India is home to nearly 1.3 billion people — 2.3% Christians, 14.2% Muslim and 80% Hindu. India’s religious minorities experience hostility from the government and Hindu extremists.
Here are 10 facts about the persecution Christians in India are facing:
1. India’s government is run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which backs Hindu extremists.
Narendra Mohdi, the Indian prime minister, and the BJP have endorsed laws and policies that have enabled Hindu extremists to harass Christians and Muslims in the day-to-day. Hindu extremists want all Indians to be Hindu and believe that converting Christians and other religious minorities is simply returning them to their original faith.
“It is not conversion; it is reconversion,” stated Vyankatesh Abdeo, the national secretary of a Hindu organization, in an LA Times article. “A thousand years ago, all the Muslims and Christians in India were Hindu. They were converted by the sword. We are just bringing them back to their original faith.”
2. Indian government officials often spread disinformation and make inflammatory remarks about religious minorities.
Before and during the pandemic, many BJP politicians, leaders and members of Hindu extremist organizations made remarks or allegations in public and on social media about Christians and Muslims.
The State Department reported that a state-level BJP member threatened Muslims protesting the CAA, a citizenship law that excludes Muslims. The BJP member said, “We are 80 percent and you [the CAA protesters] are just 17 percent. Imagine what will happen to you if we turn against you.”
Remarks spread on social media have spurred harassment and even violent mobs against Christians and other religious minorities. In 2020, USCIRF reported over 120 instances of significant violence fueled by misinformation and false allegations.
3. Several of India’s states enforce anti-conversion laws.
According to USCIRF’s 2020 report, one-third of India’s 28 states have passed laws that “limit or prohibit religious conversion to protect the dominant religion from perceived threats from religious minorities.”
One particular anti-conversion law in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh demands that those converting from one religion to another must notify authorities of the change within 60 days. Giving gifts, such as Bibles, or providing food at church events could be seen under the law as allurement or inducement to convert.
Wild claims have been leveled against Christians as a result of anti-conversion laws. In 2017, six Christians were arrested for allegedly plotting to kidnap children and forcibly convert them. The Christian chaperons were taking the children, whose parents were also Christian, to a 4-day Bible camp.
Violating anti-conversion laws is punishable with fines and up to 10 years in prison.
4. Pastors and priests are most frequently arrested for allegedly “forcing conversions.”
In the states where these anti-conversion laws have gone into effect, pastors and priests are most frequently accused and jailed for “coercing” or “bribing” Hindus to convert to Christianity.
Uttar Pradesh’s anti-conversion law labels pastors and priests as “religion converters” and classifies discussing divine displeasure (i.e. talking about heaven or hell) as “forcing conversion.” In October, seven pastors were arrested during a prayer meeting in Uttar Pradesh for “forcing conversions” and “assembling illegally.”
Indian politicians and Hindu extremists have pushed for a nation-wide institution of these anti-conversion laws under the guise of “religious freedom.” This would increase the already widespread accusations and harassment of Christians for preaching the gospel.
5. Hindu extremists use mob violence to intimidate and harass Christians.
Hindu extremist mobs, motivated by false allegations, frequently burst into services, demand arrests, attack Christians, and destroy churches or other Christian establishments.
Alliance Defending Freedom described a typical attack: “A mob will arrive at a prayer meeting or Christian gathering, shout abuse and harassment, and beat up those in attendance, including women and children. Then, the pastors or priests are usually arrested by the police under false allegations of forced conversions.”
Police rarely hold mob members accountable or investigate incidents of violence against Christians.
6. India’s COVID-19 lockdowns increased violence towards Christians.
India had some of the strictest pandemic lockdowns and during COVID-19 Christians were expected to gain a respite from the opposition and persecution by Hindu extremists. However, violence and harassment of Christians escalated. The U.S. State Department cited 293 instances of violence in the first half of 2020, which was nearly 100 more than in 2019. This year the number has risen to at least 300 reports of violence against Christians, as of October 2021.
7. Authorities sometimes ban church services after demands from Hindu extremist groups.
In January 2021, police in the Karnataka state banned a village from holding Christian worship under the accusation that church members were coerced into being Christian. In November, over 50 house churches in the Madhya Pradesh state stopped holding worship services after a complete ban on Christian worship was distributed to local police stations.
Bans on Christian worship like these often come after Hindu extremists accuse Christians of increasing conversions in the area and convince authorities to act.
8. A recently amended law restricts Christian and religious freedom NGOs in India.
The Indian Parliament amended a law in September restricting and in some cases freezing the finances of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Amendment of the law was meant to cut down on the misuse of foreign funds, however these restrictions forced Christian, humanitarian and religious freedom advocacy NGOs to shut down. Many of these NGOs were distributing COVID relief.
9. Converts to Christianity face social pressure and boycotting from their community.
Indians who convert from Hinduism to Christianity often face immense pressure to reconvert or are ostracized from their friends and families. By converting, these Christians risk losing their jobs and are boycotted by their community, dealing a significant blow to their income sources.
10. Christians in India experience isolation.
According to Open Doors USA, many believers “don’t know any other Christians.” With persecution coming from all areas of life, the social boycotts and pressure from Hindu extremists to “reconvert” breed isolation, a problem exacerbated by COVID-19 lockdowns.
Image: “Christians protesting against attacks on churches in Delhi in this file photo. (AFP)”
Acquired from Arab news article “Christians in India demand increased security ahead of Christmas celebrations”