Suspicious Death of Pastor in India Emblematic of Growing Intolerance

ICC Note:

The suspicious death of a Christian pastor in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state is emblematic of the growing religious intolerance in violence that is sweeping the nation. Weeks ago, Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy was discovered hanging by a rope in his house adjacent to his church. Initially ruled a suicide, local Christians protested demanding a police investigation into the pastor’s death because of serious threats the pastor had been receiving from local Hindu radical groups. Attacks on Christians and their places of worship have continued to skyrocket in India. Hindu radical groups perpetrating this violence are often afforded almost complete impunity for their assaults on religious minorities. This rise in religious violence has culminated in India being ranked the 11th most dangerous country for Christians in the world according to Open Doors USA. 

02/02/2018 India (Fox News) – Parishioners of a Christian congregation in southern India made a grisly discovery recently – the body of their pastor hanging from a rope in his home, adjacent to the church.

Authorities ruled the death a suicide, prompting protests from a Christian community that has long felt what it feels is systematic persecution from Hindu extremists.

Congregants told local reporters Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy had endured constant harassment by some local Hindus, who they said had made it a point to try to torment the cleric every Sunday for the last six months. Last year, a group of extremists beat the pastor, a congregant told the Morning Star News.

The suspicious nature of the pastor’s death, and his struggles with his harassers, are refocusing attention on the growing persecution of Christians in the world’s largest democracy.

India ranks 11th, just behind Iran and Yemen, this year on an annual list of the world’s 50 worst countries for persecution of Christians published by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors U.S.A. India had ranked 15 the previous year.

The Open Doors report estimated that in 2016, there was a weekly average of 10 instances in which a church was burned down or a cleric was assaulted in India. That’s triple the rate of just two years ago, the report said.

“Religious nationalism is on the rise,” said Daniel Mark, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan independent federal group created by Congress in 1998. “Some state and local governments in India have tried to address attacks on [religious] minorities, but others turn a blind eye. That creates a climate of impunity that allows radicals to function more freely.”

USCIRF has designated India a “Tier 2” nation in its watch list of countries experiencing systematic, ongoing or egregious harassment or violence against religious groups. Others in the category include Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan.

USCIRF has grown so concerned about religious persecution against Christians, Muslims and others in India, where Hindus are the majority, that they have repeatedly tried to visit the country, but have been denied visas. The Indian government also has denied visas to other religious freedom and human rights groups, accusing them of being “anti-Hindu,” USCIRF’s website says.

“It’s notably one of a few countries that we tried to visit but have not been able to,” Mark told Fox News. “There are some other countries that are notoriously bad, like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but they routinely grant us permission to visit even though they know there will be criticism from us that comes from those visits.”

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For interviews with William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org.

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