CHRISTIANS IN INDIA TARGETED IN COVID LOCKDOWN
Christians in India are being targeted for hatred and violence under cover of the Covid-19 lockdown, according to the latest persecution report by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
The EFI says lockdown has created a sense of impunity which has ‘aggravated the environment of targeted hate and violence against Christians.’
They report 135 attacks against Christians in the first six months of 2020, including a lynching and attempts to prevent Christians from worshipping and sharing their faith. Thirty-two of those hate crimes took place in Uttar Pradesh.
On June 4, a mob in Odisha allegedly crushed to death a 14-year-old Christian boy, before chopping his body into pieces. According to police reports, the boy and his family have faced harassment since converting to Christianity three years ago.
The EFI say: ‘Christians in Kenduguda village have been facing many threats and are being continually harassed by religious fanatics.’ A pastor complained four times to the police about the threats before the murder.
In Tamil Nadu, a Christian father and son died after being allegedly tortured by police supporters of right-wing Hindu militants. Jeyaraj and Emmanuel Benicks were accused of keeping their shop open during the covid curfew.
According to the EFI, ‘they had been beaten, brutally tortured and sodomised with rods.’ The father and son died in hospital a few days later. Four police officers have since been arrested.
Bar on burials
There have also been attempts to prevent Christians from burying their dead. On 15 occasions, believers in Bastar and Dantewada have been told they can only conduct burials if they observe local religious rituals.
In Chhattisgarh, village elders have summoned Christians to demand an explanation of why they refuse to participate in religious rituals that violate their conscience. They pressurised the Christians to recant and assaulted them when they refused.
In Jharkhand, Christians who refused to convert to the majority faith were threated with being cut off from water from the community well.
The attacks against Christians come against a context of growing religious intolerance by right-wing Hindu militants. What is described as an organised hate campaign against Muslims began in New Delhi in December 2019, following calls on social media for Muslims to be murdered.
In the violence that erupted, 43 Muslims and ten Hindus were killed, according to the EFI, and mosques and Muslim schools and shops were burned down. Thousands have been made homeless.
Hindu militants have also renewed their demand for a nationwide law to prevent conversions from the Hindu faith. In Uttar Pradesh, there are moves to impose a seven-year-sentence on people persuading others to change their faith.
The EFI believe the radicalism is being driven by militants who want to turn India into a strict Hindu state.
They say: ‘We especially appeal to the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, to deal stringently with the various right-wing organizations operating in these states. [Their] primary agenda is to create an atmosphere of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities.’
The EFI say the covid lockdown has meant Christian victims of violence no longer have access to police and the courts, and there are few journalists at work in the field to report the violence. ‘Communally motivated crime is either unreported, or under reported.’
In 2019, the EFI recorded 366 attacks against Christians. Given the underreporting during lockdown, it may not be possible to make a direct year-on-year comparison to establish whether the attacks are increasing.
You can read the report by the Religious Liberty Commission of the EFI here