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).