Christians in India demand protection from persecution and mobs

Christians still face severe persecution in India in 2023, including attempts by Hindu mobs to completely drive out Christian residents from some villages.

Hundreds of Christians have been arrested for breaking ‘anti-conversion laws’ and the central government is slow to respond to a court order demanding a full report on the extent of Christian persecution.

A particularly large protest rally was organized by around 100 churches in February, bringing together 15,000-20,000 participants in New Delhi to call for an end to attacks on Christians and their places of worship. Organizers said they wanted to draw the attention of the Indian parliament to “the sharp escalation of targeted hatred and violence against Christian communities in many states”.

Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi told reporters covering the rally that it was necessary “to demand judicial and governmental intervention to control the rapidly increasing incidents of violence, coercion and false arrests of our people.”

“We have gathered here peacefully because we want to share the anguish of our fellow citizens who follow the Christian faith in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and so many more. places where their basic human rights are being snatched away,” said the United Christian Forum, a human rights group participating in the rally.

Chhattisgarh, a state in eastern India, was the focus of great concern religious freedom activists. From December, Hindu vigilantes enraged by conversions to Christianity attacked hundreds of converts, vandalized churches – smashing some of them with sledgehammers – and forced families from their homes.

In January, hundreds of Hindus demolished a church in the Chhattisgarh village of Chimmdi and hung a threatening sign over the wreckage: “If you don’t leave Christianity, the same thing will happen again.”

A campaign coordinated attacks on tribal Christians in Chhattisgarh left nearly 1,500 of them homeless.

“By accusing us of following a foreign religion and leaving the tribal culture, they gave us a choice either to recant our faith or to leave our homes and our village, never to return,” said one of the refugees.

Religious liberty advocates said Chhattisgarh had become a hotbed of persecution because a growing global evangelical movement had been exceptionally successful in converting poor, low-caste animists living in rural areas to the Christian faith. According to some observers, the Christian population in some areas of the state has increased by almost 20%.

“They offer food, clothes and money. They are even building houses,” said a former parliamentarian from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) declared Christian evangelists in February. He complained about their success in recruiting ostensibly naive rural villagers, without praising them for their charity.

Christians in Uttar Pradesh, which is India’s most populous state, are complaining about the rapid proliferation of anti-conversion laws which have been invoked to put more than 300 Christians in jail. The latest report from the US State Department religious freedom report on India noted that ten of its 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions.

In January, a mob of aggressive men surrounded two South Korean university students and accused them of plotting to convert Hindus to Christianity.

“There is only one God, ‘Ram.’ Others don’t exist. They are Christian missionaries who want to come here. That’s not true,” one of the men could be heard saying. shouting to Korean women in a video of the confrontation uploaded to social media.

Police stopped 19 Christians for allegedly violating anti-conversion laws in Uttar Pradesh in a single day in March. Nine of them were arrested, including eight Christians taken into custody after a Hindu nationalist mob attacked their church during Sunday services and physically dragged the pastor out of the building. When worshipers called the police for help, they did nothing to stop the crowd but instead arrested the pastor’s family and another church member.

“The government is not listening to us. Wherever there are reports of persecution in Uttar Pradesh, we approach the authorities to intervene and help the Christians who are being targeted, but instead we see the authorities starting to act against the Christians rather than helping them,” said activist and lawyer Patsy David. Christianity today in February.

A wave of attacks against Christians occurred around the 2022 Christmas holidays, including a Hindu mob beating a man dressed as Santa Claus as he was handing out sweets in Gujarat province and wishing residents a Merry Christmas. Religious freedom advocates say violence against Christians also tends to escalate ahead of elections, as the ruling BJP party steps up its Hindu nationalist rhetoric.

The Indian central government was for follow-up in 2021 for not doing enough to protect Christians by Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore and two religious liberty groups, the National Solidarity Forum and the Evangelical Fellowship of India.

India’s Supreme Court has ordered the federal government and eight Indian states to provide detailed reports on attacks on Christians and the status of relevant criminal investigations. On March 29, the Supreme Court granted the government an extension to submit its report until at least April 14, when another hearing will take place. The petitioners are concerned that the government will continue to seek extensions to indefinitely delay its response.

“When we filed this case, we expected that giving examples would be dissuasive. Now there has been an exponential increase in attacks on Christians everywhere,” complained Colin Gonsalves, an attorney for the petitioners.

India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told an August hearing into the case that the Archbishop’s petition was ‘half-baked’, ‘based on mere speculation’ and ‘clearly appears to have an indirect purpose’ – a hint that the Modi government might start treating the lawsuit as subversion or foreign interference in India’s affairs.

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