Sadly, we are all used to hearing about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, particularly with the rise of ISIS. But the Christian minority in India is facing persecution of its own since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party won the election last year.
Now, one group is trying to get the U.S. government to designate the party responsible as a foreign terrorist organization.
Radical Hindu nationalists closely aligned to the Indian government warned Christians in Punjab state late last year to prepare to convert to Hinduism “or get ready to die,” according to a complaint before a U.S. federal court.
A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York calls on the U.S. government to designate as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) a radical Hindu organization with close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party.
Late last week attorneys filed an amended complaint in a case brought by an advocacy group called Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) against Secretary of State John Kerry.
The amended document adds three additional plaintiffs, two Christians and a Muslim, who claim to be victims of a forced conversion campaign carried out by the Hindu group RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Corps).
The three say that threats by RSS radicals determined to forcibly convert minorities to Hinduism have increased since Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won India’s general election last year.
Modi, a generally highly-regarded leader whose high-profile visit to Washington last fall was reciprocated when President Obama traveled to India in January, was once a full-time RSS activist, and the RSS is viewed as the BJP’s parent organization.
The complaint claims that Kerry ignored an SFJ appeal sent last December urging him to designate RSS as an FTO under U.S. law.
It wants the court to issue a judgment declaring RSS to be an FTO, for “practicing a fascist ideology and for running a passionate, vicious and violent campaign to turn India into a ‘Hindu’ nation with a homogeneous religious and ethnic identity.”
The complaint cites a recently-released report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent statutory watchdog, which criticized India for violations and recommended it be placed on a second-tier watch list of countries which the U.S. should closely monitor and encourage to reform.
“Based on the evidence and recent report of USCIRF, [the] Obama administration is bound under law to declare organizations like RSS as terror groups,” SFJ attorney Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said in a statement after filing the amended complaint.
In the court documents, the Christian and Muslim plaintiffs describe death threats for failure to convert and forced reconversion ceremonies.
“Prominent leaders of RSS have stated the party’s policy, goal and aim as there won’t be a single Muslim or Christian left in India,” according to the complaint.
Open Doors, a persecution watchdog group, ranks India as No. 21 on a list of the world’s worst places to be a Christian. According to their analysis, the new Hindu government is radicalizing society.
“All traditions of Christianity are affected by persecution in India, but Christian converts from a Hindu background and non-traditional Protestant groups are suffering most. At the top level the influence of fundamentalist Hindus has increased. Hindu radicals have started monitoring Christian activity in much detail. Many of them have planted spies in churches. Reports on pastors and church members beaten because of allegations of conversion are frequent; sometimes Christians are even killed.”
Kerry’s attorneys, however, say neither SFJ nor the court have the authority to force the secretary of state to designate a group as an FTO.