Regaining consciousness after attackers left him for dead in his house church in eastern India, pastor Basant Kumar Paul proclaimed he no longer fears persecution and is certain of his heavenly home.
“My physical body might be weak, but my spirit is very strong, it will not break with persecution,” Morning Star News quoted Paul Nov. 22. “They tried to kill me twice, I was almost dead, but I still did not die. I will not die until the Lord calls me back home. This assurance drives away all my fears.”
Still recovering from the Nov. 12 attack on his immediate and extended family in Jharkhand, India, Paul is among an estimated 65 million Christians facing increased persecution in the nation of 1.4 billion people. Persecution is spiking under extreme rightwing Hindu nationalism encouraged by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to reports from across the Asian nation.
Christians in the former state of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India have suffered increased persecution since the BJP-led government revoked a 1949 law that allowed Jammu and Kashmir to form its own constitution, reported Morning Star and religious persecution watchdog groups including Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs.
New security measures issued as recently as Nov. 6 make it “nearly impossible” for Christian congregations to meet, Morning Star reported. Gatherings of four or more people are now illegal in Jammu and Kashmir. The new restrictions have further emboldened Hindutva extremists in personal attacks on Christians comprising only about one-quarter of a percent of the 12.5 million people in the former state.
Nationwide, Christians were attacked in at least 24 of India’s 29 states in a two-year period ending in July, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reported Nov. 14 in its latest report, “Persecuted and Forgotten?” which studied Christian persecution in India and 11 other countries. Indian Christians were beaten, murdered and raped, with ACN calculating at least 117 incidents in the first quarter of 2019, 477 in 2018 and 440 in 2017.
“More than 100 churches closed in 2018, because of extremist attacks or intervention by authorities,” ACN said in its report. “Not only has communal violence remained high, but the failure of authorities to address attacks on religious minorities has engendered a climate of impunity.”
As recently as May, the government demolished a church-run school and hostel in Odisha State in eastern India, displacing at least 100 students who lived in the school hostel, ACN reported. An extremist group complained to the government that the Christian school was evangelizing the students, which the headmaster denied.
Muslims are also persecuted under the Hindu government, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported in a Nov. 19 press release. In the northeastern state of Assam, USCIRF said about 1.9 million non-Hindu residents were omitted from the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“Close to two million long-time residents of Assam may soon be deemed stateless. They are being stripped of their citizenship without a fair, transparent, and well-regulated NRC process,” USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said in the press release. “Worse yet is that Indian political officials have repeatedly conveyed their intent to direct and use the NRC process to isolate and push out Muslims in Assam. And now, across India, political leaders are seeking to expand the NRC and implement different citizenship standards for Muslims altogether.”
USCIRF chair Tony Perkins urged the Indian government “to protect the rights of all of its religious minorities as enshrined in the Indian constitution.”
Open Doors said the ACN report in particular augments the Open Doors 2019 World Watch List, which for the first time lists India among the top 10 countries for Christian persecution.
“Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, attacks have increased, and Hindu radicals believe they can attack Christians with no consequences. As a result, Christians have been targeted by Hindu nationalist extremists more and more each year,” Open Doors said in ranking India 10th on its 2019 persecution list. “The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith – including Christianity – is considered non-Indian. Additionally, in some regions of the country, converts to Christianity from Hinduism experience extreme persecution, discrimination and violence.”
In the case of Pastor Paul in Jharkland, he and other family members are being investigated for holding church services in his home where about 35 gather for worship, Morning Star reported.
Paul’s is the only Christian family in his village, but others come from as far as 12 miles away to worship in his home.
“I have faced so much opposition from my own family, my clan and from the [Hindu extremist group] Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, where I was deeply involved as a teacher before I came to Christ, that I have become immune to persecution now,” he told Morning Star. “I am not scared of persecution anymore. Though in the initial years of my faith, I would be scared.”
In the attack on his family, eight extremists entered his home and beat Paul until they thought he was dead, beating his family members as each tried to help. Among injuries, attackers broke Paul’s son’s leg and hit his mother and brother in the head with axes, Paul said.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, about 80 percent of India’s population is Hindu. Open Doors counts 65 million Christians there.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)