By Purushottam Nayak
New Delhi, February 21, 2023: About 15,000 people representing over 100 churches and faith-based organizations held a peaceful protest on Sunday, February 19, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.
The demonstrations in the national capital drew the attention of the government, the Supreme Court, and civil society groups to the sharp increase in hostility, hatred, and violence against Christians in many states.
Concerns were expressed over the situation in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Karnataka, where most of the attacks on Christians and churches have been reported in recent months.
“Today we have gathered here peacefully at Jantar Mantar because we want to share the anguish of our fellow citizens in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and so many other places where their fundamental rights to practice their religion of choice as per the Constitution are violated,” said Michael William, president of the United Christian Forum (UCF).
Michael, a member of the Christian community in the Delhi-National Capital Region, organized the protest rally in collaboration with various churches.
Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi and Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridabad were among several other prominent Christian leaders who participated in the protest.
The newspapers reported that the protest was staged in the national capital to draw the attention of the government, judiciary, and civil society to the “rising incidents of crime against the community.”
The protesters expressed serious concern over the attack on persons, churches, and institutions and the registration of malicious FIRs (first information reports) against Christians, along with illegal detentions and the non-registration of FIRs despite complaints filed by the victims.
“We are facing false accusations of forcibly converting people to Christianity. This has resulted in a series of violent attacks on churches and physical assaults, as well as the arrest of group members. As a result, there is a prevailing sense of panic, fear, anxiety, and insecurity among the community,” said Steven from Uttar Pradesh.
“Churches are being attacked, and our community members are harassed in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and many other states. Cases are being filed against Christians based on false charges. We have come here to express solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” said a protester who came from Delhi’s Punjabi Bagh.
“In Uttar Pradesh, the number of such cases increased from 70 in 2020 to 183 in 2022,” one protester from Fatepur in Uttar Pradesh said.
“We are not even allowed to pray in our houses. A few women were arrested for offering prayers during a birthday celebration,” he continued.
The protesters held placards in Hindi and English that read “Every persecution makes Christians stronger in faith,” “Stop the attack against Christians,” and “Stop attacking our churches.”
The protesters tied black ribbons on their hands in a protest over alleged targeted hate and violence against Christians.
A memorandum was submitted to the President of India, Draupadi Murmu, asking for a National Redressal Commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, with the representation of the community, to address the issues of vile hate speech and “targeted” violence against the community.
A statement issued by the Delhi-NCR Christian community stated: “The UCF, a human rights group based in New Delhi that monitors atrocities against Christians in India, has recorded a total of 598 incidents of violence against Christians from 21 states this year alone, till the end of December 2022.”
The memorandum also seeks the strengthening of human rights monitoring mechanisms like the National Commission for Minorities and the National Human Rights Commission and the speedy closure of cases where false allegations have been leveled against Christians.
Speakers and protesters recalled that Kandhamal in Odisha has not forgotten the biggest communal violence in 2008.
Over 395 churches and worship places that belonged to the Adivasi and Dalit Christians were destroyed, around 5,847 houses were razed to the ground, over 100 people were killed, over 40 women were subjected to rape, molestation, and humiliation; and several educational, social service, and health institutions were destroyed and looted.
More than 70,000 people were displaced. “Christians were falsely blamed despite Maoist rebels claiming the murder and assassination of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda,” said Bipra Charan Nayak, the local Christian leader and one of the victims of the violence.
“The wound of the anti-Christian violence of 2008 is still fresh,” affirms Nayak.