A new report says that violent attacks on the Christian minority in India are increasing at an alarming rate, as the emboldened members of groups close to the governing Hindu nationalist party seek to create a "Hindu nation." There's an anti-Christian attack every 40 hours, the report highlights.
The report by the All India Christian Council says attacks against Christians increased by about 20 percent in 2016, and physical violence against Christians was up by as much as 40 percent. A fresh attack is being reported every 40 hours, it added.
"The attacks have become severe and more frequent. Incidents used to be confined to a few states. Now the violence has spread to 23 states," the report notes, pointing out that the sharpest rise has been recorded in the northern Uttar Pradesh state and the southern state of Telangana.
The attacks involve physical beating, vandalism and torching of churches, burning of Bibles, death threats, forcing Christians to renounce their faith and convert to Hinduism, and disruption of and attacks on church services and prayer meetings.
In one case, Hindu nationalists beat an evangelist with chains, stripped him and forced him to drink urine, the report says. In another incident, a Christian cemetery was desecrated and skeletons dug up and strewn across the graveyard, it adds.
Attacks on Christians have been on the rise since the Hindu national Bharatiya Janata Party won the national election in 2014. The BJP believes in and propagates the Hindutva ideology, which envisions an India where Hindus and the Hindu culture will dominate. The BJP is believed to be the political wing of the chief Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Last month, more than 100 members of U.S. Congress wrote a letter to India's interior minister, urging him to allow U.S.-based Christian child sponsorship organization Compassion International to continue its work in that country. The charity recently ended its programs in India amid an ongoing crackdown by the BJP government on nonprofits that receive foreign funds.
The Indian government's treatment of Compassion International has "caused serious concern within the U.S Congress," said the letter addressed to India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
The Indian government alleges that Compassion was funding religious conversions.
"We are writing because we believe the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an inter-bank circular preventing all commercial banks in India from processing CI's wire transfers without prior Ministry approval. As a result, Compassion is unable to process the funds it needs to continue … to the detriment of the hundreds of thousands of children Compassion serves in India. Many of our constituents, who have built emotional attachments through years of building relationships with these kids, are devastated by this wrenching cutoff," the letter continued.
Earlier this month, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a rightwing youth organization known for arson and violence on minorities, forced police to stop a Christian prayer meeting in the Dathauli area of Maharajganj district in Uttar Pradesh, which was being attended by over 150 people and 11 American tourists. The group lodged a complaint alleging it was aimed at conversions to Christianity.
Earlier this year, the Hindu Yuva Vahini attacked the Full Gospel Church in Gorakhpur area in Uttar Pradesh, alleging conversions.
The group was formed by a BJP leader, Yogi Adityanath, who assumed office of Uttar Pradesh state's chief minister last month after the victory of his party in that state.
In February, an evangelist, 47-year-old Dr. Kusuma Anjeneya Swamy, reportedly fell into a coma not long after he was harassed by Hindu nationalists for publicly distributing copies of the New Testament in the southern city of Hyderabad. The group of men threatened to burn him alive and questioned whether "Jesus will save you from the flames."
Although there was no evidence of physical violence, the evangelist apparently suffered a brain hemorrhage and slipped into a coma hours after the incident.