In the tinderbox of the Subcontinent, Christians and Muslims are at risk

Last year yours truly reported on how the differential fertility rates of India’s Muslims and Hindus were stoking antagonism in South Asia: 

…if current trends continue, there will come a day when the Hindu population will inevitably shrink, and pressure from Muslims within and bordering India will increase. Let’s hope that, in a region populated by multiple nuclear powers, it doesn’t get ugly.

So far, the international situation hasn’t worsened. India and Pakistan continue to be at loggerheads, but a tenuous “peace” holds in Jammu and Kashmir, and border conflict with China has cooled. But within India, the situation has gotten really ugly, and does not bode well for religious freedom in the world’s largest democracy. Consider this.

On December 23, during Christmas celebrations at the convent school in Mandya District, Karnataka (southwestern India), a mob of Hindu vigilantes raided the school, damaged property, harassed and accused the sisters of attempting to convert children to Christianity.

That very same day the Karnataka state assembly enacted the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, a strident anti-conversion measure. Karnataka was the 10th Indian state to pass the “Freedom of Religion” act that prohibits religious conversions with the exception of when someone “reconverts to his immediate previous religion.” Also, marriages conducted with the intent of religious conversion can be voided and the guilty jailed for ten years.

On Christmas Day, India’s Home Ministry refused to renew the license enabling Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity (MoC) to receive funding from abroad. Giving no reason, the Ministry stated that MoC was no longer “meeting the eligibility conditions” under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

Increasingly, Christian churches and schools are being raided by Hindu militants. India is 2.3 percent Christian. That’s over 32 million Christians. 

The previous week, at a rally in Uttarakhand state, Annapurna Maa, General Secretary of the extremist Hindu Mahasabha, said it was OK to kill Muslims:

Even if just a hundred of us become soldiers and kill two million of them, we will be victorious … If you stand with this attitude only then will you able to protect ‘sanatana dharma’ [an absolute form of Hinduism].

Her remarks were wildly applauded. In response to complaints, the government has launched a tepid “hate speech” investigation.

In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said of the upcoming assembly elections: It is “80 versus 20 percent.” Everyone knows what he is talking about – the state is 80 percent Hindu, 20 percent Muslim.

In late October there were attacks on Muslims in the northeastern state of Tripura, supposedly in retaliation to alleged attacks on Hindus in neighboring Bangladesh.

On December 11 India’s Citizenship Law was amended to allow Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians who arrived in India before the end of December 2014 to apply for citizenship. No mention of Muslims.

Space does not allow recounting recent religious violence, mostly against Muslims and Christians. In the last several months there has been a dramatic uptick in church burnings, mosque torchings, killings, harassment and government interference with minority religions.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fervently Hindu nationalist. BJP has been in the subcontinental saddle since the ascension of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. BJP warns that Hindu dominance is threatened by higher Muslim fertility and religious conversions by foreign-funded Muslim and Christian organizations. 

BJP’s power has emboldened radical Hindu groups espousing extreme versions of the party’s doctrine of Hindutva ("Hindu-ness"), a Hindu-first ideology seeking the transformation of India’s secular constitutional state into an overtly ethno-religious one (Hindu Rashtra).

Writing in Al-Jazeera earlier this month, Apoorvanand, a professor at the University of Delhi, pointed out what is becoming more obvious by the day:

Under BJP’s leadership, India became one of the most dangerous countries for Muslims and Christians in the world. They are being persecuted physically, psychologically, and economically. Laws are being passed to criminalise their religious practices, food habits and even businesses. On top of discriminatory laws, they are also routinely being threatened with and subjected to physical violence. The media, as well as the TV and film industries are prejudiced against them. Perhaps most importantly, the elected rulers of the country are constantly dehumanising and even demonising them to further their own political agenda.

Here is the root of the problem. The Partition of 1947, established separate states for Hindus (India) and Muslims (Pakistan). Millions perished in order to bring that about. However, a significant Muslim minority remained in India. In 1951, India was 9.8 percent Muslim, 84.1 percent Hindu. Muslims are now 15 percent, Hindus at 79 percent. Christians hover at around 2.3 percent. Christian and now Hindu fertility rates are below replacement level. The Muslim fertility rate, while declining, remains above the replacement-level, 20 percent higher than that of Hindus. The Pew Research Center projects 2050 Hindu-Muslim percentages at 77 percent to 18 percent. 

BJP’s Brobdingnagian base is also unhappy about religious conversions, and believes India is in danger of losing its “Hindu-ness.” Hindu militants are increasingly taking the law into their own hands to “remedy” the situation. The government effectively casts a blind eye to these transgressions.  The opposition Congress Party led by Rahul Gandhi has protested in accord with their “big tent” strategy, to little avail.

Genocide Watch’s Gregory Stanton testified before the US Congress that “We are warning that genocide could very well happen in India…” Stanton has urged passage of an appropriate Congressional Resolution and says the situation is sufficiently urgent that “Biden should tell Modi if genocide occurs it will require us to re-assess all our relations with India.” 

Woefully underreported in Western media, a menacing metastasis of religious violence plagues India. Something has got to give.


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