The rise of religious intolerance and anti-Christian rhetoric have gained momentum in India
Violent physical attacks along with vandalism and the destruction of church property highlight just a few of the ways in which Christians suffer in India. With religious intolerance rapidly growing in India, Christians have started modifying practices and activities to match this negative trend. This unfortunate trend is forcing many in the Christian community to question their future as a whole. It also begs the question, is the Indian Church heading underground?
Religious persecution is nothing new to Christians in India. However, what they face today outweighs anything since the foundation of the modern state of India. The rise of religious intolerance and anti-Christian rhetoric gained momentum with the rise to power of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014.
By using religiously divisive political tactics as well as neglecting to confront India’s Hindu radical groups, the current government has allowed India to reach this present state of religious hostility.
“I don’t think Christians have freedom to practice their faith openly now, unlike in the past,” Pastor Gade Rufus told International Christian Concern (ICC). “All the church members in my congregation hide their Bibles in a plastic cover when they go for Sunday worship, as they know if they don’t hide [it] they would have been risking their lives.”
Pastor Gade leads a small congregation of believers in a remote village in Telangana. He continued, “Even when I travel for visiting Christian homes in nearby villages, I make sure to hide my Bible because I know the consequence of being identified as Christian could lead to harassment and brutal beatings by the RSS cadre. I have learned my lesson after two of my Christian friends were brutally beaten up by Hindu radicals. The reason being the two Christians were found with the Bible standing at the bus stop in a village called Chintapalli, about 10 [kilometers] from where I live.”
On April 15, the day before Easter, Pastor Gade was among 10 Christians who were beaten in Injamur-gate village for engaging in personal evangelism. After hours of harassment and abuse at the hands of Hindu radicals, the men were dragged to local authorities where they were further intimidated by police officers. At the station, the men were warned not to continue their “propagation of the Christian faith” in the area without written consent.
Similarly, Christians from Chhattisgarh have suffered almost identical attacks, forcing them to practice their faith in complete secrecy.
“Hundreds of people in my area worship Jesus while keeping their Christian identity a secret to avoid social boycotts, physical attacks, harassment, and huge fines from the village councils,” a local pastor in Chhattisgarh told ICC.
One such family in his congregation has managed to hide their religious identity for more than four years.
“Every Sunday, they would pretend as if they would be going to the market in a nearby town. Actually, they would get off the bus on the way to this nearby town and go to church. After church, they would wait till late evening so that they don’t give a chance for villagers and village elders to suspect,” the local pastor explained to ICC.
The widespread assault against Christian communities in India is more than violent attacks carried out by radical Hindus. It is also legislation, police negligence, and legal discrimination. For example, Shivaram Tekam was fined on April 16, along with three others, simply for attending a church on Easter Sunday. Each man was forced to pay the equivalent of $312.
“They can stop me [from] going to church by placing tough restrictions, but [they] cannot take Jesus from my heart. I will try to come secretly while hiding myself from the villagers,” Tekam told ICC.
It is imperative that the global Church recognizes and calls out the disintegrating religious freedoms in India as the country turns away from its constitution which promises everyone religious freedom.
How can India stand out as a proud democratic system when the Church is being forced into subjection? Hindu radical groups are vying for an India that rejects its own constitution and the fundamental rights that should be endowed to every citizen. If the trend of increasing religious discrimination and persecution is allowed to continue unchecked, the global Church may lose sight of the Christian population in India as they disappear underground for their own safety and survival.