At least two Christians have been hospitalized and are in critical condition after a Hindu mob attacked and desecrated a church worship service in India Sunday, a leading Christian persecution watchdog group has reported.
International Christian Concern, a United States-based NGO devoted to advocating for persecuted Christians, has reported that a mob of about 300 Hindu radicals interrupted Sunday service at the Bastar for Christ Movement Church located in the Jasapara village in the Dantewada District of India's Chhattisgarh State.
Witnesses told ICC that the mob beat the men, women and children of the congregation and dragged them out of the building. The extremists allegedly demanded that the worshipers renounce their faith in Christ. But when the Christians refused to do so they were beaten with sticks.
The mob set fire to the church's furniture and also stripped some of the Christian women.
A total of nine worshipers were seriously injured.
According to ICC, Raju Sodi and Sangeetha Kartami injured their heads and hands and were rushed to a local hospital. They were later sent to a government-run hospital in Dantewada after they were deemed to be in critical condition.
Local police did not initially cooperate and refused to file a report about the altercation after being informed about the incident by the Christian community. In addition, local Christians told ICC that Hindu radicals had filed a police report against the Christian community before the attack occurred.
According to the organization, it took over 24 hours of protests held by the Christian community before the police department accepted the case, and it's unlikely that participants in the radical mob will be arrested and tried in court.
"The attack on Jaripara's Christians is inhuman and highly condemnable," an anonymous local pastor told ICC. "These attacks are popping up on the backdrop of the state elections that are nearing. The [Bharatiya Janata Party], who is in power in the state, makes it all the more easy for the Hindu radicals to carry on the hate campaign against religious minorities for the political gains."
As Open Doors USA ranks India as the 15th-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, the organization has found that incidents of Christian persecution in India have skyrocketed in the last year.
According to Open Doors USA, there were over 410 incidents of Christians being harassed, threatened or attacked for their faith in the first six months of 2017. By comparison, there were a total of 441 incidents reported by Open Doors USA in for the entirety of 2016.
"When the Christians are beaten by the extremists, they receive injuries mostly on their heads or their vital body parts. The assaulters do not care if the person dies in the attack," a local partner told Open Doors USA in August. "They know that they will not be punished because the government (and hence the judiciary) will take their side. In most of the cases the assaulters go unpunished."
Open Doors notes that the increase in persecution in India "had never been so remarkable" and comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP are in power at the federal level. The BJP is largely considered the political arm of the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
"The federal prime minister is part of the BJP and he categorically denies Christians or other minorities are being persecuted," Open Doors USA reports. "During a television show he said he has no knowledge of the burning of churches or other types of persecution."
ICC's Regional Manager William Stark said in a statement that attacks on Christians Indians and their churches are becoming "an almost daily occurrence." He stressed that Christians in India "feel like second-class citizens."
"Hindu radicals across the country seem to have been given a wide berth by local authorities to pursue their hate campaigns against Christians and other minorities. This inability or unwillingness to protect and enforce the rights of Christians must come to an end," Stark asserted. "While Article 25 of India's constitution guarantees full religious freedom for all citizens, the lack of India's enforcement of this freedom leaves Article 25 as just words on paper. India's leaders must do more to confront the issue of growing religious violence."