Wednesday, November 4, 2015

INDIA: Hindutva, Conversions and Violence

This post is an expanded version of Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 334, India: Violence escalates as Hindutva takes hold, by Elizabeth Kendal, 4 Nov 2015.


The winter sitting of the Indian parliament is expected to commence on 20 November. Two MPs from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are set to introduce private members bills proposing the banning conversions.  BJP MP Tarun Vijay will introduce the bill in the Upper House (the Rajya Sabha), and BJP MP Yogi Adityanath will introduce the bill in the Lower House (the Lok Sabha). The bill -- ironically called the "Religious Freedom Bill" -- will "prohibit conversion from one religion to another by the use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means." The bill will also propose that a person found to be engaged in conversions be subject to a non-bailable warrant and liable to a ten-year prison term. 
The beauty of Christian baptism

Like all anti-conversion activists the BJP MPs will insist that conversion is an abuse of freedom of religion and the right to free speech. They will argue that freedom of religion does not include freedom to convert another person. Of course this is totally contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees people the freedom to speak and hearers the freedom to accept or reject what they have heard.

A nation-wide ban on religious conversions has always been a central element of the Hindutva (Hindu Nationalist) agenda.


In 1899, with resistance to British colonial rule simmering, V.D. Savarkar dedicated his life to driving the British out of India. Though only 16-years-old at the time, Savarkar would come to be known as the Father of Hindutva (Hindu Nationalism).

In 1905, the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, unilaterally partitioned Bengal against the wishes of Hindus who had no desire to live under Muslim rule. The act fanned the flames of revolution, sparking a political crisis. Though Bengal was reunified with India in 1911, the fire had been lit: anti-British sentiment soared, as did sectarian tension and the Muslim aspiration for independence.

It was during those years that Indian independence activists Mahatma Gandhi and V.D. Savarkar -- both of whom were in London at the time -- became ideological enemies, with Ghandi preaching non-violence and Savarkar agitating for revolution and preparing for war.

In 1910, after one successful and one attempted assassination of English officials in India, Savarkar was jailed in London before being extradited to India and transported to the Andaman Islands where he spent 12 years, much of it in solitary confinement, before being transferred to a prison in India. To keep prisoners (most of whom were Hindus) in check, the authorities appointed Muslims as warders. Savarkar noticed that Hindus were converting to Islam in prison as the result of what he regarded as predatory missionary work. Subsequently he began to see all religious conversion as predatory, the ploy of hostile powers out to divide and rule Hindus. Henceforth Savarkar set about formulating an ideology to organise and unite Hindus as one organic whole so they might resist the divide and rule tactics of colonialists and Islamists. This would of necessity include a ban on conversions, while facilitating re-conversions to Hinduism.

Though Savarkar despised the Islam of the Kilafat (Caliphate) Movement – many member of which were imprisoned with him – it may have influenced his Hindutva. In his treatise on Hindutva (published 1923), Savarkar maintains that ‘Hindustan’ (Greater India) is both ‘the fatherland and holy land of the Hindus’ (by which he means the Hindu race), and that loyalty and devotion to India as both fatherland and holy land are critical to Indian security.  Hindutva thus defines all Indians as naturally born Hindus, while maintaining that the only reason some Indians are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or animist is because at some point in history, their ancestors were tricked, lured or forcibly converted by hostile elements seeking to divide and weaken the Hindu nation. All non-Hindus are thus exhorted to ‘return’ to Hinduism for the sake of the nation. To refuse to do so is essentially an act of betrayal akin to treason. Though Hindutva rejects caste (racial apartheid – which is actually deeply ingrained in India) it enshrines religious apartheid, treating non-Hindus as second-class citizens while demonising them as disloyal, and as the ‘weak link’ -- a threat not only to social cohesion, but to national security. They must be repressed so as to prevent them causing strife. Anyone who has studied Islam will see the parallels.

PM Modi honours Savarkar
May 2014
Though India has been independent since 1947, and partition is now a done deal, ambitious politicians foster Hindutva for personal and political gain. No longer needed to unify Indians against colonial rule, Hindutva today is used to unify Indians behind high caste Hindu elites. Nearly a century after Hindutva activists began their long march through India's institutions, high caste Hindutva protagonists have come to dominate politics, academia, education, media and security. And despite the fact that multitudes of Indians are secular and peaceable, Hindu nationalism has captured the imagination.


Hindutva has turned India a tinderbox of sectarian tension. Violent persecution is on the rise. The Evangelical Fellowship of India’s (EFI’s) monthly reports make sobering reading, covering incidents raging from destruction of Christian property right through to mob violence (pogroms), serious assault and murder. What follows are just a few samples from EFI’s October report (all fully verified and acknowledged as the tip of the iceberg).

On 8 Sept, a mob of over 50 Hindu radicals attacked a church in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, beating the believers with clubs, sticks and fists after a village council banned all non-Hindu worship. Two Christian women were beaten unconscious. The Christians are being shunned and boycotted, making living in the village close to intolerable. On 22 Sept, Hindus in Kongud, Chhattisgarh, summonsed two Christian siblings to the local temple and demanded they renounce Christ. When they refused, the Hindus beat them, accused them of forceful conversions, vandalised their home and drove them from the village. The brothers complained to police, who refused to register a case. Despite this, the Hindus are threatening further violence if the brothers do not withdraw their compliant.

Pastor Arvinder Singh
During the first week of October, Hindu leaders in Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh, ordered Hindus to boycott Chattarpur’s 26 Christian families, depriving them of water and other basic services. The Christians are also receiving death threats. On 8 Oct, Pastor Arvinder Singh and his family, were beaten almost to death in Phagwara city, Punjab, by a Hindu mob that included their own neighbours. Pastor Arvinder (pictured) was beaten unconscious with a metal bar; his pregnant wife was seriously bashed; and their 11-month-old baby boy was thrown at pile of bricks, causing him serious internal injuries. Nearly a month later, no police report has been registered. On 12 Oct, the mother of a pastor in Dahod, Gujarat, was stoned by a Hindu mob. Her injuries required hospitalisation.

Family of Pastor Chamu Hasda Purty
On 13 Oct, suspected Hindu nationalists broke into the home of Pastor Chamu Hasda Purty of the Pentecostal Church in Sandih, Jharkhand, and shot him dead. On 17 Oct, Hindu nationalist youths attacked a 50-strong prayer meeting in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh, and beat up the pastor. Police arrived and detained the Christians, who were only released after local Christian leaders intervened. On 25 Oct, Pastor Thomas, his wife and two children, John and Kezia, were among ten Christians arrested in Junardeo, Madhya Pradesh, on false charges of forced conversions. The children were separated from their parents and from each other. While all the adults have since been bailed, the children remain in detention – John (14) in 174 km away in Narsinghpur, and Kezia (12) in 471 km away in Shahdol.

Aiming to terrorise

Responding to the news of the killing of Pastor Chamu Hasda Purty, Subhash Kongari, a lawyer and district president of Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, the national Christian forum said that the killings and violence  “are all part of an agenda to terrorise people [so that they] disassociate with Christianity.”

Hindutva activists doubtless hope that the introduction of anti-conversion legislation into parliament will trigger debate, inflame sentiments and ultimately legitimise Christian persecution.

The situation in India could be about to get a whole lot worse.

Elizabeth Kendal


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks toChristians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


The Plight of Minorities in the Middle East

On Sunday 26 July 2015, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) held a policy forum entitled, 'Policy Solutions for Persecuted Religious Minorities,' as part of the Australia Labor Party FRINGE Program, an event running alongside the Australian Labor Party (ALP) annual national conference in the Melbourne Convention Centre.

The forum, which was hosted by ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton, featured (in order of appearance): Syrian journalist Johnny Abo, Elizabeth Kendal (religious liberty analyst, advocate and author), Chris Hayes (MP), His Grace Bishop Suriel of the Coptic Church and Maria Vamvakinou (MP). The purpose of the forum was to raise awareness of the plight of the Middle East's persecuted and existentially threatened religious minorities, and to propose policy solutions.

By Elizabeth Kendal

Iraq’s last official census (1987) counted 1.4 million Assyrians (the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, who are Christian). But as Islamic zeal and Arab nationalism rose in the wake of Gulf War One (1991) persecution escalated and Christians with means emigrated.

By the time of the March 2003 US-led invasion, the Christian population of Iraq was estimated to have declined to between 800,000 and 1.2 million.

By 2010 -- church bombings, killings and kidnappings had caused the Christian population to decline to around 400,000. By this time, the Mandaeans of southern Iraq – a pacifist people who follow the teachings of John the Baptists – preaching righteousness and engaging in regular baptisms for the forgiveness of sins – had been essentially annihilated.

In December 2011 – as the last US troops prepared to withdraw – Archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church gave voice to the pervasive fear, that if the persecution continues with such intensity, “Iraq could be emptied of Christians”.

In Australia, the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) published an open letter to the Prime Minister, appealing for help from the Australian government. The letter included this grave warning:“The slow genocide of the indigenous Assyrians, also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs, in Iraq now sits at the tipping point of a relentless and inexorable genocide, leading to ethnic extinction.” 
After detailing the destruction of churches, the targeted violent persecution of Christians and the desperate flight of more than 600,000 Assyrians since 2003, the AUA letter highlighted the saddest and most shameful aspect of all:“Despite the scale of this human tragedy and the drastic displacement of the Assyrians, the International Community’s response has been almost non-existent and the displaced Assyrians have been left to their demise.”

In March 2013 – on the 10-year anniversary of the US invasion – Canon Andrew White (a.k.a. as the Vicar of Baghdad) estimated that a mere remnant of 200,000 Christians remained – with most hunkered down in Nineveh Province – in the provincial capital Mosul, and in Iraq’s largest Assyrian city, Bakhdida (a.k.a. Qaraqosh).

In June 2014 – ISIS swept into Nineveh, seizing Mosul in a blitzkrieg as tens of thousands of Iraqi security personnel (Shi’ites) fled for their lives, unwilling to defend the city, especially in the face of widespread Sunni support for ISIS.

On Friday 18 July 2014, ISIS – now known as Islamic State (IS) – issued an ultimatum: Christians would have until midday of the next day to either convert to Islam, submit as dhimmis (second-class citizens) and pay the jizya (protection money) – otherwise they would “face the sword”.

Mosul’s remnant Christians departed, causing Archbishop Sako to lament, “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”

displaced Assyrians
In August 2014, IS drove the Assyrians from Qaraqosh and totally ethnically-religiously cleansed the entire Nineveh Plain. The plight of the Yazidis stranded on Mt Sinjar captured the attention of the world. Some 3000 women were taken captive, to be sold as sex-slaves.

Patriarch Louis Sako, issued a statement on 10 Aug 2014, in which he warned that Iraq’s Christians “are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide”.

Lamenting that all the churches from Mosul to the border of Iraqi Kurdistan were now deserted and desecrated, he added, “The level of disaster is extreme.”

In SYRIA meanwhile
– where religious minorities makes up around 25 percent (12% Alawite, 10% Christian) the Syrian government stands as the last line of defence preventing a genocide of the minorities. The threat was made clear from the outset, for when the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood led a “day of rage” in the “Arab Spring” of April 2011, protesters were heard chanting in the streets, “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave”.

As Syria was flooded with international jihadis, the threat became existential.

In March 2013, the northern city of Al-Raqqa became the first provincial capital to fall under rebel control. In Jan 2014, ISIS and al-Nusra split – with al-Nusra concentrating on the Battle for Aleppo, and ISIS assuming full control of Al-Raqqa where they enforced Sharia law without compromise, without mercy. 

In March 2015, Idlib became the second provincial capital to fall under rebel control after a rebel coalition led by al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra, but including several FSA battalions, stormed the city.

Everywhere the rebels have gained control Christians have been forced to flee – many have perished.

In February 2015 – IS fighters raided a string of Assyrian villages along the Khabour River in north-eastern Haseka, displacing thousands. Some 230 Assyrians remain in IS captivity to this day.

More than 250,000 Armenians
were massacred in the
pogroms of 1894-96.
Armenian Genocide Museum

How many times have you heard it said that the current crisis in the Middle East is “unprecedented”?

Well – I’d like to suggest that it is not the least bit unprecedented

Read up on the last century of the Caliphate: that is, through the 19C to the Armenian Genocide [1915-23]. The threat to minorities is not unprecedented. We have seen all this before!

Read up on the influence of the rabid anti-Semite Haj Amin al-Husseini the Mufti of Jerusalem, who aligned with the Nazis and incited violence against Jews throughout the Balkans and the Middle East. Today the Arab lands are proudly judenrein (free of Jews). So even the elimination of an entire ethno-religious group would not be unprecedented.

Today we lament Western silence in the face of genocide. But this too is not unprecedented. Western governments have routinely abandoned the minorities to their fate and stood idly by in silence as they were driven from their homes and slaughtered.

  1. Western powers have long believed their “vital interests” are best served by maintaining pro-Arab, pro-Muslim policies.
  2. Western powers have great faith in democracy (reduced these days to elections and majority rule). The trouble is, as Western efforts to democratise the Middle East have converged with Islamic revival, the result, for the minorities, has been catastrophic.
Yes – minority rule might be brutal – but a minority cannot eliminate a majority.


I believe the Australia government should stand with the persecuted and maintain a foreign policy committed to advancing religious liberty and aiding vulnerable, existentially imperiled minorities.

Concerning those [existentially imperiled minorities] who want to stay in their homeland: I believe we should help them by providing aid directly to them, and by working with regional governments to secure safe havens – particularly a safe haven in the Nineveh Plain, the historic homeland of the Assyrian nation. If safe havens could be made secure – then displaced families could at least get on with educating their children.

Concerning those [existentially imperiled minorities] who just want to leave, because they desperately want their children to have a future: I believe we should help them too by guaranteeing them places in Australia.
Let’s encourage our government to do something really unprecedented and for once, put the plight of existentially threatened minorities ahead of economics, geo-politics and political correctness.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).