Release International is urging India to intervene to prevent the growing attacks against Christians accused of fraudulently converting Hindus.
In the latest attack, Hindus set about a 23-year-old Christian woman with bamboo clubs and steel rods, threatening to kill her for sharing her faith with another Hindu.
Attacks against Christians are rising as the radical nationalist movement Hindutva grows in influence.
Adherents to Hindutva believe that to be Indian is to be Hindu – and nothing else will be tolerated. Under their influence, some eight states have so far passed anti-conversion laws and there are moves to push through a national law to prevent so-called forced conversions.
Christians make up less than five per cent of a country which is overwhelmingly Hindu. Religious nationalism is on the rise, and Christians and Muslims alike have been attacked by Hindu militants.
When a Hindu mob attacked 23-year-old Anamika Gautam in northern India, they threatened to kill her and her father for carrying out so-called forced conversions.
The attack took place in Mansura village in Uttar Pradesh. Her attackers told Anamika, ‘I belong to a family which carries out forced conversions. They were adamant that we must be butchered to death for converting people to Christianity.’
She explained to Morning Star News: ‘We told them that nobody accepts the Christian faith because of us, it is the Lord who calls people to him, it is not human effort.’
Anamika’s screams brought her father and younger brother running, but the mob set about them too. And when three onlookers tried to help, they too were beaten.
‘They kicked and punched me, touched me inappropriately and tore my clothes,’ Anamika told Morning Star News.
But when the injured Christians went the following day to report the attack at the police station, their own complaint was ignored. Instead, a counter-complaint had been laid against them.
They were accused of breach of the peace and criminal intimidation, charges arising from claims they had forcefully converted a former Hindu, who had joined them in prayer meetings at their home.
So the family now face legal charges, and the death threats against them continue.
Anamika said: ‘There is still a threat to our lives and constant harassment. As we pass by on the road, they threaten us or abuse us. But I know that even if the world is against us, the Lord is on our side. He is faithful.’
She said the number of Christians is growing rapidly in the area. And the converts are facing daily harassment from Hindu extremists.
Christians have suffered particularly in India during the Covid pandemic. Many have been bypassed for food aid. They believe religious nationalism is behind this, which maintains that Christians and Muslims are not true Indians.
Partners of Release International warn that attacks against Christians in India are on the rise. This comes as more Dalits, the so-called untouchables outside the caste system, are coming to Christ.
The Dalits are the lowest of the low in Indian society, the underclass who perform the dirtiest jobs, such as road sweeping and toilet cleaning.
There are upwards of 200 million Dalits in India. The name means literally ‘broken’ or ‘scattered’.
One of Release International’s contacts is a Dalit by birth. Due to the sensitivity of the situation we have changed his name to Neeraj.
As a Dalit, Neeraj was brought up to believe that he was less than human. ‘I constantly used to hear my mother saying we were untouchables – subhuman was the word she used - that we were not human beings.
‘Hinduism says there are 330 million gods, but none of these died for a sinner like me. It was only Jesus. It is he who gives me hope. I was told I was created to be less than an animal, but it is Jesus who says, ‘No, I created you in my image.’ That’s why I love Jesus.
‘Christianity gives value to human beings. There is a dignity in the gospel, and that’s what every Dalit longs to hear. He wants to be treated as a human being.’
And that, he believes, is why many of India’s underclass are turning to Christ.
As more Dalits embrace Christianity the backlash from Hindu nationalists has increased. ‘There is an accelerated, escalating violence against the Christian community because of the numbers of Dalits coming to the Christian faith.’
Along with attacks against converts and Christians who share their faith has come a slew of anti-conversion laws.
In theory, these are supposed to prevent forced conversions. But in practice, such laws could be applied to prevent Christians from offering aid or relief, which could be presented as a form of bribery, or from speaking about issues such as judgement, which could be taken as a threat.
The shadow of legislation is increasing intolerance towards Christians, and legitimising the hatred expressed towards them by some nationalist extremists.
The legal pressure is also presenting practical obstacles for Christians who want to share their faith. As a Release partner, who cannot be named, explains:
‘The law says if I want to share the gospel, I need to go to the local magistrate and report that I want to [talk to] a named person two or three months ahead of time. If I fail to do that, I will be penalised with two years of imprisonment and perhaps a £400 fine.
‘This is a gross violation of human rights and freedom of religion.’
It is also a breach of the Indian Constitution. This declares India to be a secular nation and guarantees freedom of religion.
Contacts of Release International hope the British government will exercise its influence and raise the issue with India. They say: ‘We hope the UK government will address this – and that the Indian Prime Minister will take notice.
‘We want to assure [the Indian] Prime Minister Narendra Modi of our prayers and our support, and that we as a Christian community are not against him. Our plea is that he will ensure the safety of Christians in India.’
Release contacts are also calling for prayer for the Church to stand strong in its witness. ‘Our prayers are that the Church of Jesus Christ in India will not fear or be intimidated, but continue to be courageous. This is our calling as Indian Christians. In the midst of persecution, the church is growing and exploding in the nation as never before.’
Release International is working with partners to train pastors in India and to provide financial and medical help when they come under attack.
Release International supports persecuted Christians around the world. Says its CEO, Paul Robinson: ‘India has become a country of special concern to Release International. Attacks against Christians are growing, reflecting the growing intolerance towards other faiths from militant Hindu nationalism.
‘We urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take action to protect the religious minorities in his country, including Christians. And we urge the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to speak up against the increased persecution of Christians in India. We call on Mr Johnson to exercise his influence over his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to change the growing culture of intolerance in the country.’
Through its international network of missions, Release International is active in some 25 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.