India's Christians are facing an 'existential threat' - Open Doors

(Photo: Unsplash/Laurentiu Morariu)

Hindu nationalism is driving a wave of violent persecution against Christians in India, human rights group Open Doors has warned.

Its new report, "Destructive Lies", provides disturbing accounts of widespread violence and intimidation, with Christians at risk of harassment, rape and murder.

The report warns that Christians in India are now facing an "existential threat", with the persecution being blamed on violent Hindu nationalists who subscribe to Hindutva, a form of nationalism that defines Indian identity solely in terms of Hinduism and sees all faiths and philosophies not indigenous to India as "un-Indian" intruders into the nation.

In one shocking incident, a woman gave birth to a stillborn baby after being violently kicked in the stomach by a Hindu nationalist mob.

In another attack, a labourer was entrapped, beaten by a mob and then left to die in a cell by police.

"Through disinformation and anti-Christian propaganda, this cultural and political programme of religious cleansing, often of some of the poorest people on the planet, is accelerating and urgently needs an international focus of attention and action," writes Dr David Landrum, Head of Advocacy for Open Doors UK & Ireland, in the foreward to the report.

Persecution has not abated in the pandemic. Instead, the report details a concerted campaign of misinformation against Christians and Muslims claiming that they deliberately tried to spread the virus and infect Hindus.

Instead of helping victims, the report accuses the police, courts and state actors of ignoring and in some cases even condoning the persecution.

Researchers uncovered evidence of police and law enforcement refusing to arrest or deter mobs from physically intimidating Christians and Muslims, or violating their property.

In addition to this, there were instances of the "deliberate" loss or destruction of evidence, and occasions where they simply refused to accept the evidence.

One co-author of the report, who cannot be named for security reasons, said: "The extent to which ... state actors are complicit in the violence is shocking; it was there even at the ground level.

"The bureaucrats, the police, the lower court judges, all of them are ...openly colluding to harass these minorities.

"And politicians, top religious leaders and powerful media owners [are giving] very overt signals that this [behaviour] is desirable."

According to the report, this has only compounded the existing challenges of poverty that many Christians face: "Daily life for many Christian and Muslim communities in urban and rural India has become an excruciating struggle to earn a living and practice their faith while also remaining alive and under the radar of the far-right Hindutva organizations that now dominate the Indian public and political sphere."

The report was written by the London School of Economics on behalf of Open Doors. It is based on data compiled in February and March this year by an LSE research team based in India.

Among the recommendations are calls for an international fact-finding commission to record levels of violence and human rights violations against religious minorities in India.

Elsewhere, it urges social media corporations to take firm action against instances of discrimination, incitement and harassment against religious minorities on their platforms.

Dr Landrum added: "The international community can no longer ignore what is happening in India. They cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities. We are calling for a thorough investigation of this brutal and systematic persecution of religious minorities."