Hindu zealots campaign to expel India's Christian missionaries

IF DR Surendra Jain had been around at the time, Mother Teresa would never have got started in India.

Dr Jain, national convenor of the Bajrang Dal, an extreme organization of Hindu nationalists, has called for all foreign missionaries to be expelled from the country. This includes people such as the late Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, however good the social work they perform. "Excellent work we can do ourselves," he said. "We don't need foreign help."

Dr Jain, a teacher of commerce in a college 50 miles outside Delhi, is making his demand against a background of steadily-rising violence towards India's Christian minority. Echoing Mahatma Gandhi's anti-Raj slogan - "Quit India" - he declared that his fellow activists had begun identifying Christian missions in order to launch a "second 'Quit India' movement" against them. "We will compel them to leave India," he said. "It is a serious proposal. It is going to be implemented, but the timetable and modus operandi must remain secret."

Christians, who constitute just 2.6 per cent of the Indian population, about 23 million people, have in the past largely been overlooked in India's endless inter-communal feuds. Hindu-Muslim violence has been far more frequent and bloody, but the past two or three years have seen a disturbing increase in anti-Christian rhetoric and violent incidents. Since the spring election of a coalition government dominated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the campaign has reached new heights of menace and criminality.

A year ago, a Jesuit priest, Father Christudas, vice-principal of a school in southern Bihar state, was dragged out of the school, stripped naked, beaten and forced to parade through the town. The following month, a Belgian Jesuit, Father A T Thomas, was kidnapped in the same state. Six days later, his decapitated body was recovered. No one has been tried for either crime.

The attacks might have been written off as peculiar to Bihar, the poorest and most lawless state in India. But in the past six months, a new flurry of incidents across the nation suggests that the arrival in power of the BJP has given the party's extremist fringe licence to pursue its anti-Christian campaign in defiance of the law.

The main focus of recent incidents has not been Bihar, but Gujarat, in the north-west, where the BJP has recently taken power. Newly-built churches have been demolished, Christian schools vandalised, numerous prayer halls broken into, burned or looted, and prayer meetings broken up. In July, Bajrang Dal activists burned bibles at a mission school, claiming that the teachers were trying forcibly to convert their pupils.

The Bajrang Dal, the organisation behind many attacks on Christians, was spawned by the controversial movement to demolish the Babri Masjid mosque at Ayodhya, and replace it with a temple dedicated to Ram, the Hindu warrior god most revered by nationalists. Ayodhya, near Lucknow in northern India, is Ram's purported birthplace. Created in 1983, the Bajrang Dal claimed to have branches in every state within five years.

"The Bajrang Dal are fanatical street-action people," said one prominent Indian Catholic. "The RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a better-known nationalist organisation with close links to the government] is more respectable, more like Hitler's Brownshirts, with a semblance of discipline. The Bajrang Dal are like Mussolini's street gangs. Most of them are poorly-educated young people, who are unemployed or regard their jobs as unsatisfactory."

Christophe Jaffrelot, a scholar of Hindu nationalism, said of the Bajrang Dal's members: "Frustration is their common denominator." Another authority said some "long to be the hero of a Bombay film in which violence leads to justice".

Dr Jain said suggestions the group's members were uneducated were "a myth". "Our organisation is very disciplined. We have a training programme where members receive intellectual and physical training, including the use of arms," he said.

"We have about 500,000 members. But it is true that the Bajrang Dal is more aggressive for the Hindu cause than the RSS. Many times we go beyond the limits of the RSS."

Asked whether the Bajrang Dal accepted limits, such as those dictated by law, he replied: "Our limits depend on our situation. We generally try to discourage people from taking the law into their own hands, but some enthusiastic characters do things beyond the law. And when they are justified in such activities we defend them."

John Layal, national secretary for public affairs in the All-India Catholic Union, said the "quantum jump" in violence against Christians was "because there is no rule of law in India today".

"When you have senior people in government declaring that if the Supreme Court refuses permission for a Ram temple to be built in Ayodhya they will go ahead and build it anyway," he said. "When the state connives in crime and looks the other way, organisations like Bajrang Dal are emboldened to break the law."

Dr Jain denies that the Bajrang Dal is intrinsically hostile to other faiths. "We are tolerant about Christianity and all other religions. Many of my friends are Christians. But we cannot tolerate their anti-national activity. That's why we want to throw out all foreign missionaries."

Nor is he swayed by the suggestion that foreign missionaries have worked in India legally and legitimately. "Christianity is dying in the West, so they are diverting millions of dollars to India for conversion activities," he said. "In every society, people are throwing off the signs of slavery. We, who were oppressed by Muslims and Britishers, should do the same."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London