India: Christians faced 135 cases of persecution in first half of 2020; believers lynched, sodomized

Catholic devotees wear face mask attend the Holy Mass at the Saint Joseph's Church on the first day after the reopening of religious services after the government eased restrictions imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Hyderabad on June 8, 2020. | NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images

In India, 135 cases of persecution occurred in the first half of 2020, including a lynching, community ostracization, and the sodomization and murder of two Christian men, a new report has revealed. 

According to a new report from the Delhi-based Evangelical Fellowship of India, amid the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, Christians faced more opposition than ever from their communities because of their faith, primarily at the hands of Hindu extremists. Between January and June, numerous reports surfaced of Christians being falsely accused, threatened, and attacked.

Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the Bhartiya Janata Party, topped the persecution scale with 32 cases of hate crimes. Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India, with nearly 200 million people. However, only about 350,000 Christians live in the state.

In Odisha’s Kenduguda village in Malkangiri district, a 14-year-old Christian boy was allegedly crushed to death with a stone by a group of people who then chopped the body into pieces before burying the remains in several places. In the report, police noted the victim and his family had adopted Christianity three years before the murder. 

In Tamil Nadu, a Christian father and son were tortured, sodomized with rods, and murdered by local police. In Chhattisgarh, there were six documented cases of targeted violence against Christians just in April despite the national lockdown being in place.  

In Bastar and Dantewada districts, Christians faced stiff opposition to bury their dead, and in Jharkhand, Christian women were sexually assaulted and others socially ostracized. In Pundiguttu village, Christian converts were ordered to renounce their faith or risk being denied water from the community well and other penalties.

While 135 cases of persecution were reported, the actual numbers might be much larger, notes EFI. Many cases go unreported due to fear among the Christian community, a lack of legal literacy and, the reluctance or refusal of police to register cases. 

“The police have been very reluctant and slow to register FIRs in these cases involving recognizable offenses despite being duty-bound to do so under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Even in the cases registered with the police, most never come to court,” EFI notes.

The report also cited incidents of persecution against other religious minorities, including Muslims. In June, groups of young men in East Delhi district were directed by their handlers to kill members of the minority Muslim community, the report found. Additionally, mosques were burned to the ground and academic institutions and small shops destroyed. 

EFI warns that persecution is likely to increase in future years due to proposed changes to laws and policies in India. It specifically cites the push for an all-India law against conversions from the Hindu faith.

Currently, eight out of 29 states in India have adopted anti-conversion laws that seek to prevent any person from converting or attempting to convert, either directly or otherwise, another person through “forcible” or “fraudulent” means, or by “allurement” or “inducement.” However, such laws are often used by Hindu extremists as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians. 

Concluding the report, EFI appealed to the government of India and the leaders of the states named in the report to ”ensure the rule of law and the security of religious minorities in India.”

“We especially appeal to the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, to deal stringently with the various right-wing organizations operating in these states whose primary agenda is to create an atmosphere of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities,” it said.

A separate report from Persecution Relief, which tracks anti-Christian persecution and harassment in India, reported 293 cases of Christian persecution in the first half of 2020. Most recently, a Christian pastor and father of four was abducted and murdered in Bhatpar, Maharashtra state. 

Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA notes that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party rose to power in 2014, India’s Christian minority has faced increasing persecution from Hindu militant groups. 

The country is ranked at No. 10 on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian. According to the CIA World Fact Book, about 80% of India's population is Hindu.

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