What is happening to Christians in India?
The level of violence and persecution against Christians—and other religious minorities—in India is vast and shocking. Led by radical Hindu nationalists, who seem to operate with impunity and little interference from local, regional or national governments, persecution against Christians in India has reached epidemic levels.
A rise in far-right extremist groups—some of whom have links to armed radical groups—have clearly resulted in a sharp spike in violent incidents, and overall persecution against religious minorities. Radical Hindu nationalism in India is vocal, omnipresent and very violent, particularly against anyone who converts to Christianity from Hinduism. For these radicals, to be Indian is to be Hindu; therefore, to be Christian is to revoke your Indian identity.
A 2018 report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that “In 2017, religious freedom conditions continued a downward trend in India. India’s history as a multicultural and multi-religious society remained threatened by an increasingly exclusionary conception of national identity based on religion.”
Page 14 of this additional 2018 USCIRF report explores the reality of anti-conversion laws in India, where it’s illegal to convert from Hinduism in some states in India.
Is persecution rising in India? If so, why?
India has risen from #28 on the World Watch List in 2014 to #10 on the World Watch List in 2019. Since 2014, violent incidents against Christians has also risen by more than 400 percent. The problem is growing increasingly dangerous—even what Open Doors can publicly say or talk about in India has become more and more restricted. Christianity in India is under siege, even as the Indian church is growing exponentially.
For instance, Christians have been targeted by Hindu extremists during visible celebrations, like Christmas. The victims of anti-Christian riots from 10 years ago are still waiting on justice in India. And a cross was recently vandalized in India, with graffiti on a chapel reading “there should be a temple here.”
An Open Doors report titled “We’re Indians, Too” has found that violent incidents against Christians have sharply risen. In fact, the latest data shows a more than 400 percent increase in violent incidents against Christians from 2014 to 2018.
One reporting agency on the ground documented 775 incidents against Christians in 2018, including 14 murders. 775 incidents in 2018 represents the religious persecution of 50,819 unique people; 18,956 of whom were men; 18,858 of whom were women; and 12,790 of whom were children.
The report also highlights how rape has become a tool of persecution against female Christians and other religious minorities.
How is the political situation in India affecting religious liberty?
The Indian Constitution recognizes in Article 25 that “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.” The Constitution also recognizes the right of minorities to keep their culture and religion, providing non-discrimination clauses in Articles 29 and 30. But the rise of violent incidents since the 1990s indicates that religious minorities have not enjoyed the rights afforded to them by the Indian Constitution. While this increase has worried religious minority communities for many years, the situation since 2014has severely worsened.
Is it only Christians who are being targeted?
Definitely not. Because the majority of religious persecution in India comes from Hindu nationalists, attacks against any religious minorities—but particularly against Christians and Muslims—are common. This Human Rights Watch Report makes clear the dire situation for religious minorities, noting: “Hate Crime Watch, a collaborative database by the Indian organization FactChecker, documented 254 reported incidents of crimes targeting religious minorities between January 2009 and October 2018, in which at least 91 persons were killed and 579 were injured. About 90 percent of these attacks were reported after BJP came to power in May 2014, and 66 percent occurred in BJP-run states. Muslims were victims in 62 percent of the cases and Christians in 14 percent. These include communal clashes, attacks on inter-faith couples, and violence related to cow protection and religious conversions.”
How are Christians in India responding to the pressure?
By and large, Christians are not in despair. One church leader told Open Doors partners, “Most mature Christians are talking about God’s will. During these times, we believe what Proverbs 16:33 says: ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.’ And we also meditate on Proverbs 21:1, which says, ‘In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.’”
“When we are weak, we worship Him,” says Arjun, a believer who was forbidden from getting water at the village well because he and his family are Christians. “When we surrounded by problems, we worship God more. When God calls us to love our neighbor, He simply asks us to follow his footsteps.”
“We are not happy or sad,” an Indian church partner says. “We trust the Lord is in control and He will help us through it all. We would have faced opposition anyhow. So, we instead prepare ourselves to face what God has prepared for us.”
“As we believe in Jesus, we hope that people [will] also believe in Jesus [when they] see our faith,” says Mohan*. Mohan is a believer whose house was destroyed because the people in his village were opposed to his Christianity. “We are strong in our faith. After losing my home and everything, I feel that by walking with Jesus, goodness follows us and we can do good to others. Jesus didn’t call me to a life of comfort. He will never promise me that. But He does promise to walk with me. And He promises to make all things new.”
Pastor Samuel reminds Christians outside of India that their Indian brothers and sisters need them. “Indian Christians need the encouragement and support of the global Church,” he says.
- “They say they’re ready to kill for their faith if necessary.” A stark report on Hindu nationalist mobs from the Washington Post.
- A 2018 report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that “In 2017, religious freedom conditions continued a downward trend in India. India’s history as a multicultural and multireligious society remained threatened by an increasingly exclusionary conception of national identity based on religion.”
- Page 14 of this additional 2018 USCIRF report explores the reality of anti-conversion laws in India, where it’s illegal to convert from Hinduism in some states in India.
- The headline of this New York Times article is clear: “Murders of Religious Minorities in India Go Unpunished, Report Finds.”
- An explainer from the Economist on Hindu nationalism: https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2014/05/18/what-hindu-nationalism-means
- A summary of recent violence from the New Yorker : https://www.newyorker.com/news/on-religion/the-violent-toll-of-hindu-nationalism-in-india
- An op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting that anger has “consumed” India: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/07/05/anger-is-consuming-india/?utm_term=.5af7b8098969
- An alarming report about the prevalence of rapes and sexual violence under Modi: https://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-india-rape-2018-story.html
- A 2017 United States Committee on International Religious Freedom report on religious freedom in India: https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Constitutional%20and%20Legal%20Challenges%20Faced%20by%20Religious%20Minorities%20in%20India.pdf
- An Amnesty International report on Indian restrictions on human rights: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/india/report-india/
- The crackdown on religious organizations meant that Compassion International was forced to leave in 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/07/world/asia/compassion-international-christian-charity-closing-india.html
- A 2017 report on Christians who were beaten and left without water: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/820571/christian-families-beaten-water-india-hindu-extremism-persecution
- A recent article from CSW about a group of Christians who were attacked during a prayer meeting: https://www.csw.org.uk/2019/02/11/press/4225/article.htm
- Even Gandhi is now despised by Hindu nationalists: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/26/world/asia/india-gandhi-legacy-modi.html