Christians in some parts of India have been facing growing persecution on account of their faith at different times due to the rise of religious fundamentalism and the proliferation of hate against religious minorities in India. In 1998, Christians in the Dangs District of Gujarat suffered intense persecution and attacks on Christian institutions. In 2008, Christians in the Kandhamal District of Odisha were attacked with about a hundred Christians martyred, thousands rendered homeless and several churches and institutions destroyed. From 3rd May 2023, Christians in Manipur are facing intense persecution with over a hundred martyred, thousands homeless and in relief camps and over 400 Churches and Christian institutions burnt down by radical fundamentalist mobs. In addition to these mass persecutions, Christians are being persecuted sporadically across the country, with over 500 incidents reported every year. The ruling elite in India would like the world to believe that these incidents are sporadic incidents that do take place everywhere and are dealt with by the law and order machinery and the judiciary. However, upright bureaucrats and police officials point out that any riot can easily be brought under control by the administration within 24 hours and if it continues for more than a day, it is obvious that the state machinery and politicians are complicit in fuelling the violence. The ruling elite who are working overtime to establish a Hindu majoritarian and authoritarian state in India has been following a time-tested modus operandi that has succeeded in reaping electoral dividends so far. The steps are as follows: (1) Generate hate against minorities, preferably Christians and Muslims, through hate speech and negative branding of minorities (2) Engineer riots by remaining silent as radicalised non-state actors go on a rampage against minorities causing deaths and extensive damage to property, (3) polarise and segregate the minority community from the majority community so that they are ghettoised in separate regions and easily marginalised during delimitation of constituencies, and (4) keep winning elections by portraying to be the champions of majoritarian interests. In the light of this modus operandi of the ruling elite, there is a widespread hate agenda against Christians throughout the country by branding and labelling them and all their educational, health and social services as an allurement to convert non-Christians to Christians. This hate campaign against Christians feeds on a false sense of fear driven among the majority community that the Christian population is increasing rapidly due to conversions, notwithstanding the fact that Census data reveals that the population of Christians has remained constant at 2.3% for the last 75 years. This State-sponsored hate agenda of fuelling the public perception that conversion is an anti-national activity has resulted in the enactment of several draconian and stringent anti-conversion laws in some states in India, which are deceptively named ‘Freedom of Religion Acts’.
In this context, it is important to evolve a faith based Christian response to the pervasive trends of Christian persecution in India. In my opinion, we need to develop Christian solidarity that will give witness to our faith in a loving and merciful God manifested in the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to Saint Pope John Paul II, the virtue of Christian solidarity is ‘a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good….because we are really all responsible for all’. Christian solidarity is the creation of a new mindset that thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all. In times of suffering, especially of the victims of injustice and persecution, the cross of Christ becomes the sign par excellence of God’s solidarity with us and, at the same time, of the possibility for us to join in His solidarity with the suffering humanity. In the words of Pope Francis, suffering “teaches us to live human and Christian solidarity, imitating God’s style of closeness, compassion and tenderness.”
As Christians giving witness to our Christian faith in a multi-religious and multi-cultural country like India, we need to express our solidarity with all the victims of injustice and religious persecution among Christians and other minorities, not only through prayer but also in word and deed. In the context, of the ethnic and religious violence in Manipur, Christians need to express our solidarity in various ways, such as (1) prayer and fasting, (2) providing relief to those in relief camps, (3) supporting the families of the deceased, (4) caring for those injured in the violence, (5) rebuilding homes and livelihoods of families whose homes were burned down, and (6) rebuilding the churches and institutions destroyed in the violence. Besides, since Kukis, Nagas and Meiteis have embraced Christianity, Christians have a unique responsibility to bring about reconciliation, healing and social harmony among all communities in Manipur.
In the context of the violence in Manipur, no one can afford to be neutral and be silent, but remember the words of the Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” This implies voicing strong opposition to hate speech, including blatant calls for annihilation, ethnic cleansing and genocide, politics of hate and partisanship and all ugly manifestations of religious fundamentalism and extremism nationally and internationally. It also means working towards justice for all the victims of violence and persecution in all its forms.
The Manipur crisis is an occasion for Christians across the country to transform this adversity into an opportunity by becoming witnesses of the love and mercy of God through Christian solidarity expressed through closeness, compassion and tenderness to the persecuted Christians and the suffering people of Manipur.
-Dr Denzil Fernandes SJ, Professor at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi