Samari Kasabi, a 55-year-old Christian, was recently stripped naked, beaten to death and then burnt by her neighbours in her village in the Chhattisgarh region of India. It is feared she was murdered for being a Christian.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has made speeches underlining that his government gives 'equal respect to all religions', has this week won the Reader's Poll for TIME person of the year – being seen by 18 per cent of voters as the person who has had the largest global impact over the last 12 months (beating all other nominees by more than 10 per cent). Yet, under his government, Christians in India are facing increased violence, attacks and restrictions.
India ranks at number 17 on Christian charity Open Door's World Watch List this year – the highest it has ever been. The Rev Dr Richard Howell of the Evangelical Fellowship of India says that, "Political Hinduism has arrived and majoritarian persecution has begun... Every week there are three to four incidents of mobs attacking Christians."
Indian church planters supported by UK charity BMS World Mission have reported being imprisoned, forced to flee their homes and attacked because of their faith and their work sharing the gospel. Some have even had family members murdered. New converts have been subject to acid attacks, violence and exclusion from their communities.
Anti-conversion laws are now in place in five states in India. These laws target only conversion away from Hinduism, becoming a Hindu is seen rather as a 'home-coming'. According to Open Doors, even in some states where there is currently no anti-conversion law, such as Maharashtra and Jharkhand, there are still structures in place to monitor and restrict Christians. Converts from a Hindu background often get registered as Hindus during the census, it's difficult for them to hold a Christian wedding or to be baptised, and radical Hindus have been known to target convert's funerals. Yet crimes against the church and Christians in the country are almost never punished.
The persecution experienced by churches and individual Christians is now also affecting Christian charities working in India. Christian organisation Compassion International states: "What we're experiencing is an unprecedented, highly co-ordinated, deliberate and systematic attack intended to drive us out." The charity, which has been active in India since 1968 and is currently assisting 145,000 children living in extreme poverty in the country, has reportedly recently been placed on a 'watch list' by the Indian government. This restricts its abilities to transfer funds into the country without prior permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
"The government wrongly believes that we're using humanitarian efforts to convert Indians to Christianity," says Stephen Oakley, General Counsel for Compassion International. "This is religious discrimination, pure and simple."
Oakley says that being put on the 'watch list' is just one more thing in a series of out-of-the-blue tax bills, revoked permissions for operations and various forms of harassment and intimidation. Compassion International are "just weeks away from permanently withdrawing," he says.
The cost of Christian charitable organisations pulling out of India will inevitably hit the poorest in society. In the case of Compassion International, Oakley says that "no plan or provision has been made to care for [the 145,000] children when we depart."
As Indian Christians face a challenging season, the UK church is being encouraged to engage with the issues facing India's Christians. A spokesperson for Open Doors UK & Ireland says: "The Indian government frequently turns a blind eye to attacks on Christians and other minorities. Please pray for the protection of Christians in India. Many are extremely isolated – Christians make up less than 5 per cent of the country's population. Pray for comfort and strength for believers, and that Open Doors workers and other Christians will be able to reach them with encouragement and fellowship."
As readers of TIME magazine celebrate the influence Prime Minister Modi has had on the world this year, let's be praying for the Christians who are feeling the cost of the rise of Hindu nationalism in their country.