- (Ruth Malthotra)
Christians are being persecuted, sexually assaulted and attacked by mobs in India, and the crimes are going unpunished, according to testimony by Alliance Defending Freedom before the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.
"India, in spite of its long tradition for religious tolerance, finds itself in the throes of religious fundamentalism and violence against religious minorities for the past few decades. Reports by faith-based rights agencies show that Christians in India have suffered about 150 violent attacks on an average in the past few years," argued ADF attorney Tehmina Arora before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
"These attacks include physical and sexual assaults, murder and desecration of places of worship and graveyards."
Arora listed several examples of Christians being violently attacked by Hindu extremist groups, but the full extent of the persecution is revealed when taking into account the lack of police action on such crimes.
"This large scale impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of mob violence across the country has fueled violence against religious minorities in India," the ADF attorney said, and reminded the subcommittee of a particularly violent incident Christians suffered in the Kandhamal district of the eastern state of Orissa (now known as Odisha) in 2008, where between 75 to 123 people were killed, close to 5,000 houses were destroyed and at least 264 churches and prayer halls were desecrated and demolished.
Christians are a strict minority in the Hindu-dominated country, making up around 2.3 percent of the population, according to the CIA Factbook. The rising wave of persecution they have had to suffer through in recent years has been well documented by watchdog groups.
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors lists India at number 28 among countries where Christians are most persecuted, up three places from its 2013 ranking.
Arora pointed out that besides the violence, Christians are also targeted by government restrictions and unjust legislation. Common legislation used against believers are anti-conversion laws, which are supposed to protect people from forceful religious persuasion, but in reality lead to serious human rights violations against religious minorities.
The law requires "the converting person to give details of his or her conversion to the district magistrate (administrative head), either prior to the conversion 'ceremony ' or subsequent to it. The law in Gujarat state requires that the person seeking to convert to another religion must take prior permission from the district magistrate before any conversion 'ceremony' is performed."
The ADF attorney argued that this law impinges on the freedom of conscience of a prospective convert, and their right to privacy.
"The law renders the person incapable of taking the final decision with regard to his or her faith, and instead requires approval of the district authority," Arora said.
"This is violation of the right to freedom of association, the right to privacy and the freedom of conscience. The laws undermine the agency of the convert and make every religious conversion suspect and liable for scrutiny."
Arora's full testimony can be read on the House website.