With Iran and Iraq dominating the headlines, India is hardly on many Christians' radar.
However, it should be.
The number of attacks against Christians by Hindu extremists has increased at an alarming rate through the first four months of 2007; a reported total of 113 incidents have been recorded since January 1, 2007.
Compass Direct News reports these recent incidents:
• A mob of around 50 Hindu extremists allegedly belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) surrounded a house church the night of April 22 and began shouting derogatory statements at worshippers. Dr. Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said terrified believers at the church in Rajanukunte village, six miles from Bangalore in Karnataka state, shut the doors and phoned local police. Two policemen arrived and took two pastors identified only as Jayaseelan and Daniel of Holy Assembly Church to the police station. En route, a few activists began beating and insulting the pastors and four other believers who had accompanied them, as the police officers looked on. The pastors later were released after being charged.
• A mob of 300 Hindu extremists belonging to the Hindu extremist Sangh Parivar and RSS demolished the Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church (JELC) building in front of the Orissa police and district administration and ransacked a pastor's house on April 4 in Gunthaput village, Koraput district, in Orissa state. The hired attackers protested construction of a boundary wall around the building, claiming the land didn't belong to the church. While wrecking the church, the extremists raised banners warning Christians that they would not allow any Christian worship center in their village.
• Ten to 12 Hindu extremists on alleged orders from Sangh Parivar assaulted independent pastor Basanta Nayak, 21, of Sujeli village, Phulbani district, in Orissa state on March 27. The Global Council of Indian Christians said Nayak had organized a prayer and healing service in Sujeli with 175 people in attendance. Around 9 p.m., the Hindu extremists entered the service, walked up to Nayak and requested him to go with them to pray over a sick man who was too ill to attend. They took Nayak to a Hindu temple, where 10 more extremists were waiting with wooden clubs. One slapped Nayak and cursed Christianity, making false accusations of forcible conversions at the service, while others struck him with clubs.
This is only the tip of the iceberg.
India now has seven states with legislation banning unregistered or unethical religious conversions – to the glee of Hindu extremists who arbitrarily invoke them to quash Christian growth. The seven Indian states with anti-conversion legislations, known as Freedom of Religion Acts, are Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Hindu extremists commonly use anti-conversion legislation to falsely accuse Christians of converting people through force or allurement; thus they justify attacks on Christians or deflect prosecution away from themselves by pressing charges of "forcible conversion" without any evidence.
Christians and political analysts in India link the enactment of anti-conversion laws to the Hindu nationalistic agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), political wing of the RSS, the parent organization of numerous Hindu extremist groups, according to Compass Direct News.
The BJP uses anti-conversion law as a tool to institutionalize the ideology of Hindu nationalism, known as Hindutva, which envisions a "Hindu nation" where the religious minorities are allowed to live but in subordination to the majority community.
Christianity, according to Hindutva, is a "Western religion" brought to India mainly under the British colonial rule. The BJP also claims that missionaries are part of an international conspiracy, mainly stemming from the United States, to convert and overtake India.
The Hindu extremist party accuses Western missionaries of using material bribes or force to convert poor and illiterate people in India.
India, which is ranked No. 29 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where persecution of Christians is the severest, is the world's largest democracy. Its constitution provides for full religious freedom of worship.
But obviously, Christians are increasingly being marginalized.
Please pray with me that India will provide Christians with complete freedom to worship the Lord and protection to practice their faith with violence.
Dr. Carl Moeller is president/CEO of Open Doors USA