A Restrictive Christmas for Christians in India

01/23/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)Although the number of persecution incidents reported in India around Christmas 2019 appears to be lower than many expected, the level of religious intolerance translated into fear and intimidation. The climate of hate kept the Christian community on high alert during what should have been a time of celebration.

There was a clampdown on internet services in several north Indian states, in relation to protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a controversial citizenship law amended by the BJP-led government. International Christian Concern (ICC) recorded at least 22 attacks against Christians during the Christmas season, and several churches had to cancel their Christmas services as a result. A pastor in Uttar Pradesh even spent the Christmas holiday in jail on false charges of conversion activities.

One local pastor in Madhya Pradesh, Pascal Vadakhiya, told ICC, “For part of the Christmas celebrations, we visit the members of our congregations in different villages. When I and two other Christians were returning from a village called Machilya in Madhya Pradesh, Jhabua district, after conducting special Christmas prayers, we were attacked on our way back and were badly beaten by Mr. Madanm, Gunsighh, and Ram Singh, belonging to same village. Subsequently, the three of us were taken to the police station and handed over to the police.”

The police confiscated Bibles, cell phones, as well as other literature from Pastor Pascal and two other Christians and locked them in prison, sources told ICC. The extremists attacked them and warned them not to visit the village further or engage in Christian conversions in the vicinity. Pastor Pascal and his two congregants spent two nights and one day in police custody.

The Bibles and cellphones that were confiscated are still in police custody, and Pastor Pascal and the two congregants are required to check in at police station every week. Pastor Pascal said, “I won’t be able to visit my church members anymore, particularly during Christmas. It is an unfortunate and painful situation that we cannot even celebrate Christmas freely.

In another incident, a church cancelled all of their Christmas events, including carols and Christmas programs on December 25 because they feared attacks from Hindu radicals. According to local sources, all of the events were called off after an attack by Hindu radicals on December 4 in Bannimardatti village. The church has been threatened and harassed by the Hindu extremists ever since the incident, who even cut off the water supply to 25 Christian families. Some threatened to ex-communicate them from the village if they did not recant their faith in Jesus.

Pastor Raja Bhovi, pastor of His Grace Church in Bannimardatti village, told ICC, “I have arranged to transport all the 25 families 35 km for them to be part of the Christmas celebrations. This is the first time we had to do this kind of thing for Christmas. It was very hard to digest the fact that we had to celebrate Christmas in very restricted circumstances.”

Even for Pastor Ramjit and his church in Mau district of Uttar Pradesh, this Christmas was not a happy affair due to the attack on his church during the holiday season. Pastor Ramjit told ICC, “The situation around this Christmas was not very desirable, as we were told by police that we should not hold any meetings as a church. These orders were given after Hindu radicals complained against me that I was involved in conversions and I should not hold any gatherings. Normally we take the Christmas season as an opportunity to share the Gospel to non-Christians. The Hindu radicals probably knew about this and increased their opposition even more.”

Despite the low reporting on incidents of Christian persecution, the reality speaks otherwise. Whatever the reason for the silent Christmas, the overall mentality against Christians in India has worsened with the level of intolerance reaching an all-time high. These stories showcase what Christmas is like for many Christians in India, and we pray that the Indian government will take steps to improve its record of protecting the rights of all, regardless of religious identity.

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