Most Christians in India will remember the year 2019 as challenging, to say the least. Religious minorities in general and Christians specifically suffered from an increasing number of attacks. Hindu nationalism, claiming to purge India of everything non-Hindu, was a decisive issue in the general election. Soon after, the re-elected government abolished the autonomy of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. While Kashmir has a Muslim majority population, experts argue that this could be a dangerous precedent affecting other autonomous regions like Nagaland, a Christian majority state.
A few days before Christmas, the government also introduced a new law on citizenship. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended the Citizenship Amendment Act as an invitation for persecuted religious minorities from neighbouring countries to seek refuge in India, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest against the new law, triggering violence and causing the deaths of more than 20 people.
Muslims in particular oppose the proposed changes, since Islam is excluded from the list of persecuted religions. But other religious minorities have voiced their concern about it too. Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, addressed the demonstrations, saying that there was a danger of polarisation along religious lines, “which is harmful to the country”. He urged the government to engage in dialogue with those opposing the Act. “There is no harm in backtracking, changing course, if this is necessary for the good of the country,” he said.
Tehmina Arora, a practising lawyer at the Supreme Court and director of ADF India, is also worried that the new act will impact badly on minorities. Along with those changes mentioned, a national register of all citizens is likely to be implemented. Mandatory registration has already been implemented in the state of Assam, leaving 1.9 million classed as “doubtful voters”. Some were even sent to detention camps because they could not prove their citizenship. According to Arora, Christians often belong to the poorer social classes and poor families in India usually possess no documents, despite having lived in the country for generations.
Arora also expressed concern about the increasing polarisation along religious lines.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith,” she said. “In India, more and more Christians suffer from an increasing number of physical and verbal assaults.
The helpline of the United Christian Forum recorded for 2019 more than 300 cases of mob violence against Christians from all denominations. Less than 40 of those cases were prosecuted by the police.”
Arora added that Indians should be careful not to allow Hindu national extremists to bring division into their society. She is convinced that Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities would suffer the most.
Andreas Thonhauser is director of external relations for ADF International