By ICC’s India Correspondent
12/26/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “There was not a festive mood in my church this Christmas due to the cancelation of caroling and other pre-Christmas celebrations,” Pastor Prabhu Kumar of Philadelphia Church in India’s Telangana state told International Christian Concern (ICC). “This is due to the threats from Hindu radicals. We had to cut out caroling and celebrating Christmas publicly.”
Traditionally, Christians in India observe the entire month of December as a holy month with Christmas celebrated through special holiday programs and public caroling. Unfortunately, radical Hindu nationalist groups have used these programs to accuse Christians of indulging in forced conversions, claiming that Christians are using these Christmas celebrations to woo Hindus into converting into Christianity. Using these accusations as justification, Hindu radicals then carry out blatant attacks on Christmas celebrations and carolers.
“I have been a pastor for more than 15 years at Philadelphia Church, but never in my memory have we experienced the kind of hatred that we are experiencing now,” Pastor Kumar explained. “All of [the] sudden, the situation changed so that Christians had to be limited, if not stopped from all church activities.”
This growing hatred for church activities, including traditional Christmas programs, has not been limited to Telangana. Across India, Christians are enduring similar challenges to their normal religious activities.
“This is the first time I have had to cancel the caroling rounds since I became a Christian,” Pastor Hemanth Shukla told ICC. In October, Pastor Shukla and members of his church in India’s Chhattisgarh state were brutally beaten up during a Sunday worship with several members being critically injured and hospitalized.
“Ever since that attack, we are being closely watched and our movements are tracked by Hindu radicals,” Pastor Shukla explained. “We were threatened not to have any Christian activities outside of the church. We have yet [to] recover from the mental trauma and physical injuries sustained in the attack and we don’t dare to risk another blow to our lives.”
“This year we stopped our carol rounds due to the repeated announcements by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad group saying that they would not allow any activities related to Christmas,” Pastor Bansilal Mena, Pastor of the Church of South India (CSI), told ICC. “They said they would conduct protest rallies against all Christian activities.”
As vice-president of an association of pastors called Massih Shakti Sameti, Pastor Bansilal reported that they have alerted all the pastors in their association about the situation and advised against caroling this year.
While this Christmas in India was full of fear for many, there were still some things to be hopeful for in years to come. India’s constitution protects the individual’s right to religious freedom, which should include the right to fully enjoy religious holidays. Across India, state governments deployed security forces to churches holding Christmas Day services which, in a small way, protected Christians’ right to celebrate Christmas within their places of worship. Hopefully next year, the same protection can be afforded to India’s Christians celebrating throughout the Christmas season.