By Shuriah Niazi
NEW DELHI, India
2017 was a year that India’s Christians and Muslims would not like to remember.
This was the period when hate crime and violence against the minority communities saw a steep surge. While radical Hindu extremist outfits unleashed violence against Christians for allegedly encouraging conversion of Hindus to their faith, Muslims were mainly attacked on suspicion of smuggling or transporting cows -- considered sacred in Hinduism -- for slaughter.
In December, Christian schools in northern Uttar Pradesh had been warned against celebrating Christmas by the Hindu Jagran Manch, a right-wing Hindutva group affiliated with the state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's Hindu Yuva Vahini.
According to Manch leaders, Hindu children were supposedly being lured to Christianity.
Sonu Savita, a leader of the organization in the city of Aligarh, said: "A Christian festival was being foisted on the Hindu children in schools and it was only a ploy to convert them to Christianity. It is our duty to safeguard our children from these foreign forces."
Although the state police tightened security following Hindu outfit’s threats, celebrations in many schools remained subdued.
In Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district, over 30 Christian priests and seminaries of St. Ephrem’s Theological College were detained by police on Dec. 14, 2017, after activists of radical Hindu group Bajrang Dal accused them of forced conversions. They were allegedly roughed up at the police station by members of
Archdiocese of Bhopal Fr. Maria Stephen said: “Charges of forced conversions were false and the seminaries were only conducting a carol singing program, which is a routine practice during the Christmas season.”
On March 29, 2017, a mob of about 20 Hindu fanatics brutally assaulted six Christians in the tourist city of Agra while they were returning home from a prayer meeting.
On April 12, two pastors were assaulted by Hindu extremists and not allowed to conduct Easter services in Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh.
India witnessed a sharp rise in attacks on Christians in the first six months of 2017 and the 410 reported incidents during this period almost equaled the total for the whole of 2016, according to global charity Open Doors.
Activists say anti-Christian violence in India has seen a surge after Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed to power in May 2014.
Anti-conversion law was introduced in India to check religious conversions. It has been enforced in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh to prevent forced or induced conversions.
However, the Christian organizations feel the law has been grossly misused by Hindu extremists to hassle minorities.
Council President Joseph D’Souza said: “Sectarian tension prevails in states like Gujarat, Karnataka
Attacks on Muslims
Attacks on Muslims also increased in 2017.
Earlier this month, a Hindu man, Shambunath Raigar, set on fire a Muslim man, Mohammed Arafzul, in Rajasthan state for alleged “love Jihad” – a term coined by right-wing Hindu organizations, which claim Muslim men lure non-Muslim women for conversion to Islam by supposedly feigning love.
In a video posted
In November 2017, Hindu cow vigilantes shot dead a Muslim man Ummar Muhammad and brutally thrashed two of his aides for transporting cows in Alwar in the desert state of Rajasthan.
Cow vigilantes or protectors, who are generally members of extremist Hindu outfits, have been increasingly targeting Muslims on the suspicion that they eat beef or transport cows for slaughter.
In June 2017, three Muslims were lynched by a mob of zealot Hindus after they were allegedly caught stealing cows from a house in
Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi has condemned the deadly mob attacks and lynching of Muslims, activists feel this is not enough to deter Hindu groups indulging in violence against the minority community. They say Modi’s rise to power has bolstered the radical Hindu groups.
Indian Home Ministry told the parliament in July this year that the National Crime Records
However, 2017 was the deadliest year for such crimes in recent years, according to the data collected by IndiaSpend -- an organization that records hate crimes across India.
IndiaSpend data revealed 11 people were killed while 37 incidents of hate violence related to cows and religion were reported in 2017.
Moreover, 29 people lost their lives between 2010 and 2016 in cow-related hate violence, and the death of 11 people in 2017 is the highest for any single year since 2010 when IndiaSpend started collecting data related to such violence.
Will 2018 be any better for India’s beleaguered minorities? Only time will tell.