Persecution of Christians on Rise in India

Persecution of Christians on Rise in India

Christians in India are coming under increased pressure from aggressive Hindu nationalists.

Throughout this year there has been a wave of attacks across Chhattisgarh, already the Indian state with the second highest number of incidents against Christians. In some villages, Christian churches have been vandalised, in others pastors have been beaten or abused. Congregations have been broken up by mobs and believers hospitalised with injuries. The police, too, stand accused – of making threats to Christians, hauling them into police stations and carrying out raids on Sunday prayer services.

The attacks have coincided with renewed attention on a longstanding claim from rightwing Hindu groups: that forced conversions are taking place in Chhattisgarh. Such claims have been made by senior figures in the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), as well as vigilante groups.

Speeches, rallies and press statements in recent months have openly attacked Christian pastors and activists for allegedly converting, through force and coercion, tens of thousands of people from tribal communities and poor, lower-caste Hindu families. They allege they are lured into churches by proselytising pastors offering cash payments, free medical assistance and foreign trips, funded by foreign donors. No evidence has been presented for these claims.

In the church in Polmi village, Pastor Moses Logan was conducting the Sunday prayer service when the mob burst in. Logan’s wife and mother were badly beaten, the church curtains torn down, musical instruments smashed and furniture destroyed. Logan’s clothes were ripped as the mob grabbed him and marched him to the local police station, where they attempted unsuccessfully to get a police report filed against him for conducting forced conversions.

As Logan’s car left the police station that night with an escort for safety, it was set upon by people waiting outside, who threw boulders and sticks and smashed the windows.

Hindu nationalist groups have attempted to file dozens of similar police reports against members of the Christian community, and in multiple incidents mobs have charged into police stations to try to force the arrest of pastors.

The Christian community in Chhattisgarh, which according to the last census numbers about 500,000, denies all charges of forced conversion as false and unfounded. They say that they had no outside funding and were involved in no active proselytising, as per the state law, though Bibles are often distributed in rural villages and slum areas.

Many members of tribal communities and lower-caste families in Chhattisgarh do attend church services, and they are referred to as “believers” rather than Christians. However, most spoke of first coming to church of their own accord seeking community or on the recommendation of a friend or neighbour. While dozens of complaints have been recently made to police against pastors, no official police reports have been filed nor any arrests made, owing to lack of evidence.

Chhattisgarh is one of nine Indian states that already have draconian laws regulating religious conversions. Those wishing to change their religion are required to gain permission from the local district magistrate, and anyone carrying out forced conversions can be punished with a three-year jail sentence.

Instead, many in the Christian community allege that they have become a political target, saying that the conversion claims has been revived by the BJP as a way to divide voters down religious lines and tarnish the reputation of the Congress party, which rules the Chhattisgarh state government.

“There have never been any tensions between Hindus and Christians before, this is a completely political issue,” said Obed Das, a pastor in Durg district who was recently threatened after he was accused of forced conversions.