NEW DELHI, India (BP)–A religious survey being conducted by Gujarat state police officials among the Christian community is raising questions about possible actions targeting Indian Christians by the Hindu fanatics.
The Gujarat government has admitted that it has been gathering statistics on Christians at the behest of federal officials. The State High Court has ordered a halt to the survey and has sent notices to federal and state government officials to explain the motive behind the survey.
“Such surveys are dangerous and illegal because, other than the national census held under [India’s] laws, no one else has the right to ask intimate questions on faith,” said John Dayal, secretary general of All India Christian Council.
“These surveys are dangerous because they arm goons of the Hindu group RSS and other communal elements with ready-made hit lists of the nature made famous by Nazi cadres of Hitler in Germany in the 20th century,” Dayal said. Hindu gangs had used such lists to target Muslims, their properties and businesses during the 2002 genocidal riot in Gujarat.
A handwritten questionnaire in local Gujarati language, scribbled down by a local police official and sent to Christian workers across the state, indicates the state is looking for more than the obvious. The questionnaire sent to all police stations in the state seeks information on Christians living in their vicinities from 1998-2002. The notification also says that all the information will be submitted to the state and national government before the end of the month. It asks for exact details about born Christians and converted Christians in each Gujarat village. The questionnaire specifically asks, “What are the reasons behind the conversion in your districts?” It also asks for details of all Christian institutes and how many new institutes have come up during the year in each village.
“We are collecting information for Parliament and the Secretariat. There is no separate circular or survey. We are just collecting some data on [their] request,” said Amit Shah, Gujarat state home minister.
Adding ambiguity to the official move is the explanation from police that they are collecting statistics to protect the minorities. Most, however, believe that through the survey leaders of the ruling Hindu party BJP are preparing the ground in Gujarat for a controversial bill to ban religious conversions.
“Several families in Ahmedabad city and other parts of Gujarat have been visited. Many have had the police knocking on their doors as late as 10 or 11 in the night, asking them questions like when they converted and who converted them,” said Cedric Prakash of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights. “This is increasingly intimidating and our people are feeling harassed,” he added.
Christian leaders said the policemen came calling at some houses in Ahmedabad, Sabarkantha, Banaskantha and Kutch districts over the past few days to conduct the survey among Christian families.
“This survey is a build-up to the anti-conversion bill the government wants to introduce in the state assembly during this session,” Prakash said. Anti-conversion bills that the ruling Hindu party, BJP, is attempting to bring across the country to appease the majority Hindu voters seek to curb religious freedom of minorities. One church leader in Saurashtra was asked whether Christians would hold demonstrations if the anti-conversion bill is introduced in the assembly, sources said.
In the wake of the attack on Christians and the burning of churches in the Dangs district around Christmas 1998, the state intelligence department had ordered a similar survey but abandoned it after a petition was filed in the Gujarat High Court.
As the survey proceeds in Gujarat, a small church was demolished in early March in the village of Panviali in Tamil Nadu state ruled by BJP ally J. Jayalalitha, who recently enacted an anti-conversion act. The demolition has been directly traced to radical Hindu groups. The Padre Pio chapel in Bangalore also was vandalized by 15 men, reportedly of the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu fanatic group, on March 9. They broke in and destroyed various statues and a cross and beat up a seminarian studying nearby in Kengeri, Bangalore, asking him to “stop conversions.”
Joshua Newton is an independent reporter based in India. He specializes in writing on social issues and current affairs.