How many Christians are there in India?
There are a large number of Christians in India – more than 71 million – but it’s still only five per cent of the country’s Hindu-majority population.
How are Christians persecuted in India?
India is the largest democracy in the world – but Christians in many parts of the nation find themselves increasingly under threat. In 2023, persecution against Christians in India hit headlines. In early January, riots against believers broke out in Chhattisgarh, where gangs of armed Hindu extremists went door to door and assaulted believers. In May, ethnoreligious clashes in Manipur have shaken the region and the country, disproportionately impacting Christians; the violence left 400 churches in ashes and 50,000 believers displaced.
This hostility in India is often driven by an ongoing belief among some Hindu extremists that Indians ought to be Hindu, and any faith outside of Hinduism is not welcome in India. This mindset has led to violent attacks across the country and impunity for the people who perpetrate this violence, especially in places where the authorities are also Hindu hardliners. Church leaders are particularly vulnerable.
More and more states are also implementing anti-conversion laws. These purport to prevent forced conversion away from Hinduism but, in reality, create an environment where any Christian who shares their faith can be accused of a crime, intimidated or assaulted. There is no equivalent law about coerced conversion to Hinduism, and there are mass ‘homecoming’ campaigns in which Hindu nationalists put tremendous pressure on Christian converts from Hinduism, telling them to return to their previous faith.
Any Christian who does convert from Hinduism is the most likely to come under intense pressure or even violence. They can face constant pressure to renounce their new faith, face job loss/discrimination, endure physical assaults, and even be murdered. Church leaders are also in danger in many parts of India: extremists target them (along with their families) to create fear and chaos in the Christian community.
Particularly in rural communities, men can also face an economic ‘boycott’, losing access to shared agricultural labour pools in villages. Additionally, since men are traditionally the primary earners in Indian families, this kind of persecution can result in the impoverishment of the entire family.
“Though I was attacked twice, still I can feel God’s protection in my life. I was attacked yet was not crushed.” rishi is a church leader in india
What’s life like for Christians in India?
“Every Sunday, more than 50 people come to attend our prayer service,” says Rishi*, a church leader in India. “At one point, an extremist pretended to be a seeker. He had been coming to church and acted like a person that needed healing. When the church service ended, the extremist stayed and asked a special prayer for healing.” Naturally, Rishi was pleased to offer prayer – but he had fallen into a trap they set. Someone else was recording the conversation, with the intent of harming Rishi and the church.
“That recorded video was shared with a group of extremists and that led to hundreds of extremists attacking our church,” says Rishi. “They caught me and they beat me until I fell unconscious.”
Fellow believers took Rishi to the hospital – he was in a critical condition and was admitted to intensive care. He had multiple injuries on his body and a big bump on his head. Shockingly, his ordeal wasn’t over. The next day, the extremists went inside the hospital and had him beaten again. Believers found ways to discharge him and moved him to his hometown.
“Due to the fear of being attacked again, I was relocated to my hometown,” Rishi says. “Though I was attacked twice, still I can feel God’s protection in my life. I was attacked yet was not crushed. I will continue to trust my God and serve him wherever the Lord send me.”
*Name changed for security reasons
How can I help Christians in India?
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in India. Your prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors' local partners strengthen the church in India by providing Bibles, emergency aid, persecution survival training, and livelihood and community development projects.
Dear Father, we ask You to be with Your people across India. Help them endure the intense pressure, discrimination and even violence so many of them face. Help us to know how best we can stand with them. We pray for the upcoming elections in India, that You would bring about an openness to allow Your people to follow You in freedom. We ask You to help our sisters and brothers know they aren't alone. Amen.