“What affects one community in India, affects us all,” says California Christian Priest
MARYSVILLE, California, USA—Sikh and Christian leaders from the Yuba-Sutter Community gathered at Trinity Anglican Church in Marysville for a forum on religious persecution in India. “This is a historic event,” said Bhajan Singh, director of the Sikh Information Centre. “For the first time we are standing together. We are united against the violence of the caste system and for the uplifting of humanity.”
Bhajan Singh was joined by Pieter Friedrich and Rev. Joshua Lickter in speaking at the October 10th seminar on “Understanding Persecution of India’s Christians, Sikhs, and Other Minorities.” The three speakers outlined the horrific violence and repression that result from Hindu Nationalism’s influence on the Indian government. Speaking to the historic plight of Sikhs in India, Bhajan recounted the lives of the Sikh Gurus as they were tortured and martyred for their faith.
Singh blames the modern persecution on “Hindutva” – a politicized Hindu supremacist ideology that promotes India as a Hindu nation and non-Hindus as foreigners. “Millions of people are, on a daily basis, facing the brunt of this state-sponsored oppression,” he warned. Described as lower caste by the Hindu religion, the Sikhs have faced harsh persecution for their egalitarian worldview and religious opposition to caste segregation. Bhajan’s presentation also covered the 1984 Genocide of the Sikhs in Amritsar, Punjab where over three-thousand were killed. In 2015, the California State Legislature unanimously passed a resolution declaring: “Government and law enforcement officials organized, participated in, and failed to intervene to prevent the killings.”
“Hindutva policies have also mushroomed outside of India’s borders,” said Singh, claiming that supporters of the ideology are finding financial and moral support abroad. “In America, millions of dollars are collected in the name of the India Relief Development Fund to support this pernicious ideology.” Singh also cites efforts by the Hindu American Federation to promote a pro-Hindutva historical revision in the United States education curriculum.
Attended by Community Leaders
The clergy at Trinity Anglican Church welcomed the speakers as well as guests from the Yuba-Sutter and Sacramento regions. Kulwant Johl from Yuba City’s Tierra Buena Sikh Gurdwara attended the seminar with members of the Punjabi American Heritage Society. A representative from Congressman John Garamendi’s office attended to express support, as did former Yuba City Councilman Tej Maan and Dr. Jasjit Singh, Pastor of the Punjabi Christian Fellowship. The seminar was sponsored by the Organization for Minorities of India, the Sikh Information Centre, Incarnation Anglican Church of Roseville, and Trinity Anglican Church of Marysville.
Pieter Friedrich spoke extensively on the absence of and need for individual sovereignty in Indian society. “We can say there is no liberty in India,” said Friedrich. “People are not allowed to choose their own religion or even their own diet.” He presented on the violence experienced by minorities as a result of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for the nationalization of anti-conversion laws and ban on beef. Friedrich identified the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a multi-million member, all-male, uniformed Hindutva-based social organization, as the source of political unrest for various ethnic and religious minorities. He noted that Prime Minister Modi joined the group when he was only eight years old and remains an active supporter.
2008 Violence against Low-Caste Christians
The event’s final speaker, Rev. Joshua Lickter, emphasized the forum’s theme that “what affects one community in India, affects us all.” The Anglican clergyman recounted the recent violence against Christian communities in India. Just prior, Roseville Sikh Bagha Gary read an account of the 2008 Kandhamal pogrom against Dalit Christians in which over 4,000 homes and 400 churches were destroyed in a string of violence. In India’s caste system, Dalits are treated as less than human and reportedly see converting to Christianity as a way to escape their low class status – an act that has angered Hindu nationalists. Those who refused to convert were reportedly raped or killed, and more than 50,000 Christians were displaced and forced to move into relief camps. “Christians have been part of Indian culture for almost two thousand years,” said Lickter. “I call upon Christians here and everywhere to stand with the Sikh community against the persecution and oppression of the Indian government.”
The Organization for Minorities of India also presented its annual Daya Human Rights Award to Reverends Joshua Lickter and Victor Schreffler. Named after the Sikh sentiment of Daya, or Holy Compassion, the award is given to recognize individuals “for their outstanding achievements in promoting human rights and protecting human dignity” and “is bestowed upon those whom advance the individual liberties of Buddhists, Christians, Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs, and all Mulnivasi people of South Asia.”
The event concluded with a lively panel discussion where the three speakers fielded questions from the audience. Rev. Victor Schreffler, Rector at Trinity Anglican Church, closed the event with a blessing for those who attended and a prayer for the persecuted in India.