Isaac Poulose was returning home after dropping off his son at school when he was waylaid by several men. They asked the 47-year-old to chant the name of Jesus and beat him up. They hit him with rods and iron chains. They even rode their motorbike over him.
“It is a miracle that I am alive. I spent many days in the intensive care unit,” said Poulose who is from the central state of Madhya Pradesh’s Sehore district. “Both my hands and shoulder bones were broken, and I also suffered internal injuries,” he said.
Poulose’s ‘crime’ was his Christian faith and that he was an elder with a Pentecostal church.
A police complaint was filed over the March 4 incident, but the attackers have yet been arrested, Pastor Shibu Thomas told LiCAS.news.
According to Thomas violence against Christians has worsened so far this year.
“We recorded 187 such incidents in just the first 91 days of the year compared with 130 in the corresponding period in 2019,” said Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief an inter-denominational initiative that provides financial and legal aid to persecuted Christians.
There has been no let down even during the current lockdown to combat COVID-19, he said. The federal government’s lockdown began March 21 and is expected to end on May 3.
On April 16 Neelam Purti, a teacher, was shot at in a village in the eastern state of Jharkhand. Her father, Chamu Purti, a pastor, was shot dead allegedly by Hindu hardliners in 2015.
“Because of the lockdown, we went to our village on April 15 and the very next day some goons came and shot at me. The bullet hit my thigh,” said Purti, the eldest of four children.
Michael Williams, president of United Christian Forum (UCF), said he has been shocked by cases of anti-Christian violence.
“Even during this time of national crisis, when our prime minister has called for all to stand as one in the COVID-19 fight, the minority haters and bashers are still active in committing violence against Christians in India,” Williams said.
His organization, the UCF monitors and documents human rights violations against Christians.
In 2019 there were 527 incidents and four people were killed for their faith. In comparison, there were 477 hate crimes the year before. Between January 2016 to March 2020 there were 1,961 incidents across India, according to Persecution Relief.
Some Indian states have passed controversial anti-conversion laws that discourages proselytization.
Christians constitute only 2.3 per cent of India’s overall population. Hindu hardliners claim Christians are seeking to convert Hindus en masse, claims that Christians brush aside as nonsense. As part of their claims, hardliners have falsely accused Christian leaders and evangelists of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault.
Among the states hostile to Christianity, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh is considered the worst. As per 2011 census, Christians are a miniscule minority of 0.18 percent of the state’s population.
Thomas, from Persecution Relief, said that there were 47 ‘hate crimes’ against Christians in Uttar Pradesh from January to March. The incidents included mob attacks, threats, intimidation, and physical assault. In that state, there have been multiple allegations of Hindu hardliners working with local police to attack prayer centers on Sundays.
“Church leaders and lay people are picked up and even detained by police despite not having a shred of evidence against baseless allegations,” Thomas said.
Last month a pastor from a village in Uttar Pradesh was picked up by police and then beaten up.
Pastor Inder Kumar* said he was hosting a Bible convention when some troublemakers armed with hockey sticks and rods arrived to cause trouble.
“When they saw around 300 people assembled in the hall of my house they did not attack us but called the police saying we were proselytizing,” Kumar said.
“The police took me and four other preachers and then beat us up and filed a case against us. We were let off only after the United Christian Forum intervened,” he said.
The southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are also hostile towards Christians, said Persecution Relief’s quarterly report.
In Karnataka, Hindu hardliners torched Pastor M V Paulose’s car while he was asleep inside. Paulose was sleeping in his vehicle to keep an eye on building material outside a church being built.
He was hospitalized for burn injuries received during the incident.
“After many complaints, the police visited the crime site. I sensed reluctance of police to act,” Paulose said.
For the very first time, Delhi has featured on a list of the ten Indian states most hostile to Christians. The national capital was also the scene of anti-Muslim riots in February.
Pastor Solomon Cornelius said that his house, which also serves as a church building — St. Marie Church of India — in a slum colony in south Delhi, was set afire on June 12 last year.
“We were having dinner when I saw flames emanating from the left side of the house,” Cornelius said. “We spotted two men with a petrol can on the roof, but they fled under the cover of darkness.”
The building’s roof — made of bamboo and plastic sheets — was damaged but they managed to stop the fire using a fire extinguisher.
Cornelius filed a police complaint, but police insisted the fire must have been caused by a short circuit.
Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 15 and Article 25 of the Constitution of India. Government critics say that inter-faith harmony in India is being disrupted by politicians for narrow political gains.
*Name changed for security reasons.