Several voices have alerted in the last years about a worrisome tendency in India to persecute religious minorities and to limit their constitutional freedoms. Possibly among these voices a recent article published last December in the New York Times rang all the alarms and made clear to everybody the extent and implications of such a dangerous drift1.
The article is not the only source for concern. Just browsing in a search engine in the web about “Christian persecution in India”, we find many notices and even a Wikipedia entry detailing such scenes of persecution, which apparently started quite recently, and are related with a wave of Hindu nationalism and a new political climate.
The list of grievances and attacks to Christian churches of different confessions is large. We learn from the published news that a rationale for this misbehaviour is a new law that forbids activities aimed at encouraging conversions to other religions, a serious limitation of religious freedom. This law offers justification and an alibi for any sort of attacks and harassments on churches, pastors and believers, and especially against those who convert.
What is of particular concern is that as many describe India as the “largest democracy in the world”, even if for several observers somewhat flawed, this new ‘style’ could set some standard in the way to deal with religious freedom, limiting its range in the name of national and identity values. Such a trend would mean that we can in the practice conflate, on the one hand, the political system, with its periodic free elections, with its judicial controls; and, on the other, the sphere of religious allegiances or loyalties, which would be seen as belonging to the State and its interests and structure. This trend is particularly annoying because it means to move back from the modern liberal secularization model that triggered the differentiation between the political, the economic and the religious realms, to fall into a pre-secular model of State control and management of the religious sector, limiting freedoms and patronizing a religious expression in detriment of others.
This move is particularly tempting for other countries, and it is clearly associated with authoritarian and populist governance expressions around the world. Religion is then used as a mark for national identity and for ensuring political support and loyalties. Religion looses its own status as an autonomous instance to live and experience communication of transcendence. A religion serving other interests, especially those related to power or money, becomes a flawed expression unable to accomplish its own goals and meaning.
The chronicle of the abuses that informal groups perpetrate against religious minorities in India often count with the support and even complicity of legal schemas and policies aimed at reducing the possible incoming influence of alternative religious groups. This means to put back the clock of history and returning to times in which religion served just national and political interests. Once more it becomes more obvious that religious freedom is a clear indicator or a proxy about the quality of democracy: when religious freedoms suffers, the entire democratic system and human rights system suffers and deteriorates.
o. prof. Lluis OVIEDO