
and Gujarat laws, the penal provisions are increased substantially
for those convicted for converting Dalits and tribals. This is
often adduced as evidence that the prevention of the lower castes
from adopting a new faith and thereby leaving the caste system,
is a chief aim of this legislation.
CSW recorded over 90 religiously-motivated violent
attacks against Christians between January and September 2006.
Many others are thought to have gone unreported for a variety
of reasons. Of those documented, 23 were in Madhya Pradesh and
18 in Karnataka. Rajasthan has seen a sustained campaign, supported
by the state government, against the institutions of the Emmanuel
Mission International, and inter-communal tensions have persisted
in Gujarat. Extremely violent attacks on Christians have also
taken place in Chhattisgarh and Orissa states.
Many attacks have occurred in connection with
accusations of forcible conversion, often resulting in the arrest
of the victims under the respective state anti-conversion laws
with impunity for the perpetrators. Christian leaders in Madhya
Pradesh have suggested to CSW that the law has contributed to
legitimising violent opposition to any minority religious activities
which can be framed as attempts to convert.
Among the most egregious assaults on Christians
in India in 2006 have been the following:
In Matiapada village, Orissa, on 16 January,
a group of around 15 Hindu extremists, incited and led by the
BJP village head, attacked Pastor Kulamani Mallick and his family
before setting fire to their home. The home was destroyed, along
with seven adjacent houses (six of which belonged to Christians).
Other Christians in the village were beaten with sticks and stones
or bricks. Kulamani Mallick, with his cousin Gunanidhi Mallick,
attempted to register a case against their attackers at the local
police station. However, police officer Jagannath Pareda told
them to remove the name of the village leader from the First Information
Report (FIR), and became very angry when they refused to do so.
They were detained and questioned under the Orissa Freedom of
Religion Act, accused of conversion activities. Their interviewer
insulted and threatened them because of their Christian faith.
The village leader was never charged for the attack.
In Nadia village, Madhya Pradesh, on 28 May,
two Christian women (one of whom was seven months pregnant) were
gang-raped at the instigation of a Hindu village leader, after
their husbands refused to surrender their Christian faith. The
day after a rape case was filed, the two women, their husbands
and one other were charged under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of
Religion Act, while the police initially refused to register a
case against the alleged rapists until the intervention of higher
In Kosa Nala, Chhattisgarh, on 18 June, Hindu
extremists tried to kill Pastor David Raj by hanging a burning
tyre around his neck. The attackers then dragged him to the police
station where he was charged with attempted forced conversion.
His wife was also arrested and charged. Reportedly, two women
in the church were tricked into signing a statement accusing Raj
and his wife of offering them cash and a motorcycle if they converted
to Christianity; police had told the fearful women that they were
simply signing a statement to confirm their attendance at church
that morning. However, local Christian sources claimed the accusation
was ridiculous, as they were extremely poor and could not afford
to make such an offer. The couple were on bail but were required
to report regularly to the police station. Three men were arrested
for the attack but immediately and unconditionally released on
THE UK GOVERNMENT
In light of the commitment made between the
EU and India to "work together to uphold human rights in
a spirit of equality and mutual respect", CSW requests that
the UK government:
Strongly encourages the Indian government
to proactively uphold the rights of individuals to "freely
profess, practise and propagate religion", in accordance
with Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, and to proactively
uphold the rights of religious minorities.
Urges for the repeal of anti-conversion
legislation in six states across India.
Supports the Indian government in
urging state governments to fully investigate and, where appropriate,
to convict those implicated in religiously-motivated violence.
Fully supports current attempts to
reform the Indian police force in order to safeguard its independence
from political prejudice and to increase its transparency.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
1 In each case, the formal sanction of the respective
state governor or national President is still pending. Back