Attacks against Christians in India are rising according to Release International.
The Christian organisation says attacks are increasing as growing numbers of the Indian underclass, the Dalits, are turning to Christianity just as right-wing Hindu nationalism is on the rise. More Indian states are also imposing anti-conversion laws which condemn anyone changing their religion.
The latest report from a coalition of NGOs, including the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, listed more than 300 violent attacks against Christians over a nine-month period. They included 288 accounts of mob violence across 21 states.
In July, the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) recorded 145 incidents of religious persecution against Christians – including three murders – in the first six months of 2021.
The EFI claims extremists demolished three churches and attacked more than 20 places of worship. It says militants carried out 21 violent attacks against Christians and made 43 false accusations of forced conversion.
According to one Release partner, Madhu: "The number of attacks has increased since the second wave of COVID-19 ended. This is a most challenging time for the Church in India. We need prayer and the intervention of God."
In an attack in Bihar state in September, 25 Hindu extremists dragged a 36-year-old pastor from the marketplace, slapped him, punched him and kicked him and demanded: "Stop Christian prayers. Shutdown your church. If we see you conducting prayers, we will not spare you alive," Pastor Raj Masih told Morning Star News.
The pastor said extremists were resorting to violence because growing numbers of Hindus were putting their faith in Christ and attending church services.
Release International says the rising persecution is linked to Hindutva, a form of religious and cultural nationalism that binds Hindu identity to nationality. Hindutva shapes the right-wing political ideology of India’s ruling BJP and other nationalist groups.
CEO of Release International, Paul Robinson says :
"At its most extreme, the notion behind Hindutva is that to be Indian is to be a Hindu – and nothing else will be tolerated.
"This rising tide of intolerance has increased since the election of the nationalist BJP in 2014. It has resulted in attacks against religious minorities and the passing of anti-conversion laws in many states. These laws are targeted at both Muslims and Christians."
The Association for Protection of Civil Rights and others claim in their latest report that the vast majority of attacks are targeted against Christians from the Dalit and tribal communities.
There are upwards of 200 million Dalits in India and many are turning to Christianity.
According to the 2021 Indian census there are around 960 million Hindus in India, which has a population of 1.3 billion. Estimates vary as to the number of Christians. The official figure is 29 million, but some observers put the number at almost 65 million, roughly 5 per cent of the population.