Christian persecution in India surges in first half of 2016; radical Hindus see threat to culture, identity

A protester holds a placard during a rally in Mumbai by hundreds of Christians against attacks on churches nationwide.Reuters

Hindu radicals are intensifying their persecution of Christians across India with no end in sight.

In the first half of 2016 alone, the authorities recorded at least 134 incidents of violence against Christians in India compared with 147 incidents in all of 2014 and 177 in 2015, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India's Religious Liberty Commission, citing an independent report.

What's even more alarming, according to the Commission, is that the cases recorded from Jan. 1 to June 30 this year were "just a fraction of the violence on the ground," the Gospel Herald reports.

The persecution is widespread with the cases of violence against Christians reported in 21 of India's 29 states. Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 25 cases.

The report attributed the rise in Christian persecution cases to the success achieved by Hindu radical groups in associating local cultural and customs legislation with Hindu religious practices, denouncing everything non-Hindu as a threat to their culture and identity.

In one area, "religious fanatics attacked a church and tried to set a pastor and his pregnant wife on fire after thrashing them," the report states.

"The pastor and his wife managed to escape after they were beaten up and doused with petrol. The attackers destroyed the electronic equipment at the church, besides thrashing the pastor's children and setting ablaze scriptures and furniture."

The frequent crimes committed against Christians by Hindu fanatics include physical violence, arrests on false allegations, stopping church services, attacks on churches, vandalising and threats on churches and pastors. One person was reported to have been murdered because of his faith.

Some of the attacks were brutal. Hindu radicals attacked a pastor in Tamil Nadu during a worship service on Jan. 17, piercing his head with a heavy, sharp object. Fortunately, the pastor survived the attack.

In many of the incidents, the Hindu fanatics accused Christians of conversion by force in violation of the so-called Freedom of Religion Acts, a law that radical Hindu groups often use to falsely implicate Christians.

In one such incident, a Christian named Balu Sastya and his wife Bhuri, who were both blind, were called to pray for a sick person. When they had gathered at the house of the sick person along with 11 companions, a Hindu mob armed with sticks and stones surrounded the house.

They threatened to kill Sastya and his companions. When police arrived, the extremists filed a complaint against him and others, accusing them of attempting to convert gullible villagers by promising them physical healing. The blind couple and their 3-year-old son had to spend two days and three nights in jail before they were released on bail.