Religions of the world generally claim to be divine or heavenly revealed codes of life, with their foundation on eternally boundless goodness, kindness, benevolence and compassion. Nevertheless, interpretation, application and implementation of the religious scriptures, rests entirely with the earthly man, with reference to certain context on earth. Hence, all religions, in practice appear to reflect vast range of human behavior stretched from extremities of good and evil, brotherhood and barbarity, sacrifice and snatch, benevolence and bloodshed, mercy and misery, development and devastation, piety and plunder, truce and terror, salvation and slavery as well as warmth and war.
Not to speak of man's blood stained religious past, his current history is also no less than an ongoing bloodbath in the sacred name of religion. May it be East, West, North or South, religious barbarianism is evident from Ireland to Yugoslavia in Europe, from Sudan to Nigeria in Africa and from Middle East and Far East to South Asian region in Asia. Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews and Buddhists are openly involved in one context or another in Interfaith and Intrafaith violence. They are disturbing peace of the Earth, denying in practice the divine or heavenly virtue of goodness underlying the world religions, and making Earth a hell for fellow humans.
This paper tends to narrate briefly the story of Christian suffering in the various states of the South Asian region including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, during the second half of the 20th century and continuing vigorously at the outset of the 21st century in the Third Millennium. Christians in this part of the world have experienced state oppression as well as societal persecution immensely, amidst the growing religious fundamentalism in the region evident from the country reports below.
Afghanistan had an Anglican Church Diocese managed from Peshawar in Pakistan, till the period of King Zahir Shah, the monarch deposed by Sardar Daud in 1973 who lives in exile. A considerable number of Afghan Christians lived in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan and some other areas. The Christians worshipped in privacy, mostly in secrecy due to combined oppression of state and orthodox tribal society. In the last days of Zahir Shah's rule a half constructed Church building was attacked and demolished by the intolerant local population with collaboration of equally intolerant Afghan government. It is ironic that Zahir Shah who could not tolerate presence of single church in his capital, had to seek refuge in Rome, the city of churches, after his dethronement.
Afghanistan is an Islamic state with almost 100 percent Muslim population, an essential outcome of extreme intolerance for followers of other faiths. Intolerance and ruthless killing by the Afghan government reminds the modern world of savage behavior of cannibal tribes of the dark ages. To them, the West is the Christian West that must be annihilated for glorification of their faith. Hence, Afghan government has harbored countless notable anti-West or anti-Christian holy warriors, to carry out violence in the name of religion.
The tiny local Christian population could not survive and was totally exterminated, by killing and forced abandonment of their homeland, leaving no trace behind.
Bangladesh was carved out of religiously fanatic Pakistan in 1971. Nevertheless, it is a secular state unlike Pakistan and in some degree tolerant contrary to Christian-cum-West hostile Afghanistan.
The Christian community is more or less 3 percent of the population. The state normally does not discriminate against Christians. They are allowed to worship, establish worship places, practice and preach Christian faith and proselytize at par with followers of other religions. However, Christians are destined to face some degree of state-reared discrimination in political offices and government jobs. This indicates a low degree of state oppression, with provision of some fundamental rights attached to it.
Unlike tolerant face of the state, Islamists of Bangladesh including fundamentalist religio-political parties, orthodox clergy and fanatic intelligentsia pose a constant threat to Christians as well as Hindus and Buddhists. There is immense pressure on the government to do away with the secular character of the state and implement Islamic laws in letter and spirit. These elements disallow Christian preaching and proselytizing with violent means. Though there are not signs of organized religious violence on the Christian community, but incidents of sporadic violence continued in one way or the other during the past half century targeting Christian clergy, missionaries, Churches, institutions and individuals. However, at the break of the new century, it appears optimistic that the religionists of Bangladesh are not in a position to exert enough pressure to religionize the laws of the land. This aspect is source of peace and security for the state and cause for solace for Christians and other religious minorities, otherwise religious terrorism would have been only one step away from their doorsteps.
India, the largest state of South Asia is secular by constitution. Rule of the former ruling party Indian National Congress maintained India's secular identity for more or less 4 decades from its independence in 1947. Nonetheless, pressure of the militant Hindu fundamentalist organizations like RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) kept diverting its direction time and again. The present ruling party BJP is one of the offshoots of RSS. BJP tends to appear Hindu religionist than secularist. Hence, BJP-led rule signifies efforts to convert India into a Hindu India. In the awake of these circumstances almost all of religio-political as well as politico-religious Hindu revivalist organizations like RSS, Bahrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Jagran Manch and Hindu Dharma Raksha Samiti, overtly or covertly look committed for revival of Hindu glory and oreprimand of all non-Hindu Indian communities including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs etc.
It is heart breaking to see that under the skies of World's largest democracy, dreamworld of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa non-Hindu religious communities of India, sharing equal rights with Hindus in the constitution, are cracking under societal terrorism coupled with state oppression, at the dawn of 21st century.
Christians make less than 3 percent of the total Indian population of about 1 billion. Hindu religionists are angered with this small community over "forced" conversions of Hindus to Christian faith during the past two centuries. As a matter of fact those "forced" converts were not Hindus. They were "Shudras" or Dalits and tribesmen declared outcaste and untouchable by the Hindu society. A large number of them, by their own choice, became Christian or Muslim to regain human respect and dignity, lost under social set-up of Hinduism.
Oppression on Christians was sporadic for many years. However, BJP led government and Hinduist activists geared it up in 1997. Now it has assumed the form of savagery and barbarity. States of Gujrat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Orissa, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh saw the worst episodes of oppression though Delhi and other parts of India were not trouble free either.
Church buildings, schools, hostels, hospitals, convents and parish houses of Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, Indian, Seventh Day Adventist, Evangelist and several other denominations were attacked, looted, burned and demolished. Fathers, pastors and missionaries were killed or burnt alive. Nuns were insulted, manhandled and raped. Christian Dalits and congregation members were attacked, killed and wounded. Besides immeasurable losses of life, honor, dignity and property, psychological losses are even greater. Attacks are going on even now in July 2000, in many parts of India.
BJP led government and its religionist compatriots have failed to realize that the small Christian community is determined and destined to survive despite this enormous oppression and persecution but this oppression, persecution and violence would mar India's democratic face so terribly that it would be very hard to reform.
Modern Iran is fundamentalist in letter and spirit. The present Islamist regime came in power in 1979 after dethronement of King Raza Shah Pehlave, the last Iranian monarch who died in exile in U. S. A. Iran has 99 percent Muslim population of which 89 percent belong to Shi'a sect and 10 percent to the Sunni. The non-Muslim religious minorities including Christians, Zoroastrians, Bahais and Jews are less than 1 percent. Christian population was about 3,00,000 during the period of King Raza before 1979. The figures have dropped down to 1,17,000 after 21 years of ruthless religious persecution. These might be the number of survivors of the colossal oppression.
After the religionists took over, there was indiscriminate bloodshed of Christian. Countless Christian politicians, social leaders, businessmen, forces men, civil services men, religious leaders, preachers, teachers and people from all walks of life were killed, disappeared and harassed to abandon their homeland. Bishop Dehqani's son, a professor at Tehran University was killed and the Bishop and his remaining family members had to run to Italy for refuge. Secretary of Iran Bible Society Tatwoos Michaelian was killed and nothing is known about his family members. Iranian Evangelical pastors Mehdi Dibaj and Haik Hovsepian Mehr were murdered and the fate of their families is unknown. Number of murdered and disappeared Evangelical pastors, preachers and workers is very high. All of this oppression was carried out by the religionist administration, fundamentalist youth, revolutionary guards, policemen and secret services personnel.
It is common to charge active Christians or converts with crimes like "drug offences", "rebellian", "apostasy" and "espionage" to arrest, exterminate, imprison or exile them. State oppression and high degree discrimination against Christians and of course other religious minorities is running in full gear in every walk of life including state affairs, Polities, Education, Judiciary, Services, Business etc. etc. Christian institutions are monitored, Church activities are watched and even Prayer meetings are spied. Iranian Christian community is undergoing as ugly a slavery as of Pharaos of the ancient Egypt. To tell the truth, it is hard to differentiate between Iranian religionist government or a fascist mafia rule under cover of a religion. The message religionists of Iran are transmitting very loudly, the world over, at the rise of the 21st century, is that we are fundamentalist, fanatics, prejudiced, bigoted, intolerant, bloodthirsty and terrorist because we are religionist. Alas! Iran, beautiful Iran is experiencing such an ugly oppression of history.
Islamic Republic of Pakistan created in 1947 is hung between secularism and Islam on ideological frontiers as well as between political government and army rule on the administrative horizons. Pakistan's 95 percent population is Muslim while religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Sikhs, Buddhists and Scheduled Castes are 5 percent. Christians are less than 3 percent. Pakistan came into being as exclusive homeland for Muslims, though Christians also opted for it. Hence, Islamic option has always been very high. Eventually, with gradual rise of religious fundamentalism, fanaticism and terrorism religious and sectarian violence became common feature of its national life. Religious scholars and religio-political parties accelerated the religious frenzy on pretext of annihilating Christians, Hindus, Jews and the Western nations. High illiteracy rate in the masses of the country, proved to be a springboard for religious scholars to gain mass popularity and momentum for their annihilative mission. Hence, Pakistan became a sanctuary to rear nursery of religious violence and terrorism, to be exported across the borders. Rapid growth of religious fanaticism in the country became a hanging sword for Christian community besides other smaller communities. It must be spelled out that it is a double-edged sword, one edge being the state and other the society.
State oppression combined with societal violence became the order of the day. Dozens of Christians were persecuted under false charges of Blasphemy Laws. Many persons, priests and nuns were murdered. Many churches were burnt. Several Christian villages were burnt and devastated. Christian educational institutions were nationalized. Separate Electorate was imposed to weaken, and marginalize the Christians politically, socially and economically. Legislative assemblies made anti-minority laws and debarred Christians and other minorities from many basic rights. State, legislative, judiciary, police, religious clergy and fundalists worked hand and glove to oppress and persecute the Christian community, anywhere and in any way. Bishop John Joseph Shaheed had to lay down his life to rescue the Christian community, almost an endangered community, here. Christians of Pakistan have a long saga of suffering from 1947 to date. They have suffered but survived. Nonetheless, religious terrorism is flourishing with greater speed. If Pakistan's secularist Muslims, Christians and other communities do not turn this tide, every sign of goodness and humanism may be swayed away.
Sri Lanka is Buddhist dominant state with Hindus, Christians and Muslims s religious minorities. The state and judicial system do not tend to discriminate against its citizens on religious grounds. Nevertheless, Buddhist society offers strong resistance to religious rights of the Christians and other religious communities. Open Christian preaching and proselytizing is resisted by the Buddhists. Evangelical clergy is met with hostility and harassment. An Evangelical Church leader was murdered in 1988, and a church hall was bombed in 1999. These incidents are ugly but rare. Sri Lanka secularists must devote themselves to discourage religious discrimination and violence to save democratic face of their nation.
Hindu dominant Bhutan and Nepal and Muslim dominant Maldeep (Maldev) are also significant states of South Asia. However unlike most other states these tend to promote religious and social harmony for their national stability, opposed to religious and social intolerance which ultimately may destabilize a state.
Religiously intolerant states, nations, parties, organizations, clergy, intelligentsia and individuals of South Asia region must realize that their oppression on Christians and other religious communities is not adding to the beauty and goodness of their religion but rather is marred its face for ages to me come. Those responsible for restrictions, curbs, subjugation and annihilation of Christians and other religious minorities, must bear in mind that their faith has responsibilities for mankind and not selfish motives for their own religious kind . Those angered on proselytization or conversions of their co-religionists must know that exit from one faith or ideology and entrance into another, is by all means an individual's right to choose his favorite belief for his inner joy, without even the slightest societal compulsion. Religion is a code of morality which must not be mixed up with a mafia where entrants have only an entrance but not an exit. Nonetheless Christian, Muslim and other missionaries, preachers and proselytizers must review and re-evaluate whether their proselytizing is based on honest preaching or pressure, bribe and tricks as charged by the antagonists.
It is need of the hour that civilized nations, democratic Muslims and Hindus and Human Rights organizations must carefully study the ills of human behavior in this part of the world and must come up with remedial measures, before it is too late.