Exclusive — Christians Under Coronavirus Lockdown in India ‘Forgotten,’ Facing Starvation

Christian devotees and faithful of other religions pray outside the closed gates of the St. Michael church in Mumbai on April 7, 2021 following restrictions imposed by the state government amidst rising Covid-19 coronavirus cases. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Chinese coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated what were already harrowing scenarios of discrimination against Christians in India, the aid group Open Doors warned in an interview with Breitbart News this week.

Open Doors, which operates worldwide to advocate for religious freedom and help persecuted Christians, has observed an increase in cases in which governments imposing lockdowns and other policies to limit movement throughout India do not equally distribute necessary food and other aid to known Christians in their neighborhoods, Isaac Six, the group’s director of advocacy, told Breitbart News on Wednesday.

Local politicians, typically catering to the majority Hindu population, have left Christians in rural areas without the means of attaining food and risking starvation. In some cases, the officials deny the food outright, while in others they refuse to offer food to needy Christian families before serving all Hindu residents in an area.

India is facing the worst’s most severe acceleration of Chinese coronavirus contamination in the world, reaching a milestone of 400,000 documented cases a day this week. India has documented over 20 million cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began and over 226,000 deaths as of Wednesday, a toll rapidly increasing in the most affected communities.

The rapid rise in cases has increased called for a national lockdown, potentially worsening the situations putting minority Christians at risk of starvation.

“With the whole surge in Covid [coronavirus] cases, there’s a whole new huge need for aid and for vaccines, and on the aid component, that’s where we’re seeing some of the more horrific stories,” Six explained to Breitbart News, “not just discrimination but just a lack of aid getting to a lot of these communities.”

“Our partners on the ground are reporting that they are finding Christians in home where they’ve just been forgotten and they aren’t getting food or anything like that. It’s happened not just to Christians, but there’s a huge need to make sure that people aren’t starving under these lockdown orders,” he explained. “A lot of Indians are subsistence farmers and they live on day wages. If they don’t get wages in a day, it can be a matter of hours or a few days before they run out of food.”

While the immediate need is to ensure that Christians have a way of feeding themselves, Six noted that concerns also exist regarding vaccine distribution potentially excluding Christians.
“With vaccines, we are keeping a close eye on that. There’s been some distribution in some of the areas we are working in, I think there needs to be more, but we are keeping a close eye on if there is any discrimination based on faith when it comes to vaccine distribution,” the advocate said regarding Open Doors’ work on he group. “There’s been a lot of it when it comes to aid, so we’re expecting there will be at least some of it when it comes to handing out the vaccine.”

Six explained that the discrimination against Christians often happens “at a local level” — where officials know all the residents of the community and know what religion and caste they belong to — rather than as a product of any official, federal or state-wide orders to deprive Christians and other minority groups of food or medical aid.

“Aid comes from the federal or state government and it’s handed out at the local level and where we see discrimination is with local leaders who will pick and choose who gets the aid,” Six noted. “And when Christians have come and asked for aid, they’ve been told to go away or to wait until all the usually Hindu community gets the aid. Same with work — when lockdowns end or local leaders allow some people to go back to work; they’ll pick and choose who can go back to work and they’ll sometimes tell Christian communities ‘you have you wait; you can’t go back yet.'”

Lockdowns in India resumed on a regional basis in April in response to surging numbers of cases, beginning with rural areas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing increased pressure to implement a full, nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, particularly from the nation’s opposition.

“The only way to stop the spread of Corona now is a full lockdown — with the protection of NYAY [a proposed minimum income guarantee program] for the vulnerable sections,” Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the left-wing opposition in the Indian Parliament, said this week. Gandhi added that the lockdown was now “the only option because of a complete lack of strategy by GOI [the government of India].”

The incidents of depriving Christians of their food and livelihoods are occurring in places that already had “a history of the community trying to find ways to marginalize Christians in that community and Covid has just given them another opportunity to do it.”

Discrimination against Christians is rampant in some parts of India, where Hindu nationalists — who believe that Hinduism is the only legitimate religion for ethnic Indian people to embrace — have long targeted churches and pressured local officials to exclude Christians from society. Christians, many of whom come from lower castes, also face ill treatment in the form of being deprived jobs they are competent in and forced into “dirty” or more dangerous jobs. Last year, Open Doors documented evidence of Indian hospitals forcing Christian nurses to take shifts caring for coronavirus patients to protect Hindu nurses, exposing them sometimes without adequate protection.

“We have reports of Christian nurses who are being scheduled to work with the most contagious because they are considered dispensable and lower than people of other faiths,” David Curry, the CEO of Open Doors, told Breitbart News in April 2020. “These kinds of reports are flooding in and that’s why we want to draw attention to it because I think it yet again highlights the issues around persecution and how difficult it is for Christians and for other religious minorities in other kinds of circumstances.”

“I don’t think that’s stopped at all,” Six told Breitbart News when asked about Open Doors’ prior observations. “I think the news is focused on the surge in cases but there’s that and the other issue of what are the effects of some of these policies.”

“That’s part of a pattern of having Christians work in whatever the more perceived dangerous jobs are, whether that’s sewage clean up or street cleaner or perhaps it’s working with a lot of Covid-positive individuals… often this is intermixed with discrimination against Dalits and untouchable communities,” he added. “Many of the Christians we work with come from Dalit communities and so there’s an effort to put them in jobs no one else wants to do or that are perceived as dangerous or dirty.”

Six urged Indian leaders to “respond quickly when there are reports of discrimination and handing out aid or vaccines. That needs to be addressed really quickly.” He added that generalized, nationwide lockdown provisions may do tremendous harm to communities and true protection comes from “policies are tailored to the circumstances on the ground so you’re not ending up with trying to stop a virus and starving a bunch of people to death in the process. There has to be a balance there that recognizes the realities of, especially, a lot of rural India when addressing this.”

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