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03/03/2022 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Rajesh often wakes in the middle of the night, gripped with fear. As does his wife. Fear for his beloved country, India. And as a devoted follower of Christ, fears for his family.

He could once venture door to door freely, sharing the gospel and handing out Bibles. Now, it’s almost impossible to tell people about Jesus without facing extreme persecution in Uttar Pradesh.

The ICC staffer’s understandable fear is fueled by a 300% rise in attacks against Christians since 2014 — from 147 reported incidents to 486 in 2021, according to the United Christian Forum (UCF). While Rajesh has suffered beatings for sharing his faith and been kicked out of villages, those incidents were infrequent and isolated. Now, it’s an everyday angst of being outed and targeted as a Christian family. And he must be more discreet when helping persecuted brothers and sisters.

It’s a perfect storm of Christian hardship, from anti-conversion and blasphemy laws to radical Hindu nationalist groups targeting Christians. The caste system exacerbates the situation and puts Christians, considered second-class citizens, at a disadvantage. If they profess Christ, they often receive less government aid.

The increase in persecution is attributed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Inspired by the notion of establishing India as a Hindu nation, Modi and the BJP have passed laws and enforced policies targeting Christians and limiting their religious freedom.

“There are citizens who think Christians are good people and do a lot of good for this country,” said Rajesh. “But in the last eight years, it has really been suppressed by Modi and the BJP. For the average Hindu, they are kind of neutral because the BJP policies against Christians don’t really affect them. They are silent and don’t worry about it. But some are vocal and speak against the extreme right.”

India made the ICC 2021 Persecutor of the Year Awards in every category—country, entity (Sangh Parivar), and individual (Modi).

ICC Stands in the Gap

To counter the persecution, ICC helps Christians on the front lines with food and safe housing, living and medical expenses, and small business startups. ICC also trains pastors and Christian leaders from rural communities on how to avoid, mitigate, and manage instances of persecution. ICC will train another 200 church planters in the coming year.

Rajesh and many followers of Christ, like their persecuted brothers and sisters elsewhere, feel helpless. They cannot depend on the mechanisms of law, like the constitution, that are designed to protect them. Religious freedom is a fundamental right promised to all Indians, upheld for seven decades. It’s a moot charter if ignored and unenforced.

The government’s anti-conversion and blasphemy laws hinder Christians from proselytizing, gathering, and worshiping. Radical Hindu nationalists repel any encroachments against their faith or way of life. The right-wing organization RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) ensures that Hinduism and the nation’s culture are protected and violently safeguards their place in society.

A Christian Calamity

Radical Hindu groups like Sangh Parivar further the narrative of the BJP and incite violent mob attacks against churches, Christian families, and individual believers. Churches are forced to close, go deep underground, or hold early morning services to avoid detection.

Violence is also fueled by a propaganda machine that portrays Christians as a threat to Indian culture. And foreign agencies as trying to take over India.

Meanwhile, the incidents mount. Pastor Jansign was holding a Christmas Eve worship service when assailants burst in and dragged him out and into a police Jeep. He’s still in jail. His wife, also subject to abuse, pleads for his release.

In Chhattisgarh state, a recent spike in persecution escalated after a series of hate speech-fueled public rallies by radical Hindu nationalists. One leader called for beheading Christian evangelists.

Pastor Ankush Bariayar was summoned to the Purani Basti Police Station and falsely accused of engaging in illegal religious conversions. When he and two other pastors arrived at the police station, a mob of 50 radical Hindu nationalists burst in and beat the pastor with fists and shoes.

Rajesh says it’s not just the Christian community that’s suffering under Modi and the BJP. Other democratic institutions, freedoms, and rights are being undermined, too.

Still, he has hope for his nation and cites what took place in South Africa decades ago. Archbishop Desmond Tutu led a worldwide campaign to draw attention and eventual sanctions against the government for its discrimination and persecution.

“It’s time for every Christian to do whatever they can to draw attention to what’s taking place in India,” he said. “If you raise your voice and talk to the politicians and government, write your representative in Congress, it can happen. There is hope for India.”

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