19 July 2024

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Hope for religious freedom in India after election

Christians in India see the election result as largely positive for religious minorities. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

9 July 2024

Religious minorities in India have a better chance of religious freedom after voters showed they were unswayed by hate politics during the country’s recent election.

Church and human rights leaders believe the result paves the way for marginalised people, including Christians and Muslims, to raise their voices against radical policies and persecution.

More than 600 million people voted in the election which saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party returned for a third term.

Despite winning, the BJP’s majority hold on power has been reduced because it must form government in alliance with two other parties.  

Christian and human rights advocates said it was a largely positive result given the divisive nature of the BJP’s campaign and their record of human rights violations.

An Indian cleric said there was a sense of change in the air because people felt the BJP’s freedom to hurt others would be curtailed by its having to be in a coalition government.

The cleric, who requested anonymity because of reprisal risks, said a big surprise was that the BJP suffered huge defeats in places where it enjoyed strong support traditionally.

Read more: Christians face rising hate as India’s anti-conversion laws unleash violence

He said many people believed their voices would be heard now that there was a strong opposition presence in India’s parliament as well.

Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Meenakshi Ganguly said the result was reassuring for many minority communities who had long believed the wider Indian population supported the BJP’s politics.

She said many had expressed feeling isolated and intimidated amid this.

Ms Ganguly said the broad message for the government from the outcome was many Indians saw little currency in its arguments against minorities.

St Dunstan’s Camberwell vicar the Reverend Jobby John was in contact with friends in India, and believed voters were concerned it would shift towards Hindu fundamentalism under the BJP.

He said they believed such a move could spell a change for India’s constitution, its flag and even its name, and rejected it as the way forward.

Mr John said India’s poorest communities were more politically literate than the country’s leaders had anticipated, and had responded so that their votes mattered.

An Australian international development worker, who also requested anonymity, said his Christian colleagues in India were confident they would be able to return to business as usual.

He said some worked in areas where anti-conversion laws were implemented and had been targeted because they criticised the government in its previous terms.

He said it led to some being arrested or having their operating permits revoked.

Read more: Australia urged to stand up for human rights in India

The worker said this Christian community would see the election outcome as an answer to their prayers for democracy rather than Hindu right-wing nationalism to prevail.  

Open Doors Australia said the new, more diverse Indian parliament made it harder for radical Hinduism.

Its partner in central India said the election outcome was a reprieve from the ideology that strangled the freedom of minority communities and a small step in the right direction.

But Ms Ganguly said it was yet to be seen whether the government would change its ways, because its policies and laws were problematic.

She said these included its anti-conversion laws which it used to target Christians and Muslims.

“Those still exist and are still the policies that enable ideologically-motivated attacks on people, and that prevent people who engage in religious violence from being properly prosecuted,” Ms Ganguly said.

“That has not been addressed as yet.”

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