Attacks on Christians in Tamil Nadu on the rise, says report
Tamil Nadu which prides itself on its Dravidian roots and disdain for communal forces, seems to be turning into a battleground for hate politics.
According to recently released data by United Christian Forum (UCF), a Delhi-based NGO, Tamil Nadu was second to Karnataka in South India to have recorded the maximum number of attacks on Christians in the country.
The data becomes crucial for the state, especially in the wake of the suicide of a Class 12 girl in a Thanjavur boarding school. The teen in a video before her death had accused the warden of her hostel of coercing her to convert into Christianity. Using the death as a trump card, the BJP had fuelled the fire by accusing Christian educational institutions in the state of proselytisation. The CBI on February 15 filed an FIR into the matter and is investigating the case.
It is at this outset that the UCF has released a statement on attacks against Christians across India. Founded in 2015, the UCF, in a first in the country, launched a toll-free helpline number the same year to receive complaints about attacks on Christians.
“The victims would contact us through the number and explain the kind of attack they have faced. Each call would be forwarded to the independent consultants in the respective states, who verify whether the complaint genuine or not. If the complaint is true, then we provide legal aid to the victims,” said one of the consultants in Tamil Nadu, requesting anonymity.
According to the UCF data, Uttar Pradesh at 105 cases recorded the highest number of attacks on Christians in 2021. Chhattisgarh is second with 91 cases and Karnataka comes third with 62 cases of attacks against Christians. In South India, Tamil Nadu stands next to Karnataka with 21 cases. It was followed by Andhra Pradesh (9), and Telangana (3). Kerala has not reported any case of attacks against the community.
“In Kerala, the government is strong. There BJP has no hold and hence no case was reported. Whereas in Tamil Nadu, the BJP tries to get a foothold in the state by creating communal tensions. Though both the DMK and AIADMK are against communal politics, since there is no stringent laws in the state against communal attacks, the BJP is trying to stage all sorts of drama as we have seen in the case of the girl’s death (in Thanjavur),” said AC Michael, coordinator, UCF.
It is interesting to note that while the BJP is trying to polarise voters along religious lines on one hand, one the other hand it is trying to woo Christians into the party. State BJP chief K Annamalai recently claimed that thousands of Christians from Nagercoil and Kanyakumari district have joined in the BJP. Ahead of the February 19 urban local body polls, the party has also given half-a-dozen seats to Christian candidates. In Annur, one of the wards in Coimbatore district, a BJP candidate has distributed cross prayer beads and candles to the voters, since the ward has a considerable number of Christian votes.
But such examples of camaraderie are few and far between.
If data crunched by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for the past five years is considered, communal and religious crimes saw a momentary decline between 2017 and 2019 at the national level. In 2016 it was 869 (cases), while it shot to 723 the next year. The numbers substantially came down in 2018 (512) and further plunged to 440 in 2019. However, in 2020, the number of cases rose exponentially to 857.
Similarly, Tamil Nadu saw 32 incidents of attacks against non-Hindus and reported 23 victims in 2016. The numbers declined to 15 incidents and 19 victims in 2017. In 2018, it was 20 incidents and 24 victims while in 2019, the number of incidents and victims dipped to 11 and 20 respectively. In 2020 only four incidents with as many victims were reported.
According to data by UCF, in 2015, the number of attacks against Christians in Tamil Nadu stood at 15. In the following years, the numbers were on steady rise. In 2016, it was 37, in 2017, it was 50, in 2018, it was 48, in 2019, it was 60 and in 2020 it was five.
According to the consultant, Christians in Tamil Nadu are facing attacks in three major forms.
“One, when the priests and believers go to the people, they distribute hand bills which has Christ’s message. At that time, the police prevents them from distributing the hand bills and they take the priests to the police station and harass them. They are usually made to sit in the police station for five to six hours without being given any explanation. Most of these cases would not be reported, because after sometime the issue gets resolved then and there,” he said.
Secondly, the Christians come under attack in some places during Christmas when they visit the houses of people from other religions to share the wishes and gifts, he added.
“The third major form of attack is, lack of permission to have a dedicated place for worship. Christian groups used to host prayers in a hall or in a house with a limited number of people. These are informally known as house churches. Though no permission is needed to conduct prayers at one’s own residence, in many places some people are against it. In many cases, those who raise objections are not from the region concerned, but outsiders. They instigate the locals and create a tension,” the consultant said.
He added that even if the Christian groups have made a representation to concerned district collectors in this regard, nearly 75 per cent of the collectors have remained silent on the issue.
The claim can be substantiated by the Madras High Court order in 2019. The court heard a similar case from Coimbatore, where the district collector had asked a pastor not to conduct prayer meetings at his residence. It was alleged the pastor had not obtained required permission under Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Building Rules, 1972. However the court dismissed the case by stating that if the prayers are conducted without causing nuisance or disturbance to others or causing hindrance to the public, no permission is required to conduct prayer’s at one’s own residence.
“Most of these kinds of house churches are running for more than 15 to 20 years. But the threats over such churches have arisen for the past four or five years,” the consultant said.
Pointing to another major concern, he said in some places, people who convert to Christianity are not given access to burial grounds and are forced to bury their dead in their own lands.
Michael said though people are converting to Christianity on their own volition there are no forceful conversion anywhere in the country.
“In India, the first anti-conversion law came in Odisha in 1967. More than 50 years after, no single pastor or a Christian leader have been convicted for forceful conversion in any court of India,” he said.