India’s Christians Afforded Little Space to Celebrate Christmas 2020
ICC interviewed Christian leaders from across the country to discuss what Christmas 2020 was like for their communities.
By William Stark, ICC's Regional Manager for South Asia
01/27/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – Over the years, International Christian Concern (ICC) has tracked a troubling trend in India affecting the Christmas holidays. This historical trend is that attacks on Christians and their places of worship increase during the Christmas season.
Last year, however, was a year that did not follow the trend. Over the 2020 Christmas season, ICC documented few attacks on Christians.
Is this a sign that the persecution of Indian Christians is waning after more than six years of escalation?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is no. The reason there were so few attacks documented by ICC over the 2020 Christmas season is that the space afforded to India’s Christians to practice their faith openly has become remarkably small.
To illustrate this reality, ICC interviewed Christian leaders from across the country to discuss what Christmas 2020 was like for their communities.
“Christmas was completely debarred in the district of Alirajpur in Madhya Pradesh,” a local pastor, who wished to remain anonymous, told ICC. “Hindu radicals worked hard to suppress any non-Hindu religious activity, especially Christian gatherings, in the district.”
“Announcements were made by right-wing groups in the media that encouraged thugs to attack Christians,” the local pastor continued. “The Christians were terrified and kept to themselves out of fear.”
Another pastor from the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh shared a similar report with ICC.
“It has been an impossible task just going to different villages to have prayer meetings,” the pastor from Jhabua told ICC. “Forget about celebrations; right-wing groups are monitoring us. They have been even more emboldened after the new anti-conversion law came to the state.”
In Uttar Pradesh, Pastor Robinson and other pastors from his district had to seek police permission to put on a Christmas celebration. As a result, the pastors were able to lead the celebration, but only under the local authorities’ watchful eye.
“The pastors of the Barely district took permission from the police to organize the Christmas celebration,” Pastor Robinson told ICC. “It was tough as we had to celebrate under a lot of restrictions and police surveillance. We were strictly told we could not invite non-Christians, and police personnel was present the entire time to see if the celebration violated the state’s anti-conversion law.”
In October, Pastor Robinson was hospitalized after being brutally attacked by radical Hindu nationalists. Radicals falsely accused the pastor of engaging in forced religious conversions to justify their assault. Since then, Pastor Robinson has been trying his best to continue to lead his faith community.
“We are trying our best to adjust to the new normal,” Pastor Robinson told ICC. “We now have to take extra measures when we conduct worship and prayers.”
In interviews with other pastors, Christmas 2020 was described in many negative ways. Some pastors say it was a “not so joyful Christmas.” Others described it as “a difficult Christmas.” One pastor even claimed that Christmas 2020 was “a black Christmas.”
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly contributed to the lack of planned Christmas activities in 2020. However, the intimidation and fear experienced by Indian Christians is a significant part of why Christmas 2020 was different than previous years.
As the pandemic subsidies globally, many are left wondering what Christmas 2021 will look like for India’s persecuted Christians.