Freedom of Religion and Christians in India

Ram Puniyani
March 29, 2021

In the recently released report, Freedom House downgraded India from free to partly free due to the atmosphere of intolerance, treatment of journalists, protestors and religious minorities. The events of 19th March at Jhansi station more than reflect this fact. On 19th March two nuns belonging to Sacred Heart congregation, who were travelling from Delhi to Odisha with two postulants, were forced to de-board the train. Some Bajrang Dal/ABVP types alleged that the nuns, who were in their usual habit, were taking the girls for conversion. These vigilantes asked for Identity cards and religion of the teenager postulants and the circulating video shows they were aggressive in their tone all through.

The postulants said that they are Christians and intend to become nuns. The police was brought in and four of these women were taken away by police, were forced to leave the train. They were permitted to travel again the next day after the intervention from Bishops House. The frightening incident where the women had to face the male vigilantes and the male police personnel has sent the shock wave around. A statement was issued by Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KBC) stated that nuns were taken to the custody without any reason and humiliated. The KBC also demanded suitable action against those who harassed the women. As the nuns are from Kerala, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to the Home minster Amit Shah demanding intervention from him.  Shah, who is incidentally facing elections in Kerala, has promised to look into the matter.

The ABVP/Bajrang Dal activists were quoting the UP anti conversion law and intimidating the women. The activists indulging in such action has been increasing during last few years. The sense of impunity is seeping in deep into these groups as they have seen that those indulging in such crimes are not only treated with kid gloves but often catch the eye of top leaders and are duly rewarded. While this incident has come to light; many priests have been facing similar problems from quite sometime. ‘Persecution Relief’ report (2019) points out “The frequency of attacks on Christian’s gatherings is escalating to heights especially during when Sunday morning Worship service and house prayer meetings. Pastors and congregation members are beaten, sometimes so badly that they break their legs, vandalize the churches and the Hindu fundamentalists make reports to the police that these Christians are converting the people to Christ. Hundreds of Christians are being imprisoned on false charges of converting Hindus to Christianity.”

The ‘Freedom House’ report mentions the attacks on Muslims prominently as the attacks on Muslims are very glaring while those on Christians are generally sub-radar and reported less often. The very nature of anti-Christian violence in India beginning in the decades of 1990s has been a bit different. The first major act of anti-Christian violence was the brutal burning of Pastor Graham Stewart Stains in 1999. Bajrang Dal’s Dara Singh (Rajendra Pal) who is currently in jail was the one who mobilized people on the pretext that Pastor Stains is a threat to Hinduism as he is converting the people on the pretext of treating Leprosy patients.

That time it was NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Lal Krishna Advani as Home minister. Initially Advani stated that it can’t be a work of Bajrang Dal worker as he knows them too well. The incident was so horrific that the President of India K.R. Narayanan lamented that the ‘Killings belong to World’s inventory of Black deeds” Shaken by this the NDA Government sent a top level ministerial team with Murli Manohar Joshi, George Fernandez and Navin Patnaik. The team opined that the killings were part of the International conspiracy to destabilize the NDA Government. At the same time Advani appointed Wadhava Commission to investigate the incident. Wadhava Commission concluded that Bajrang Dal Activist Dara Sing, who was also participating in other Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, Vishwa Hindu Parishad type activities, was the culprit and that there is no statistical increase in the number of Christians in the area where Pastor Stains was working.

Later we witnessed the regular occurrence of anti Christian violence in Adivasi areas of Dangs (Gujarat), Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh) and Orissa. Every year around Christmas time the anti Christian violence used to take place and the peak of this was the August 2008 Kandhamal Violence in which nearly hundred Christian lost their lives, hundreds of Churches were damaged or burnt and thousands of Christians were displaced. National People’s Tribunal headed by retired Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice A.P. Shah opined that “What happened in Kandhamal was a national shame, a complete defacement of humanity, ...Survivors continue to be intimidated, denied protection and access to justice” .

The anti-Christian violence has been preceded by a ceaseless propaganda that Christian Missionaries are getting huge foreign funding, and is doing the conversion work through fraud and allurement. All Christian denominations don’t operate on the similar ground. There may be few who proclaim conversion to be their goal, but majority of the denominations are not out for canvassing for conversion or allurement. Indian Christianity is very old. One version telling us its beginning from AD 52, when St. Thomas arrived on Malabar Coast  and set up churches. Since then many a missions are working in remote areas and also cities. Their primary work being in the sectors of health and education. Incidentally many leading lights of Hindu nationalists like Advani and Jaitley have been products of Christian mission schools.

The major reason for this propaganda is to pose obstacle to the activities of missionaries in Adivasi areas in particular, where these activities are giving succor to the sick on one hand and empowering Adivasis through the work of education on the other. From the decades of 1980s the VHP/Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has been focusing on the Adivasi belt where Swamis belonging to these organizations have been active, Aseemanand in Dangs, Gujarat, Laxmananand in Orissa, followers of Asaram Bapu in Jhabua, MP.

In these areas Shabri and Hanuman are also being promoted as icons of Adivasis and religiosity is being promoted along with anti-Christian propaganda. It is this propaganda which forms the root of violence and it is the electoral power at Center from last few years which encourages the vigilantes to do such acts as witnessed in Jhansi.

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News Network
April 21,2021

New Delhi, Apr 21: The Serum Institute of India (SII) has announced that it will price its Covishield vaccine at Rs 600 per dose for private hospitals and Rs 400 per dose for state governments.

In a statement, SII has said, "For the next two months, we will address the limited capacity by scaling up the vaccine production. Going ahead, 50% of our capacities will be served to the Government of India's vaccination program, and the remaining 50% of the capacity will be for the state governments and private hospitals."

Comparing the prices with the other vaccines in the world, SII has stated that while American vaccines are priced at Rs 1,500, Russian and Chinese vaccines would cost Rs 750 per dose, making Covishield a cheaper option.

However, the vaccine price will remain at Rs 150 per dose for the Centre.

In an order earlier this week, the Centre said all above 18 years of age are eligible for vaccination from May 1. As it liberalised the vaccination drive, the government allowed states, private hospitals and industrial establishments to procure the vaccine doses directly from manufacturers.

Of the 12.76 crore vaccine doses administered so far, the Covishield comprises over 90% of the vaccine doses, according to government data on Wednesday. Of this, 15 states and union territories have only given Covishield.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday urged India's vaccine manufacturers to continuously scale up their production capacity to vaccinate all Indians in the shortest possible time. India on Wednesday recorded nearly 3 lakh fresh cases in its biggest jump so far. The death toll has also gone up by over 2,000 in a day.

Interacting with vaccine manufacturers from across the country via video conferencing, PM Modi said the private sector will play an even more active role in the vaccination drive in the coming days and that this will require better coordination between hospitals and the industry.

In another significant move, the Centre has approved advance funds of Rs 3,000 crore for the Serum Institute and Rs 1,500 crore for Bharat Biotech, which is producing the Covaxin shots.

On the other hand, Johnson & Johnson has applied to India's drug regulator seeking permission to conduct phase-3 clinical trial of its single-dose Covid-19 vaccine in India while also seeking an import licence.

They said the company has sought an early meeting of the subject expert committee on Covid-19 of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) to take a decision on its application.

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News Network
April 26,2021

April 26: Anxiety pierced through IPL's bio-secure bubble on Monday with leading Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and some Australian players withdrawing from the league amid the escalating Covid-19 crisis in India even as the BCCI insisted that the glitzy league will go on.

The 34-year-old Ashwin, competing for Delhi Capitals, decided to take a break saying that his family is currently "putting up a fight against Covid-19" and he wants to support them. He hopes to return to the side "if things go in the right direction".

However, Andrew Tye (Rajastan Royals) and the duo of Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa (both Royal Challengers Bangalore) withdrew as apprehension set in after a couple of weeks went by smoothly for the league being held in front of empty stands across nine venues.

While Zampa and Richardson have not yet spoken about their "personal reasons" for leaving, Tye said he feared getting locked out of his own country owing to mounting quarantine cases from India in his hometown Perth.

"I just thought to try and get on the front foot and get home before I got locked out of the country...think I've had 11 days at home out of the bubble since August, so for me I just wanted to get home," Tye told 'SEN Radio' from Doha, the transit point before his flight to Perth.

The BCCI, on its part, insisted that the event will continue and it wouldn't come in the way of those wanting to leave.

"As of now, IPL is going ahead. Obviously, if anyone wants to leave, that's perfectly fine," a senior Board official said on conditions of anonymity.

While leg-spinner Zampa was bought for Rs 1.5 crore, RCB spent Rs 4 crore to buy pacer Richardson at the players' auction.

Richardson featured in one match for RCB, returning figures of 1 for 29 in three overs against Rajasthan Royals in Mumbai, but Zampa couldn't make it to the playing XI this season.
The 34-year-old Tye had also not got a game with the Royals so far and his contract with the franchise was worth Rs one crore.

India is recording over 3 lakh daily cases for the past few days and the health infrastructure is struggling to handle the rise with shortage of oxygen and some crucial medicines adding to the crisis.

Kolkata Knight Riders mentor David Hussey acknowledged that Australians in the IPL are a "bit nervous" about getting back home in the wake of the situation here.

"Everyone is sort of a bit nervous about whether they can get back into Australia. I dare say there will be a few other Australians a bit nervous about getting back into Australia," Hussey, a former Australia international, told the 'Sydney Morning Herald'.

Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association also issued a joint statement on Monday, saying that they are monitoring the situation.

"Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association remain in regular contact with Australian players, coaches and commentators taking part in the Indian Premier League, which is being conducted under strict bio-security protocols," the two bodies said.

"We will continue to listen to feedback from those on the ground in India and the advice of the Australian Government. Our thoughts are with the people of India at this difficult time."

Several England and New Zealand players are also competing in the event but haven't yet spoken about their concerns.

"We continue to monitor and work with the players on an individual basis. Our thoughts are with the people of India during these difficult times," a spokesperson of the England and Wales Cricket Board told PTI.

The players from New Zealand, including stars such Kane Williamson and Trent Boult, are expected to leave early in any case as they have a Test series against England starting June 2. They will have to head back in last week of May to be available for it because of quarantine rules.

The IPL final is scheduled to be held on May 30 in Ahmedabad.

Australia, it is learnt, might arrange a chartered flight for its IPL cricketers once their engagement is over.

As many as 14 Australian players now remain in the event, including stars such as Steve Smith (DC), David Warner (SunRisers Hyderabad) and Pat Cummins (Kolkata Knight Riders), as well as coaches Ricky Ponting (DC) and Simon Katich (RCB).

Commentators Matthew Hayden, Brett Lee, Michael Slater and Lisa Sthalekar are also among the Australians involved with the league right now. 

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News Network
April 21,2021

Abu Dhabi, Apr 21: A national human rights commission has come into being in the United Arab Emirates with the members of the Federal National Council (FNC) passing a federal draft.

The commission aims to promote and protect human rights and freedom in accordance with the provisions of the UAE constitution, laws and legislation in force and the relevant international charters, covenants and agreements.

 According to the draft law which was passed in the FNC meeting on Tuesday evening, an independent body called the ‘National Commission for Human Rights’ shall be established to work to strengthen the position of the UAE in regional and international forums in the field of human rights, and to enhance the UAE's communication with individuals and regional and international institutions concerned with human rights.

In order to achieve its goals, the commission will coordinate with competent authorities in developing a national action plan to promote and protect human rights in the country and suggest a mechanism for its implementation. It will work to spread the culture of human rights in the UAE and educate members of the society about it, submit proposals and recommendations and give advice to various authorities in everything that would promote and protect human rights.

The commission will also follow up on the suitability of legislation and laws to international charters, covenants and conventions on human rights to which the state is a party and follow-up thereof, and to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

The human rights commission will work on promoting equality and the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.

Khalifa Shaheen Al Marar, Minister of State said the the establishment of the commission is a milestone for the country in the human rights records. “The commission will help in the application of international standards, and will push the country to achieve advanced ranks in the global competitiveness record, which is the government’s goal in raising the reputation and stature of the UAE,” he said.

Al Marar stressed the government's keenness to develop and strengthen its legislative and normative system in the field of human rights, and to continue its efforts towards empowering women, and promoting the rights of children, senior citizens, people of determination, and labour rights.

“The National Commission for Human Rights will strengthen the role of national mechanisms concerned with the protection of human rights,” he said adding that establishing the commission aims at completing and strengthening the system of existing national mechanisms in a way that contributes to strengthening the legal and organizational structure for the protection of human rights.

According to the Minister, the resolutions of relevant international charters on human rights grant any country the right to choose the framework that suits its special needs at the national level, when establishing their commission.

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