India’s Christians Called to Pray as Leaders Anticipate Turbulent Election Season
By ICC’s India Correspondent
07/03/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A nationwide controversy recently arose when two Catholic archbishops in India circulated their annual pastoral letters to parishioners, urging them to pray for India as a nation. The Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto, wrote that India was facing “a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation.” Archbishop of Goa and Daman Filipe, Neri Ferrao, asked Catholics to “play an active role in the political field as the general election is fast approaching,” and added that “democracy appears to be in peril.”
These letters triggered immediate and widespread backlash from members of the government and other Hindu nationalist leaders. The Central Home Minister, Rajanath Singh, stated, “India does not allow religious discrimination or castism, and minorities are safe in the country.” The statement was an attempt to defend the governance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been accused by many of being complicit as religious intolerance and violence have escalated under their rule.
The leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Rakesh Sinha, stated, “This is a direct attack by the church on Indian secularism and democracy.” The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s spokesperson, Surendra Jain, claimed, “The Church in India is trying to destabilize Modi Sarkar.”
With this controversy over the pastoral letters as a backdrop, one must consider whether or not the calls to prayer amount to, as Sinha put it, an attack on Indian democracy. To get to the heart of the issue, International Christian Concern (ICC) spoke with three pastors from across India who shared their testimonies of the growing persecution that India’s Christians have been called to pray against.
“Five policemen were posted for more than a month at my church to make sure that my church remained closed,” Pastor Vinod from Tamil Nadu shared with ICC. New Life Prophetic Church, where Pastor Vinod serves, is one of 10 churches that were shut down during December of 2017 just in the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu. “Still today, my church remains closed. The District Administration has told me that I cannot conduct worship. They say that there was no prior permission for the church to run in that place, even though no such requirement exists in the law.”
Unfortunately, the illegal church closure was not the only persecution that Pastor Vinod and his congregation have faced. “Prior to the letter from the District Administration, on December 9, 2017, a mob of 150 Hindu Munnani people attacked a pre-Christmas celebration where 50 Christians had gathered in Palayam,” Pastor Vinod continued. “The mob barged into the church, beat those who had gathered, and destroyed the Christmas gifts which were ready for distribution.”
“On that day, 20 people from the congregation were arrested and kept in the police station [until] late at night simply for gathering,” Pastor Vinod lamented.
“On that day, 20 people from the congregation were arrested and kept in the police station [until] late at night simply for gathering.”
Moving north, ICC also spoke with Pastor Rai Sahab from Muradapur village in Uttar Pradesh, one of the states most heavily hit by persecution in recent years.
On May 27, 50 Christian gathered for worship at Pastor Sahab’s church when Hindu radicals attacked. After beating Pastor Sahab and another church member, the attackers dragged the two Christians to the police station and falsely accused them of forced conversion.
“I was so scared of losing my eyesight,” Pastor Sahab told ICC. “I was punched so hard before being dragged to the police station that blood clotted inside my right eye.”
Unfortunately, church closures and physical assaults have not been the only persecution that Indian Christians have reported. Pastor Hate Singh Gundiya from Madhya Pradesh, also reported extensive surveillance of Christian activities and threats by local Hindu radical groups. This has led to several church closures and individual Christians giving up their faith.
“Two Christian families from Jhambgudi stopped coming to church, rather they were forced and threatened into giving up their Christian faith,” Pastor Gundiya said. “This has been happening across the entire region of Jhabua. A number of churches have been closed down for the fear of being attacked by Hindu radical groups.”
“There is close surveillance on churches and their activities,” Pastor Gundiya explained. “Even on the people who attend the churches. There have been several instances when I have fled from the marketplace to escape possible physical attack by Hindu radicals when I heard people pointing at me saying, ‘He is Christian, beat him.’”
Pastor Gundiya concluded, “The level of hostility is unbearable for Christians in many regions. If the politics of hate and divide continue into the future, it could mean more violence against Christians and other religious minorities.”
Pastor Vinod summed up the situation, saying, “We are deeply worried about our safety as Christians. Four years of pro-Hindu, BJP rule has brought us to this situation. There is reason to worry about our future. We have only one way to advocate against this and that is to cry out to God in prayer.”
In February 2018, ICC surveyed 1,000 Christians regarding persecution and BJP rule. Of the 1,000 Christians surveyed, 84.45% agreed with the statement “Minorities are less protected under the current administration of Prime Minister Modi and his BJP.” Incidentally, Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List ranks India as the 11th worst among nations where Christians are persecuted. Four years ago, prior to the BJP administration, India ranked 31st on the list.
Despite the headlines attacking the two archbishops’ pastoral letters, thousands of Christians, like Pastor Vinod, Pastor Sahab, and Pastor Gundiya, are experiencing a significant increase in persecution. Many feel that this increase has been a direct effect of BJP rule in India and the Hindu nationalist platform they have used for political gain.
In difficult times, Christians are called to pray. Here, the archbishops are calling on their followers to do the same. As the upcoming national elections approach, radical Hindu nationalist rhetoric will likely increase as will attacks on Christians and their places of worship. Let’s join them in prayer as this difficult season approaches.
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