What’s happening to Christians in the world’s second most populous country and why?
On the afternoon of June 20, 2018, five Christian women (aged 20 to 35) were beaten and abducted from their Christian school while they performed a street play in the Eastern India state of Jharkhand. A day after they were released (the attackers threatened to kill them if they went to the police), the women reported the assault to authorities. It was soon confirmed that all five women had been gang-raped. The attack was also allegedly filmed on cell phones.
On January 20, 2018, the body of Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy in Adaiyalachery (Kanchipuram District, Tamil Nadu) was found hung from the thatched roof of his house, a week after he complained to police about opposition from radical Hindus.
These horrific attacks give us a glimpse into what the 65 million Christians in India are facing in this land of 1.3 billion people. The country now ranks as the 10th most dangerous country on the 2019 World Watch List–up from No. 11 in 2018 and No. 15 in 2017.
12,000+ Christians attacked in India
Since 2015, the world’s second-most populous country has risen 11 spots due to increasing pressure and violence against Christians. Research for Open Doors’ World Watch List shows that in 2018, more than 12,000 Christians were attacked. But this number is only the tip of the iceberg, researchers say, as increasing numbers of persecution acts go unreported.
Nevertheless, India’s World Watch List violence “score” for violence is extreme, rising from 14.4 in 2018 to 15.2 in 2019. More Christians were killed in India than last year, and the number of churches attacked increased substantially from 34 last year to 98 this year.
Looking at the statistics, it’s evident—and undeniable—that Christians in India are and have been for quite some time the targets of Christian-based torture, persecution, and oppression at the hands of their fellow countrymen.
Christian non-government organizations (NGOs) are targeted for detailed interrogation by various government departments (such as the income tax office and intelligence bureaus) in attempts to find faults and accuse them of being involved in anti-national activity (especially concerning conversions to Christianity).
The denial game
And yet, India’s high-ranking officials deny that persecution is happening.The country’s national government has sometimes made overtures about protecting religious freedom but has often turned a blind eye to the reality of violence and pressure against the Christian community.
In 2014, when India Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, he publically denied that any form of Christian persecution exists, asserting in an interview on the CNN-like TV news show “Aap Ki Adalat” that no church has been burnt anywhere in the country. He denied having knowledge of “any such incident.”
India’s Foreign Affairs Ministry of Government has also refuted all the charges included in a report from the U.S. Commission of Religious Freedom.
The report focused on the persecution of religious minorities in India by Hindu fundamentalist forces. Officials backed Modi, saying, “We have no cognizance of their report.”
“Everyone already knows how the churches are being attacked and demolished on almost an everyday basis in India,” says an Open Doors representative. “[Modi’s denial] clearly shows how the head of the biggest democratic nation has been cleverly misleading the world.”
The election of Prime Minister Modi in 2014 was seen by many observers as a tacit acceptance of Hindu nationalism. If anything, Mr. Modi’s tolerance of religious extremism has only increased since his election victory.
There have been recent calls for the Modi government to address Christian persecution, but those calls have gone unanswered. Of particular concern are allegations that Hindu nationalists are acting in collusion with some local governments and police forces.
In early 2017, Yogi Adityanath was elected chief minister of India’s most populous state (out of 29 states), Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath is widely known as a Hindu nationalist who has advocated for violence in the name of Hinduism and insists that India is distinctly Hindu. He’s particularly known for stoking violence against Muslims.
Leaders have vowed to rid the country of Christians and Muslims by 2021. The leader of Dharam Jagran Samiti—a group focusing on activism against religious conversion and working for the reconversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism—made international headlines in December 2014 in a public address in the Indian city of Agra (home to the Taj Mahal). The group’s leader, Rajeshwar Singh, declared, “Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here. So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here.”
To achieve their prime agenda, the government is systematically misusing the anti-conversion laws, religious laws, administration, and police to deprive freedom of religion to Christians. Brutal violence is often inflicted on Christian believers by Hindu Extremists, who eventually go unpunished because they have complete protection by the government. As a result, we continue to see a constant rise in Christian persecution.
Christian converts from a Hindu background bear the brunt of the persecution in India. These believers face harassment on an almost daily basis and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism. They are often physically assaulted, hospitalized and sometimes even killed. They live mostly in the countryside, where they face societal pressure not only from family, friends, community members and local Hindu priests, but also from radical Hindus.
Even Christian charities that are non-evangelistic in nature are having trouble surviving the current climate in India, where their ability to receive international funding is dependent on government approval. For instance, in 2017, Compassion International was forced to close its offices.
Since the second half of 2014, Hindu radicals launched a homecoming campaign (also known as Ghar Wapsi), designed to lure Muslims and Christians back to the Hindu fold. Several campaigns have been held in which hundreds of people returned to Hinduism. The Ghar Wapsi campaign reached its peak in 2015 and early 2016.
Recent political events suggest change isn’t in the near future. In the summer of 2017, a new national president was elected. President Ram Nath Kovind has been described by one church planter in an interview with Christianity Today as having “no room for Christians.” Additionally, online polling of Indian readers suggests that Prime Minister Modi’s popularity is in no danger of waning.
Source: Open Doors