In India, the Persecution No One’s Talking About
What’s happening to Christians in the South Asia country and why?
One of the 64 million Christians in India, Reena* grew up in persecution.
“When I was a young child, Hindu children did not want to play with me,” recalls Reena, now age 19. “Later, my parents were banned from using the local water supply. They had to walk many kilometers to draw water from the river.”
Over the last three years, the persecution Reena endured as a child has increased and intensified in her home country of 1.3 billion people. The 2018 World Watch List ranks India at #11, up from #25 in 2015 and up from #15 in 2017—four spots in one year.
Research by local partners of Open Doors indicates that Christian persecution-related incidents in India are reaching new heights every year. In 2013, 151 incidents were reported, while the number of reported incidents grew to 147 in 2014. In 2015, the numbers grew to 181, and in 2016 a staggering number of 443 such incidents were reported–15 did not survive the violence. The first quarter of 2017 saw 248 instances in which Christians were harassed, threatened or attacked for their faith.
The reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg, according to an Open Doors spokesman. “Before Christians are threatened or physically harmed,” he says, “there has often been a long process of ‘re-converting’ them to Hinduism, during which they faced discrimination, social exclusion and other types of pressure.”
Looking at the statistics, it’s evident—and undeniable—that Christians in India are and have been for quite some time the targets of persecution, torture, and oppression at the hands of their fellow countrymen.
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 Is 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. This radical nationalism has been spurred on by the political situation in India, which saw a nationalist government elected 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, there is 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 and local 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 (a.k.a. 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.
In India, Open Doors is working through partners on the ground to strengthen the Church by providing aid like 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.
Please join us in prayer with believers in India who experience persecution. We’ve created a free 30-Day India Prayer Journal. Read the stories of believers in India, learn how you can pray for them and even read the prayers they pray…