Persecution of Indian Christians Impacts US National Security
Remarks at US Congressional briefing hosted by Federation of Indian American Churches of North America
Speaking at a US Congressional briefing marking the launch of the Federation of Indian American Churches of North America’s (FIACONA) 2022 report on persecution of Indian Christians by the Hindu nationalist movement, I discussed how the situation impacts US national security interests in South Asia as well as here at home in the US. Here’s what I said:
When I speak with my Christian friends from India about the conditions facing them there, they tell me that they are living in fear, that last year was the most violent year they have ever experienced, and that, although massacres are not occurring right now, they may break out at any moment.
When I speak with people here in America about the dire situation facing Indian Christians, they respond with shock and disbelief. How could this be true in the land of Gandhi, they wonder. Even when I speak with members of Congress, they too are often surprised.
“I didn’t know there were extremist Hindu groups,” one member has told me. Yes, there are extremist groups in every religion, including Hinduism. His next question was: “How does this impact US national security?”
The answer should generally be rather apparent, but after today’s release of the annual report by the Federation of Indian American Churches of North America (FIACONA), the answer should be glaringly obvious.
Indian Christians face a nationwide, mass escalation in coordinated, mob attacks by groups affiliated with India’s ruling party, the BJP, and its parent organization, the RSS paramilitary. The RSS-BJP combine are ideologically dedicated to eradicating Christianity from India. At the political level, this is swiftly being implemented through increasing passage of anti-conversion laws which make it a criminal offense to change one’s religion at will. At the social level, this is being encouraged by open calls, made alongside political officials, to “behead” Christians and “wipe out” Christianity.
During the past eight years of BJP rule in India, the number of violent attacks on Christians has increased every single year, and 2021 was no exception. That made 2021 the year with the highest number of recorded incidents on record. In January 2022, India-based United Christian Forum for Human Rights reported 505 incidents in total for the previous year. FIACONA’s painstaking documentation has shown there were actually at least 761, while hundreds more incidents went unreported.
The Christian Church in India is being driven underground. As this report reveals, many clergy are no longer performing services, many congregations have simply stopped meeting, and many Christian institutions and homes are stripping Christian signage to preempt attacks by out-of-control radical groups which threaten them with the silent sanction of the State.
In 2021, India was ranked by Open Doors USA as the 10th most dangerous country in the world in which to be a Christian. It’s easy to look at that and say, “Well, there are nine other countries where it’s more dangerous.” But three things set India apart from the other nine countries.
India is the only true, secular democracy on the list. India’s population is more than twice that of all the other nine countries combined. And — here’s the part where we touch on the impact to US national security — India is the US’s closest de facto ally on the list.
The US is increasingly looking to India as a stabilizing force in South Asia, as a geopolitical balance against China, and, globally, as a reliable democratic trade and military partner. Tragically, very little of that view of India today is, any longer, based on ground realities. It’s a projected vision of what the US wishes India was rather than what India actually is.
Systematic and systemic attacks on Indian Christians are far from the only pressing human rights concern in modern India. There are growing concerns that Indian Muslims face an impending genocide. Authoritarian governance under Modi places India neck-and-neck with Putin’s Russia when it comes to suppression of the press, of peaceful protest, of dissent, and of most necessary and basic rights that differentiate a democracy from a fascist nation.
The rise of totalitarianism in the world’s largest democracy and second-largest country poses a threat to the stability of the entire South Asian region. Instability in India inevitably increases instability in South Asia. Tolerance of state-sponsored and/or state-sanctioned atrocities in India encourages broader regional atrocities. Attacks on minorities in India inspire attacks on minorities in neighboring countries.
The entire situation in India is one that creates a vicious cycle of ever escalating chaos throughout the broader region, and that is of concern to US national security interests in the Indian Ocean corridor.
What should also be of concern in light of US national security is that the regime currently overseeing this burgeoning human rights crisis in India was put in place, in part, due to the efforts of entities based in our country, in particular the Overseas Friends of the BJP, an organization which, after nearly 30 years of operating without oversight, was compelled to register as a Foreign Agent in America in 2020.
At a pragmatic level, as India plunges, undeterred by even the friendliest of constructive criticism from the US, into a totalitarian nightmare, it will increasingly cease to become what the US also wants it to be: a growing, thriving, and reliable trading partner. An India which massacres its minorities and strips its citizens of civil liberties will not be an India which provides economic benefit to anyone, let alone the United States.
Pragmatically, also, the US must consider the consistency of its positions. As we see the horrors that unfolded in Ukraine, the US rightly criticizes Russia for its gross human rights violations. Yet, to avoid justified accusations of hypocrisy by other global actors (whether those accusations are made in good faith or not), the US must apply the same standards when holding other nations, such as India, accountable. That is even more true when considering India’s de facto alliance with our country.
At a humanitarian level, we have a duty to never turn a blind eye. US national security concerns are impacted, but they should never be an excuse to overlook a human rights crisis that almost no one actually denies. As the US Congress becomes aware of the risk, will they wait for the bodies to pile up or will they act before the situation spirals completely out of control?
At a policy level, the call to action is very simple. Speak. Speak, speak, and speak some more. Speak, to start, about this new report on the persecution of Indian Christians.
It’s said, “If you see something, say something.” Well, there are growing numbers of members of Congress who have seen what is happening in India. It’s past time that they said something. For now, that’s the only thing that is necessary. Words have power, and Congress must not remain silent.
In conclusion, please consider that, if the United States truly wants friendship with India, as we all do, then our country must recall the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”