‘Most violent year for Christians’ in India: Persecution watchdog

NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images
NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images

For India’s Christians, 2021 was the “most violent year” in the country’s history, according to a report, which says at least 486 violent incidents of Christian persecution were reported in the year.

“In almost all incidents reported across India, vigilante mobs composed of religious extremists have been seen to either barge into a prayer gathering or round up individuals that they believe are involved in forcible religious conversions,” says the report by the United Christian Forum, which recorded 486 violent incidents of Christian persecution, topping the previous record of 328 incidents in 2019.

The UCF attributes the high incidence of Christian persecution to “impunity,” due to which “such mobs criminally threaten, physically assault people in prayer, before handing them over to the police on allegations of forcible conversions.”

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Police registered formal complaints in only 34 of the 486 cases, according to the UCF, which added: “Often communal sloganeering is witnessed outside police stations, where the police stand as mute spectators.”

While Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80%, the country’s radical Hindu nationalists have been carrying out attacks on Christians under the pretext of punishing the minority for allegedly using monetary rewards to convert Hindus to Christianity.

Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List had warned that since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took power in India in 2014, persecution against Christians and other religious minorities had increased.

In 2021, the UCF recorded 274 incidents of violence against Christians in four states in north India alone: Uttar Pradesh (102), Chhattisgarh (90), Jharkhand (44) and Madhya Pradesh (38).

“There is also one Southern State which is also witnessing a high number of incidents of violence against Christians that is Karnataka with 59 incidents,” the report says.

Days before Christmas, Karnataka became the 10th state in India to pass an anti-conversion law, which presumes that Christians “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity.

While some of these laws have been in place for decades in some states, no Christian has been convicted of “forcibly” converting anyone to Christianity. These laws, however, allow Hindu nationalist groups to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext of the alleged forced conversion.

The law states that no one is allowed to use the “threat” of “divine displeasure,” meaning Christians cannot talk about Heaven or Hell, as that would be seen as “forcing” someone to convert. And if snacks or meals are served to Hindus after an evangelistic meeting, that could be seen as an “inducement.”

India ranks as the 10th worst country globally when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged the U.S. State Department to label India as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating severe religious freedom violations.

Open Doors USA has also reported earlier that “Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences.”

“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”

The U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern warns that “the pace of Christian persecution only seems to be accelerating with the arrival of 2022,” and adds, “Whether 2022 will be as violent of a year as 2021 is yet to be seen.”

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