Christian Persecution in India Continues

Attacks on Christians in India are continuing, a Christian persecution watchdog group reported yesterday following a recent report of violence in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan.

In the latest reported incident of violence against Indian Christians, Dr. Joseph Chavady of One to One International informed persecution watchdog Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) that the Wednesday night worship service led by one of their pastors was interrupted by a group of Hindu militants who entered the prayer hall and severely beat eight One to One workers. "Thankfully there were no permanent injuries," VOM reported. "But the men are very shaken up by the attack."

The leading pastor of the congregation, whose name was withheld by VOM, had been preaching the Gospel and planting churches for almost thirty years in Rajasthan. Wednesday’s incident was the first time that persecution has come so close to his home, VOM reported.

In Rajasthan and in a number of states throughout India, reports of escalating violence against Christians have made their way outside the predominantly Hindu nation and into religious media agencies.

According to reports, the recent wave of violence began on 30 January, when Hindu activists forced their way into a large Christian gathering after hundreds of worshippers had come from towns and villages in India’s Uttar Pradesh state to take part in a prayer rally. The activists reportedly charged that rallies such as the prayer rally were aimed at conversions and that Christians lure the people with gifts of land, money, food and clothes.

In another reported incident of violence, the body of 25-year-old Pastor Narayan was found on Feb. 11 in a small town in Mysore district, Karnataka state. Sajan K. George, national convener of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), told Compass News that the official report of the autopsy suggested it was a case of suicide. However, George suspects Hindu extremists were responsible for Narayan’s death and that their sympathisers are engaged in a cover-up.

Shortly afterwards, in India’s Kerala state, six theology students with Gospel for Asia (GFA) were forcibly abducted and beaten on Feb. 13 by activists of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the armed wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — the Hindu nationalist party that has been accused of being hostile to religious minorities. On 18 February, GFA reported that police had arrested the five RSS men involved in the attack after a raid conducted by the Deputy Superintendent of Police.

During an interview last week with AsiaNews, Bishop Percival Fernandez—Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India — said the recent wave of violence against Christians in India is part "of a plan led by fundamentalist groups."

"Practically all of these incidents of violence against Christians are masterminded by fundamentalist groups," Fernandez told the Italy-based news agency on 16 February.

Meanwhile, VOM-Canada's Glenn Penner attributed a Hindu nationalist grassroots effort for the increase in harassment — a sobering conclusion, considering the optimism born out of the elections last year.

"We had real hopes with the election of the Congress Party in the spring that we would see a shift away from persecution which we had seen so much in the last five years when the BJP was elected to power," Penner told Mission Network News (MNN) earlier this week.

John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Union—an interdenominational Christian organisation that defends the rights of Indian Christians—was one of several Christian figures that condemned the Feb. 16 and Feb. 27 killings of a Baptist pastor and Pentecostal pastor in the Indian state of Orissa.

In his view, both murders reflected "the precarious and alarming situation" that Christians face in the Indian state.

"I’m appalled at the deteriorating situation," Dayal told AsiaNews. "I’ve written to Prime Minister [Singh] giving documentary and statistical evidence of the attacks on Christians in the last three months. [And] I have asked for an appointment to brief him of the sentiments of the minority community".

Dayal, like Penner, believes the recent attacks on Christians may be politically motivated.

Hindu fundamentalist groups, however, have claimed that the recent string of violence is "a spontaneous reaction by local people against missioners adamant on conversion".

"Christian organisations are on a warpath—accept their religion or face the music," the Hindu nationalist weekly Organizer quoted a Hindu leader in the state as saying.

In an article titled "Proselytisers run amok", another Hindu leader, Jagaram Samukhya, alleged that "Christian missioners in Orissa were on a conversion spree to achieve their target by hook or crook".

Meanwhile, the BJP-led government in India's western state of Rajasthan said last week it was going to introduce a law banning religious conversion.

"We will not allow anyone to convert poor and illiterate people," said State home minister Gulab Chand Kataria.

Although state governments in India do have the power to introduce anti-conversion laws, the World Hindu Council, or Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), welcomed the state government's move.

Kenneth Chan
Ecumenical Press