Speech at “Faiths United For Religious Freedom in India” | Sacramento, CA
Nearly a hundred years ago, in 1925, a new force was formed in the Indian subcontinent: the RSS.
The RSS was founded to be a paramilitary. Uniformed. Armed. All male. It was created with one major goal: to turn India into an ethno-nationalist state.
It was 1925 and so, for inspiration, this newly-formed RSS paramilitary looked to similar movements underway in Europe. It looked at Mussolini’s fascists in Italy and it looked at Hitler’s Nazis in Germany. The RSS saw that these movements were — in their mind and to their eyes — examples of strength, national pride, and they believed that these fascist movements also demonstrated why multiculturalism is impossible.
The RSS devoted itself to turning India into a Hindu nation — a country for Hindus and only for Hindus. They taught that India is, always has been, and always must be a land reserved solely for Hindu people. They taught that everyone else living there can only stay if they are subjugated by the majority. They taught that all minorities in India must either be assimiliated or eliminated.
Assimilated or eliminated.
Especially Christians and Muslims, they believed, must be eliminated. The RSS called — calls, today — Christians and Muslims as foreigners, as internal threats to the country, and even traitors simply because they follow a different religion. Sikhs they have sought to assimilate by stripping them of their separate and unique identity.
Now, all the way back to the 1940s, the RSS was explicit about its intentions — pointing to Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews, they praised that treatment of the Jews as a good model to adopt towards Indian minorities.
That’s certainly revolting, but why does it matter today?
Well, because, nearly 100 years ago, the RSS was founded, but today, with over six million members across the country, it is an armed, uniformed, and trained outfit that is larger than any army in the world.
Over the past several decades, the RSS has formed dozens of special interest subsidiary outfits to push its agenda. And then it formed a political party.
Since 2014, in India, the ruling party has been the political wing of this RSS paramilitary. The ruling party in India, for the past eight years, has been the political wing of the world’s oldest, largest, and fastest growing fascist movement. And it has been disastrous for Indian minorities.
Now, my fellow panelists are going to be enlightening you a bit about what’s happening to Sikhs and to Muslims. For the moment, speaking not just as a journalist but also as a Christian, I want to give you a brief idea of what’s happening to Indian Christians.
Last year, national Indian Christian organizations and leaders described 2021 as a “year of fear” and as the “most violent” that they have experienced.
Every year since 2014, when the RSS came to power in India, the total number of violent incidents reported against Indian Christians has increased, reaching an all-time high in 2021 of 505 attacks.
505? That’s a lot, but a relatively small number for such a big country as India, one would think. Well, despite the number of incidents being what it is (high or low), the figures really need to be properly contextualized to avoid underestimating the true impact of what is happening to the Indian Christian community right now.
For one thing, 505 attacks in 2021 represents only documented incidents; a great many more have definitely gone unreported.
For another thing, the vast majority of documented attacks were mob attacks by, at times, hundreds of people. Most attacks were not against individuals, but rather against entire congregations of dozens, scores, or more, meaning that thousands of people may have been directly victimized in these 505 attacks last year.
That’s a key to understanding what is happening to Indian Christians today. You see, I travel, I meet people, I talk about this issue and, oftentimes, they get around to asking me: “So, what exactly does persecution of Christians in India look like? Like job discrimation? Or housing discrimination? Like social boycotting?”
Well, yes. Yes, it kind of does, I’ll say. It does look like that at some level, but that’s not the worst of it. Here’s what it looks like.
Imagine that it’s Sunday. Sunday morning. Christians are gathering for service as they tend to do on Sunday.
They are inside the sanctuary, peacefully worshipping, when a mob of fifty, or 100, or 250, or 500 people — oftentimes armed — gather outside of the church. The mob bursts into the sanctuary, begins smashing and destroying everything, starts beating the congregation, seizes the priest or the pastor, then drags everybody outside.
Oftentimes, the police are already accompanying the mob. If not, the mob will drag the beaten and bloodied congregants down to the local police station and turn them over to be arrested. Yes, to be arrested.
When giant mobs descend on these churches like that, the police arrest the victims — not the perpetrators.
Keep in mind, furthermore, such attacks — especially considering how they usually involve impunity for the attackers and arrests of the victims — spread psychological terror which almost certainly impacts tens and tens of thousands, if not millions, of other Indian Christians who are not directly subject to violence.
Notably, with anywhere from 25 to 45 million Christians, India has the largest Christian population in a single country in the world. Yet, ever since the political wing of the RSS took power in 2014, India has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a practicting — openly practicting — Christian.
It didn’t used to be that way.
You see, in 2013 (a year before the RSS came to power in India), India ranked 31st among the top 50 countries in the world where persecution of Christians is most severe, according to the Open Doors USA — a nonprofit which focuses on monitoring global persecution of Christians. At the time, Open Doors USA categorized the situation in India as one of “moderate persecution.”
By 2015, however, a year after the RSS came to power in India, India no longer ranked 31st among 50 but #21; in 2016, it was #17 most dangerous country in the world in which to be a Christian; in 2017, it was #15; in 2018, it was #11. And by 2019, when the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was reelected to a second term, India had finally joined the top ten countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian; the persecution level now being categorized as “extreme.”
This year — and for the past four years — India has ranked as the tenth most dangerous country in the world in which to be a Christian. And that means that it’s more dangerous to be a Christian in India — currently — than in, say, Saudi Arabia or China.
Notably, India’s #10, so there are nine other countries on that list which rank higher than India. Where persecution is more severe. But there’s a few distinguishing factors — three that I can come up with — about India.
First, out of all those ten countries, India is #10, but it is the only one on the list which is an actual, legitimate, officially secular democracy. Secondly, as the second-most populated country in the world, India’s population is larger than all of the other nine put together. So out of the top ten countries in the world in which it is most dangerous to be a Christian, India has a population — I believe — about twice as much as all of those other nine countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian. Third, India is the only country which is currently a de facto ally of this country: the United States.
Now, this persecution is coming at both the street level and the state level. The street level and the state level — and I’ve already mentioned what the persecution looks like at the street level, with mob violence and police complicity.
At the state level, it looks like widespread passage of laws which are essentially criminalizing — and yes, I say criminalizing — religious freedom.
These so-called “anti-conversion” laws are now in effect in at least ten of India’s 28 states — over a third of the entire country. Almost all of these laws were passed — or updated — only in the past eight years, after the RSS came to power in India.
Now, provisions vary, but these “anti-conversion” laws — as they’re called — typically require that, when somebody wants to convert (to change their religion), either they or the clergy involved in the conversion ceremony (or both people) must inform (and sometimes even get permission from) the local magistrate and then undergo, oftentimes, a waiting period of, in some cases, up to two months. Failure to do this, to follow this process in places where these laws are in effect, is punishable by hefty fines as well as prison sentences ranging, in some cases, up to as long as ten years.
In other words, in over a third of the country of India, you can no longer changer your religion legally any more unless you get permission from the government. That’s a death blow to freedom of religion.
And it is this fascist RSS paramilitary that is inflicting that death blow.
To quote that nonprofit watchdog organization, Open Doors USA: “The RSS fuels a religiously intolerant narrative that views all non-Indic faiths, like Christianity and Islam, as foreign and something to be feared. The RSS demonizes Christians and other religious minorities through these hateful narratives, instigating violence in the streets. The RSS also uses these narratives to advocate for laws and policies that are discriminatory against religious minorities.”
Pushing this persecution of Indian Christans at both the street level and the state level.
Now, I don’t want to gloss over that. What we just read: “Christians and other religious minorities.”
India today has become a nightmare for Christians, but they are not the only community being persecuted right now.
Christians, Buddhists, Dalits (those formerly known as “untouchables”), Muslims, Sikhs, tribal people and — well, and even atheists, and rationalists, and people who don’t give a flip about religion. They are all facing extreme and increasing persecution in a nation ruled by a radical Hindu nationalist outfit that modeled itself — intentionally, explicitly, and openly modeled itself — on the original fascist movements of the 1920s to 1940s.
Oh, and interestingly enough, India happens to also be probably the only country — and certainly the only democracy — in the world where both Christians and Muslims are being persecuted simultaneously, by the same source, and for the same reason. Something we don’t witness in most other places in this world.
Yet very few people are talking about any of this today, let alone are even aware of it. For all too many of us who live outside of India, we are still locked in the simplistic view of India as being nothing more than the land of Gandhi, yoga, and Bollywood.
But, tragically, India today — which was once the world’s largest democracy — has become, is becoming, the world’s largest fascist nation. India today is ruled by a movement that seeks to commit genocide against millions of religious minorities.
As Indian journalist and Catholic leader John Dayal told me recently: “I will not say that Christians are being massacred seven days a week. But they can be at a moment’s notice.”
You see, India today is at a crossroads. The question is, will India pass over into totalitarian rule, completely subjected to the fascistic forces of a genocidal movement which is dedicated to making India a theocratic State? Or, will India reverse course, and not only return to, but expand upon, its original foundation as a free democracy committed to upholding, preserving, and celebrating the equal rights of all people?
In our own small way — in your own small way — you and I may be able to influence the answer to that question.