Dr. John Dayal says Indian laws “shut the door on freedom of faith”
New Delhi, India: August 4, 2015 — Dr. John Dayal of New Delhi, a journalist, human rights activist, co-founder of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, and former president of the All Indian Catholic Union, is the special guest of Steve Macías in this Organization for Minorities of India broadcast.
During the interview, Dr. Dayal discusses how his career as a journalist led to him becoming an activist after witnessing human rights violations of tribals, Muslims, Christians, and others. He says that, in 1997, “I came face to face with Christian persecution.” After 18 years as a human rights activist working on behalf of his own Christian community as well as all other persecuted religious minorities, he declares: “These are dangerous times for human rights people. We are being starved to death!”
Dr. Dayal wishes to share his message to his fellow Indians with the world, stating: “The Indian Christian has no double-standards. The Indian Christian is not a bigot. The Indian Christian is a church-going person with immense faith in God. The Indian Christian is a patriot. He loves his country. He loves India! The Indian Christian loves his fellow human beings. Don’t treat him as an alien! He is one of you. He’s a maker of India. He has struggled to make India what it is. He is not in large numbers, but his contribution is no less for the small numbers he has.”
In the interview, Dayal covers:
– How and why to pray for Christians in India
– His work documenting atrocities against Indian Christians, their regular pattern, and their recent peak
– Why Christians in India feel they are denied equal treatment and feel treated as aliens despite a 2,000 year presence in the country
– How India’s anti-conversion laws deny freedom of faith and have created “an underground church, for all intents and purposes, at par, I would say, with the underground church in China”
– Why poor Christians, Muslims, and other religious minorities must “pretend to be Hindus on record” or lose government benefits
– How violence against Christians and other minorities is aggravated by the religious nationalism of India’s ruling political party
– How current Prime Minster Mod was complicit was complicit in 2002 in a genocide of Muslims and Christians in Gujarat, India
– Why Modi, who was banned from entering the United States because of the Gujarat Genocide, is now freely welcomed
– How, unlike with China, the U.S. does not include human rights in its formal discourse with India
– How violent Hindu supremacist political elements in India are influencing American politics
– How Americans should react to PM Modi’s planned September 2015 visit to the U.S.
– How Indian human rights activists and NGOs are threatened and pressured by the government
Steve Macías (SM): My name is Steve Macías. I am with the Organization for Minorities of India, and today I have a special guest with me, John Dayal, who is a human rights activist in India.
Sir, you are involved with human rights issues in the most dangerous part of the world. You are representing minorities and religious minorities from all different kinds of communities. Can you tell us about your work in India and what you are doing to represent human rights on a broader scale?
Dr. John Dayal (JD): I’m a professional journalist. I began life as a reporter, and that sort of got me face to face with what is happening in my country to people in the villages, to people in the forests, on issues of caste, on race, on religion, on gender. Terrible things. And I’m now talking of the very early 70s. And there was no choice but to become active — not just a plain recorder of fact but involved in the life of those people. And that’s how I became a civil society human rights activist.
SM: What part of India are you from and where does your activism most often happen?
JD: My genetic roots are in the extreme south of India. What would be called the land of the Dravids. But I’ve lived and worked all my life in the extreme north. As a little baby, I grew up in Kashmir, and then in the foothills of the Himalayas, and came to New Delhi for my higher education, got a job, and stayed on. So I’ve been in Delhi more than 50 years, practically. It’s a long time. My work involves all of India. In fact, all of South Asia.
SM: And, so, your work there is just journalism or do you do more activism?
JD: Journalism was my source of livelihood but, in 2000, I gave up working for a living to devote myself full-time to human rights and civil society with a specialization, if I may say so, on issues impacting the Christian community in India, which is a micro-minority at 2.3 percent. But 2.3 percent of a billion and a quarter is almost 30 million church-going people. That’s a lot of people.
SM: So what do you describe as the human rights injustices or abuses that are happening to these various religious minorities?
JD: Initially, it had to do with just the poor. They were not paid a living wage, they were exploited, their women were sexually exploited, they had no roof, they had little clothes, they were absolutely malnourished, they were nomadic. They were living a subhuman life! That was the beginning.
And, then, as you slowly go into it, then you come to issues of displacement of the tribals — the tribal communities who populate most of Central India and, to an extent, towards East India.
And then, as you go, then you come and you run face to face in the persecution of the Muslims. Large-scale persecution of them. And the moment you start understanding or coming to grips with violence — targeted violence — against the Untouchables and Muslims, you immediately run toward what we call freedom faith issues. Because the first thing you notice is that the Untouchables have no freedom of faith. They’re confined to the majority religion. And anybody who converts to Islam or to Christianity then gets a double-whammy.
And that sort of brought me first to issues of targeted violence against Muslims in India and then slowly, towards the mid-90s, I started noticing that not all the victims were Muslims. Increasingly, there were Christian names that were coming up in the data of the violence which I was gathering.
And then I came face to face with Christian persecution, started documenting it with the great Archbishop Alan Basil de Lastic of Delhi. He and I launched the United Christian Forum, and that was back in 1997, a long time ago.
SM: Right. And so have you seen these religious persecution events increase or remain the same over the past 15 years? What’s been the general trend with the Indian government today?
JD: The first thing we noticed was, when I prepared the first ever White Paper (a semi-official document privately published) on violence against Christians in India, I found that the violence between 1947 (the day India achieved independence) and 1997 — it was almost 50 years — was as much as the violence in one year, from 1997 to 98. That really shook me up. After that there has been a baseline of recorded documented violence. I am not talking of things which are not documented because of government impunity, because of the police not doing it, because of the victims being too scared to report it. But the recorded document, there has always been a base level of about 200 cases across the country ever year, ranging from gang-rape and murder, to demolition of churches, beating up of pastors and clergy, preventing nuns from their work, and so and so forth.
So there has been a base-line. And then, every couple of years or so, it sort of goes up. And then once in a while, in 2007 and 2008, it peaks in an enormous way. So that tells me that I should not be complicit, that there’s a baseline violence of about 200 to 250 cases. You must always be prepared for these peaks.
SM: Now do you believe that there’s a relationship between government policies and the increased violence or that this is something that is unrelated to government?
JD: They are not unrelated. But there is also no instant cause and effect because there is a curve factor which is very, very important. And that is the rise of political, religious nationalism of the majority community. This is what we call Hindutva. So the government laws make it easy for Hindutva elements to wage violence against Muslims and, particularly, against Christians. That is the relationship that we have established categorically. Absolutely.
SM: Is there any political party in India that is most aligned with this type of ideology? Who?
JD: There are several political parties which are aligned with it. The major party, first of all. The major political group, the RSS. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and all [its subsidiary organizations]. It has more than a hundred of them. Some of them are prominent. The World Hindu Council, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and so and so forth.
Some are not very well known, but they have a niche organization for every professional and ethnic group that you can think of. You name teachers, they will have a group working to radicalize teachers. You want lawyers, they will have a group working to radicalize lawyers. Underground groups are working with policemen and with the judiciary. So, they are out to penetrate every aspect of life. Administrative life and civil life in India.
Their political party of this group is called the Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP, which is the ruling dispensation at the moment. In 2014, they came to power with Mr. Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister. The other parties — there is a Shiv Sena, which is confined to what is called Maharashtra, Bombay, that area. There are similar parties in the state of Karnataka. In Assam. So there are smaller parties which are there which are electoral, theological, and social allies of the BJP and the RSS.
SM: Okay, well I know one of the legislative agenda of the BJP party was the anti-conversion laws. They saw that as a way of preserving India’s — what they call like a Hindu heritage or a Hindu identity. Do you think that that is aggressively derogatory toward other religious minorities? How do these anti-conversion laws affect minority communities like Muslims, Sikhs, Christians?
JD: Let me give you a background to this because the anti-conversion laws don’t stand just by themselves, and not all of them were passed or enacted by the BJP or its allies.
But possibly the first obnoxious law in India was in 1950, just two years after independence, in the year that the Constitution was formulated. And it is called Article 341 para 3 or it is commonly called the Presidential Order. And it said, in effect, and I’m paraphrasing, that if you want affirmative action for what you’ve suffered for 3,000 years as an Untouchable, you have to remain a Hindu. If you become a Christian or a Muslim, you lose it. You lose your jobs, you leave your seats in legislatures, in Parliament, you lose your scholarship, you lose your place in medical colleges. You cannot rise from where you are — an Untouchable.
In effect, they were ensuring that nobody changed his religion. So the Article 341 para 3 of the Presidential Order of 1950 was the first anti-conversion law. The most effective anti-conversion law. The impact of it has been that untold numbers, and we can’t count them, untold numbers of the former Untouchables (who call themselves Dalits — the Broken People), they have possibly become Christians, they have possibly become Muslims, they have possibly Communists or whatever, but they cannot disclose the religion that they now follow. They have to pretend to be Hindus on record.
And this life, this double-life, is as bad as in China. So these religions, in a technical sense, have had to go underground for these people. These Dalit Christians, as we call them, are an underground people. It’s an underground church, for all intents and purposes, at par, I would say, with the underground church in China because they come to church surreptitiously, I would say.
They marry Christians. Their children are Christians. But if they want to retain their jobs, if they want to retain their seats and scholarships, they have to pretend to be Hindus.
Then we come to the anti-conversion laws which are today operational in six states. And they follow the pattern. You want to convert to Hinduism, you are welcome. No law operates on you. But, if you dare become a Christian, the police crack down on you. The presumption is that you only become a Christian if some American, if some Italian, if John Dayal is giving you money. Otherwise, you have no conscience.
And this is what I object to. This presumption that a human being, that a citizen of India has no conscience. That he cannot make a decision by himself. That he cannot change the only two things he has which are changeable: his faith profession and his citizenship.
I can’t change my skin. I can’t change my mother tongue. I can’t change my mother and my father. I can’t change anything I was born with or born into. I can change my citizenship and, sure as day and night are different, I can change the faith I was born in. Not I, personally. I’m a born Christian, but I speak for the others.
SM: Right. Right. Do you see a connection between what the system has created, which is almost a permanent caste system with the anti-conversion laws — do you see a connection between the anti-conversion laws and the violence against religious minorities?
JD: Of course there is. Once you shut the door on freedom of faith, you open many other small doors for the enemies of freedom of faith to come and attack you.
So, if you are a Dalit or even if you’re not a Dalit, if you’re just poor, and you’re seen going to a church or they see a Bible in your hand in a forest area or even in the outskirts of Delhi, they’ll say: “What are you doing here? You’re a missionary. You’re propagating your religion. You’re trying to change other people’s faith.”
And they’ll beat you up! People have died. People have been killed!
SM: Do you think that there’s a little bit of a double-standard that Hindus are apparently allowed to convert and to proselytize through the State, but Christians are considered subversive or anti-government for being Christian? How did that happen that if you want to provide healthcare or you’re running a….?
JD: That is both a State perfidy and a blasphemous, if I may call it, bigotry by the political system. It is these two strengthening each other. You convert to Hinduism, it is called “homecoming.” The terrible term is called “Ghar Wapsi” — homecoming. But I’m home! I’m home where I am, in my motherland. I’m home in my faith. What home do I have to go to? If I have to convert to Hinduism, it is like converting to Islam, or to Buddhism, or to Taoism, or any other religion, or becoming a Communist. But I’m home!
SM: Have there been any… I know that there was a pogrom against the Muslims in Gujarat.
JD: And Christians.
SM: Has there been any violence like this against Christian communities? Could you explain what these instances of violence look like and is the government responsible for encouraging this?
JD: The government is responsible to the extent that it does not stop these people. It turns a blind eye. There is gross impunity. There is almost a sense of immunity for these lawless, violent, bigoted people who have this concept of targeting Muslims and, especially, Christians, for their acts of violence. So, to that extent, certainly the State is involved.
This recently happened last year in the state of Uttar Pradesh in areas which are not very far from the national capital of New Delhi, where I live. About 30 to 60 kilometers from Delhi, which would be about 20 to 50 miles from Delhi. It’s happened here. In the central states of Madhya Pradesh, of Chattisgharh, it’s happening on a pretty large scale.
SM: So, tell me about Gujarat. What exactly happened to the Muslim population? What happened? What was the government response? I know that Modi, at this time, is in leadership in Gujarat. Now as Prime Minister, is he continuing the same pattern of violence?
JD: Gujarat saw tremendous violence in 2002. Several thousand people were killed. Even officially, about a thousand have been killed. Women were gang-raped! And just about nobody has caught a life-term for that. All the people who were arrested have been released! Ministers who were indicted for complicity have been released! Mr. Modi himself! There’s enough evidence. His cabinet ministers, including the current president of the BJP — they were all entirely complicit or found so and then let of because now he’s the prime minister. And that unfortunately matters. He who rules dictates the environment in which even the courts function, the public prosecutors function. That is, unfortunately, life in the global South, mostly, and I suppose also elsewhere, including the U.S.
SM: Right. Well, speaking of the U.S., it was events like this that got Modi banned from visiting the United States for over ten years.
JD: And correctly so! And correctly so!
SM: So what do you think has changed in the past few years that he’s gone from being perceived as nearly a war criminal or somebody who has committed a genocide against his own people to now he’s being freely welcomed in the United States and it’s almost as though these events against Christians and Muslims never happened. What do you do with a situation like this?
JD: Could I suggest that this is because of the large companies, the multinational companies, in the U.S.? Could I suggest that it has to do with business and economic interest? Could I suggest that it has to do with the inordinate power that the Indian diaspora, particularly those from Gujarat, seem to have on Capitol Hill?
I think it’s a combination of this. India is seen more as a marketplace, as a market, as a talent pool, rather than a nation where human beings live. Rather than as a country with citizens whose rights have to be…. You have a policy with China where human rights is a part of the discourse of treaties that are settled with China. You don’t have that with India!
We are not seeking and we don’t want sanctions against India, but Indian human rights are very important to us in India. We live here! And the interests of a multinational company, I don’t take them as being superior to my right to my life and to my right as a citizen in India.
SM: Absolutely. Those are very good points. You mentioned that you yourself are a Christian. What is the general viewpoint of leaders like Modi of the Christian Indians? Do they see him favorably? Is there a sense of fear? What is the general consensus among Christians in India about their livelihood, about their ability to express their faith, in India today?
JD: My daughter-in-law is a Hindu. The common Hindu is a good person. We have a dialogue of life with them for 2,000 years. We live with them. We eat with them! All our friends — when you are just two percent of the population, it stands to logic and reason that most all your friends would be Hindus. It stands to logic! We have no problems with them.
But this small, poisonous political group and their Indian friends in the U.S. are the ones who poison. So the social discourse, in social media, on the internet, on Twitter, on Facebook, on newspapers, is about the Christian as an alien. As an outsider. As an agent of the Pope. As an agent of America. As an agent of Sonia Gandhi, who is seen not a wife of an Indian Prime Minister but as the daughter of an Italian father after 45 years of marriage.
Now, in this discourse, the Muslim is seen as an alien. Everybody is seen as an alien unless you are a supporter of the BJP. Even a Hindu who supports us is targeted. Teesta Setalvad is targeted because she supports Muslims.
SM: So what can Americans who care about human rights, who want to see the religious freedom of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, any of them, what can we be doing to support you there? As far as at a national level, what should the American government be doing? What should individual Christians be doing? What do you need from people to give attention to your cause?
JD: So what Indians should be doing is to obey the law of the land and to obey the law of a universal bill of rights. That’s what we should be doing. No more, no less. The Muslims in India, the Christians in India, the Sikhs, the Parsis, and the Hindus want no more, but no less, than equal treatment.
What should the U.S. be doing? Good Lord! I mean, you have to make a decision. Are you for human rights or are you not for human rights? Are you going to let human rights be subservient to your commercial or your strategic interests? Are you going to differentiate between the human rights of a Chinese and an African and an Indian and a Columbian?
Equal rights! Everybody equal! No more, no less. Freedom of faith, freedom to work, freedom to life, freedom to food, freedom of my body, freedom of conscience. I want our human rights.
I, as child of God, have got it from God and reinforced, affirmed, by the Constitution of India. What more can we do? Ask India to implement the Constitution of India. No more and no less. Not an iota less.
SM: I’m really encouraged by the way you’ve described the Hindus among you as your brothers and as your friends and I think that’s…
JD: They are my brothers and my sisters and my daughter-in-law!
SM: Yeah. I think that’s the positive dialogue, and I think it shows that the heart of the minorities has always been for a unified, co-inhabiting, peaceful Indian State. And I think that what you described as the political nationalism infused with the religion of Hinduism is really the threat to that. How can we pray for Christians in India? What can we be focusing on as far as specific objectives of your people and your organization there in India?
JD: Pray for us. Very, very important. Neutralize the work of this obnoxious, poisonous elements from India who live in the U.S., who fatten themselves on the U.S., and poison the government’s viewpoint about India, who support the RSS, who pay money to these elements, which has been very well-documented by organizations with the U.S. Stop them! Tell the government of India to do it’s duty. No more, no less.
We are, I mean I support human rights in the U.S.! When people are shot, I support them. When Americans are arrested in India, I support them. When women are raped there we are out in the road.
JD: Treat us as we would treat you. That’s what we tell the government. That’s what we tell you.
SM: Right. That’s great. Now is there anything else that you’d like to add that you’d want an American audience to hear?
JD: The Indian Christian has no double-standards. The Indian Christian is not a bigot. The Indian Christian is a church-going person with immense faith in God. The Indian Christian is a patriot. He loves his country. He loves India! The Indian Christian loves his fellow human beings. Don’t treat him as an alien! He is one of you. He’s a maker of India. He has struggled to make India what it is. He is not in large numbers, but his contribution is no less for the small numbers he has.
SM: Now do you have an organization that’s supporting your human rights work in India where we can send people if they want to find out more information about your work?
JD: Google me. Find me on Wiki. Phone me up. I do not want to name organizations because those who were supporting me in the past — I don’t work. I’m not employed. I have no not-for-profit organization. I live on my wits and my wife’s savings. Organizations which were supporting me have chickened out because the government has coerced them.
JD: The government has put stress on not-for-profit organizations, obviously working in human rights, to retract from the human rights work. To retract from advocacy. These are dangerous times for human rights people. We are being starved to death! Our resources have been reduced to a trickle. Teesta Setalvad is running the risk of her husband, Javed, runs the risk of…. You name them! Including a few Christians, we are all being starved.
Not just the funds, not just the resources. Of movement! And we face threats. On a daily basis we face threats to our life, our liberty. From these trolls. From these people. From these believers in hate.
SM: Now, there is a trip of Modi. Modi is planning a trip to the United States this next month. Many Americans, Sikh diaspora, Indian-Americans who have escaped India and now live in the United States, are planning some protests of Modi. What would you say to the average American who may know who Modi is but has never studied his policy? What would be the one thing you would explain to the uninformed American about India’s Prime Minister and his party?
JD: He is the Prime Minister of India. He was voted by a combination of factors, one of which was aspiration of the young for a better deal, a better job, but a large chunk also was a group of people who wanted supremacy. As Prime Minister, he has immunity. He cannot be taken to court. But he won’t be Prime Minister forever! He will be taken to court someday. Far be it from me to teach people how to agitate, but we in India agitate against his party on a daily basis! I leave it to the Americans — white, black, pink, Indians — to decided their course of action.
SM: Wonderful. I thank you for all the work you’re doing, not just for Christians but for all the Indian minorities — Hindus, Muslims, the non-religious, all of those — to protect their conscience. I admire your fortitude and I admire your faith. I promise that we will continue to pray for you and we thank you for your work. Thank you for your time today.
JD: Thank you, indeed. Thank you, indeed. If you ever need anything about the religious and other minorities in India, please feel free to call or email me, and that goes for anybody in America. You want to know what is happening in the belly of this country, in the underbelly, the underside, the dark areas where the sun never shines? Call on us!
SM: Wonderful, thank you for your time, sir.
JD: Thank you, indeed. God bless you.
SM: God bless you.