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New Delhi: Last week, the Union government told the Supreme Court that a public interest litigation urging action against attacks on Christian was based on “self-serving reports”. Data gathered by a non-governmental organisation based on distress calls it received on a helpline number, however, records over 300 incidents of attacks – verbal, physical and with help of law enforcement – on Christians until July this year.
On August 28, three people were arrested from a small village of Harchandpur in Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareilly over allegations that they had attempted to forcibly converted people.
On the day, the three – Ramvati, Dashrath and Raghuveer – say that activists affiliated to Hindutva organisations thronged their church, ostensibly in protest against ‘conversion attempts’ by the three.
Hindutva groups had also complained to the police alleging the same.
The FIR – accessed by The Wire – charges them under Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 and 5 (1) of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.
While being handed over to the police, the trio allege, they were attacked and brutally thrashed by Hindutva workers. The three are small farmers and agricultural workers.
They received bail on August 31. Their lawyer Shiv Kumar says that investigation is currently ongoing as to whether they had attempted forced conversions.
“God saved me. We were attacked, my hand was twisted by those who had complained against us while we were being taken into custody. Dashrath and Raghuveer were also brutally thrashed. They said we are converting people, they took away our Bibles,” Ramvati told The Wire.
Ramvati says the three praying when Hindutva workers entered the church and attacked them. “They hurled abuses at us. They said we were looting people,” said Ramvati.
“We are still scared.” she says.
Alok Priyadarshi, Superintendent of Police at Rae Bareilly said that he was unaware of the fact that the accused have been thrashed. He added that investigation was indeed ongoing in the case.
On August 31, in Punjab’s Tarn Taran a group of four masked persons entered a church, vandalising a Pieta statue and setting a car that belonged to the church on fire. Father Thomas Poochalil, the pastor at Infant Jesus Catholic Church, stated that the attack was carried out after security guards were held hostage at gunpoint.
As many as 302 attacks against Christians took place in the first seven months of 2022 according to the United Christian Forum, which has collected data on the basis of distress calls it received on its helpline numbers.
UCF is a non-governmental organisation. Its helpline 1-800-208-4545 was launched on January 19, 2015, so that people in distress, especially those who are not aware of the law of the land functions can reach out for help and legal remedy.
The Delhi-based organisation shared their data which documents cases across states from January to July of the year, with The Wire.
UCF’s data shows that the state of Uttar Pradesh has reported over 80 such instances – the highest – followed by Chhattisgarh, which reported 60 such cases.
A petition, filed on the behalf of Archbishop of Bengaluru, Peter Machado, the National Solidarity Forum and the Evangelical Fellowship of India, is currently being heard in the Supreme Court, demanding an independent probe into atrocities against Christians.
The petition states that the state has failed to take immediate and necessary action against groups that have caused widespread violence and used hate speech against the Christian community, including attacks at their places of worship and disruption of prayer meetings.
Petitioners have claimed that 505 attacks have happened against the community from January to December 2021 and that the frequency has increased in 2022.
The attacks include demolition of churches, complaints on the basis of a claim of forced conversions, physical violence, arrests, breaking of statues, destruction of property, desecration of prayer halls, burning of Bibles and anti-Christian abuse.
Last week, a Supreme Court bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to obtain from eight states information about the registration of FIRs, status of investigation, arrests and chargesheets filed in incidents that petitioners have alleged are attacks targeting the Christian community and institutions.
The MHA was asked to call for reports from eight states mentioned in the petition – Bihar, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh – so that claims made in the petition can be verified.
The petitioners, represented by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, have also been directed to share details of instances of attacks on Christians with the office of the Solicitor General of India in four weeks.
The Union government told the Supreme Court that the allegations in the petition were “falsehoods” and “self serving.”
“There appears to be some hidden oblique agenda in filing such deceptive petitions, creating unrest throughout the country and perhaps for getting assistance from outside the country to meddle with internal affairs of our nation,” the Union home ministry said in an affidavit.
Speaking to The Wire, A.C. Michael, a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission and the national coordinator of the UCF, said, “There are two minorities under attack in India, Muslims and Christians. When we speak of the attacks, we don’t mean just physical attacks. We have to keep in mind the so-called anti-conversion laws. When we speak of freedom of religion these laws do not give power to people to practise the religion they choose.”
Highlighting that no fewer than 12 states have such laws now, Michael says it is clear why there is a need for such laws. “The judiciary needs to question the government to understand the need for such laws. How many people are forcefully being converted? What happens to people who are changing faith on their own?”