Rioting erupted over India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Delhi earlier this week. While the riots have been occurring for months now, a particularly deadly riot coincided with U.S. President Trump’s visit to India this week. Although it wasn’t intentional, Trump’s visit has placed a spotlight on the growing violence religious minorities, including Indian Christians, experience.
In a speech Trump gave to Indian supporters, Trump lauded the country for its “unity;” he later commended Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for working toward religious liberty. “We discussed about Muslims and Christians and we talked about religious liberty. Prime Minister Modi told me that they are working very closely with the Muslim community,” Trump told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, February 25th. The U.S. President also said “The Prime Minister was incredible about religious freedom. He wants people to have religious freedom and they are working very hard on it.”
Despite Trump’s diplomatic comments, though, the rise in religious persecution in India while Modi’s Hindu-majority political party has been in power presents a seemingly different case.
Indian Christians and Muslims Suffering Under Modi’s Government
Modi belongs to the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which many political commentators argue is enabling a rise in violence against religious minorities in India. Christians and Muslims in particular are feeling the effects of the BJP being in power. In its 2020 World Watch List, Open Doors reported that 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians occurred in India over the last year.
A recent report from the Telegraph gives voice to Christians whose very livelihood is being threatened by fellow Indian citizens. Whether their businesses or crops are being targeted by vigilante attacks or they are being beaten or killed, Christians in India face persecution with little to no help from the police for protection. The Telegraph goes on to describe a lack of justice for those persecuted. Out of over 300 attacks that Indian Christians sustained in 2019, only 36 cases were filed by police, and none of those cases have been brought to prosecution. To make matters worse, it takes a very long time for cases involving Christians to make it into an Indian court–up to four years–during which time the victim is left open to further attack.
According to the Telegraph, the main perpetrator of the violence against Christians is an all-male paramilitary youth group with ties to the BJP. The group is called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the members are known for attacking people with bamboo sticks bound in iron called lathi. The Alliance Defending Freedom reports a 220 percent increase in violent attacks on Christians since Modi’s 2014 rise to power.
Modi’s government has also adversely affected the work of Compassion International, causing that U.S.-based nonprofit to severely curtail its operations in India.
Muslims are also a religious minority in the predominately Hindu country and often face persecution and discrimination. The recent riots in Delhi concern discrimination against Muslims. The riots evolved from clashes between protestors for and against the controversial CAA which the Indian government passed in December. This act allows for the naturalization of non-Muslim people who have escaped religious persecution in surrounding countries. Critics of the CAA, including India’s Muslim population, claim the act deliberately ignores refugees from Myanmar (Rohingya Muslims) in particular and other Muslims attempting to escape dire situations. Nine people have died in the clashes and at least a hundred more people have sustained injuries.
President Trump’s Meeting with Modi
Trump was in India Monday and Tuesday. The topic of religious liberty and the country’s lack thereof doesn’t appear to be one of the main points of discussion during the meetings with the two world leaders, although Trump indicated it did come up. Instead, discussion mainly involved the topics of defense, trade, developing India’s renewable energy, and quelling drug trafficking and terrorism. Trump even offered to help in negotiations between India and Pakistan because he has “a very good relationship with [Pakistan’s] Prime Minister Khan.”
This is Trump’s first visit to India since his inauguration in 2017. He struck a very diplomatic chord, one his critics are extremely upset over, considering the human rights violations to which Modi’s government appears to be turning a blind eye. In fact, Trump even dodged a question about the controversial CAA, calling it an internal affair. According to New India Express, Trump said “It is for India to do and hopefully they will do the right thing.”
In a speech, Trump emphasized the similarities in goals between the countries and indicated his desire for the U.S. and India to work together into the future:
In America and in India we know that we are all born for a higher purpose, to reach toward our fullest potential, to work toward excellence and perfection and to give all glory to God. Powered by this spirit, Indians and Americans are always striving to be greater, our people are always seeking to be better, and so our nations have become thriving centers of culture and commerce and civilization giving light and vitality to all of the world.