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17 December 2013

India's Christians face attacks

India's Christians face attacks

Photo credit: subhadipin

The Evangelical Fellowship of India has reported numerous cases of oppression against Christians in India in recent months.

These include the arrest of a Christian in Chhattisgarh on 23 October following false accusations by a Hindu extremist. This extremist had tried to forcefully enter the home of another Christian, threatening to sacrifice him and his family to local tribal deities and later beating him up. This extremist then accused a Christian, Sannuram Mandavi, of beating him and his mother, leading to the Christian's arrest. He was later released after the intervention of local Christian leaders.

On 6 October two Christian couples in Rajasthan were threatened with death if they continued worshipping in a church, and their pastor Prem Pal Maida was threatened with his house being burnt down if he led worship meetings in the area again. The police have reportedly taken no action against the Hindu extremists who made these threats.

Approximately 71 million of India's 1.2 billion citizens are Christian, with the nation's main religion being Hinduism. Open Doors reports that religious militants, claiming every Indian has to be Hindu, are the most prominent attackers of the Christian minority. Several states have adopted 'anti-conversion' laws, which in reality are often used to justify disruption of church services and harassment of Christians. Outreach is also extremely difficult in India's deeply rooted caste system. India ranks 31st in the Open Doors World Watch List 2013 listing the 50 countries where Christian faith costs the most.

Release International's partners in India have recorded 42 attacks against Christians in Andhra Pradesh, India's fourth largest state, during a six-month period. An average of two assaults a week against Christians are also reported in the state of Karnataka. On 11 November 2013 Release held a prayer vigil outside the Indian High Commission in London and presented their 28,000 signature Free to Follow petition to the Indian authorities. A copy of the petition was also presented to a government official at No 10 Downing Street, addressed to the Prime Minister.

Christians in India do not always experience the same freedom to protest however. Earlier this month, on 12 December, a group of protestors demanding equal rights for Dalit Christians and Muslims were oppressed by police who used water cannons and canes against them. They had been calling for an end to the statutory discrimination of Dalits who are not of the Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh religions and are excluded from a range of special measures because of their faith. This includes legislation dealing with caste-based crimes against Dalits (formerly called 'untouchables').

hose peacefully demonstrating in Delhi included Christian bishops, nuns and pastors, many of whom were arrested. This was the first time since November 1997 that Bishops and church leaders have been arrested for supporting the Dalit cause. Rev. Vijayesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India was among those arrested, along with Member of Parliament, Anwar Ali. 

Catholic Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi was also arrested and taken to a police station before being released without charge. He said in a statement, "Government after government have been turning a deaf ear to the demands of Christians. Now they are going to the extent of brutally beating up our priests and nuns and now arresting us too". Complaints have been made following the alleged assault and beating of women who were held in prison after the protest. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later apologised in person to some of the protest leaders for the heavy-handed police response, promising that their demands would be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting.

Following recent violence against Muslim minorities in Muzaffarnager, Uttar Pradesh state, CSW has strongly supported calls for the proposed Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill to be introduced in India. Dr John Dayal, a National Integration Council (NIC) member who was part of the fact-finding team following the violence, said, "It is depressing and traumatic to witness what havoc communal and targeted violence can wreak on a victim community, and the effect it has on peace and harmony. India must enact legislation to prevent and control targeted violence. This will go a long way towards ending impunity and will expedite healing."

On 3 December this year MPs in the House of Commons held a three-hour debate on the persecution of Christians in the 21st century. During the debate Stephen Pound MP (Labour, Ealing North) said it was "beyond doubt" that "Christians are the most persecuted single group in the world today on grounds of religion."

Calling for increased attention to the issue, he said: "There is one thing we must do. We must assist wherever we can financially and materially and we must raise the profile, but we must never, ever forget to pray for our fellow co-religionists. The power of prayer is immense and it has an incredible force. Let us never forget suffering Christians in our prayers. Let us continue to do that. Advent might be a couple of days old, but this is a powerful season for prayer."

Please pray:

  • for strength and protection for Christians in India
  • for peace between people of different religions in the country
  • for Christian individuals and organisations who are helping religious minorities in India and campaigning for religious freedom there
  • for the proposed Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill to be introduced in India and to be effective in protecting Christians and other religious minorities.

To encourage your church to pray for the persecuted Church you can show the three-minute RLC video in your church service or small group.