Attacks against Christians in India have been rising at an alarming rate, according to new reports. They describe an upswing in politically motivated attacks since the March 2017 elections, which saw a landslide victory for Hindu nationalists.
The latest report of the All India Christian Council records an increase of almost 20 per cent in attacks against Christians in 2016. It says physical violence against Christians is up 40 per cent and murders have doubled.
In states across India, church workers have been beaten, threatened and killed. Attempts have been made to force Christians to renounce their faith and convert to Hinduism. Church services and prayer meetings have been disrupted, churches and Christian school have been bombed, torched, vandalised and demolished. Bibles have been torn to pieces and burnt. Militants beat one evangelist with chains, stripped him and forced him to drink urine. A Christian cemetery was desecrated and skeletons dug up and strewn across the graveyard.
The report, Atrocities on Christians in India records a fresh attack every 40 hours. It says: ‘The attacks have become severe and more frequent. Incidents used to be confined to a few states. Now the violence has spread to 23 states.’
The sharpest rise has been recorded in Uttar Pradesh and the state of Telangana.
Right-wing Hindu nationalism has been gaining ground, particularly since the BJP took power in 2014. Further nationalist gains in the March elections have encouraged radicals, according to a partner of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.
‘Fanatics have become more common, attacking minorities, boys and girls who are dating and the Dalit community,’ says the Release partner, who cannot be named.
The Dalits are the so-called untouchables, who fall outside the Indian caste system. These are the underclass who are assigned the most menial jobs in society. Increasing numbers are converting to Christianity.
In May 2016, 16 Dalits in Jharkhand who had become Christians were beaten and driven from their homes by the village council. The council ordered them to worship Hindu gods. When the Christians refused, villagers tied their hands and legs and beat them. They also beat women and children who tried to help them.
Five Indian states have now imposed anti-conversion laws. And there have been moves to bring in nationwide legislation aimed at outlawing evangelism to prevent Hindus from converting.
The AICC logged 108 incidents in the first six months alone of 2016. A separate report by the Evangelical Fellowship of India found there were more attacks against Christians in India in 2016 than in the two previous years combined.
In Andhra Pradesh a pastor was beaten to death by a Maoist. In Assam, a couple who had recently converted to Christianity were murdered in their sleep. And a woman was raped and murdered in Chhattisgarh.
In the same state, a pastor and his seven-month pregnant wife were doused with petrol by religious extremists, who threatened them with swords and demanded they chant, ‘Hail Lord Rama’.
In Uttar Pradesh fanatics who accused a Christian of converting Hindus, shaved off his hair, eyebrows and moustache and paraded him through the town.
Also in Chhattisgarh, a gang raped and murdered a 14-year-old Christian girl who was on her way to school. Villagers had excommunicated her family for accepting the Christian faith. The authorities have yet to take any action against the culprits.
In Odisha, the body of a 64-year-old pastor was found near a railway bridge. His throat had been cut. The murder weapon, a long handled knife, was found near his body.
Some attacks appear to be a reaction against what reads like a Christian revival in parts of India.
In September 2016 in Bihar, police moved in to arrest four pastors after villagers complained to the local police about their preaching.
According to reports, a man who had been paralysed for three years started to walk again, many people were delivered of demons and the wife of the village head was healed from illness.
Release International Chief Executive Paul Robinson says, ‘For some years now, we have watched the alarming rise of religious intolerance in India. This is highlighted by moves to impose anti-conversion laws, not only at state level, but across the country.
‘Some of these attacks and accounts of God at work read like stories out of the Book of Acts. The message from the Bible is that persecution will never stop the spread of the Church or the gospel. Many Dalits are coming to Christ, partly because for the first time they are finding love and acceptance. No law can ever prevent that.’
The All India Christian Council is defending Christians in the courts who have been attacked or wrongly accused. With the growing number of cases, it is an uphill struggle. AICC leader, the Right Rev Dr Joseph D’Souza says, ‘Justice is what we look for, though the justice system works at a snail’s pace.’
One hopeful sign in the report was a reduction in the number of attacks after Dr D’Souza invited the Home Minister Sri Rajnath Singh to speak at a conference in New Delhi last October.
He says, ‘The minister made a clear and strong message that no atrocity against Christians will be tolerated in India. The message went far and wide [in the media].’
‘Whether that will halt the rising trend of attacks against Christians, which has been growing year on year, remains to be seen,’ says Paul Robinson of Release.
Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world, by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.