Suspected Hindu extremists set fire to a church in India’s Andhra Pradesh state, burning it to the ground because local Christians refused to stop worshiping together.
On Sept. 8, neighbors of the Christian Miracle Church, located in Ponduru town, reported flames and smoke coming out of the church building, persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reports.
Pastor Prabhu Das, who has led Christian Miracle Church for nearly 38 years, and his son, Jeevan, arrived on the scene in time to witness flames engulf the church building. The pastor’s car was also destroyed.
Following the arson attack, the pastor filed a formal complaint with police against the unknown assailants. His son told ICC that Hindu extremists had previously threatened the church and ordered the Christians to stop meeting together.
“We have encountered opposition from the Hindu religious extremists several times in the past,” Jeevan said. “The radicals have threatened us to stop the church activities in the town. They have warned us of the consequences if we failed to close down the church.”
“I never expected this to happen,” Jeevan continued. “I suspect this is the work of those who threatened us and told us to close down the church.”
Jeevan said the arson attack has “caused a lot of terror and concern among the members of our church,” which has about 300 congregants.
“Unless the culprits are brought to justice, the attendance of the church could go down significantly. Please pray that justice will be served in this case,” he said.
Such reports are not uncommon in India, where Christians constitute 2.3% of the population.
Though religious freedom is protected in the country’s constitution, incidents targeting Indian Christians have risen steeply since 2014, when Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.
John Prabhudoss, chairman of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, told The Christian Post that Modi's reelection has "brought about a sense of confidence among the Hindu radical party cadre that now they can attack the Christians and other religious minorities with impunity and they do not have to worry about the law enforcement."
"Most Christian victims in the past could not go to the police, but now it is almost certain that only victims will be charged by the police if they go to them. The police are scared of acting against Hindu party members who are attacking the Christians," he said.
According to Persecution Relief, which tracks anti-Christian persecution and harassment in India, crimes against Christians in India increased 60% between 2016 and 2019.
Several 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, extremists often use such laws as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians.
Last month, members of the Sarya Adivasi Samaj group destroyed the homes of 15 Christian families in the Kondagoan district of India’s Chhattisgarh state because they refused to renounce their faith.
India is ranked at No. 10 on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Open Doors notes that converts to Christianity from a Hindu background are “especially vulnerable to persecution” and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism.