Right-wing Hindu nationalist attacks against Christians are becoming increasingly frequent and are emboldened by a lack of accountability.
When Indian police approached local Christians in the city of Belagavi, they had a ‘friendly warning’: skip the prayer meetings or potentially face the wrath of militant Hindutva groups.
Hindu nationalists had spread rumors that locals were being forcefully converted en masse to Christianity, yet the local pastors said the congregation at the church was merely gathering for Sunday mass, a regular and weekly occurrence at the church.
“A few pastors were called and told to not conduct prayers saying right-wing groups may attack them and the police will not be able to give them protection,” Pastor Thomas Johnson told a local news channel.
#BajrangDal disturbed a #Christian prayer meet at #Belur #Hassan alleging #Hindus are being forcibly converted & prayer hall constructed is illegal. Women at the church fought back saying who are they to question them.Cops had to intervene to stop further escalation. No case regd pic.twitter.com/hF97yvlXKe— Imran Khan (@KeypadGuerilla) November 29, 2021
Far from being an isolated incident, Hindu nationalists have increasingly stepped up attacks against Christian places of worship and worshippers across the country.
The pattern is often the same. First, incite fears that conversions are forceful, that Christians are seeking to change the character of India or that places of worship are illegal. A mob is then brought to bear on the targeted group.
On Sunday, November 28, a newly inaugurated church in Delhi faced disruption and vandalism in its first Sunday service when members of a militant Hindu nationalist group called the Bajrang Dal stormed the meeting.
What happened next is something that Christian groups have learned to live with. The police were called to the scene, however, little was done to protect the Christians, and the only attacker to be detained was shortly released.
That low level of impunity has only encouraged other attackers.
In its half-year report titled “Hate and targeted violence against Christians in India,” published earlier this year, the Evangelical Fellowship of India documented 145 instances of anti-Christian violence and three murders.
The report bitterly noted that the “incidents, and the threats, took place even as the country, still reeling from the impact of the first wave of the Corona Virus (sic) pandemic, was struck anew by the second wave.”
One of the most alarming developments is the expansion of the infamous “Freedom of Religion Acts,” also known as “Anti-conversion laws,” which have now been extended to multiple states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is led by India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
According to local observers, the acts of violence facing Christian communities far from being random occurrences are part of a concerted campaign to inflame tensions in a bid to justify new laws restricting their worshiping activities.
While Christians make up just over two percent of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80 percent, radical Hindu nationalists have been carrying out attacks against Christians under the pretext of punishing the minority for allegedly using monetary rewards to convert Hindus to Christianity.
Since the Hindu nationalist BJP took power in 2014, persecution against Christian and Muslim minorities has been on the increase across the country, and today, it’s one of the worst countries in the world to be a Christian.
“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” said a Christian group monitoring violence in the country. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”
Human rights groups in India said last month they had documented over 300 incidents of Christian persecution in just the first nine months of 2021. They went on to warn that this year might be the worst in terms of the number of such incidents in the country’s history.