India’s Christian Community Faces Crucial Crossroads Amidst 2024 Elections: Persecution, Representation, and Political Stakes

Feature and Cover India's Christian Community Faces Crucial Crossroads Amidst 2024 Elections Persecution Representation and Political Stakes

As India prepares for the largest national elections ever conducted globally, the Christian community, though a minority, faces unique challenges highlighting the importance of their political representation.

The issues range from religious persecution to anti-conversion laws, with recent unrest in the Christian-majority state of Manipur underscoring the urgent need for Christian voices to be heard.

Comprising about 2.3 percent of India’s population, the Christian community is a significant part of this pluralistic society. However, this community often navigates a complex landscape of religious freedom and cultural integration. Despite constitutional protections, incidents of persecution persist, making political empowerment essential for safeguarding their rights.

A recent report by the United Christian Forum (UCF), a civil society organization based in Delhi dedicated to Christian concerns, revealed a significant decline in the fundamental rights and protections of Indian Christians in the first three months of this year.

The 2024 Indian election, which began on April 19 and concludes on June 1, has been a lengthy process.

The UCF reported 70 violent incidents against Christians in January, 62 in February, and 29 in the first half of March, totaling 161 incidents over two and a half months. These incidents included violence, assaults on churches or prayer meetings, harassment of individuals practicing their faith, social ostracism, restricted access to communal resources, and unfounded accusations, notably concerning “forced conversions.”

A.C. Michael, a former member of the Delhi state minority commission, told Religion Unplugged that he wants the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to lose the upcoming elections.

“The Christian community is in deep prayers these days,” he said. “They want this government to go. There is a fear among the Christian community that if this government comes to power the attacks on Christians will increase.”

He added that under BJP rule, Christians have faced both physical and legal violence, referring to the anti-conversion laws existing in 12 Indian states.

Persecution and representation

One of the most pressing issues for the Christian community in India is the prevalence of anti-conversion laws enacted by various states. These laws, justified as measures to prevent coerced conversions, have been criticized for their potential misuse against minorities. They create an atmosphere of suspicion and hostility, deterring individuals from freely choosing or changing their faith.

Christians and other minorities see these laws as impediments to their religious autonomy, emphasizing the need for sensitive and secular governance that Lok Sabha representatives can influence. Historically, the BJP has provided minimal representation to Christians. In the previous Lok Sabha, John Barla from Bengal was the only Christian BJP member of Parliament, serving as a deputy minister for minority affairs. During the last Parliament’s five-year term under Modi’s leadership, there were no Christian or Muslim cabinet ministers.

Modi and his party have been making efforts to establish a presence in Kerala, a state traditionally oscillating between the Marxist alliance and Congress-led governments. Currently, the Marxists govern the state, while Congress controls 19 out of 20 parliamentary seats.

The BJP has attempted to deepen divisions between Central Kerala’s Christian communities and the Muslims in the neighboring northern regions. In a bid to expand its reach in Kerala, the BJP succeeded in winning over Anil Antony, son of the renowned Congress leader and former defense minister A.K. Antony.

Christians running for office

This development represents a significant setback for Congress, a party deeply entrenched in the state and representative of diverse groups ranging from fishermen and boatmen to affluent stakeholders in the spices, tea, coffee, and rubber industries and business segments held by Christians. With a scant industrial presence, Kerala lacks a substantial corporate and industrial elite.

Despite these efforts, the BJP has not nominated additional Christian candidates in Kerala. The Congress-led United Democratic Front has five Christians in the race: Dean Kuriakose, Hibi Eaden, Benny Behanan, Anto Antony, and Francis George.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) has nominated P.C. George. In Goa, Viriato Fernandes is contesting for a seat, and while the number of Christians running for the DMK in Tamil Nadu remains unclear, the state typically sends at least two Christians to Parliament.

Meanwhile, the count of Christian candidates in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is complicated by several Dalit candidates possibly registering as Hindus. The Congress has nominated at least one known and one Dalit candidate from Telangana.

The northeast, often perceived as predominantly Christian, presents a stark contrast. Arunachal Pradesh features a Christian candidate from the Congress, and Assam has just one, RoslinaTirky. Jones IngtyKathar, a former bureaucrat, has support from the Autonomous Hills People Party. Except for Orissa and Jharkhand, which may collectively have about four Christian candidates representing Congress and its allies in Jharkhand and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa, other states are unlikely to see Christian candidates from major parties.

Additionally, several individuals are running as independents or with support from lesser-known parties, such as Anson Thomas of the PPI Secular, a former official and activist, and Samuel Soni, a candidate in Punjab supported by a group of independent churches.

As India moves closer to another election, the Christian community, like many other minorities, stands at a crossroads. The choice of representatives could very well determine the course of their rights, security, and place within the Indian tapestry for the next several years.

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