The number of violent and nonviolent attacks against Christians in India has increased 55 percent since Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi became prime minister last year, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
During a protest by religious minorities near India’s Parliament House March 19, rights activist and Christian leader John Dayal said there have been 168 acts of aggression against Christians during Modi’s first 300 days in power. That figure compares with 108 such cases in the 300 days before Modi took office on May 26, 2014, according to the EFI.
Reported attacks against the Christian community in January totaled 20, with another 20 in February and 13 so far in March, according to the EFI. By comparison, during the first five months of 2014 there were only 32 anti-Christian incidents before Modi took power.
Dayal, a former member of the National Integration Council, told Morning Star News the actual number of anti-Christian incidents is higher than the reported number because many cases go unreported. Incidents ranged from false accusations of “forcible conversion” to desecration of church buildings to violent attacks on Christians.
“Illegal police detention of church workers and denial of constitutional rights of freedom aggravate the coercion and terror unleashed in hate speeches and campaigns of ghar wapsi [‘homecoming,’ or reconversion to Hinduism],” Dayal said. “Since 2014, there has been a marked shift in public discourse.”
During the first 300 days of Modi’s government coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the state of Chhattisgarh reported the most incidents against Christians with 28, followed by neighboring Madhya Pradesh with 26, Uttar Pradesh with 18 and Telengana with 15, Dayal said.
The tone set by Modi’s National Democratic Alliance government has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack non-Hindus, Christian leaders say. Coercion to convert to Hinduism continues.
Government authorities attempted to “dilute” Christmas celebrations in 2014 with a “call to observe ‘Governance Day’” on the same date, EFI general secretary Richard Howell said. Such an action “on the day most sacred to the Christian community in India is a matter of great concern.”
On Christmas Day, 20 Christians were arrested and police stopped four Christmas functions across the country, according to EFI.
About 2,000 people from 80 civil society groups participated in the protest in central Delhi, asserting that Hindu extremist assaults of religious minorities are an attack against the secular nature of India’s government.
Anti-Christian incidents included vandalism, burning and robbing church buildings, burning Bibles, disrupting worship meetings and Christmas functions, beating pastors and evangelists and stopping church construction.
Of the anti-Christian incidents, Dayal said 54 percent were threats, intimidation and coercion, often with police looking on. Physical violence accounted for 24 percent of all cases, including 11 percent against Christian women. Breaking statues and crosses and other acts of desecration were recorded in about 8 percent of cases. Additional desecration was “consequent to other forms of violence against institutions,” Dayal said.
“A disturbing trend was rising communal violence in West Bengal, where the BJP and the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu group of which Modi is a member] have redoubled their efforts to fill what they see as a political vacancy following the decline of the Communist Party of India Marxist and the Congress Party in recent times,” Dayal said.
The number of violent incidents against religious minorities, including unreported ones, could well exceed 800, Dayal said.
A pastor of Good Shepherd Community Church in New Delhi, Joshua David, told Morning Star News that at every Sunday worship meeting since Christmas day, two policemen have been posted outside the church.
“Initially, it created a different kind of feeling among the church members, raising some sort of suspicion among them of the possible danger in attending church services, but we are getting accustomed to it,” David said.
Social activists at the demonstration said the Sangh Parivar family of Hindu extremist groups has relentlessly attempted to create division between Hindus and all others.
“The Sangh Parivar and the present Bharatiya Janata Party government, which is part of the Sangh Parivar, do not believe in diversity and wish to have everyone follow their own dictates,” said Navaid Hamid, general secretary of the Movement for Empowerment of Muslim Indians. “The basic tenets of the Indian constitution – the secularism and the pluralism – therefore are constantly under attack, and minorities are a part of that.”
The BJP has abused, ridiculed and threatened minorities, activists said, including hate statements by government ministers and threats by members of Parliament and state politicians.
Journalist Seema Mustafa said the main objective of the protest was to show solidarity and ensure that action is taken against perpetrators of violence.
“While communal incidents have taken place in the past as well, the difference now is that the BJP itself is in power,” Seema said. “Now the continuing violence and statements supporting the violence is vitiating the atmosphere and terrifying the minorities.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story first appeared at MorningStarNews.org, a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of evangelical Christians worldwide. Used by permission.)