Indian Christian leaders say they welcome the Supreme Court's recent directive to eight states to verify the claims of Christian groups that filed a petition for protection after around 200 attacks were reported within the first five months of 2022.
"We are satisfied with the Supreme Court order," one of the petitioners, Archbishop Peter Machado of the Archdiocese of Bengaluru, told UCA News.
In an interim order passed earlier this month, Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli directed chief secretaries of eight states to verify the list of attacks mentioned in the petition within four months and send the report to the federal interior ministry.
The eight states include Bihar, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, according to The Hindu newspaper.
The court said verification was needed because the federal government had maintained that claims of Christian persecution in India are based on "half-baked and self-serving facts and self-serving articles and reports … based upon mere conjecture."
The order assured that the court "had not formed any opinion on the veracity of the allegations."
The states must provide information such as preliminary police reports, status of investigations, arrests made and charges filed, the order states. The order directed the petitioners to provide a detailed breakdown of the incidents of violence to the office of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
Last month, the federal interior ministry said in its response to the petition from Christian groups: "There appears to be some hidden oblique agenda in filing such deceptive petitions, creating unrest throughout the country and perhaps for getting assistance from outside the country to meddle with internal affairs of our nation."
The petition was filed by Archbishop Machado, the National Solidarity Forum and the Evangelical Fellowship of India, demanding an investigation into rising attacks on Christians and requesting police protection for places of worship.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, who reported about 500 attacks on Christians across the country in 2021 alone, issued a formal response to the claim of the federal government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
While Christians make up only 2.3% of India's population and Hindus comprise about 80%, several states in the country have enacted anti-conversion laws, which presume that Christians "force" or give money to Hindus to persuade them to convert to Christianity.
Radical Hindu nationalist groups frequently use anti-conversion laws to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks under the pretext of an alleged forced conversion.
"The persecution of Christians in India is intensifying as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence," a fact sheet from watchdog group Open Doors USA states. "The driving force behind this is Hindutva, an ideology that disregards Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians because they have allegiances that lie outside India, and asserts the country should be purified of their presence."
"This is leading to a systemic, and often violent and carefully orchestrated, targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred."
The United Christian Forum reported at least 486 violent incidents of Christian persecution in 2021, calling it the "most violent year" in the country's history.
UCF attributed the high incidence of Christian persecution to "impunity," enabling mobs to "criminally threaten, physically assault people in prayer, before handing them over to the police on allegations of forcible conversions."
Police registered formal complaints in only 34 of the 486 cases, according to the UCF.