Misleading news reports a significant factor for rising hostility against Christians in India- August 2020
There have been 31 incidents in the month of August 2020. The most number of incidents were reported in Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh with 11 incidents each. Notably, there has been a significant rise in incidents this month as Unlock 4 comes into force. An unprecedented 18 incidents within a span of one week was recorded in the final week of August. The nature of incidents range from threats and intimidation by mobs to severe physical assaults.
A trend seen nowadays which is detrimental to a healthy inclusive community is the propagation of misinformation. It is truly unfortunate that people are being widely misled about religious conversions being an unlawful activity, evident in news reports published and read widely in the state of Uttar Pradesh. A recent news report published in Amar Ujala dated 30th August, 2020 entitled “Rae Bareli mein dharam parivartan ki soochna par pohonchi police, saat giraftar” (Police arrives on information about religious conversions in Rae Bareli, seven arrested) is just one among many news reports published in a Hindi daily to misguide its audience.
These days, it is rather common to read statements like “Christian homes raided” or “Bibles confiscated”, much to the horror of the Christian community. These reports are widespread and frequently published in local dailies. But as the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold, these reports too are far from the truth. In fact, many unbiased reports prove that the Christian community is anything but law abiding and more importantly, benevolent to their fellow citizens.
It is pertinent to note here that false claims made consistently by these newspapers are a major contributing factor towards the rising bias against minorities. And it has slowly but surely deluded commoners to believe that dharmantaran (religious conversions) is an unlawful activity. For instance, on 14th August, 2020, a group of villagers acting under the influence of some religious extremists barged into a pastor’s house in Damoh, Madhya Pradesh and severely assaulted him using sticks alleging that he shares about his faith in Jesus Christ with others in the village. The pastor suffered injuries on his head and lost one of his tooth. The assailants also assaulted his wife and his mother aged 72 years.
When in fact, just like any other activity it becomes illegal only if done forcefully, fraudulently or by allurement. Sharing one’s faith with members of other communities is not only lawful but is also one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all people in India as stipulated under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
Yet another incident of harassment took place on 31st August, 2020 in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh on similar grounds. Two pastors were visiting one of their friends at his new accommodation, when an unruly mob of 70 to 80 people barged into the house and accused the two pastors of doing religious conversions. It was later confirmed by one of the Christians that the two pastors had simply come to his new home to pray for his house and no religious conversions were taking place as falsely claimed by the mob.
Therefore, considering the influence that news reports have on shaping trends in the society, media houses should act responsibly and ensure that they express their freedom of speech in a truthful manner. News reporters and media houses must exercise their freedom of speech and expression keeping in mind reasonable restrictions like public order and morality, among others.