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I read an op-ed on Quint (an Indian publication) this morning, titled ‘Why India should not forget the murder of Graham Staines’. Staines was an Australian missionary who was burnt to death by a mob in Manoharpur, Orissa, along with his 2 sons, 7-year old Phillips and 10-year old Timothy. The mob was led by Dara Singh, with links to the Bajrang Dal, a fringe political outfit known for inciting communal violence. Their crime was leaving the comforts of their native land, and making India their home, among the most disenfranchised in society. The Staines family had opened a leprosy home among adivasis, literally washing the sores of those rejected by their own communities. The event sent shock waves throughout the country, and awakened Christians to the fragility of the much-touted fabric of co-existence. 
India has been for the longest time, proud of being a secular democracy, and most leaders of repute have at least paid strong lip service to the values of tolerance and the right to practice and propagate religion, without threats or interference from the government. For the first time, in a long time, things are changing with rapid intensity. 
I was born and raised in Mumbai, and as a first in my memory, saw a policeman posted outside my church on Christmas. There has been a ferocious increase in the crimes against minorities, including Muslims, since then. Muslims, who have had a far more tenuous history with co-existence in India, have been beaten to a pulp, or brutally killed for the mere offense of consuming or storing beef. On occasion, the meat did not even turn out to be beef. 
Of late, crosses are being torn out, churches vandalized, and pastors beaten. What used to happen in the cover of dark, now happens brazenly in daylight. The nefarious elements of society have come crawling out of the woodwork, emboldened by the blatant and unapologetic Hindutva agenda of the BJP government that’s in power. The Prime Minister is deafeningly silent on violence against Christians and does not use the power of his office to dissuade the same group of people who are also his vocal and staunch supporters. 
I wish I could say my countrymen are outraged and are demanding answers from their elected leaders. Apart from the minority commission, and a few opinion pieces, there are no booming voices. I listened with shock as a colleague dismissed reports of persecution against Christians, as being overblown and not a big deal in reality. People have a right to their own opinions, they even have a right to their own prejudices, but not to their own facts. When we can’t even operate from a baseline of truth, reasoned engagement is no longer possible. 
A recent report described the plight of a group of people thrown in jail in Madhya Pradesh who only crime was to go out caroling on Christmas night. According to Open Doors’ World Watchlist, released in January 2018, India now ranks 11th in the world among countries where Christians face extreme persecution, faring only better than Iran. Those sharing the ignominy? Such luminaries as North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen. It is a tragic blot on the country’s reputation, a travesty of our legacy, and yet nobody from the political class is bemoaning the sordid state of affairs. In 4 short years, persecution has become par for the course. 

As Indians, we must realize that a government that stands for and protects the rights of minorities, will also be in the best interest of the majority. Nations elect leaders who are a reflection of their values. We didn’t rail against the government when they encroached on press freedom, individual liberties, on the right to peaceful protests, or even the basic right to eat what we please. 
So now, our nation has ended up getting the leaders we deserve. 

#Quint #Persecution #India #Christians #Minoritycommission #OpenDoorsWorldWatchlist