Christian Persecution on the Rise in India; Grim Outlook for 2012

Watchdog groups are sounding the alarm on increasing acts of violence against Christians in India at the hands of the country's Hindu community.

India is one of the regions closely monitored by human rights groups, due to many cases of religious persecution taking place in its recent history. The biggest act of violence against Christians took place in 2008, in a remote eastern region of India, during an event referred to as the "Orissa massacre," in which an estimated 100 Christians were killed and some 5,600 displaced by a mob of Hindu extremists.

Local observers see a bleak outlook for 2012, given the mood in the country, as signs of renewed enmity become more and more apparent.

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On Dec.18, 2011, some 2,500 protesters rallying under the banner of the Hindu nationalist movement expressed hostile attitude towards the idea of Christians celebrating Christmas, reported Mission Network News.

Violence did reportedly breakout in Karnataka, a state near Orissa, where a group of 15 Christians were attacked during Christmas celebrations at a private house by a mob of around 300 members of a Hindu nationalist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The Christians were brutalized, windows smashed and furniture damaged, according to Mission Network News (MNN).

Dave Stravers of a Michigan-based mission to India told the publication that police arrested all the Christians after they were beaten. They were then thrown in jail, he reportedly said, for a week while no action was taken against the attackers.

"This illustrates the justice problem," Stravers told MNN. “Someone comes to beat you up, and then the police come and arrest you and accuse you of inciting that other person to violence!”

According to statistics gathered by Christians living in Orissa, local police only registered 827 cases of more than 3,500 reports of violence that took place during the "Orissa massacre." The cases that went to court that ended with a sentence were only 68, and 412 offenders received a minimum punishment. In addition, 1,009 people were acquitted, and 304 cases are still reportedly awaiting trial.

"Justice is still a huge problem for some 56,000 Christians for whom life has changed dramatically since August 2008," John Dayal, All India Christian Council's (AICC) Executive Secretary, said in a recent statement, as quoted by Spero News . "Aggressors asked them to convert to Hinduism and burn a Bible as a sign. They did not do it and chose to escape. In 400 villages the Christian presence was completely cancelled, more than 5,600 homes and about 295 churches were burned, hundreds of deaths, some women, including at least one nun, were raped."

Leading up to Christmas, more threats of attacks were made in this region, and religious leaders across the globe called for prayer for the safety of the Christian community in India (among other "dangerous" countries).

On Christmas Day 2011, an angry Hindu mob of 20 persons raided a home where several believers gathered for dinner, including a pastor, Bos News reported. The mob reportedly threatened to "kill the Christians," according to residents.

Hindu militants twice attacked evangelical Christians around the holidays in India's southern state of Karnataka, injuring several believers, including women and children, local Christians told BosNewsLife. Police were reportedly again reluctant to investigate the case, asking injured Christians what motivated them to convert to Christianity and reportedly siding with the attackers, according to witnesses.

In a separate incident on Dec. 28, about 10 suspected Hindu militants allegedly stormed the Hebron Full Gospel Assembly Church in the southwestern town of Haleyangadi, reportedly shouting threats and saying they would "not let the church continue at the place."

All India Christian Council has been pressuring the Indian government since December to pass a bill meant to curb "communal violence which has plagued this country after Independence in 1947, and bring justice to the victims." The proposed legislation is entitled the "Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence" bill, according to the organization's website. The council is also launching a nation-wide advocacy and prayer campaign in favor of the bill, AICC said on Dec. 12.

The proposed bill seeks to secure justice for victims and bring guilty parties to justice. It maintains that minorities are denied justice because of the communal behavior of a section of religious and political extremists, and the apathy or involvement of government administrators. The legislation also aims to curb hate speech and similar actions.

Hindus are an overwhelming majority in India, where Christians are a minority at 2.3 percent. Muslims constitute 13.4 percent of the population, while Sikhs make up 1.9 percent.

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