Ongoing Persecution of Christians in India by Hindutva Forces Denounced in the Webinar by the American Anti-Extremism Alliance ASPAIRE Promised to Educate the American Faith Leaders and Policy Makers About the Onslaught on Minorities in India
A day after news reports came out that the Hindu extremist groups in the US managed to get hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the name of COVID-19 relief, ASPAIRE vowed to expose them to the US authorities, law-enforcement, and opinion-makers using the data presented in their webinar series: Resisting the Onslaught on Democracy in the World’s Largest and Oldest Democracies.
“Hindutva, the Hindu supremacist lobby, has launched their long-awaited counteroffensive in the US. We had won a string of victories defeating their congressional candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni in Houston and getting many cities to pass resolutions against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Hindutva lobby has now started resisting resolutions in the city councils. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the international wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has also started approaching city councils in the state of Texas”, said Dr. Shaik Ubaid, co-chair of the advocacy group, Alliance to Save and Protect America from Infiltration by Religious Extremists (ASPAIRE). “ASPAIRE promises to continue to educate the American faith leaders and policymakers about the onslaught on minorities in India and the proceedings of the webinar will be used in this struggle,” announced Dr. Ubaid
He was speaking at a webinar organized by ASPAIRE, on the ongoing Christian persecution in India, by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak (RSS) and its allied groups, forming the Hindutva forces. These Hindutva forces have fashioned themselves after the Nazi Party and adore Adolf Hitler as their model. They were also implicated in the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. This was the latest in the ASPAIRE webinar series: Resisting the Onslaught on Democracy in the World’s Largest and Oldest Democracies.
“To counter the financial resources of the Hindutva fascist lobby in the US, which is backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India, we have to build alliances at grassroots by educating faith leaders, human rights activists, local media, and local politicians. That is why the webinars by ASPAIRE are so important”, he added.
The webinar was organized on the night, which was holy for all three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, besides Hinduism, which celebrates the festival of Holi, signifying the struggle between good and evil.
Interestingly some elements of the Hindutva supremacist movement tried to hijack the webinar, albeit unsuccessfully. They can do this with impunity only because of the support of the Indian government, which is highly sensitive to any criticism abroad.
ASPAIRE, which was launched to stem the infiltration of such extremists in the American power centers, was the webinar’s main organizer.
The speakers included Tehmina Arora, a human rights lawyer and constitutional expert specializing in minority rights and religious freedom. Dr. John Dayal and Father Cedric Prakash, both eminent human rights leaders, holding senior positions in the Christian community, and Reverend Dan Buttry from Michigan spoke at length about massacres during the 2008 Kandhamal pogrom in Odisha. Nearly 200 Christians were massacred, scores of villages were destroyed along with hundreds of churches. And almost a quarter-million people were internally displaced.
Reverend Dan Buttry, who was also an eyewitness to the post-pogrom persecution, was perplexed about the Hindutva forces in the US gaining ground in the Hindu community. This despite exhibiting duplicitous behavior by demanding equal rights for Hindus in America on the one hand and supporting/whitewashing the persecution of minorities in India by the Hindu supremacists on the other. Along with the other speakers, he pointed out that the majority of the Hindus in India do not support the supremacist RSS.
Father Prakash and Dr. Dayal also encouraged the Christians not to fall victim to the Hindutva’s Islamophobic propaganda of love jihaad, especially in Kerala. They expressed disappointment that Muslim organizations had not expressed their solidarity with the nuns from Kerala who were recently harassed while traveling on a train.
The frank discussion in the webinar focused not only on highlighting the persecution of Christians and other minorities but also on resisting the onslaught on the secular constitution of India and the pluralist fabric of the great nation.
They were also hopeful that activism in the US would help relieve the pressure on the persecuted minorities and moderate Hindus in India by building public opinion against the rise of tyranny in the country.
“Couple of days ago, a law was passed in Georgia, which literally turns back the clock and makes it difficult for the poor and African Americans to vote, which shows how real the struggles are both in the US and India, said Masood Rab, also a co-chair with ASPAIRE. “While the White supremacy organizations are exposed and shunned in the US, the Hindutva supremacist organizations have been using the cloak of interfaith efforts in almost every major city and must be shunned too,” he said
Tehmina Arora mentioned the dangerous tweaks given by the BJP government to the already draconian anti-conversion laws in India. These laws are now being very aggressively enforced in 9 states which have passed them. Though these laws have existed since 1967-68, they came up for a challenge in 1977, and the Supreme Court upheld it by laying down a criterion saying that people have the right to propagate their faith, but not the right to convert a person.
However, in states like Rajasthan, the law states that no person shall convert from one religious faith to another, directly or indirectly, by force, inducements, or other means. There is nothing really wrong with it until one gets into a deeper examination of the words mentioned here and realizes how problematic it is. For instance, inducement means not only just material gifts of gratification but also spiritual gifts of gratification.
In Madhya Pradesh, talking about a better life, under a religion, or receiving better education are all inducements and come with penal actions. Prison terms can be anywhere from one year to 5 years. This when the politicians from the ruling BJP brazenly make promises of “acche din” (better days lie ahead) without any threat of prosecution.
The situation is dire when inter-religious marriages are being thrust under this law’s scanner and clearly violate previous Supreme Court rulings.
Dalits are especially threatened under these laws as they would lose all benefits of reservation (affirmative actions) granted to them because of the millennia of oppression. Therefore, they are forced to continue to live as outcaste Hindus and suffer the oppression of the apartheid of the caste system.
Dr. Dayal, who was continuously interrupted by Hindutva elements during his presentation, emphasizing his voice’s strength, mentioned how Xenophobia in India revolves around Islamophobia and Christophobia. And how it has become even more aggressive in the last 70 years because of the RSS.
Casteism born in Hinduism has permeated all minority religions and the lower castes still suffering from it have no escape from it because of the anti-conversion laws.
The hill and tribal people, many of them Dalits and Christians in Kandhamal district in Odisha, living in isolation have existed for centuries without violence. Faith formation happened in the region in the last 150 years by Christians and in the last 70 yrs by the Hindutva organizations, under whom things turned violent.
India’s senior leaders pointed out that Christians had been wiped out from 400 villages during the Kandhamal pogrom. A total of 6000 houses were destroyed, hundreds of churches and educational institutions were reduced to ashes, leaving 120 dead. 60.000 escaped the massacre because they took refuge in the forests where they survived for three months in the wilderness and a year in refugee camps. Justice remains to be meted out.
“The US Vice President Kamala Harris and all Indian Americans who share the same genetic material as Indians back home should note the Hindutva forces shaming the US and terrorizing the people in India, and need to speak up against it. The government is on a witch hunt of all those presenting their case abroad, to silence their voice, “said Dr. Dayal.
Father Prakash, who also got interrupted during his presentation, submitted how in the late 90s, there were several attacks on Christians in India. In 1999, as the spokesperson of the Christian community in Gujarat, he showed the mass destruction amongst his community to the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who cried, claiming this should not have happened. He also promised a national debate on conversions. And yet, Vajpayee was helpless when on 6th March 2003, the then chief Narendra Modi brought in Gujarat’s anti-conversion law as promised by him.
And on 26th March this year, it was amended and made even more draconian by Modi, now the prime minister. While challenging the constitutional validity of love jihad in the SC the question we ask is, why can’t we as an adult marry the person of our choice, irrespective of the religion and who is the state to decide otherwise, in a matter of our conscience.
Fr. Prakash also spoke about the all-pervasive systemic harassment of Christians and other minorities daily in India today.
Reverend Buttry, who was denied a visa to India when on a mission to create peace between different sections, in 2012 recalled how he was first attacked on Christmas eve of 2007 in Odisha. “I was in the region, and a friend of mine invited me to come in, and I realized many Hindus stood up for the Christians. When the Hindu nationalist extremists attacked one village during the Kandhamal pogrom, their Hindu neighbors stood between their Christian neighbors and the attackers when they attacked another village. There were peace marches in Bhubaneswar following, and three-fourths of those marching were Hindus. We are not against Hindus, but are pro-human rights, ” He said.
He highlighted the duplicity and hypocrisy of Hindutva fronts in the US, “I was talking to Hindus about the pogrom, some tied to organizations with ties to the BJP. They ask for an equal place in the American interfaith arena, but they are not standing for India’s interfaith relationships. An ethical right should be true for everyone, and if they ask for their rights here, they should support minority rights in India. Instead, they were supporting what was happening in Odisha. Just as I would stand for minority rights even when I am part of the Christian majority in the US, we need everyone to have ethical and religious integrity to stand up for universal rights for all people.