As Christian persecution continues to rise in India under the governance of a Hindu nationalist party, a report by an evangelical group describes the year 2017 as "one of the most traumatic for the Christian community" in 10 years.
Last year was the worst since 2007 and 2008, when about 100 Christians were killed and thousands of homes of Christians were burned down or destroyed in eastern Orissa state's Kandhamal district, says the Annual Report on Hate Crimes against Christians in India in 2017, released by the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
The commission recorded at least 351 cases of violence against Christians in 2017, and the report says the actual number could be much higher, as the list is not "exhaustive."
"Most cases go unreported either because the victim is terrified or the police, especially in the northern states, just turn a blind eye and refuse to record the mandatory First Information Report," it explains.
The southern state of Tamil Nadu was "the most hostile state" with 52 cases, it points out. Northern Uttar Pradesh state had 50 cases, central Chhattisgarh state recorded 43 cases, the central state of Madhya Pradesh had 36 cases and the western state of Maharashtra witnessed 38 incidents, according to the report.
Barring Tamil Nadu, the other states are either ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party directly or in collation with other parties, the report says, noting that Right-wing Hindu groups associated with the party "have free hand with the police and the administration either looking the other way, or complicit."
"The violence is evenly spread across the months of the year, though the prayerful period of Lent and Christmas which involves larger participation of people, also see a bigger targeting of Christians. April saw 54 cases and Christmas month, 40," it adds.
Earlier this month, a judge in Madhya Pradesh sentenced 13 Christians, including a visually-challenged couple and five women, to six months' rigorous imprisonment for allegedly trying to "convert" aboriginal people to Christianity by offering them "inducements." The defense attorney told the court there were discrepancies and procedural lapses in the investigation, but the judge refused to give any concession to the accused.
In January, a mob led by apparent Hindu nationalists burned down a church and shops belonging to Christians in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir after the death of a woman, whom the mob believed was forcibly converted to Christianity.
Christian persecution, which includes violent attacks, destruction of Christian property and false accusations, has risen since the Hindu nationalist party won the general election in 2014. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who belongs to the Right-wing party, is currently trying to woo voters in the Christian-majority state of Meghalaya in India's north-east region.
The governing party is connected with a Hindu nationalist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose founder, M.S. Golwalkar, has said: "The non-Hindu people in Hindustan (referring to India) must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of the Hindu religion, that is they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude toward this land and its age-long tradition but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen's rights."