September 13, 2018
Last week, the United States Secretaries of State and Defense traveled to India to meet with their counterparts to continue developing the U.S./India relationship. As this relationship proceeds to develop, religious freedom must be on the agenda. There will be pressure to sideline this topic, but our fellow Christians, along with others persecuted for their beliefs in India, can't afford our complacency.
This past August marked the 10-year anniversary of the mob slaughter of Christians by Hindu radicals whipped up by the murder of Hindu leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati a decade ago. Despite the fact that Maoists took responsibility for the leader's death, over the course of the ensuing months, Christians were blamed, and around 56,000 of them fled into forests and the homes of friends and relatives. Approximately 5,600 houses and 415 villages were raided and set on fire. The government reported that 38 people were killed and two women raped, though others have reported higher numbers. The events that unfolded following this killing constituted India's worst Christian persecution in 300 years, and even Hindu leaders have recognized the scheme perpetrated against Christians. In the aftermath, seven Christians (six of them illiterate) were tried and convicted of Saraswati's murder in sham proceedings. Their case has been stagnating, with the appeals court long overdue to hear the case. One journalist has set up a petition calling for their release.
Those inflamed by Hindu nationalist sentiment fanned by the governing Bharatiya Janata Party and allies have for years targeted Christians and others. Recently, U.S.-based charities like Compassion International have been restricted, shut down, or forced out of India. The idea that someone might choose a religion other than Hinduism has Hindu radicals up in arms, and this has led to support for "anti-conversion laws" in several areas of India which do in fact make it illegal to convert to other religions -- including Christianity. Made-up claims of "fraudulent" conversions, prohibited under the law, are often used as a way to stop any change of religion -- including the free acceptance of the gospel message.
False allegations seem to be a theme in India. Just yesterday, it was reported that police in India's Uttar Pradesh charged over 270 Christians with "spreading lies about Hinduism and drugging people to try and convert them to Christianity."
For the U.S. and India to build a lasting international partnership, the recognition and respect for religious freedom is essential. Prime Minister Modi must acknowledge that these serious religious freedom violations happening on his watch betray India's rule of law heritage as a Commonwealth country. The degradation of rule of law compounds the economic and security problems which will develop as religious freedom suffers, and corporations will begin to think twice before investing in India.
One way that concerns can immediately be addressed is by giving the Christians convicted for Saraswati's death a hearing date for their appeal, and a fair and speedy trial. This will only begin remedying the religious freedom and rule of law issues which have developed in recent years, but it is a start.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.