Christians Suffering at the Intersection of Persecution and the Pandemic in India
By ICC’s India Correspondent
06/15/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On May 31, 2021, Indian authorities took four Christian family members into custody. According to local reports, the four Christians were accused by radical Hindu nationalists of breaking COVID-19 lockdown protocols and violating the state’s anti-conversion laws by merely gathering in their own home for prayer.
Ramesh Damor (name changed for security reasons), his two brothers, and his father endured 12 hours of police interrogations. In the end, the police made the Christians write a letter of apology for breaking the COVID-19 protocol by having an indoor prayer gathering as a family.
When speaking to International Christian Concern (ICC), Ramesh said, “I am already under trial in the High Court on false charges of illegal conversion activities. I spent three months in jail before I received bail in April.”
“Hindu radicals are using my vulnerable situation to harass and intimidate me,” Ramesh continued. “However, God is faithful, and He is my strength.”
Across India, ICC is documenting incidents of persecution where radical Hindu nationalists use the pandemic as a weapon against Christians. In some cases, Christians are falsely accused of breaking COVID-19 protocols. In other cases, wild conspiracy theories regarding the pandemic are attached to Christians to spread intolerance and fear.
On May 22, Dr. Sandhya Tiwary, a Christian, participated in door-to-door medical visits to check on COVID-19 patients in Baina, a village in Madhya Pradesh. Hindu radicals falsely accused her of engaging in illegal conversion activities and recorded a video of Dr. Tiwary offering prayer for the sick.
The video was later shared on social media and the Madhya Pradesh State Government suspended Dr. Tiwary because of the controversy surrounding the false allegation.
In response, Dr. Tiwary made a video of her own, which social media picked up rapidly. She argued, “What is wrong in telling people that God heals? I did not tell anybody to convert or force anybody to pray to Jesus. I am a Christian who only told them that Jesus heals.”
In another incident, Acharya Balakrishna, speaking on behalf of Baba Ramdev, a famous TV yoga and Hindu guru, tweeted that COVID-19 is “a conspiracy to convert the entire country to Christianity and turn them against yoga and Ayurveda.” The tweet placed blame on Christians for the deadly wave of the pandemic and pushed people to buy Ayurveda products, traditional Indian medicines produced by Acharya Balakrishna and Baba Ramdev, to combat COVID-19.
However, the President of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), Dr. J.A. Jeyalal, told the public that IMA had not proven Ayurveda’s medicinal effectiveness in fighting COVID-19. Dr. Jeyalal, another Christian, soon became the next target for the anti-Christian COVID-19 narrative.
A legal firm sued Dr. Jeyalal for using the IMA platform to “spread Christianity”. The firm sought to restrain Dr. Jeyalal from writing, speaking on any media platform, or publishing any defamatory content against Hinduism or Ayurveda.
During this challenging wave of the pandemic, people in India, regardless of caste, color, creed, and even religion, have generally come together to help each other survive. The phrase ‘humanity is in full bloom’ is often heard among neighbors supporting each other.
However, radical Hindu nationalists continue to use false criminal allegations and wild conspiracy theories to persecute India’s Christians. Amid the pandemic, radicals have weaponized COVID-19 protocols and have spread anti-Christian narratives regarding the pandemic to further their mission of turning India into a Hindu nation.