03/21/2022 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The normalization of social hostility against religious minorities is a critical factor in India’s decline of religious freedom.
Violent attacks on Indian Christians have more than doubled in recent years, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). In 2014, the year the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rose to political power, EFI recorded 147 violent attacks on Indian Christians. In 2019, after five years of BJP rule, EFI recorded 366 violent attacks.
EFI’s data is backed by a report released by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) India. ADF reported at least 328 incidents of targeted violence against Christians in 2019. Similar to EFI, ADF’s 2019 data represented an increase in violence when compared to recent years. And similarly, United Christian Forum reported 486 incidents of violence against Christians in 2021, a 300% increase since 2014.
However, the incidents reported by EFI and ADF likely only represent a portion of the violence India’s Christian community experiences. Most incidents go unreported due to a fear of reprisal and a lack of confidence in India’s justice system.
The data collected by EFI and ADF shows a clear pattern of increasing social hostility facing Indian Christians. However, what the data doesn’t show is how genuinely terrifying it is to endure these incidents of violence.
“They came prepared to burn us.”
“They came prepared to burn us,” Pastor Hanok Steven recently told ICC in an interview. “I saw someone from the group taking petrol out of the fuel tank of [a] motorbike and heard others shouting for the petrol to be used to burn us.”
On Nov. 4, 2020, five Christians were brutally attacked by radical Hindu nationalists in the Meerpet neighborhood of Hyderabad, India. The attack resulted in the Christian victims sustaining multiple serious injuries.
According to Pastor Hanok, a Christian woman named Sadhya invited several church members to a prayer meeting. Before the meeting, Sadhya received permission from her Hindu landlord to hold the meeting in her home.
Around noon, only five minutes after the Christians gathered at Sadhya’s home, 15 nationalists broke into the house and attacked the Christians with wooden clubs and sticks. The landlord joined the nationalists and helped drag Pastor Hanok out of the house, where he was further assaulted and threatened with being set on fire.
“I was panicked as all of this was going on,” Pastor Hanok recalled. “For 30 minutes, the attack continued, but we eventually managed to run in different directions and reached the police station.”
As a result of the attack, three Christians were seriously injured, and Pastor Hanok’s car was damaged. A Christian man named Janaiah had his eardrum completely shattered, and a Christian woman named Annamma lost six teeth.
“We are completely cut off.”
In another incident, this time in India’s Jharkhand state, six Christian families had the electricity cut from their homes and were banned from accessing the village’s well for more than five months. All of this happened after the Christians refused to publicly recant their faith at a village meeting.
On July 5, 2020, the village council of Petrudu, located in the Latehar district, demanded that the six Christian families recant their faith. When they refused, they were attacked and brutally beaten.
After the attack, a devastating social boycott was instigated against Christian families.
“We walked for miles to fetch water for almost six months,” Joginder, one of the victims, told ICC. “Most of the time, our phones don’t work as we do not have electricity. We have to walk to neighboring villages to charge our phones.”
“We are completely cut off,” Joginder
continued. “No one gives us daily wage working in the village, and we are not allowed to have any association with the other villagers. This has been a painful experience.”
Joginder and his fellow Christians have taken legal action against the people who attacked them on July 5. They are also fighting for the court to declare that they are legally allowed to practice the faith of their choosing in the village without social consequence.
Protecting Religious Freedom
Across India, similar reports of social hostility against Christians are being reported on almost a daily basis. Unchecked inflammatory rhetoric used by political leaders and widespread impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators is among the leading reasons why social hostility against Christians continues to rise across India.
If Indian Christians are to fully realize the religious freedom promised to them in the constitution, authorities must protect Christians and punish those responsible for attacks. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the direction India is currently heading. Instead, India’s leaders are allowing the constitution’s promise of religious freedom to slowly fade from reality for hundreds of millions of religious minorities.
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