India elections – new government must stop violence against Christians, anti conversion laws must stop

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India goes to the polls this week (April 19) to elect a new government amid growing concerns about the rising persecution of Christians. Release International says a top priority must be to repeal the divisive anti-conversion laws, which are leading to an increase in violence and arrests.

Intolerance is growing towards other faiths as Hindu nationalism gains ground. Latest figures show an alarming rise in attacks against Christians and churches.

Violence up 45%

Two new reports record a dramatic increase in acts of violence against Christians. The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) recorded a record 601 cases of persecution against Christians in India in 2023. That’s a 45 per cent increase on the previous year.

And the United Christian Forum say the violence has continued into the first quarter of 2024. Their latest report documents more than 160 attacks to the middle of March.

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India’s six week-long elections run from April 19 through to early June. Almost a billion people are due to vote to determine the future of the world’s largest democracy.

UK-based Release International, which supports the persecuted Church worldwide, warns that unless India’s government takes action to calm the violence and overturn the culture of hostility, further bloodshed will result.

‘We have seen a dramatic rise in intolerance towards Christians since the BJP first swept to power in 2014,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International.

‘Our partners in India report pastors beaten, churches attacked and prayer meetings disrupted at the hands of ultra-right wing Hindu militants. At the same time, a number of states in India have passed anti-conversion laws which prevent Christians from sharing their faith with Hindus.’

Pastors arrested

Release International’s partner in India provides legal assistance to many pastors. It says that in Uttar Pradesh alone more than 130 church leaders are now under arrest and facing trial, many having been refused bail. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reports a total of 440 pastors arrested over the course of 2023.

The EFI describe the figure as ‘unprecedented’ and say their findings ‘only scratch the surface’.

‘What we’re seeing in India is the rise in right-wing militancy, underpinned by intolerance from the state,’ adds Paul Robinson.

‘Our message to India is to act immediately to halt the spread of intolerance and repeal these anti-conversion laws. These laws fly in the face of India’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, including the freedom to propagate one’s faith. 

‘India is the world’s largest democracy, yet it is heading in a divisive and authoritarian direction. And where intolerance is allowed to rise, violence will inevitably follow.’


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That violence erupted against Christians in the north-eastern state of Manipur in May 2023, when conflict between the Meitei and the Kuki peoples, based on ethnicity and politics took on a religious dimension.

Mass attacks against the predominantly Christian Kukis by the Hindu Meitei forced 60,000 Kukis to flee. Videos posted on social media showed mobs armed with automatic weapons attacking and burning hundreds of Kuki Christian churches while the military stood by.

Religious violence also erupted against the Meitei Christian minority, as Meitei mobs damaged and destroyed more than 250 Christian churches.


Paul Robinson

‘The level of the violence and destruction is a warning to India that this culture of intolerance towards minority faiths by the overwhelming Hindu majority must end,’ says Paul Robinson. 

‘Our message to India and its people as they go to the polls, is that for the violence to stop, you must repeal these anti-conversion laws, which encourage extremists and are fuelling violence.’

Yet rising nationalist sentiment in India shows no signs of abating. It finds its expression in the Hindutva movement. This is the belief that to be Indian is to be Hindu, and nothing else will be tolerated. And this form of violent ultra-nationalism is being pursued by paramilitary-style right-wing groups.

The General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, Rev Vijayesh Lal, told Morning Star News, ‘The rapidly deteriorating situation for religious minorities is a matter of grave concern. Christians, especially pastors in rural areas, faced assaults, disrupted prayers, and damaged places of worship throughout the past year.’

Lives threatened

And according to India’s United Christian Forum, Christians in 19 states have had their lives threatened for practising their faith since the start of 2024.

The UCF highlighted Chhattisgarh as a hotspot for the violence, with almost 50 attacks in 2024.

The UCF also warned about state-sanctioned persecution as growing numbers of pastors are arrested for so-called illegal conversions. Twelve states have now passed these anti-conversion laws, which target religious minorities, and pressure is building for a countrywide ban on converting Hindus.

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Estimates vary widely about the number of Christians in India, from almost 28m according to the 2011 census, to more than 70m, making up at most 5 per cent of the population. Tradition has it that the Christian faith was brought to India by the Apostle Thomas, who is said to have landed in Kerala in AD52 and was martyred for his faith 20 years later. Today the violence continues.

A Release International team conducted a recent fact-finding visit to India. They spoke to pastors who had been physically attacked, arrested, or both, simply for worshipping God, often in their homes and churches.

One pastor, ‘Joshua’, from Tamil Nadu, described being badly beaten by a Hindu mob while handing out Bibles on the street. He had to be hospitalised for five days, while the police released his attackers without charge. His medical treatment was paid for by Release International’s partner.

Another Pastor, ‘Mohan’, from Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and most fervently Hindu nationalist state, has been repeatedly harassed by local media and questioned by the police about his ministry.

Hindu girl healed

Hindus turned against Pastor Mohan after a Hindu girl was healed following Christian prayer. Her family stopped coming to the Hindu temple. Pastor Mohan was arrested and later released without charge. Hindus protested so much about his release that the pastor was arrested again and imprisoned.

There he was beaten by another prisoner and became infected from a filthy prison blanket. He said: ‘Each day in the prison was like a month. It was like hell.’

Another pastor, ‘Motilal’ was brutally attacked along with his wife in their home in Rajasthan.

He was also arrested and fined by the police under the anti-conversion laws. Yet, he told Release International: ‘Even if I die, I will not stop serving the Lord and doing the ministry he has given me in this village.’

‘For these pastors, it takes great faith to step out of their houses each day, not knowing where the next attack will come from, and aware that the police are likely to add to their troubles, rather than protect them,’ says Paul Robinson of Release International. ‘Yet they do it anyway, continuing to love and serve God by loving and serving their neighbours.’

Message of hope

Amid stories of hardship, the Release International team also heard accounts of people these pastors had helped turn away from drunkenness, despair, and domestic violence. Many, especially from the underclasses, the poorest of the poor, are responding to the Christian message of hope, that they are both loved and valued.

The work of these pastors is also practical. They are helping poor children to get an education and find jobs; they are helping girls and women break free of temple prostitution, and are providing health care for the sick.

The leader of Release International’s partner organisation said: ‘The India we knew is gone. But the church will grow and survive if we Christians continue to live out our faith.’

Release International’s partners are providing legal assistance to church leaders who have been accused and arrested. They provide emergency relief for those displaced by the violence, and medical care and assistance for the injured, including long-term rehabilitation. They also supply Bibles to enable pastors to continue their work in the face of violent opposition.

Release International is active in some 30 countries. It works through partners to provide prayerful, pastoral, and practical support for the families of Christian martyrs. It supports prisoners of faith and their families, Christians suffering oppression and violence, and those forced to flee.