An article by Al Jazeera paints a misleading picture of attacks on Christians in India

An article published in Al Jazeera on December 2 titled 'Why India is witnessing spike in attacks on Christians, churches' makes some sweeping claims.

It uses a speech by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat and reports of violence allegedly against Christians and their places of worship in some parts of the country.

Let’s take a look at some points the article focuses on.

According to the article, in his annual speech on October 14 RSS chief Bhagwat said: “Rising population and demographic imbalance need to be addressed and population policy is to be redesigned. And that policy should be applicable to all irrespective of caste and creed. Illegal immigration in bordering districts and conversions in [the] northeast have changed the demographics further.”

The RSS aims to create an ethnic Hindu state out of India. As the head of Sangh Parivar, the umbrella group of Hindu nationalist organisations including the BJP, Bhagwat’s Dussehra speech is considered an agenda-setter for the year, the article adds.

The Al Jazeera article focuses on one speech but chooses to ignore another significant speech by Bhagwat.

A July article in The Indian Express clearly quotes him as saying, "If a Hindu says that no Muslim should live here, then the person is not Hindu".

The RSS chief was addressing a function organised by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, RSS’s minority wing, in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh on July 5, 2021.

Referring to recent cases of lynching, he went in to say, "Cow is a holy animal but the people who are lynching others are going against Hindutva. Law should take its own course against them without any partiality.”

The Indian Express articles quotes Bhagwat as making another important point.

“We are in a democracy. There cannot be a dominance of Hindus or Muslims. There can only be the dominance of Indians,” he said at the event.

Bhagwat also said Hindus and Muslims may differ on issues but that does not make them part of different societies.

Read the complete article in The Indian Express

In addition to what Bhagwat himself said in the speech reported above by The Indian Express, it is pertinent to make another important point here.

The RSS is a self-professed social organisation and is not part of India's election landscape.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi, which was voted voted to power in 2014 and again in 2019, and state governments - under different political dispensations - are committed to ensuring that the law of the land prevails in keeping with the people's mandate.

Coming back to the Al Jazeera article, it talks about an incident reported to have taken place on October 3 when a mob of nearly 250 Hindu vigilantes armed with iron rods ransacked a church in Roorkee in the northern state of Uttarakhand, which is governed by the BJP.

The article, conveniently again, misses out on mentioning that the Uttarakhand Police had booked 200 people in connection with the vandalism at the Christian prayer house.

Publishing this news with the title '200 booked after mob attacks prayer house in Roorkee', the Hindustan Times also quoted the police as saying the right-wing group accused the Christian missionaries of running an alleged conversion racket.

Read the full report in Hindustan Times

As is often the case, there is another side to the story as well.

In August, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra told the State Legislative Assembly that at least 28 cases of forced conversions were reported since the new anti-conversion law was approved in March. Some 37 people have been arrested on charges related to forced conversions.

According to a report by NDTV, on March 8, the Madhya Pradesh Assembly passed a bill that penalises religious conversion through marriage or any other fraudulent means with a sentence of up to 10 years. The act also imposes a fine of up to ₹1 lakh in these cases.

Read the full report by NDTV

The Al Jazeera report also speaks of instances in Chhattisgarh which is ruled not by the BJP, but by the Congress.

Interestingly, state Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is on record as saying that the maximum number of churches were constructed under the BJP rule in the state. He was responding to BJP's allegations of rising religious conversion under his government.

The statement was widely reported, including by The New Indian Express.

Read The New Indian Express article

The Al Jazeera article could have also looked at the findings of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre in June this year.

The survey makes two important points:

* Indians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community".

* More than 70 years after India became free from colonial rule, Indians generally feel their country has lived up to one of its post-independence ideals: a society where followers of many religions can live and practice freely.

Read the findings of the Pew Research Centre survey

Given the nature of observations made in the Al Jazeera article, a couple of points need to be emphasized here.

One – India prides itself on its status as a secular state and this is something that has never been in question, no matter which political party is in power.

Two - Separate incidents in states (provinces) hundreds of miles apart and under different political dispensations do not provide a clear indication of a trend.

Three - India is a vast country and maintaining law and order is often a challenge for the police and other law enforcement authorities