The government should not accept one-sided allegations of victimization

Minister of State for Minority Affairs in the Narendra Modi government, John Baria, has met with many leaders of the Christian community in India to listen to their grievances. He proposes to organize another in April, which will be attended by a broader representative list of community leaders, to understand and address their concerns. Among the issues of concern to the community are alleged attacks on community members, blocking of permissions under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA), and anti-conversion laws legislated (or planned) by some States. .

It’s a good idea if, and only if, the government plans the same with all religious communities, including various Hindu communities sampradayas, and not just Christians or Muslims. Christians may think they have an absolute right to convert and claim victimhood if they are prevented from doing so, but Hindus may think otherwise. Both parties must be duly weighted.

It is a bad idea if the basic purpose of these meetings is only to confirm feelings of victimization in the community. This will then mean giving in to their pressure when it could impact on the rights of other communities.

No government, including a so-called “Hindu nationalist” government, can make unilateral concessions to so-called minorities, who are in fact global majorities with deep bases of support in India and abroad. If this is what the government intends to do, it will do the same kind of appeasement that “secular” governments have done since 1947, or even before partition. This will be extremely harmful to Hindus. At the very least, the Hindu nationalist government should ensure that no harm is done to Hindu interests – Hindu interests as defined by Hindus and not their religious rivals.

On FCRA, let’s be clear. As long as the law applies equally to all non-governmental organizations, there is nothing illegal or unfair about it. Christian groups can only complain if they are the sole targets of the FCRA’s contribution guidelines, but even so, a sovereign government can discriminate against certain evangelical groups if their actions lead to social discord and conflict.

With regard to alleged attacks on Christians, it should be clear that while all state governments should be asked to investigate these attacks and punish the culprits, the assumption that only Christian or minority groups are victims of such attacks must be balanced with data on attacks against other religious communities. A one-sided count of victimization is not what is needed. It is hoped that the Modi government will collect such statistics before assuming that only minorities are subject to such attacks.

It should be recalled that the first Muslim lynching that everyone remembers was that of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, in September 2015, allegedly over the beef issue. But what few remember is that several months before Dadri, an Indian Muslim, Syed Farid Khan, was lynched in Dimapur, Nagaland, in March 2015. The lynching was gruesome, as Khan had previously been arrested for the alleged rape of a Naga woman. The mob broke him out of prison and lynched him in the streets of Nagaland’s capital. But we don’t want to talk much about Dimapur because, hey, the Nagas are largely Baptist Christians. Psstplease treat it as violence resulting from patriarchy and other similar factors, and not as community factors (as some articles suggest here and here). That’s not to say that all lynchings are communal, but note how a Muslim lynched in Uttar Pradesh receives completely different media treatment than a lynched in Nagaland. The religion of the victim and the perpetrator is a factor in how the media handles such cases.

The point to note is this: there are two sides to a conflict, and if you want to hold Hindu groups accountable for the Kandhamal riots in Odisha in 2008, remember to also note that Swami Laxmananda Saraswati was murdered by mostly Christian assassins. The same goes for the post-Godhra communal riots.

While talking about attacks on minorities, it does not make sense to do so without also talking about attacks on Hindu groups by various minority groups.

It’s not about balancing the monkeys, it’s about fairness. If Christians have a grouse and the government is prepared to address their concerns, on what basis can it refuse to do the same for the so-called majority groups who are indirectly assumed to be the aggressors?

The state can only play neutral if all groups have the right to have their grievances addressed. Otherwise, we are likely to be guilty of counting only what vested interests want you to count, and of ignoring the larger picture.

In 2014, church leaders forcefully claimed that Christians were being attacked based on a handful of incidents of vandalism or theft at some churches in Delhi, but data showed that such incidents were also observed in the religious places of other communities, with 206 temples, 30 gurudwaras, three churches and 14 mosques robbed in 2014.

The grievances of religious leaders can only be considered valid if the data shows that they suffered a disproportionate share of attacks and that these attacks were motivated solely by religion. Much like the questionable data on farmer suicides, where all suicides are attributed solely to high debt or low income from farming, violence against Christians can also have non-communal causes. Adding up all the crimes involving victims in the community, without trying to find out the real cause, doesn’t mean much.

The government should not give too much weight to the unilateral demands of the Christian community which is eternally the victim of violence or majority discrimination.

Jerry B. Hatch