Christians afraid to celebrate Christmas in India: Report

Christians afraid to celebrate Christmas in India: Report

WASHINGTON: After Muslims, it's now Christians' turn to face the wrath of rising Hindu nationalism in India under Prime Minister Narandera Modi, a stark reminder of which is vividly clear around the preparation for Christmas celebrations.

An article, published on Saturday in the leading US daily The New York Times, titled "We Are Afraid of Christmas," showed a non-Hindu festival that was celebrated regardless of religious affiliation has caught in the cross hairs amid rising tide of Hindutva.

"Christmas is recognized as a government holiday. But as far-right Hindu groups have gained traction, India has changed. Christmas has now found itself caught in the cross hairs," the article said of a Hindu-majority country where Christians make up a mere 2.3 percent of population of more than a billion people.

Last week in Madhya Pradesh, police detained 32, including two priests, who were singing Christmas carols, after a right-wing Hindu group accused them of forcing religious conversions, the NYT report said.

In another incident, the wife of a prominent politician was condemned online for endorsing a Christmas charity event. Also in December, a far-right Hindu group sent letters to schools and warned them against holding Christmas functions, saying that would be doing it "at their own risk''.

"We are afraid of Christmas this year," said A.C. Michael, the national coordinator of an Indian advocacy group, the United Christian Forum, in a statement.

According to the NYT report, after Prime Minister Modi took over in 2014, some government officials tried to change the official recognition of Christmas, which is a government holiday.

It is all part of a broader ideological battle that has produced countless acts of violence and harassment across India based on religious identity, the report added.

Indian cities are said to have become more segregated along religious lines, Sanjay Srivastava, a sociology professor at Delhi University told the NYT.

According to the report, tensions over the Christmas holiday erupted into confrontation in some parts of India this month. A mob assaulted Carol singers on Dec. 14 in a village in Madhya Pradesh.

Police, instead of arresting the members of mob, arrested carolers for inflaming religious sentiments. Eight priests who came to police station to help free the carolers were also detained and their car parked outside the police station was set on fire.

"We are pained, and we are shocked,,, this incident creates further anxiety in the minds and hearts of the Christian faithful and the minorities in the country," Cardinal Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, was quoted as saying by the report at a news conference in New Delhi.

Also this week, a Hindu group disrupted a Christmas celebrations in a village in Rajasthan, who barged into a community center where the celebrations were held, throwing away hymn books and accusing the participants of trying to covert locals.