Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide - How are Indian Christians persecuted? - Open Doors UK & Ireland
26 April 2024

How are Indian Christians persecuted?

An Open Doors partner explains how and why Christians face persecution in many parts of India.

Persecution is worsening in many parts of India

India ranks at 11 on the World Watch List 2024, listing the countries where Christians face the most persecution for their faith. In this interview, Open Doors local partner, Priya Sharma*, explains how and why Christians face persecution in many parts of India, how they’re responding, and what Open Doors partners are doing to help our Indian brothers and sisters.

What forms does persecution take in India?

Persecution can be violent. Christians experience physical violence, sexual assault, abduction, attacks on church gatherings, vandalism, forced church closures and even death.

But persecution can also be more subtle and pressure-filled. Believers can face false accusations of forceful religious conversions, hate speech, social ostracisation – this is particularly damaging for Christians in rural areas who depend on community resources like well water to provide for their basic needs. Believers can also experience mental abuse, public demonstrations and even be subject to a programme called ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (Hindi for ‘homecoming’), aimed at ‘reconverting’ former Hindus to Hinduism.

In general, physical violence, false accusations of forceful conversion and churches being closed down are the main forms of persecution.

Are there particular regions of the country that see more persecution than others?

Persecution is prevalent in all the states of India, but the states with highest incidents of persecution are Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

What are the primary reasons why Christians face different levels of persecution or pressure in different areas?

Additionally, most persecution incidents take place in the states where the government is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which follows Hindu nationalist ideologies. The current elections could change which parties have power, across the country and in different regions, and that could impact persecution from authorities.

Are there differences to how Christians are treated depending on their background?

For the religious extremists, it does not matter if you are a tribal Christian or Christian from another caste; what matters is that you have accepted a ‘foreign’ religion and a ‘foreign’ God. Hindu extremists believe India is for Hindus and there is no place for other religions.

Persecution happens to everyone; however, converts from Hinduism can also suffer additional pressure. In general, the moment someone becomes a Christian and leaves Hinduism, their lifestyle changes. They avoid idol worship, Hindu rituals and stop going to the temple; they also do not donate for local festivals. This triggers the Hindu extremists, creating a rise in persecution. Persecution can also increase if you are engaged in sharing your faith to people who are not Christians.

India has risen from 28 to 11 on the World Watch List over the course of 10 years. What changes have you seen in this time in how religious minorities are treated?

There has been no positive change in how religious minorities are treated in India; instead, persecution has escalated to new heights. Religious minorities are not safe in India. There is always a cloud of fear hovering around the minorities.

In the past 10 years, Hindu extremists have openly threatened to eliminate Christianity and other minority religions in India. There have been open statements of hatred and threats against Christians. Pastors, leaders and other Christians have been killed and attacked brutally in broad daylight and the accused are allowed to go free, without any punishment.

Since 2014, when the BJP government came into power nationally, Hindu extremist groups have grown stronger and powerful throughout the country, placing strong emphases on Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideology.

Anti-conversion laws already existed in seven states before the BJP came into power in the national government, but since they formed their government, anti-conversion laws or bills have been imposed in five more states. That’s 12 of India’s 28 states. There have even been several attempts to pass a national anti-conversion law. If the BJP wins the 2024 elections, there is a high chance of an anti-conversion law being introduced at the national level.

How do the anti-conversion laws impact Christians and other religious minorities?

Anti-conversion laws were introduced with the intention to stop forced conversion. Under Indian law, citizens are free to choose their religion. The intention of the law was to ban conversion by force or by offering incentives to change faiths.

But Hindu extremist groups misuse the law. They falsely accuse pastors of offering incentives to people to convert to Christianity, or say that church leaders force innocent people to become followers of Jesus. These extremists lodge false complaints at the police station, getting the pastor arrested, enmeshed in legal battles and even sent to prison.

The extremists spread rumours that Christians are only gaining converts because they promise jobs and incentives and even bribe people to faith. This causes people to believe that Christians and religious minorities are anti-Indian.

Are other religious minorities targeted in the misuse of anti-conversion laws?

Other religious minorities are also targeted by the misuse of anti-conversion laws, but Christians are disproportionately scrutinised. Compared to other religious minorities, pastors and Christian organisations are much more often falsely accused of luring people with money, jobs, free education and healthcare. Christians might also be more vulnerable because most of them do not fight back.

How often are pastors/Christians charged for forcefully converting people?

In 2023, more than 2,300 pastors, leaders and believers were falsely accused, arrested and detained for forceful conversion.

How are Christian converts pressured to ‘re-convert’ to Hinduism?

Converts sometimes revert to their old religion due to the pressure by the extremist groups. The moment someone accepts Christianity, they are looked at with hatred, isolated and ostracised from their village, and all community benefits and privileges are withheld.

If the entire family is Hindu and one person has accepted Christ, there is an extreme pressure to reconvert. Young men and women might be forcefully married to a person from their old religion, or they might be isolated from Christian communities.

Converts face discrimination and constant taunts and abuse. If a disaster occurs in the family or village, converts are blamed. It’s believed that, due to their conversion to Christianity, the gods protecting the village are angry.

The majority of first-generation Christians worship in house churches. How does this make them more vulnerable?

In the past few years, a large number house churches have been started. New believers in these house churches tend to be from economically poor backgrounds. They have often found Christ in pursuit of healing or peace. Since these people might not feel comfortable in established churches – the members of established churches might be more well-off financially compared to new Christians, and the large congregations in existing churches might leave new believers feeling lost – they come to house churches. This number keeps increasing.

The increasing numbers catch the attention of Hindu extremists. These house churches are easy targets for violence, as they do not have a national footprint and do not have registered church buildings. Any type of gathering in houses by Christians is at risk of accusations of being a gathering to convert people to Christianity using money or other fraudulent means. House churches are closely monitored. If any of the believers is a new convert or the only convert in the family, the information reaches extremists, making the house church quite vulnerable.

What happens to the congregation when a church is attacked?

When a church is attacked, many times, the believers are also beaten. The first reaction often is that these believers are mentally traumatised and afraid to carry on with their faith. Often, they cannot gather anymore for prayer or fellowship. They are threatened with violence or falsely accused of religious conversion if they pray or gather for any Christian activity.

It is difficult for the pastor to gather or even meet with believers, as leaders are also monitored. Pastors who depend on offerings for their source of income also lose their livelihood. It becomes difficult for the pastor and the pastor’s family to survive and they have to find new ways to earn money, which can be difficult if the community has turned against the pastor and won’t want to give him any type of income. Additionally, the pastor and their family will face fear of additional attacks.

The pastor is constantly under surveillance by the police as well as extremists; any involvement in Christian activities or ministry will be used against them. Pastors can engage in non-ministerial work but there is no assurance of a job as the community often looks down upon people who are being investigated by the police.

Where do you see hope in the church in India at the moment?

Though there is persecution, the church in India is also growing immensely. House churches are rapidly springing up amidst persecution. Christians are growing in their faith and people are accepting Christ. I also see that established churches and house churches are coming together and all denominations are standing united against persecution. I hope and trust that there would be a united fight against the persecution in India. I also hope to see a revival taking place in India and that the Christians can have freedom of practising their faith freely.

How do Open Doors partners support the church in India?

Open Doors has been working through partners to support Indian believers for more than 20 years, offering persecution survival training, income-generation projects, relief aid, counselling, presence ministry and community projects.

Through persecution survival training, the Indian church is equipped and prepared for persecution. They learn how to gain strength from the Word of God and how to advocate for fair treatment under the law. The people who attend these seminars share what they learn in their churches and even form groups or teams that can help serve Christians facing persecution.

Through community projects and income-generating projects, those affected by persecution are able to earn for themselves and tend to their basic needs; they become independent and do not have to look for help. This also serves as a testimony to surrounding areas, that even though they have been through so much oppression, they are able to continue living and are not desolate or miserable.

Our interventions and programmes certainly ‘strengthen what remain’, going back to the original vision from Revelation 3:2 that Brother Andrew had when he started Open Doors. Our vision is that every church will be prepared for persecution, and we join in praying that there will be freedom of religion and places to worship freely. God has been working miraculously in the India through Open Doors partners. We were able to reach out to many persecuted believers, to strengthen and prepare them.

What do the support and prayers of Christians in the UK and Ireland mean to Indian believers?

The Indian church needs prayer and support from Christians worldwide; the support helps the church in India to know they are not alone in this battle of faith and the body of Christ is united through prayer and support.

It encourages Indian Christians to stand tall and face oppression, knowing that an army of prayer warriors is backing them up. It gives a message that when a part of the church is suffering, the other part of the church can stand as a backbone for the suffering part through their prayer, presence and support.

When the global church raises her voice and support, it’s also possible that this will result in political and social pressure on global, Indian and local leaders to make changes so India can be a safer place for religious minorities.

If Open Doors supporters stopped caring, praying and giving, the situation would worsen in India and the intervention being carried out for safeguarding the persecuted would be halted. Christians will continue to live in a miserable state, the perpetrators will continue to persecute and Christians could be wiped out completely.

I extend my gratitude to the Christians who are praying and supporting Indian Christians. Your prayer and support stand as a source of encouragement to us. For those who loved us and helped us, I want to say that your names may not be engraved in marble, but you are in our prayers and hearts, and we thank God for you. Your presence makes it easy for us to know that Christ is with us.

*Names changed for security reasons

Please pray

Priya Sharma says, “The main prayer of the church is to have a safe place to gather and worship and freedom of religion. Also, they pray for the nation to know Christ and His love.” Lord God, I join my sister in asking for this freedom and for Your name to be known and worshipped throughout India. Amen.

Persecution in India

Find out more about persecution in India, including Pastor Laxman’s* extraordinary story and how you can support and pray for believers.


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