Persecution of Christians escalates in India, EFI reports

By Morning Star News |
Church in Dandi, India.
Church in Dandi, India. | (Morning Star News)

India’s Christians suffered an alarming escalation of violence, hatred and systematic oppression last year, according to the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI-RLC).

The 601 cases of persecution against Christians in India in 2023 marked a 45 percent increase over the 413 instances recorded the previous year, according to EFI-RLC’s annual report.

While no area of India was unaffected, several emerged as hotspots. Uttar Pradesh state remained the most hostile environment with 275 incidents, up from 147 the previous year. Chhattisgarh saw 132 cases, actually a decrease from the previous year’s 141, while Haryana had 44 incidents, up from 22 the prior year.

“The rapidly deteriorating situation for religious minorities is a matter of grave concern," EFI General Secretary Rev. Vijayesh Lal told Morning Star News. “Christians, especially pastors in rural areas, faced assaults, disrupted prayers and damaged places of worship throughout the past year.”

The grim findings come atop data from the United Christian Forum (UCF) showing persecution has continued unabated into 2024. The UCF documented an additional 161 incidents of violence against Christians from Jan. 1 to March 15, including 70 cases in January, 62 in February and 29 in just the first half of March.

Christians in 19 states across India have faced “threats to life” for practicing their faith during the first three months of 2024, the UCF noted. It identified Chhattisgarh as an extreme hotspot, with 47 of the 161 recent incidents, the highest of any state. Uttar Pradesh followed with 36 cases.

The UCF also shed light on what it called “state-sponsored targeting” of Christians, condemning the alleged practice of filing false accusations of illegal conversions – “forcible” or “fraudulent” – against pastors attending routine gatherings like birthday parties. It recorded more than 30 such cases of pastors arrested or detained under Uttar Pradesh’s controversial anti-conversion laws in just the first few months of this year.

The UCF reported 122 Christians have been arrested or had cases filed against them based on allegations of “forced conversions” across various states since Jan. 1. The report stated that these “fabricated cases” were aimed at persecuting the Christian minority.

The 2023 EFI-RLC report documented similar widespread arrests, with an “unprecedented” 440 pastors and church members detained in Uttar Pradesh last year, predominantly over baseless accusations of forced religious conversions.

The EFI-RLC report, however, cautioned that its data likely only “scratches the surface” due to widespread underreporting fueled by fears of reprisals and police apathy toward cases involving religious minorities.

Vulnerable groups including Dalits, tribal Adivasis and Christian women faced intense threats from the intersecting pressures of religious persecution and pre-existing societal discrimination, the report said. It documented chilling examples of tribal Christians being denied burials according to their rituals and threatened with forcible cremations as a means of “returning them to Hinduism.”

Several cases of severe physical violence were highlighted as well, such as pastors being beaten with iron rods and mob attacks on worship services. In one horrific case in Jharkhand, armed extremists disrupted a church meeting, assaulted two women and encouraged others to sexually assault them.

The rise in persecution coincides with ongoing legislative efforts to pass controversial Uniform Civil Code laws in several states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Christian leaders have warned this could effectively dismantle longstanding constitutional protections and affirmative action policies for religious minorities.

Christian advocacy groups argue much of the recent violence is fueled by the reemergence of extremist Hindu nationalist ideology (Hindutva) that has enjoyed a resurgence since the BJP’s rise to power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Drawing support from fringe groups, Hindu nationalist hardliners have lobbied for sweeping

“anti-conversion” laws across states by falsely accusing Christians and Muslims of proselytizing with allurements and engaging in forced conversions.

“The false narrative of forced conversion is being repeatedly exploited to justify horrific crimes of violence, intimidation and harassment against our community,” Lal said, saying Hindu nationalist elements use the issue as a “convenient pretext to unleash targeted aggression.”

The findings highlight grave concerns over rising intolerance towards India’s estimated 28 million Christians, about 2 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people, as the country prepares for general elections in 2024.

With elections looming April 9 through June 4 and the BJP seeking a third term, Christian leaders and human rights advocates have raised urgent alarms over the deteriorating conditions for religious minorities. They warn unchecked persecution threatens to not only stain India’s international standing but undermine the nation’s founding secular and pluralistic principles.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

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