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Christians say they’re under attack by Shivraj’s MP. Home Minister denies rise in such crimes

Christian leaders say attack on Vidisha school Sunday is latest in a series of alleged atrocities. But home minister, police deny claim that crimes against community are on the rise.

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New Delhi: The incident of a Catholic school being vandalised by members of Hindu Right-wing groups in Madhya Pradesh last week is the latest in a series of alleged atrocities against the Christian community in the state.

The Christian community comprises 0.29 per cent of Madhya Pradesh’s population (2011 Census).

Religious leaders of the community claim minorities are being targeted for political gain, and to distract people from real social issues. They allege these attacks have intensified since the Freedom of Religion Act 2021, also known as the ‘anti-conversion law’, was passed earlier this year.

The law, which was preceded by an ordinance, seeks to check forced religious conversions through marriage or other fraudulent means.

In the latest instance, the St Joseph Christian Missionary School in Ganj Basoda tehsil of Vidisha district was targeted Sunday by Bajrang Dal and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) members who claimed eight Hindu children had been forcibly converted to Christianity in the area.

After the incident, A.A.S. Durairaj, the archbishop of the Bhopal Archdiocese, said he had raised the issue of violence against Christians in the state with Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra.

Mishra, however, denied that there had been any increase in crimes against Christian minorities.

“We have met a delegation from the Christian minority group and they have informed me of their concerns. But the state policy is clear and we will not make any exceptions if there is a case of forced conversion,” he told ThePrint. “The claim that there has been increased crime against Christian minorities is false.”

Members of Hindu Right-wing groups, meanwhile, defend their actions, saying they intervene to stop forced conversions. The new law, they say has helped them tackle illegal conversions.

Also Read: How Christianity is growing among Mazhabi Sikhs & Valmiki Hindus in Punjab’s villages

Series of alleged attacks

In October this year, Christ Jyoti Senior Secondary School in Satna district of Madhya Pradesh was allegedly vandalised over claims that the school management had removed an idol of Saraswati from the premises a few years ago.

Father Augustine Chittuparambil, the school’s manager, told ThePrint that these allegations were baseless. “This school is going to complete fifty years. If an idol was really dismantled on this land, then where were they all these years? Why come now?” he asked.

“Their intention now has become to focus on Christian missions with allegations of conversion,” he added. “In my school, I preach values, not Jesus. I have been a teacher for the last 20 years. Imagine the number of students I could have converted, had that been the intention. This is simply a ploy to distract people from real social issues like education, health, unemployment.”

The same month, 10 Christians, including five women, were arrested in Datia district after members of Right-wing groups allegedly spotted them distributing religious books outside a missionary school. They were booked under Section 505 (2) — pertaining to statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred, or ill-will between classes — of the Indian Penal Code.

A few days later, in Mandla district, individuals who reportedly identified themselves as members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) allegedly barged into a missionary institution and pelted stones at its building, accusing the administration of conversion.

In September, a bishop in Jhabua district wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind seeking protection after some individuals “claiming to be members of the VHP” allegedly threatened them that all “illegal structures running as churches” would be demolished in the area.

In January, dozens of Bajrang Dal members barged into a programme at the Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra in Indore, alleging mass forced conversions. In an ensuing FIR, a young woman’s parents were among 11 people booked for allegedly forcing her to convert her to Christianity.

Leo Cornelio, Emeritus Archbishop of the state, said minority communities in Madhya Pradesh are being targeted for political gain.

“Christian missionaries have been running schools across the country for decades. Why has the concern of conversion suddenly made a home in the minds of these people? The population of Christians in the country has been on a decline over the years. How can people even think that we are converting students in schools?” he asked.

“This anti-conversion bill is a handle in the hands of anti-social elements. They are using it to attack minorities and gain political mileage for themselves,” he added.

Bhopal Inspector General (IG), Intelligence, Rakesh Gupta said while they have no data on such claims, “there is no alarming rise in the number of incidents of violence against the Christian community”.

“While investigation into the incident that happened in Vidisha is still going on, there is no data to support these claims being made. Whenever a law is made, police have to comply with it and that is what we are doing,” he added. “We haven’t encountered an alarming increase in the number of such cases to make such statements.”

Also Read: Don’t listen to VHP and panic. Christianity is a failed project in India

Christian population has stagnated: Reports

The 2001 census showed that Indian Christians make up 2.3 per cent of the country’s population. This figure remained the same in the 2011 census. The findings of the census suggested that the growth rate of Christians — as that of Hindus and Muslims — was expected to fall in the subsequent years. 

A July 2021 study by the US-based Pew Research Center found that 33 per cent of India’s Christians identify as Scheduled Castes (SC), while 24 per cent identify as Scheduled Tribes (ST).

According to another report by the organisation, dated September 2021, conversion was a rare practice in the country and the “religious composition” of India has more or less remained the same since 1947. 

Over the years, there have been allegations of Christians coming under attack, especially over allegations of conversion. A 2021 report released by the United Christian Forum (an umbrella body that monitors human rights violations against Christians), non-governmental organisation Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and United Against Hate (a platform against hate crime and mob violence), the highest number of crimes against Christians in the country were taking place in Uttar Pradesh.

Chhattisgarh and Karnataka rounded up the top three. The report also said 305 such cases across the country took place between January and September.

Surendra Jain, joint general secretary of the VHP, said Christianity as a religion is a “fraud”.

“How can you believe in a religion where the cleric makes false claims of curing the incurable? Conversion through missionary schools is a modus operandi they have been following since the time of colonisers,” he added.

“It is not like we have become active this year. Instead, we have the law to aid our claims now. Whenever we see such missionaries fooling innocent tribals, we intervene to stop this fraud from spreading,” he said.

Sohan Singh Solanki, the chief of the Bajrang Dal, refused to comment on the issue.

Rajesh Tiwari, Bajrang Dal’s regional president of Madhya Pradesh, said local residents “have been alerting Right-wing groups to cases of conversion” over the years.

“Previously, we observed that no action was taken by Christian clerics and the state administration whenever we alerted them to such conversions. With the coming of the anti-conversion law, we now have legal provisions to correct such wrongs,” he added.

Inputs from Shanker Arnimesh

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: 1 year of UP anti-conversion law — 108 cases, chargesheet filed in 72, ‘lack of proof’ in 11

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