As many as 30 Christians were jailed last month on charges of forced conversion in just one state alone, including 20 in one week, according to a U.S.-based persecution watchdog, which says churches now fear they may be implicated in a case if they conduct even small group prayers.
The latest incident that led to an arrest of a Christian worker took place on May 31 in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh when a mob of extremist Hindu nationalists broke into the home of a local pastor who was praying with his family, beat him, dragged him from his home and assaulted him before handing him over to police, International Christian Concern reports.
The police then arrested and imprisoned the pastor, charging him with deliberate and malicious acts against another religion while failing to investigate the assault against him.
“We have arrived at a critical juncture, where practicing faith of our choice is equated as crime and punished accordingly,” a local Christian leader from Uttar Pradesh was quoted as saying. “We need to be alert and prepared to face the challenge; almost every pastor and leader is targeted in UP. These are the testing times.”
In a separate incident in the same state on May 29, about 10 young Hindu nationalists interrupted a Sunday service where 40 Christians were praying and worshiping, stole the pastor’s Bible and shoved him to the ground.
The police arrested the church’s pastor and filed a formal complaint against him and refused to book the assailants.
“We are scared to even conduct small group prayers even that can be framed as forcible conversions,” a house church pastor was quoted as saying. “Our lives are in danger, as Christian identity could put us behind the bars, we don’t see any way out, only God should intervene.”
Uttar Pradesh is one of the 11 Indian states which have adopted an anti-conversion law, which presume that Christians pressure Hindus to convert to Christianity.
“India’s anti-conversion laws are not a means to protect religious freedom, but rather a mechanism for the government to oppress and punish religious minorities,”
ICC President Jeff King said. “Our Indian brothers and sisters are facing increased levels of persecution since the adoption of these laws in 11 states. India claims to be the world’s largest democracy, yet shamelessly violates human rights. We pray for the continued resilience of the Indian Church and for the injustice to come to an end.”
While Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80%, the country’s anti-conversion laws presume that Christians “force” or give money to Hindus to persuade them to convert to Christianity.
Some of these laws have been in place for decades in some states. Radical Hindu nationalist groups frequently use the laws to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext of an alleged forced conversion.
For India’s Christians, 2021 was the “most violent year” in the country’s history, according to a report by the United Christian Forum, which recorded at least 486 violent incidents of Christian persecution in the year.
The UCF attributed the high incidence of Christian persecution to “impunity,” due to which “such mobs criminally threaten, physically assault people in prayer, before handing them over to the police on allegations of forcible conversions.”
Police registered formal complaints in only 34 of the 486 cases, according to the UCF.
“Often communal sloganeering is witnessed outside police stations, where the police stand as mute spectators,” the UCF report states.
“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet explains. “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.”
The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America documented at least 761 incidents of violence against Christians in 2021.
“The year 2021 has proven to be the most violent year for Christians in India,” said John Prabhudoss, the chairman of FIACONA, at an earlier press conference in Washington, D.C.
Prabhudoss said FIACONA documented and analyzed all 761 incidents, adding that the number of anti-Christian attacks is likely to be much higher because most of the incidents are not reported.
The group’s report said common citizens of India, especially the religious minorities, observe and feel that the state government, which is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, including the Uttar Pradesh state government, were implementing the majoritarian ideology, namely “Hindutva.”
The national government, also led by the BJP, it continued, “is subservient to” the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an umbrella Hindu nationalist group, and its “multiple associates specializing in radical and violent means to exclude and demean the Christians.”