The Christian Canary Dying in the Coal Mine That Is India

Right-wing Hindu nationalists target India's Christians for genocide.

By Jason Scott Jones Published on March 18, 2024

The Indian church has two open secrets. Most Westerners, already discombobulated by the enigma of India, are puzzled even further when they learn the content of these secrets.

Secret No. 1: the Indian church is a first-century apostolic church, independent of Rome. It was planted by St. Thomas the Apostle who landed on the Malabar coast in 52 A.D., where he founded seven churches and baptized six of the highest caste Hindu priestly families.

Even the Roman pontiffs had no idea of the antiquity and apostolicity of the Indian church. When Patriarch John visited Pope Callixtus II in 1122 and said he was from Hulna, St. Thomas’s burial site in India, the pontiff could not believe that there was a church in India.

Secret No. 2: a significant portion of North-East India is predominantly Christian. The mostly mountainous region of eight states and over 200 tribes experienced an unprecedented explosion of Christianity in the early part of the 20th century.

Missiologists and anthropologists agree that the Gospel has been the “single most important catalyst” revolutionizing the North-East tribals in every area, from literacy to the emancipation of women.

A Fiercely Independent, Truly Indian Church

Most remarkably, even though it was Western missionaries who brought Christianity to the tribes, the churches of North-East India are fiercely independent and proudly indigenous, blending their own treasured heritage with the import of Western music and culture.

Throw a stone in Nagaland, Mizoram or Meghalaya and it will hit a quartet of Christians singing hymns in four-part harmony.

On Easter Sunday, choirs all over North-East India robed in colorful tribal costumes burst into joyous strains of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

A Church Under Persecution by Hindu Fascists

Oddly, while North-East India’s vibrant Christianity has remained a mystery even to most Indian Christians, it has been a bitter pill for India’s Hindu ethno-nationalists to swallow. This cluster of Christianity has presented an almost unassailable bulwark to their totalitarian goal of a pan-Hindu India.

The idea of an exclusive Hindu nation comes largely from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s 1923 book Hindutva: Who Is Hindu? — a work that has been seminal in spawning violence and militant Hindu hatred against Christians and other religious minorities in India.

Savarkar’s invented metanarrative of “Hindutva” (Hinduness) consists of nation (rashtra), race (jati), and civilization (sanskriti). At the core of Savarkar’s paradigm is the idea of India as pitrubhoomi — literally Fatherland — interpreted by Savarkar as “holy land.”

A Recipe for Ethnic Cleansing

Historian Tanika Sarkar in an essay in Public Hinduisms (2012), explains how Hindutva conjoins “nation with faith, and, in the same move, makes the land of India the property, in a literal sense, of Hindus alone.”

Since Christians, Jews, Parsees and Muslims do not fulfill the criterion of India as their “holy land,” they cannot be regarded as Indians, notwithstanding the antiquity of their religious presence in the land.

The tribal Christians of North-East India, however, fail the test of “Indianness” on all four counts! On land, the very inclusion of tribal territory into India after independence from British colonial rule, has been fiercely contested.

On ethnicity, the “hill people” of the North-East are racially different from most Indians, enjoying closer ethnic ties to the peoples of China, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim than to the “plains people” of the Indian subcontinent.

As for Savarkar’s criterion of a Hindu sanskriti, nothing could be more remote from the proudly indigenous tribes than identifying with Hindu “civilization” or “culture.” This is a marked difference from other Indian Christians, particularly Catholics, who have happily enculturated within a Hindu culture — some to the extent of a troubling syncretism.

The Far Right Pagan Party that Now Rules India, and Plans a Christian Holocaust

The flames of these four religio-cultural-racial-territorial factors are stoked by a political element: the pan-Indian Hindu-political Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its Hindu activist grassroot confederates like the para-military Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). These exclusivist groups are treated like outsiders in the tribal Christian belt of North-East India.

Not surprisingly, Hindu extremists emboldened by India’s Hindu ethno-nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, are mounting an ethnic and religious cleansing of tribal Christians in North-East India — a mass extermination that has been in the planning for decades.

The epicenter of the carnage is Manipur. Christians here aren’t the majority as in the neighboring states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya, but nevertheless constitute 41.29% of the state’s 3.2 million people and make the Kuki-Zo tribes a soft target for Hindutva.

Preaching the Gospel Is Illegal

It was American Baptist missionary William Pettigrew who brought the Gospel to the Kuki and Naga tribes in 1894. Pettigrew’s evangelizing efforts provoked hostility among the Hindus, and the state banned missionary work among the Meitei community.

Since May 2023, Hindutva forces have destroyed or burned hundreds of churches, killed over 200 tribals, displaced over 70,000, and systematically targeted Christian schools and seminaries. These are official figures — Manipur church leaders say the reality is far worse.

Hindu mobs gang-raped and paraded naked several Christian women. A dossier contains records of 22 female victims of rape, torture, assault, arson and murder.

Christians Raped, Lynched, and Burned to Death in the Name of the Hindu Gods

The Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance, which carried out an inquiry into the Manipur riots, confirmed that the sectarian violence had been “well-orchestrated” and “targeted the Kuki tribe,” 90% of whom are Christians.

“Shockingly, today, there is barely a Church that is still standing in the Imphal valley, except a few of those where the non-Zomi-Kuki tribals go for worship. Definitely, this is the first in Indian history that this many places of worship have been vandalized, burnt or demolished,” the Samast Christi Samaj said in a press release.

“In terms of cruelty, not even infants, children, elderly and infirm have been spared. Cases of rape, mob-lynching, burn[ing] to death, caging in gunny bags, gagging and beating to death are reported to be tactics employed,” the statement added.

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This week, Manipuri martial arts champion Chungreng Koren, pleaded with Modi to visit the state. “Violence is happening in Manipur. It has been almost a year. People are dying and many people are in relief camps. Modiji, please visit Manipur once and restore peace in the state,” Koren begged.

Prime Minister Modi Winks at This Ongoing Holocaust, While Bishops Sleep

Not once has the Hindu extremist prime minister, who was hugged by Pope Francis when he visited the Vatican in November 2021, visited the strife-torn region.

Worse, the top leadership of the Catholic Church in India has bought into the Hindu fiction and is playing Neville Chamberlain by attributing the Hindu-led persecution of Christians violence to ethnic rivalries.

“This is a tribal conflict,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, asserted in a video statement released by the Archdiocese of Bombay in August 2023. “It is given a religious twist, but it is not a religious conflict between two religions. It is between two tribes.”

Just as the Islamic genocide of Nigerian Christians is portrayed by the Nigerian government and the mainstream media as a “herders-farmers clash,” the well-oiled Hindu propaganda machine is pushing the false narrative of an ethnic conflict, in which the Christian hill tribes are the perpetrators and the largely-Hindu aggressor Meitei community is the victim.

Denying the Genocide

More Hindu disinformation justifies the pogroms against Christian tribals, claiming that the violence is the result illegal influx from an open border with Myanmar, poppy cultivation by the hill tribes, forced conversions, anti-Hindu attacks, and Kuki militants sparking violence.

The mainstream media is also resorting to moral equivalence by claiming that both groups have been equally affected and that the Kuki-Zo are illegal immigrants to Manipur and not indigenous tribals after all.

The disinformation campaigns, designed to bamboozle the Western press and international human rights organizations, even claim that the Meitei is a tribe and hence deserve the same rights given to the indigenous tribes — which includes the exclusive right to buy and sell land in the hill districts.

Oil Companies Fuel the Cruelty

A big chunk of Manipur occupied by the tribals has vast reserves of oil and natural gas, which Meitei-dominated governments, in league with oil companies, have sought to encroach on. The Christian tribals will “not allow governments to give contracts to companies to extract oil,” a minister from the Manipur Legislative Assembly testified.

Manipur is the Christian canary in the Indian coal mine. If the forces of Hindutva succeed in eliminating the Kuki-Zo Christians, they will continue their Nazi-like expansion and proceed to purge the followers of Jesus in other states of North-East India.

The world needs to halt this saffron juggernaut. Indian Catholic bishops must stop feeding the BJP crocodile. Pope Francis, who has been as silent as an urn full of ashes, must speak. Protestant leaders need to pressure Western leaders to shame Modi into decency.

The second-century theologian Tertullian famously said that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The good news is that the Hindu-led persecution of Christians in India is only furthering what is arguably the most incredible rise in conversions from Hinduism to Christianity in the 2,000-year-old history of the Indian church. And that is no secret!

 

Jason Jones is a film producer, author, activist, popular podcast host, and human rights worker. He is president of the Human-Rights Education and Relief Organization (H.E.R.O.), known for its two main programs, the Vulnerable People Project and Movie to Movement. He was the first recipient of the East Turkistan Order of Friendship Medal for his advocacy of the Uyghur people. Jones was an executive producer of Bella and an associate producer of The Stoning of Soraya M. His humanitarian efforts have aided millions in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and the Ukraine, as well as pregnancy centers and women’s shelters throughout North America. Jones is a senior contributor to The Stream and the host of The Jason Jones Show. He is also the author of three books: The Race to Save Our Century, The World Is on Fire, and his latest, The Great Campaign Against the Great Reset. His latest film, Divided Hearts of America, is available on Amazon Prime.

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