Attacks on Christians in India were reported on an almost daily basis in 2015, according to a Christian advocacy group.
“The country saw 355 incidents of violence, including 200 major incidents, during the last year,” Joseph Dias, convener of Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum, told World Watch Monitor. The forum’s report, released on Jan. 18, concluded that it is “not safe” to be a Christian in India.
The group reports that seven pastors were killed, several nuns were raped and hundreds of Christians were arrested under India’s anti-conversions laws. The report was released as 12 people, including a blind couple and their three-year-old son, were arrested in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, under the state’s anti-conversion law, which forbids conversions through “allurement” or “force.” Seven of those arrested, including the blind couple, were released from custody on January 17, according to local pastor Suresh Mandlo.
Dias blamed the increase in incidents against Christians on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.
“The rise of the BJP has emboldened the [Hindu nationalist] fringe groups,” he said. “They feel that they can treat the Christians as soft targets under BJP’s patronage and protection.”
“Even the government is acting in a partisan manner,” added Dias, relating two recent high-profile cases involving foreign clerics.
In the first case, Sister Bertilla Capra, an Italian Catholic nun who had been working with leprosy victims for four decades, was denied the renewal of her visa. Then, authorities at the Chennai International Airport detained and subsequently deported Hegumen Seraphim, a Russian Orthodox priest.
The Russian embassy said the treatment of the priest, who was detained at the airport for seven hours and denied food, was “unacceptable.” The embassy’s statement added that, “Such disrespect, shown to a priest from a friendly country, goes against the spirit of mutual affinity and cooperation characteristic of Russian-Indian relationships.”
According to Dias, “all these incidents point to an organized targeting of Christians at different levels.” He added that “The hate speech is turning worse and the conversion rhetoric of the saffron family [Hindu fundamentalists] is vitiating the atmosphere and paving the way for atrocities,” he added.
Just days before the Catholic Secular Forum issued its report, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, claimed it had recently undertaken mass re-conversions of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. Praveen Togadia, the VHP’s international working president, reported on Jan. 8 that the VHP had reconverted more than 500,000 Christians and 250,000 Muslims in the last decade with its Ghar Wapsi, or homecoming, initiative. Two days later, VHP national general secretary Y. Raghavulu claimed that 800,000 Hindus were being converted to other faiths every year in India.
“The [VHP] claim to have converted Christians and Muslims to Hinduism is just to enthuse their cadres. Both [statements] are blatantly aggressive instances of hate to provoke violence,” Christian activist John Dayal told World Watch Monitor. “The statistics are products of feverish minds and a bankrupt ideology. Their real purpose is political—to arouse passions, sharpen polarization and target religious minorities, and especially the Christian community.”
Hindu fundamentalists, Dayal added, “want to criminalize Christian presence and social work as a conversion conspiracy by Western powers.”
Rev. Vijayesh Lal, national director of the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told World Watch Monitor that, “violence against Christians has always been justified using the propaganda about conversion. Using conversions as a means of justifying violence has been used since the mid-1990s by the Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] brigade. What worries me is the total impunity with which the violence and hate speech are being carried out now.”
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we thank You for the great turning of hearts to Christ that is taking place in India. And as the work of Your Holy Spirit increases, so does the work of Christ’s enemy, Satan. In the midst of trouble, we take hope in the sure knowledge that Christ has already won the victory, but in these times when Satan, though defeated, uses every means possible to destroy Christ’s church, we pray instead that You will cause Your church in India to grow and flourish. Where efforts are made to arouse anger against Christians, we pray that You will open eyes to see Christ in them and turn a great multitude to Him in saving faith. Where Christians are arrested, we pray that the gospel message will be taken into jails and prisons as Your Holy Spirit grants opportunity. Where lies are spread about Your people, reveal truth. And give opportunities to Your church in everyday life to spread the gospel through friendships, compassionate service, and the preaching of Your Word. In the name of Jesus, who rules forever by His power, His eyes watching the nations (Ps 66). Amen.