INDIAN NATIONALIST LANDSLIDE COULD LEAD TO MORE ATTACKS AGAINST CHRISTIANS
Release calls on PM Narendra Modi to guarantee religious freedom
The Indian elections have seen a landslide victory for the nationalist BJP, which has substantially increased its parliamentary majority in the world’s largest democracy.
With the election results now in, the tightening nationalist grip on India is concerning Christians who are suffering increasing violence at the hands of extremists. Evangelical Christians warn religious polarisation in India is now at an-all-time high.
Attacks against India’s Christian minority have more than doubled since the BJP came to power in 2014. That year, Christians suffered 147 attacks. But by the end of the BJP’s first term in office, that number had risen to 325. Last year alone, violence against Christians had soared by 57 per cent, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
Now Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been swept back into power with an overwhelming majority.
‘Indian Christians fear this further shift towards nationalism could lead to even more attacks against their community,’ warns Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.
‘For years now, Indian nationalist extremists have been fostering intolerance towards Christians, which is increasingly spilling over into violence. At worst, that attitude holds that to be Indian is to be Hindu – and that minorities, including Christians, will no longer be tolerated.
‘We give our congratulations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but we must add this concern:
Mr Modi, please guarantee the security of your Christian community, who fear your party’s success could lead to further violence. Please make it absolutely clear that aggression in the name of nationalism or religion will not be tolerated.’
Some Christians fear the new government will come under pressure to drop the secular constitution that underpins the world’s largest democracy, and instead establish India as a Hindu nation.
Adds Paul Robinson: ‘Such a backward step could do untold damage to community relations in India. Mr Modi, please make it clear that you will uphold India’s secular constitution and the guarantee of religious freedom it extends to every Indian citizen.’
The latest report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom confirms that religious hate crimes in India are rising. And it warns: ‘one-third of state governments [are] increasingly enforcing anti-conversion laws.’
The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India record 77 incidents of hatred and violence against Christians in the first two months of 2019 – up from 49 cases over the same period last year. They warn, ‘attempts at religious polarisation are at an all-time high.’
Their report documents 325 incidents against Christians in India in 2018. Forty per cent of the attacks are in Uttar Pradesh, where the Evangelical Fellowship of India believes a systematic campaign against the tiny Christian minority is taking place. The number of attacks has been building steadily there since September. Disruption of church services is common.
Says Release CEO Paul Robinson: ‘During a recent trip to India we met Pastor Steeven [correct], who was attacked by militants after he applied to a court for permission to build a church.
‘Seven people beat him up outside the court with rods and sticks. Then they took him to an animal shed, kicked him, gave him an electric shock and partially strangled him with rope. Finally, they took him to a Hindu temple, beat him again and forced him to sign over the land he had bought for the church building.
‘Members of the ruling BJP have threatened Pastor Steeven to leave the area or they will kill him. Such attacks are growing increasingly common as Christians such as Pastor Steeven face intimidation and oppression for the sake of the gospel.’
India’s 28m Christians make up a little over two per cent of the country’s 1.3bn population. Right-wing Hindu groups are angered by the growing number of conversions to Christianity by the Dalit underclass. The Dalits are sometimes referred to as the ‘untouchables’ and often suffer extreme poverty.
Through its international network of missions Release International is active in more than 30 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.
Evangelical Fellowship of India report here
USCIRF Annual Report, India here