Evangelicals in India are calling on Christian leaders in the UK to pressure the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit this week to intervene to help persecuted Christians in India.
Christians are being beaten and killed in India and the influence of hardline Hindus has increased since Modi’s government was elected in summer last year, according to the charity Open Doors.
Vijesh Lall, secretary of the Freedom and Development Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told Christian Today: “The situation has deteriorated in the north. It is not just Christians. It is other minorities and civil society being affected as well.”
He described one incident where Christian pastors were beaten and jailed simply for praying together in a private house.
“The Christians on the ground are fearful and have been for quite some time. People used to attack Christians if they evangelised on the street. Now Christians are not even safe if they are praying in their own homes.
“In one incident not long ago about 35 kilometres from Delhi, 13 pastors were gathered in the house of another pastor. They were praying. It was prayer meeting. There was no preaching or evangelising. They were attacked and beaten. They were taken to the police station where they were told: ‘This is a Hindu nation. Your kind of prayers are not allowed.’ They were released later that day after many hours in custody.”
He conceded that the Modi had on at least two different occasions said everyone in the country will have freedom of religion. “But nothing seems to be happening on the ground.”
Last year there were 147 anti-Christian incidents and already this year to the end of October there have been 130.
“I do not see a bright future unless the Prime Minister really does something. He’s there in your country now. Maybe people can try and talk to him about this,” he pleaded.
Of the population of 1.21 billion, about 2.3 per cent are Christian, between 25 million and 27 million.
Modi’s three-day visit to the UK has been marked by protests. Hundreds of angry demonstrators are protesting against Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been accused of creating “an atmosphere of religious intolerance and impunity” by religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
The defeat of Modi’s party in the Bihar elections is however a game-changer. Christians and people of Indian heritage worldwide are angry that Modi is apparently allowing India’s great and historic reputation as a nation reputation where religious tolerance is practised to be tarnished by allowing those promoting the “to be Indian is to be Hindu” doctrine to range free.
A report earlier this year by the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the Alliance Defending Freedom, Hate and Targeted Violence Against Christians in India, detailed violence against Christians and found 54 per cent of attacks were in the form of threats, intimidation and coercion, often with the police looking on. Physical violence constituted a quarter of all cases and violence against Christian women, a trend that is increasing, was 11 per cent. Breaking of statues and the Cross, and other acts of desecration were recorded in about 8 per cent of cases.
Another report, 300 Days: Documenting Sangh Hate and Communal Violence Under the Violence under the Modi Regime, drafted by prominent Christian and Muslim Human Rights activists and scholars, also tells a dark story.
In the first 300 days of Prime Minister Modi’s term, which began which began on May 26, 2014, the authors documented 600 reported cases of religious intolerance directed towards religious minorities. Of these, 149 were against Christians. There were 43 deaths from these acts of violence.
The states experiencing the most incidents of reported violence are Chhattisgarh with 28 incidents, followed closely by neighbouring Madhya Pradesh with 26, Uttar Pradesh with 18 and Telengana, a new state carved out of Andhra Pradesh, with 15 incidents.
One example of the kind of public discourse Christians and Muslims are concerned about came from Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the powerful Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Speaking at the 50th Anniversary of foundation of its religious wing, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bhagwat said: “Hindutva is the identity of India and it has the capacity to swallow other identities. We just need to restore those capacities.” He has also stated that India is a Hindu state and “citizens of Hindustan should be known as Hindus”.