New Delhi: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a federal body that advises US Congress and President, expressed concern over growing attacks on churches and Christian community members in India. USCIRF, which puts India as ‘Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) India in its Annual Report 2020, raised the alarm after a Christian church was vandalised by a Hindutva mob on Monday in Belagadia township of Dhanbad district in Jharkhand following an accusation that the church was involved in religious conversion.
According to UCA News, the miscreants belong to right wing Hindutva groups destroyed the holy cross, a symbol of Christianity, and damaged the under-construction Protestant church of the town.
The report further said that BJP MLA, Indrajit Mahota, and his party workers and some leaders of the far right Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) joined the crowd in the vandalism.
Locals claimed that conversion was going on for long in Belagadia where more than two dozen families had been converted to Christianity.
Mahota, the BJP MLA , accused the missionaries of giving inducements to poor “which is wrong”. He demanded action against the Christian missionaries.
Two young Christianity instructors, Kayna Bansal and Sushant Pradhan, arrived at the church during the commotion. Local people argued with them and asked them to break the cross, but they refused. Police detained the youths and are questioning them about conversion allegations, the report said.
However, a Christian leader in the state, Father Augustine Topno, former administrator of Jamshedpur Diocese, termed the allegation of conversion “baseless”. “There is no truth about religious conversion in the area as the Church does not believe in or practice religious conversion. Allegations by the legislator and locals are baseless,” he told UCA News.
An anti-conversion law was passed in 2017 in Jharkhand after which the state is strictly prohibiting the practice of proselytism or conversion by force. Those found violating the law can be jailed for three years and a fine of Rs 50,000. Conversion by choice is allowed only after informing a district commissioner about the reasons for the decision.
In the last few years, several states passed laws prohibiting conversion as Hindu nationalists accuse missionaries of converting people forcibly. But leaders of minority communities see an element of hypocrisy in the implementation of these laws. They say Hindutva groups have been given a freehand to go about their business as they have started a new narrative of “ghar wapsi” according to which all Muslim and Christians in India were originally Hindus and they should return to Hinduism.
In February, Hindutva radicals destroyed at least 19 mosques during anti-Muslim riots in parts of Delhi in which over 50 people were killed by mobs.
Ever since the ultra-nationalist BJP assumed power in 2014 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has seen a sharp rightward turn. Hate and mob violence against Muslims have increased manifold.
UCF, a tracker of hate crime against Christians, said 78 incidents in first 91 days of 2020 reported in 13 states of the country. Mob attacks, threats and intimidation 56, 26 were physical assault reported on the UCF Helpline No.: 1800-208-4545.