News & Views
A 23-year-old Congolese ýnational was beaten to death in South Delhi’s Vasant Kunj area. The Delhi police detained one suspect on Saturday morning and also trying to get some crucial evidence after scanning the CCTV footage installed in a nearby locality. According to police, the victim identified as M T Oliva was on his way home when apparently he had an argument with some men over hiring rickshaw. Investigators said that the suspects reportedly hit him with stones and bricks lying around. He was later taken to a private hospital where he was declared brought dead. With the African missions alleging “racism and Afro-phobia in India”, days after the killing of a Congolese youth in the capital, the government got into damage control mode on Wednesday and sought to assuage their concerns on the safety of African nationals.
Indian leaders brag about shining India, democratic India and secular India every now and then to hide the dark face of its extremism. Jawahar Lal Nehru University incident is still haunting India and perception of its secular and democratic face is fast eroding. The latest wave emanating from Jawahar Lal Nehru University was in fact linked to the consciousness and self-actualization by few honorable people of India. The controversy had its genesis in an event organised by students at JNU on the issue of Indian-administered Kashmir where India had let loose the reign of terror. Kanhaiya Kumar and his associates were arrested in February on the charges of sedition. While in custody and on their appearance before the court the educated youth was subjected to torture by Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists in the presence of police.
Human Watch reports often point out about the violence against 150 million former untouchables and millions belonging to other minorities. Human rights organisations regularly publish reports about atrocities committed on Christians, Muslims and Dalits. Kashmiris are, however, the worst sufferers on earth, perhaps only second to Palestinians. In June 1984, Indian army had attacked the Golden Temple with Tanks and armoured cars killing more than 2000 Sikhs though government count was 492. In another episode, with more killings and subsequent flight of nearly 400 Christians who walked over 300 km through mountains and forests to reach the Young men’s Christian Association camp in Bhubaneswar to take refuge speaks volumes about the plight of Christians in Hindu-dominated India’s eastern state of Orissa. Despite condemnation of violence by Pope Benedict and Italian government’s reaction, Christians were being forced to change their religion in Orissa.
In March 2016, India had denied visas for a delegation from the US government agency, which is responsible for monitoring international religious freedom. The delegation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was scheduled to leave for India from the US for a visit with the support of the US State Department and the US embassy in New Delhi. However, India failed to issue the necessary visas, the commission said. “We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government’s denial of these visas,” USCIRF chairman Robert George said in a statement. US President Barack Obama during his visit to India last year had nudged New Delhi to tackle issues that could divide the country and hinder its development. “India will succeed so long as it is not split along the lines of religious faith,” President Obama told an audience in India’s capital city.
According to the Catholic Secular Forum, attacks rose more than 20 percent from 2014 to 2015. There have been 36 attacks on Christians so far this year, ranging from churches being destroyed to priests, nuns, and parishioners being beaten, according to the Christian human rights group International Christian Concern (ICC), as well as four murders of Muslim men by Hindu mobs over their consumption of beef. Christian rights groups monitoring the violence say the attacks have coincided with a strong rise in Hindu nationalism, which encompasses a broad spectrum of Indian political movements, but centers around the idea that Hindu traditions and beliefs should serve as a guide for the state and its citizens. The more extreme Hindu nationalists are accused of mounting the attacks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP turn a blind eye to heinous acts of the extremists, if they do not condone them outrightly.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said the attacks were being carried out by vigilante groups who claim to be supporters of the ruling party. They have taken up various courses of action, including trying to ban the consumption of beef nationally and trying to convert Christians to Hinduism, he said. “Religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, are feeling increasingly vulnerable,” Ganguly said. About 80 percent of India’s population of 1.3 billion people are Hindu, Stark said, followed by about 12 percent Muslim, two to three percent Christian, and under two percent Sikh. There are about 25 million Christians in the country currently, but there’s been an increase in conversion among those of the lowest social class, once known in Indian culture as the untouchable caste, for whom Christianity is appealing, he said.
Thirty four members of the US Congress, including eight senators and twenty six representatives from both parties sent a letter to Modi in February expressing their grave concerns about the increasing intolerance and violence members of India’s religious minority communities experience. “We urge your government to take immediate steps to ensure that the fundamental rights of religious minorities are protected and that the perpetrators of violence are held to account,” they wrote. “The Group of African Heads of Mission have met and deliberated extensively on this latest incident in the series of attacks to which members of African community in India have been subjected in the last few years. They note, with deep concern, that several attacks and harassment of Africans in India have gone unresolved without diligent protection and conviction of perpetrators,” said Woldemariam in a sharply-worded note. He said the government should address the problem of racism and Afro-phobia in India.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.