The five states going to the polls this February and March recorded a spurt in attacks against Christians last year, said a non-government organisation in a report that could reignite a debate on the alleged rise in persecution of minorities.
The Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum in its report, titled Indian Christian Persecution, said Uttar Pradesh registered an almost three-fold increase in cases of violence against people from the religious minority.
Less than 1% of India’s most populous and politically crucial state follows Christianity.
In Punjab, another state that will vote on February 4 for a new government, violence against Christians increased from just one case in 2014 to 11 in 2016.
The report said similar spikes were witnessed in Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa, a former Portuguese colony with a sizeable Christian population.
NGO chairperson MF Saldanha, who was a judge in Karnataka and Bombay high courts, blamed the NDA government for the spike in attacks on Christians.
“The type of repression started now marks a general pattern, of attacking minorities and the backward classes. The idea, I suppose, is to terrorise and subjugate, which is not what is expected in a democracy,” he alleged.
He accused the government of “following an ultra-aggressive policy”.
The BJP dismissed the allegations, with party leader Siddharth Nath Singh launching a stinging counterattack.
“Where was this organisation when it was proved that the rape of a nun in West Bengal was the handiwork of Bangladeshi infiltrators? Initially it was alleged the incident was fallout of the ghar wapsi programme,” Singh said.
“They can’t be selective. Instead of creating falsehoods they should strengthen society.”
The Hindu right wing has always been at loggerheads with Christian missionaries, accusing them of converting people through coercion and allurement to their faith.
Several Hindu organisations have conducted ghar wapsi or homecoming of such people, which minority groups say is a couched term for re-conversion.
Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan said the polarisation and attack on minorities has been the standard operating procedure of the ruling government to “catch votes”.
“These attacks on minorities are not a religion-driven but election- driven mechanism.”
According to the 2011 census, Christians constitute about 2.3 % of India’s population. Manipur has 34%, Goa 26.7%, Punjab 1.26% and Uttarakhand less than 1%.
The hill state of Uttarakhand recorded eight cases of attacks against Christians, Goa seven cases and Manipur two cases last year, the NGO’s report said.
The crimes include murder and rape, and attacks on churches. But the incidents are not restricted to the poll-bound states. BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh topped the list of states with the maximum number of attacks, followed by Tamil Nadu, according to the report.