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World News

India: Christians assaulted for sharing the gospel

by Heather Preston

A Christian couple from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu have been assaulted and humiliated for sharing Christian literature.

Babu Phinegas and his wife Esther were attacked by Hindu nationalists whilst distributing flyers in the Vellore District earlier this month, according to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Members of Rasthriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Hindu Munani reportedly confronted the couple in the village of Pakkam and summoned a further 50 group members to join them, before assaulting and humiliating the pair before local villagers.

The couple were accused of trying to destroy the Hindu religion by attempting to convert people to Christianity.

Local villagers were said to have threatened to beat Esther after she refused to receive sacred ash and red powder on her forehead - a typical Hindu religious practice.

A video recording of the incident can be found here.

Pastor C. J. Zeba, the coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Christian Network, told CSW that the police had repeatedly failed to register the incident - which is necessary for an investigation to take place, despite him filing a complaint.

Pastor Zeba said: "Christians have become very vulnerable to attacks, abuse and intimidation. The space to practice and talk about their faith has become so reduced, particularly now with a growing culture of intolerance being perpetrated by the Hindu Munani and the RSS. 

"Nothing is visibly being done to protect the rights of religious minorities, including Christians who have been in this country from so many generations."

CSW has called on local police in the state to investigate the incident.

Speaking to Premier, CSW's Kiri Khankwende says "under the Indian constitution Christians are lawfully free to share their faith" but explained that India has seen a "rise in Hindu nationalist sentiment" in recent years which has led to many Christians and religious minorities facing persecution and mistreatment.

A 2019 study by the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, there were 60 reported incidents of hate and violence in the state of Tamil Nadu last year.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "CSW is deeply concerned by the awful experience endured Babu Phinegas and his wife Esther, who were targeted merely for distributing Christian tracts. 

"As citizens of India, it is their constitutional right to share their faith and they must feel free to do so without any risk or harm. 

"We urge the local police to act quickly and register the case so that the matter can be given due legal attention. We also call on the police to hold the perpetrators to account for their actions."

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