A church has been set on fire in the Chengalpattu District amid a rising tide of violence against Christians across India. The fire was started by a group of unidentified persons on 13th June, with the church sustaining severe damage.
The 'Church of True Peace' is led by Pastor Ramesh Jebraj, who is certified blind. Jebraj had spent 10 years constructing the building, which was completed in 2010. The church had a membership of about 30 families and a regular attendance of around 70 people.
Jebraj explained to Persecution Relief how the fence surrounding the church had been burnt down a few years ago, but that he had not made a police complaint then. Following the most recent attack, he has filed a First Information Report (FIR), which is required for the police to begin investigating.
In a separate incident on 19th June, two Christian women from Charabari village, West Bengal, were taken from their homes by mob before being verbally abused and pressured to renounce their religion. These types of attacks, often perpetrated by radical Hindu nationalists, are becoming increasingly common across vast swathes of India. The groups, who see Christianity as a foreign religion, have become notably more active since the election of Hindu Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.
Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, said: "Excommunication of religious minorities has become a standard practice in the villages. The alternative is for a Christian to be forced to embrace another belief out of fear for himself. Religious intolerance and lies have been used by militant groups to instigate villagers against each other, resulting in enmity and terror."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide's chief executive Mervyn Thomas added: "Religious minorities in India are more vulnerable now than ever before. With persistent attacks on their properties, personhood, interests and faith, Christians and other religious minorities are a prime target of a growing culture of widespread impunity. We urge the Tamil Nadu and West Bengal state authorities, as well as the central government, to take firm measures to hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable and commit to protecting the welfare and interests of religious minorities."