India: Hindu radicals arrested for attack on Pentecostal church

Christians in India protest persecution.Reuters

Seven people have been arrested in connection with an attack on a Pentecostal church in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

A mob believed to comprise members of the militant Hindu Bajrang Dal organisation attacked the church in Raipur during prayers, having arrived on motorbikes. According to media reports they broke chairs, fans and musical equipment.

The president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, Arun Pannalal, said Bajrang Dal members had chanted "Jai Sri Ram" ("Victory to Lord Rama") and had attacked women and children.

"They alleged that people were being converted here," Pannalal said. "The police came and seized vehicles the attackers came in. They desecrated the Bible and some of the pictures that were hung on the wall."

He said it was the fourth attack on churchgoers in Chhattisghar in the last six weeks.

A local Christian told International Christian Concern (ICC): "Every day Christians are attacked. What is reported in the media is like the tip of an iceberg."

"The vandalizing of the church comes as the entire nation of India is debating the role of [radical Hindu nationalism] and the government in exacerbating an environment of hate and intolerance against civil society, the intelligentsia, and, above all, religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians," United Christian Forum spokesman Dr John Dayal told ICC.

A report issued in January by the Catholic Secular Forum claimed there were more than 200 major incidents of anti-Christian hate speech and persecution in India last year.

According to the report, India Christian Persecution, seven Protestant pastors and one lay person were killed in 2015. It says the total number of victims of violence, including women and children, was around 8,000, and many churches were damaged or destroyed.

The Hindu nationalist ideology espoused by the ruling BJP party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of which the Bajrang Dal is part, has led to hostility toward Christians in some areas. This is complicated by the appeal of Christianity to tribal and Dalit people; the RSS is opposed to conversions out of Hinduism and its offshoots have staged elaborate "ghar wapsi" conversion ceremonies for Christians and Muslims wanting to return – as they describe it – to Hinduism.