Persecution against Christians is on the rise in India — with Christians suffering communal boycotts, physical abuse and legal harassment.
Empowered by vaguely-defined state anti-conversion laws, anti-Christian mobs in many parts of the country scour through villages, seeking Christians to harm, churches to storm, Christian schools to attack and Christian literature to burn, according to a Wednesday report from the New York Times.
“Christians are being suppressed, discriminated against and persecuted at rising levels like never before in India,” International Christian Concern advocacy director Matias Perttula told the outlet. “And the attackers run free, every time.”
Members of VHP, Other Right-Wing Groups Vandalise Roorkee Church, Attack Those Praying
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In some cases, according to the Times, authorities assist in these anti-Christian attacks.
A notable example of such an incident where the local police played a part in the persecution of Christians was the Jan. 26 attack at the Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra Christian center in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
According to the Times, a horde of saffron-draped men descended on the Christian center’s stage that day, hollering Hindu nationalist slogans. Pastors were reportedly hit in the head, and women thrown to the ground in the sight of children who hid under chairs.
“They kept beating us, pulling out hair,” said Manish David, a pastor who was attacked that day, according to the Times. “They yelled: ‘What are you doing here? What songs are you singing? What are you trying to do?’”
When the police arrived, they didn’t do anything to those attacking the Christians. Instead, the cops imprisoned pastors and church elders, who were still reeling from their injuries, and slapped them with charges under the anti-conversion law.
“Before, when we had a problem, we’d go to the police,” Pastor Vinod Patil explained. “Now, the anti-Christians have the government with them. The anti-Christians are everywhere.”
During his first night in jail, David faced multiple interrogations and was not given food, water or even access to an attorney, the Times reported, and he was in jail for two months along with eight other elders. The pastor and elders still have charges against them.
Anti-conversion laws in India are laws intended to prohibit the conversion of someone into another religion by alluring them into it or by using force.
While the country has no federal level anti-conversion law, several states within the country have enacted their own anti-conversion laws. These, according to India Today, include the states of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand.
The issue with such laws is that they are so vaguely defined that anti-Christian groups often weaponize them to engage in attacks on the nation’s Christian minority, who constitute approximately two percent of India’s population, according to the Times.
Furthermore, according to Christian Post, the anti-conversion laws, such as the one in Uttar Pradesh, have the presumption that Christians spread the gospel through force and offering financial benefits.
Using the “threat” of “divine displeasure” under the law is prohibited by the anti-conversion law, and this, according to the Post, means that Christians legally cannot discuss Heaven or Hell when someone expresses interest in the faith. As for offering snacks or meals after a religious meeting, that would, under the law, be seen as “inducement.”
According to the Times, anti-conversion laws in India date back to the time of the British Raj in the country. In 1936, the princely state of Raigarh’s royal court mandated that anyone wishing to change faiths must obtain the government’s consent.
The law reflected upper caste Hindu elites’ fear of Christianity’s rapid growth among lower caste Hindus, who were seen by those of upper castes as “untouchables” and tribal people.
For a feudal, caste based hierarchy that depended on exploiting the labor of lower caste people, the boost in literacy among lower caste and tribal people, who missionaries carrying the gospel reached, represented a threat to the social order.
Once exposed to Christian ideas and values and after being able to read and write, the lower caste people and tribal folk would question the social structures the Hindu elites imposed on them, and this wasn’t something the landlords and maharajas of the time liked, the Times reported.
What used to be elite, upper caste fear of Christianity has now taken on a new form in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India where Hindu nationalists, seeking to drive out Islam and Christianity from India and to establish what they consider to be a pure Hindu nation, have been using the power of the law to oppress religious minorities.
“If somebody wants to convert, no problem,” Sudhanshu Trivedi, a spokesman for Modi’s right-wing Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party told the Times. “But why is it that only the most illiterate and poor convert? Can you tell me that someone who cannot even write the ‘J’ of Jesus begins to believe in it? How so?”
According to Open Doors, India has an extreme level of anti-Christian persecution within its borders, ranking as one of the ten worst countries in terms of Christian persecution in its 2021 World Watch List.
Besides oppression from radical nationalists, Christians also suffer persecution from their own communities, according to the Times. For someone living in rural, isolated areas, communities are crucial to one’s well-being.
In the village of Bilawar Kalan, village elders have imposed a $130 equivalent penalty on any family that allows Christians to come into their homes. They are also exerting pressure on Christians to convert to Hinduism, saying if they don’t, no one would wed their children, go to their funerals or engage in business with them in the marketplace, the Times reported.
“They want to remove us from society,” said Sukh Lal Kumre, a Christian farmer from the village, according to the Times.
“We are doing this to coerce them back to society,” village elder Mesh Lal Chanchal told the Times. “If we didn’t intervene, they would have converted this whole area by now.”
Despite the persecution, Christianity is still making inroads in the country through secret gatherings, baptisms and clandestine missionary activities, especially in the central and northern part of the country under the control of Modi’s party.