On the afternoon of June 20, 2018, five Christian women (aged 20 to 35) were beaten and abducted from their Christian school while they performed a street play in the Eastern India state of Jharkhand. A day after they were released (the attackers threatened to kill them if they went to the police), the women reported the assault to authorities. It was soon confirmed that all five women had been gang-raped. The attack was also allegedly filmed on cell phones.
On January 20, 2018, the body of Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy in Adaiyalachery (Kanchipuram District, Tamil Nadu) was found hung from the thatched roof of his house, a week after he complained to police about opposition from radical Hindus.
These horrific attacks give us a glimpse into what the 65 million Christians in India are facing in this land of 1.3 billion people. The country now ranks as the 10th most dangerous country on the 2019 World Watch List–up from No. 11 in 2018 and No. 15 in 2017.
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Since 2015, the world’s second-most populous country has risen 11 spots due to increasing pressure and violence against Christians. Research for Open Doors’ World Watch List shows that in 2018, more than 12,000 Christians were attacked. But this number is only the tip of the iceberg, researchers say, as increasing numbers of persecution acts go unreported.
Nevertheless, India’s World Watch List violence “score” for violence is extreme, rising from 14.4 in 2018 to 15.2 in 2019. More Christians were killed in India than last year, and the number of churches attacked increased substantially from 34 last year to 98 this year.
Looking at the statistics, it’s evident—and undeniable—that Christians in India are and have been for quite some time the targets of Christian-based torture, persecution, and oppression at the hands of their fellow countrymen.
Being a Christian in India in 2019
•The growth of the church in India presents many needs, especially related to discipleship and leadership development. The systematic targeting of the church by radical Hindus also brings to surface other needs like preparing the church to respond positively to the onslaught of persecution and a need for greater unity and cooperation between the various denominations.
• Hindus see Christians as a threat to the nation (because of their growth in numbers and their strong presence in the tribal regions). The number of violent incidents against Christians has gone up dramatically since May 2014, when the BJP political party took power and their candidate, Narendra Modi, became India’s prime minister. Because the government refuses to take proper action, Hindu radicals feel they can attack Christians with seemingly little to no consequence.
• Discrimination is very common in India, finding its roots in the age-old caste system. The caste system affects Christians all over India because most converts to Christianity come from the lower castes or from the Dalits (the “untouchable” caste).
• Christian non-government organizations (NGOs) are targeted for detailed interrogation by various government departments (such as the income tax office and intelligence bureaus) in attempts to find faults and accuse them of being involved in anti-national activity (especially concerning conversions to Christianity).
• There is a significant increase in the number of local pro-Hindu political groups and youth wings, plus an increased number of open meetings and camps. Young people are educated in militant nationalism and are encouraged to display hatred towards other religions.
• Throughout India, there is an increasing emphasis on Hinduism in schools, and Hinduization of tribal people.
THE DENIAL GAME
And yet, India’s high-ranking officials deny that persecution is happening.The country’s national government has sometimes made overtures about protecting religious freedom but has often turned a blind eye to the reality of violence and pressure against the Christian community.
In 2014, when India Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, he publically denied that any form of Christian persecution exists, asserting in an interview on the CNN-like TV news show “Aap Ki Adalat” that no church has been burnt anywhere in the country. He denied having knowledge of “any such incident.”
India’s Foreign Affairs Ministry of Government has also refuted all the charges included in a report from the U.S. Commission of Religious Freedom. The report focused on the persecution of religious minorities in India by Hindu fundamentalist forces.
Officials backed Modi, saying, “We have no cognizance of their report.”
“Everyone already knows how the churches are being attacked and demolished on almost an everyday basis in India,” says an Open Doors representative. “[Modi’s denial] clearly shows how the head of the biggest democratic nation has been cleverly misleading the world.”
WHAT’S DRIVING PERSECUTION IN INDIA? 8 THINGS TO KNOW
The increase in persecution is a direct result of the ongoing Hindunization of India or Hindu nationalism—essentially, the belief that India must be a Hindu nation, and any other religion is not Indian. Christianity, as a result, has been a key target of this new nationalism. This radical nationalism has been spurred on by the political situation in India, which saw the election of a nationalist government in 2014. The reasons for increased persecution are many:
- The election of Prime Minister Modi in 2014 was seen by many observers as a tacit acceptance of Hindu nationalism. If anything, Mr. Modi’s tolerance of religious extremism has only increased since his election victory.
- There have been recent calls for the Modi government to address Christian persecution, but those calls have gone unanswered. Of particular concern are allegations that Hindu nationalists are acting in collusion with some local governments and police forces.
- In early 2017, Yogi Adityanath was elected chief minister of India’s most populous state (out of 29 states), Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath is widely known as a Hindu nationalist who has advocated for violence in the name of Hinduism and insists that India is distinctly Hindu. He’s particularly known for stoking violence against Muslims.
- Leaders have vowed to rid the country of Christians and Muslims by 2021. The leader of Dharam Jagran Samiti—a group focusing on activism against religious conversion and working for the reconversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism—made international headlines in December 2014 in a public address in the Indian city of Agra (home to the Taj Mahal). The group’s leader, Rajeshwar Singh, declared, “Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here. So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here.”
- To achieve their prime agenda, the government is systematically misusing the anti-conversion laws, religious laws, administration, and police to deprive freedom of religion to Christians. Brutal violence is often inflicted on Christian believers by Hindu Extremists, who eventually go unpunished because they have complete protection by the government. As a result, we continue to see a constant rise in Christian persecution.
- Christian converts from a Hindu background bear the brunt of the persecution in India. These believers face harassment on an almost daily basis and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism. They are often physically assaulted, hospitalized and sometimes even killed. They live mostly in the countryside, where they face societal pressure not only from family, friends, community members
andlocal Hindu priests,but also from radical Hindus.
- Even Christian charities that are non-evangelistic in nature are having trouble surviving the current climate in India, where their ability to receive international funding is dependent on government approval. For instance, in 2017, Compassion International was forced to close its offices.
- Since the second half of 2014, Hindu radicals launched a homecoming campaign (also known as Ghar Wapsi), designed to lure Muslims and Christians back to the Hindu fold. Several campaigns have been held in which hundreds of people returned to Hinduism. The Ghar Wapsi campaign reached its peak in 2015 and early 2016.
- Recent political events suggest change isn’t in the near future. In the summer of 2017, a new national president was elected. President Ram Nath Kovind has been described by one church planter in an interview with Christianity Today as having “no room for Christians.” Additionally, online polling of Indian readers suggests that Prime Minister Modi’s popularity is in no danger of waning.
Praying for the Church in India
- Pray for Christian converts from Hinduism who are forcefully pressured to return to their national religion.
- Pray with Christians in India for God’s provision and protection as they preach the gospel in places with anti-conversion laws.
- Pray for Christian girls placed under house arrest by their families because of their faith. Pray they would be encouraged in their faith and that their families would come to know the Lord.
- Pray for the government of India, that they would open to religious liberty.
In India, Open Doors is working through partners on the ground to strengthen the church by providing aid such as Christian literature, Bibles, pastoral training, legal aid, relief and more. Your support reminds them they are not alone–that they are part of God’s worldwide family.