A mob comprised of men dressed in the traditional attire of a Sikh warrior order stormed into a church, causing significant property damage and injuring numerous church members in India’s Punjab state.
The assailants, who bore the distinct Nihang attire — blue robes, swords and spears — interrupted a peaceful gathering at the Sukhpal Rana Ministries Church in Rajewal village near Amritsar city in the Sikh-majority state, the U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports.
They brandished sticks, tore Bibles, vandalized vehicles parked outside and attacked the congregants, the group said, adding that following the initial assault, the situation escalated into a volatile confrontation, with both parties hurling stones.
It required intervention from the police to bring the hostile situation under control.
In response to the violent incident, the Christian community of Rajewal village protested, seeking justice and promising retaliation if immediate action wasn’t taken. They reportedly demanded charges of blasphemy against the attackers.
A member of the Punjab Minority Commission reportedly visited the village to assess the situation, although subsequent action remains uncertain.
The local police, including the police superintendent, visited the protest site and assured the congregation that a formal complaint had been filed and prompt action would be taken.
The police have yet to confirm whether the assailants belong to the Nihang sect, who have subsequently denied any involvement.
Last August, the Infant Jesus Catholic Church in Punjab was vandalized by four masked men claimed to be Nihangs, who also torched a priest’s car.
The Nihangs have criticized evangelism in the state and accused Christians of “forced” conversions.
CSW Founder and President Mervyn Thomas called the attack “yet another incident in a worrying trend of targeted attacks on religious minorities across the country.”
In other states, Christians are attacked by Hindu nationalist groups. Religious freedom conditions in India have drastically deteriorated in recent years following the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India in 2014.
Christians comprise only 2.3% of India’s population, and Hindus account for about 80%.
“Often such incidents are not just a one-off occurrence, but the result of deep-seated polarization that has been allowed to fester for years,” Thomas said. “The narrative playing out in India, where members of minority religious communities are demonized, has far-reaching implications.”
Thomas called on the authorities to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators without delay.
The Nihangs, an armed Sikh warrior order, trace their origins to the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Distinguished by their blue robes, decorated turbans, and traditional weapons, they are a notable part of Punjab’s socio-cultural fabric.
Open Doors USA, an organization that monitors persecution in over 60 countries, ranks India as the 10th-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.
The organization reports that “Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence.”
“The driving force behind this is Hindutva, an ideology that disregards Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians because they have allegiances that lie outside India, and asserts the country should be purified of their presence," an Open Doors factsheet on India reads.
“This is leading to a systemic, and often violent and carefully orchestrated, targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.”