Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi
Updated: July 29, 2021 06:25 AM GMT
Christians during a religious procession on Good Friday in Delhi. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), an alliance of evangelical and Protestant Christians, says it has recorded 145 incidents of anti-Christian persecution in the country during the first half of 2021.
The violence detailed in the half-yearly report published on July 23 was vicious, widespread and ranged from murder to attacks on churches, exposing police immunity and connivance and the now normalized social exclusion or boycott of Christians.
The most bizarre incident was reported on March 19 from Jhansi, a northern city in Uttar Pradesh state. Four nuns were unjustifiably accused of religious conversion by a mob of extremists and arrested while traveling on a train from Delhi to Odisha.
The terrified nuns were released by police only after intervention from advocacy groups.
“Violence against Christians by non-state actors in India stems from an environment of targeted hate. The translation of the hate into violence is sparked by a sense of impunity generated in India’s administrative apparatus,” the EFI report said.
The report documented three murders, attacks or desecration of 22 churches or places of worship, and 20 cases of social boycotts of families in rural India when they refused to renege on their Christian faith.
Before the year 2021 had reached its halfway mark, some of the most powerful forces in modern India prepared to counter the Christian — and Muslim — presence in India
Madhya Pradesh in the Hindi-speaking heartland topped the list with 30 cases, while its neighbor Uttar Pradesh continued to be a dangerous place for Christians with 22 cases. Karnataka in the south and Chhattisgarh in the eastern tribal belt documented 14 and 13 cases each.
“Before the year 2021 had reached its halfway mark, some of the most powerful forces in modern India prepared to counter the Christian — and Muslim — presence in India, with discussions and statements on how to rid the country of 'padri' [priests or pastors],” Reverend Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of EFI, says in the report.
He underlined that “the incidents, and the threats, took place even as the country, still reeling from the impact of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, was struck anew by the second wave.”
The EFI, founded in 1951, has been documenting incidents of violence and other forms of persecution through its Religious Liberty Commission and other Christian agencies including a national helpline.
The most alarming development this year was the move to push for a nationwide anti-conversion law, the report said.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been urging the federal government to enact an anti-conversion law for the entire country. Its spokesman Rakesh Sinha has placed a bill for the enactment of such a law in the Indian parliament.
Eight states have already enacted anti-conversion laws, with Uttar Pradesh becoming the latest. Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have passed anti-conversion laws but they are not in force for various reasons, while Tamil Nadu has passed and repealed its anti-conversion law.
Pro-Hindu groups, who accuse Christians of using force and allurements for conversions, are themselves organizing “reconversion” ceremonies to coerce Christians to return to the Hindu fold, the report added.
The EFI has appealed to federal and state governments to ensure the rule of law and security of religious minorities in India.
It has also appealed to governments “to deal stringently with the various right-wing organizations operating in these states whose primary agenda is to create an atmosphere of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities.”