INDIA: POLICE BAN CHRISTMAS SERVICES OVER ATTACK THREAT
Asian Christians call for prayer for security over Christmas
There are growing tensions in Karnataka, India, where police have clamped down on Christmas meetings in churches, halls and homes, because of the increasing threat of violence from Hindu militants, warns Release International.
Partners of Release International, which supports the persecuted Church worldwide, are urging India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to protect the country’s Christians over Christmas. And Christians in Pakistan are also calling for prayer as security is tightened to protect Christians over the Christmas period.
Release partner Archbishop Joseph D’souza, explained: ‘The situation in Karnataka is tense. In Belguam [also known as Belgavi] police are not allowing Christian groups to meet in local churches, house groups and halls. This situation will mean the inability to have Christmas services.’
There have been increasing numbers of attacks against Christians in Karnataka, where Hindu radicals have been disrupting Christian meetings.
‘Extremists have crossed a red-line by walking into Christian worship and conducting their own services,’ says Archbishop D’souza, who adds: ‘We have not seen anything like this before. They are interrupting Christian services with their Hindu chants. And these extremists are not being arrested.’
There is a growing movement in India from right-wing Hindu militants to outlaw religious conversion, on the grounds of force or coercion. Karnataka is the latest state poised to pass new legislation.
Says Archbishop D’souza: ‘Some Hindu leaders accuse Christians of conducting forced conversions. But the very idea of forced conversions is anathema to Indian Christians.
‘In many parts of the nation, Christians are now afraid because of the way the extremists are taking the law into their hands.
‘There is no place in India’s democracy for incessant campaigns of hatred aimed squarely at the Christian community, its churches, NGOs and schools. We expect protection from the Prime Minister.’
Archbishop D’souza is calling on Prime Minister Modi to engage in what he calls the ‘struggle of his country’s Christians as the Christmas season approaches.’
India is not the only country where Christians face insecurity at Christmas. In Pakistan some families avoid going to church together in case of attack by terrorists.
Release International partner Waseem Khokhar says police have already started to seal off some Christian areas to protect the Christian communities from terrorist attacks. ‘To get in, everyone has to show their ID card. Security is a big, big issue.’
He continues: ‘Half the family will go to the midnight service, and the other half will go to the main service, because they don’t all want to die. If, God forbid, something happened, then at least one person would be left to look after their children.
‘There are some Islamist groups who believe that the Christian minority has no right to live in Pakistan. But we believe that despite the discrimination, persecution and difficulties, God has put us here to be his witness, and we are ready to die for him.’
He adds: ‘We celebrate every Christmas like it is our last, because there is so much uncertainty – but we always do celebrate Christmas.’
Central to those Christmas celebrations is taking care of the poorest Christians in the villages, including those who work as bonded labour in the brick kilns.
‘Many don’t have proper clothes to wear,’ says Waseem. ‘Some say they have never eaten good food in their lives. So in this Christmas season, we always talk to them and share a Christmas meal.
‘We take the whole month from the 1st of December until the 25th to look after them and visit them and try to meet their basic needs. If we are not sharing Christian love at Christmas, it is not really Christmas.’
He asks Christians in the UK to pray for believers in Asia who are facing the risk of attack this Christmas.
‘We trust in the Lord. We believe He is our protector, our stronghold and our fortress, but we ask you to pray for our security while we hold our carol services and our public meetings. We commit these into God’s hands. Thank you.’
Adds Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International: ‘Release calls on India and Pakistan to step up security to allow Christians to celebrate Christmas in peace. Let’s take seriously that call to prayer and stand with our brothers and sisters in India and Pakistan this Christmas.’
Release is active in more than 25 countries around the world, working through partners to prayerfully, pastorally and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families; Christians suffering oppression and violence, and Christians forced to flee.