Persecution in India is at its highest level in 70 years, a new report has warned.
The report, by US-based charity Persecution Relief, said that persecution was spreading at a 'rapid rate' across the majority-Hindu country, with 477 incidents of violence recorded in 2018, up 37 from the previous year.
Instances of persecution included disruptions to worship services, vandalism, churches being closed off by the authorities, churches and Bibles being set on fire, congregations being evicted by landlords following pressure from hardliners, access to churches being blocked, and local authorities refusing to grant permission for new church construction.
According to the report, the most common form of persecution experienced by Indian Christians was threats, harassment or intimidation for their faith.
A total of 10 church buildings were set on fire across the country last year, the report said.
'All minority communities continue to feel increasingly vulnerable due to the lack of religious freedom and the religious violence engaged against them,' said Persecution Relief.
'Minorities continues to feel unsafe, neglected and largely suppressed, as perpetrators of crimes against humanity are yet to be prosecuted.'
Uttar Pradesh, in northern India, came out on top as the most hostile state towards Christians, with 129 incidents of persecution recorded last year.
The report warned that vigilantism and lynching 'with impunity' were commonplace across the state.
It was followed by Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana for levels of persecution against Christians.
The report singled out anti-conversion and freedom of religion laws passed by several state governments for part of the blame, saying that the laws were being 'misused' and had 'only served as a catalyst for the religious fundamentalists to attack Christians and minorities with licence'.
Persecution Relief said that representations to government ministers about the misuse of the laws have only been met with 'deafening silence, loudly conveying the message that no action is to be taken against the perpetrators'.
It comes not long after Open Doors released its World Watch List of worst countries for persecution, in which India ranked tenth.
'Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, attacks have increased, and Hindu radicals believe they can attack Christians with no consequences,' Open Doors said of India.
'As a result, Christians have been targeted by Hindu nationalist extremists more and more each year. The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith—including Christianity—is considered non-Indian.'