Indian Christians seek Christmas protection

Past seasonal attacks cited as justifying deployment of police at Christian churches and institutions
Indian Christians seek Christmas protection

Indian Catholics take part in the Mass of the Chrism at St. Mary's Church in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad on March 22. (Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP)

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has been asked to ensure police protection for Christians in the lead-up to Christmas amid fears of attacks by hard-line Hindu militants.

The ecumenical Christian group Persecution Relief has sent a letter to Singh making the request and backing it up with a list of violent incidents during past Christmas periods.

"There is high tension, unrest and a sense of deep insecurity among the Christian minority community during this season," stated the Dec. 14 letter requesting the deployment of police personnel at Christian churches and institutions across India.

"There have been many occasions where churches, Christian institutions and Christian homes were attacked by anti-Christian, right-wing religious fanatics."

Notwithstanding Singh's office issuing an advisory to all states to ensure law and order during Christmas celebrations, more specific action was needed, the letter argued.

Most past cases of violence in northern states went unreported because victims were afraid to go to the police as they often turned a blind eye to attacks and refused to record complaints.

Many northern states governments controlled by Singh's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stand accused of supporting extremist Hindus.

Persecution Relief founder Shibu Thomas, who attached a list of 10 attacks during the Christmas seasons of 2017 and 2018 as an appendix his letter, told ucanews.com that Christians in India have been going through a very difficult period.

The persecution of Christians, who comprise just 2.3 per cent of India's 1.3 billion population, increased after the BJP came to power federally in May 2014.

"At least 150 Christian pastors have been jailed since January this year across India, an all-time high," Thomas said.

Most pastors were jailed on charges of breaking laws against conversion now in force in seven states.

The laws make conversions through allurement, force or coercion an offence punishable by imprisonment.

"We are living in a dangerous situation," commented Catholic Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal.

"Christians are attacked and sent to jail for alleged conversions. Muslims are targeted for terrorism."

The senior archbishop said that attacks against Christians are a part of a well-orchestrated strategy to defame the Christian community as law breakers.

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"It takes a hell of a lot of time to settle a court case because of huge delays in Indian court systems, and by then, when they get cleared, the damage is done," Archbishop Cornelio said.

Christian leaders such as Thomas maintain that administrations of BJP-ruled states have in recent years supported fanatics.

"We had never previously seen such a situation where police personnel, accompanied by Hindu fanatics, enter Christian churches and homes to arrest pastors," said Thomas.

Father Maria Stephen, public relations officer of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, of central India, asks; "Unless we feel safe, how can we celebrate Christmas or any other functions in our families and churches?"

He said the national government should provide security to Christians in order to give them confidence to join Christmas events.

Records presented in the federal parliament early this year showed increased sectarian violence during the past two years.

In 2017, 111 people were killed and at least 2,384 injured in 822 communal clashes across the country.

In 2016, 86 people were killed and 2,321 injured in 703 incidents.  In 2015, there were 751 incidents recorded involving violent acts against Christians.

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