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Making evangelism a crime: Charity says 'state-fuelled persecution' on the rise in parts of India

by Will Hobbs

Reports from India say 42 Christians were arrested and interrogated by police at the end of November in the country's most populated state.

Anti-conversion laws in the state of Uttar Pradesh have led to nearly 400 arrests of Christians over the last three years.

The laws currently apply in 12 of India's 28 states, with fears they could become national.

Andrew Boyd, from the Christian support agency Release International, says laws that aimed to prevent conversion by force have, in effect, opened the gates for increasingly forceful oppression of India's Christians.

"The intention [of the laws] is to prevent anybody converting someone else by force or bribery. Okay, we'd all agree that's reasonable, right? But the trouble is, these laws are being imposed by radicals.

"...through very loosely worded legislation, they're looking at relief aid which has been provided by Christians and saying it's bribery. They're looking at talk of heaven and saying that's bribery, talk of hell - that's coercion.

"Pretty much any attempt to share your faith in India, where these groups are militant and rising, is being opposed."

Attacks in the northeastern state of Manipur in India, believed in part to be motivated by anti-Christian hate, cost the lives of 175 people earlier this year.  300 churches were burned down and 60,000 people were driven from their homes.

Boyd believes these attacks are the start of a worryingly growing trend.

"You've got a growing movement in India, which is known as 'Hindutva', which is roughly translated as Hindu-ness. So the idea there is that if you're Indian, you need to be Hindu, which is pretty tricky because India is an absolutely huge nation."

"What we've seen in India is a rise of religious nationalism. Currently the government in power is the BJP nationalist party, and there are some very radical groups that are associated with that party.  We've seen a growing intolerance... towards people of any other kind of faith."

As evangelistic churches are forced underground, Boyd says Indian believers are urging each other not to be too reliant on their pastors for the gospel being passed on, and to adopt a similar approach to the early church's operation, and Christianity first began, under Roman persecution.

"What has to take place in India is to say 'pastors, you need to equip the saints for service'. You need to be working, as it says in Ephesians, to make sure that everybody is working effectively to share their faith, that meetings take place under the radar in homes, going back effectively to the model that we saw under persecution of Nero in the first century, but I think most Indians would not recognize that as happening in their country."

Boyd's encouraging UK believers to connect with the stories of Indian believers and partner with them in prayer.

"Hebrews 13:3 says, 'Remember those who are suffering, as though you yourself are suffering.' So we need to find out their stories. So at Release International, we're committed to telling their stories."

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