Reported cases of persecution and hate crimes against Christians in India have steadily increased by about 57 percent in the first two months of 2019, an advocacy group has warned.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India, the national alliance of evangelical Christians with over 65,000 associated churches, has sounded the alarm about the increasing frequency of attacks against Christians in India, the persecution watchdog outlet Morning Star News reports.
Although 2018 was a year filled with rampant violence and discrimination against Christians in certain parts of India, the EFI Religious Liberty Commission reports an increase in documented incidents of hate and targeted violence against Christians that occurred in January and February.
In the first two months of 2019, the EFIRCL documented 77 incidents of hate and targeted violence against Christians. By comparison, only 49 similar incidents were documented by EFIRLC in January and February 2018.
Among the incidents documented this year are the killings of two Christians, one in Odisha state and another in Chhattisgarh state.
Sixteen of the 77 documented incidents in 2019 occurred in Tamil Nadu state, while 12 occurred in Uttar Pradesh. Six took place in Maharashtra and five in Chhattisgarh. Four cases each were documented in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Kerala states.
One incident that took place in Uttar Pradesh was described by eyewitnesses who say that police officers disrupted a Sunday church service and arrested four women and two men. Among those arrested was a female pastor named Sindhu Bharti who was physically assaulted at the police station.
“Boiling tea was forcibly thrust in her mouth because the police thought that she was feigning her unconsciousness,” An eyewitness told Morning Star New. “When that did not work, they poured two jugs of cold water on her face, not caring that it was already severely cold due to winter.”
As for the men who were killed in Odisha and Chhattisgarh, EFI General Secretary, the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, told Morning Star News that both men were killed by members of the India communist party “because of their faith.”
One of the men killed was 40-year-old Anant Ram Gand of Odisha, who was reportedly abducted from his home by three men who left his decapitated body in the street. Gand had just converted to Christianity last year. It is believed that Hindu militants in Gand's village contracted Naxal, an Indian Maoist guerrilla group, to kill Gand.
“We have recorded cases where Christians have been facing social boycott and have been excommunicated from their villages, and in a few instances have had to flee to save their lives,” Lal said.
It should be noted that the EFIRLC data are “by no means an exhaustive compilation” of incidents of persecution in India because it is “based on voluntary reporting and civil society investigations.”
“Most cases go unreported either because the victim and witnesses are terrified, or the police, especially in the northern states, just turn a blind eye and refuse to record the mandatory First Information Report of the crime,” EFI states in its 2018 report.
In 2018, EFIRLC documented 325 incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians in India. Last year, EFI voiced concern about the eruption in violence taking place in a few districts in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populated province.
The EFIRLC reports that 40 percent of documented incidents in 2018 occurred in Uttar Pradesh where Christians make up a very small minority of the population.
The EFIRLC report notes that with India general elections expected to be held in April and May, attempts at “religious polarization” have been at an all-time high.
“Hate speeches, sometimes even by Union Ministers, have acted as a catalyst in the dividing of people along religious, ethnic and even linguistic lines,” the report reads.
“The menace of cow vigilantism has not been subdued but has grown with impunity. Targeting of Minorities, Dalits and Women have visibly increased. The small Christian community, 2.3 percent of the 1.30 billion population, which seems to be targeted on issues of conversion, is also [a] collateral victim of the hate crimes against the much larger Muslim community, which is about 15 percent.”
Over the last several years, India has placed higher and higher on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List of countries where Christians are most persecuted. In 2019, India was ranked as the 10th-worst country in the world for Christian persecution.
“Since the ruling [BJP] party took power in 2014, attacks have increased, and Hindu radicals believe they can attack Christians with no consequences,” an Open Doors fact sheet reads. “As a result, Christians have been targeted by Hindu nationalist extremists more and more each year. The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is considered non-Indian.”