The situation facing Christians and other religious minorities in India is ‘unprecedentedly grave’, says an Open Doors spokesperson.
Across India, people are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence. Christians and other religious minorities will be joining in the celebrations – but also recognising that they face discrimination that is ‘unprecedentedly grave’, in the words of Heena Singh*, Open Doors spokesperson on India.
“The gravity of the situation, for Christians and Muslims especially, is at its peak,” says Heena. “Every day we receive new prayer requests from friends, for another Christian family attacked, or a pastor arrested on false accusation.”
There is a very large number of Christians in India – almost 69 million, according to Open Doors research – but this is only about five per cent of the country’s population. Christians and other religious minorities have long experienced some hostility, but attitudes are hardening and persecution is worsening as the influence of Hindutva increases.
"Now it is often entire communities attacking and expelling converts." Heena, Open Doors
“It is no longer small extremist groups attacking converts, now it is often entire communities attacking and expelling them, beating them or handing them over to the police on false accusations,” says Heena. “Extremists are propagating the hatred through social media, instigating mass protests, and rallies, rousing hatred and spreading misinformation. These can lead in turn to mob violence.
“Mob violence is common in most villages and small cities. A few extremists gather a crowd from the local community, brainwashing them about how Christians are polluting the society and how they are luring people to conversion. They then come and raid the service, beating the people brutally, they even go and bring a police officer to arrest the leaders.”
Reports of such violence have been rising sharply, according to research compiled for the Open Doors World Watch List. A recent joint submission to the Human Right’s Council’s Universal Periodic Review of India spoke of incitement and violence against religious minorities.
Despite a constitutional promise of religious freedom, to ‘profess, practise, and propagate religion’, 11 states have so far passed anti-conversion laws. There are punishments of up to ten years in prison for those found to have coerced conversion from Hinduism. In practice, these laws are often abused to target and harass Christians and other religious minorities.
“Religious minorities across India are standing on a precipice,” says Dr David Landrum, Director of Advocacy and Public Affairs for Open Doors in the UK and Ireland. “Their legitimacy, and in some cases, their very presence is threatened if the current wave of violent intolerance goes unchecked.”
“Religious minorities across India are standing on a precipice.” Dr David Landrum, Open Doors
“Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a society where ‘[All] are born equal, meaning that we have a right to equal opportunity,’ is in danger of dying for good.”
The Universal Periodic Review of India’s Human Rights is being overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Submissions are currently being made and will be considered from November by a UNHCR working group.
“Now is the time for governments and citizens to speak up. There is no reason why people should have to hide who they are and what they believe,” says Heena.
This Indian Independence Day, please join with the Indian church in praying for true religious freedom, as guaranteed by the Indian constitution.
*Name changed for security reasons
Lord, thank You for the unshakeable faith of Christians in India, and their joy and pride as they celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. Father, we ask that those in power would remember that the Constitution guarantees religious freedom for all. We join with India’s Christians in calling for true freedom to ‘profess, practise, and propagate religion’, as the Constitution promises. Amen.
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