At least 53 incidents of violence against Christians in India were registered in the first 45 days of 2022, according to a report released by an ecumenical group in New Delhi.
On February 15, the United Christian Forum said the incidents were recorded by its toll-free helpline number. The 53 incidents were recorded as of February 14.
“There has been a steady rise in incidents of violence against Christians,” read a press note from A C Michael, national coordinator of United Christian Forum.
The group claimed its data is not exhaustive as many cases have not been reported.
The ecumenical group released the data as elections were underway in five Indian states this week.
“We appeal to the government and all political parties as they contest elections in various states to ensure rights of all minorities within the framework of the Constitution of India,” read the group’s statement.
An international Christian rights organization also warned this week against what it noted as “a sharp increase in persecution” across eight states in India in the past three weeks.
The group International Christian Concern (ICC) recorded at least 14 violent incidents and 12 cases in which Christians were reported to have been “wrongfully jailed under false conversion charges.”
“If the pace of persecution in recent weeks continues long term, it would threaten to exceed the number of incidents that took place last year,” said Jeff King, ICC president, in a statement.
He described the level of persecution as “unprecedented,” adding that his organization is “deeply concerned about what this might mean for the future of India’s Christian community.”
“This was the highest level of persecution since India gained its independence,” read the ICC statement.
“The sharp increase of persecution within the first quarter of 2022 worries Christians that this year will face even higher levels,” it added.
In December, the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need reported that Christians in India were the targets of 305 violent incidents in the past nine months.
The report, produced by three civil rights groups, concluded that Christians faced persecution in 21 of the country’s 28 states.
The fact-finding report was published by the United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and the United Christian Forum.
The report found that the violence peaked in September when there were 69 violent incidents, compared to 50, the next highest figure, in August.
India, the world’s second-most populous country after China, is ranked 10th on the World Watch List for the persecution of Christians compiled by the advocacy group Open Doors.
According to a 2011 census, 79.8% of India’s 1.38 billion population is Hindu, 14.2% Muslim, and 2.3% Christian.
India has the second-largest Catholic population in Asia after the Philippines.
There are about 20 million Catholics in the country, comprising Latin Rite Catholics as well as members of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom listed India as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade.
“The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” the commission’s 2021 report said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Pope Francis to visit India during a meeting at the Vatican in October.
He was the first Indian prime minister to visit the pope at the Vatican since June 2000, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee met with John Paul II during an official visit to Italy.
India and the Holy See established diplomatic relations shortly after India gained independence from Britain in 1948.
Paul VI became the first pope to visit India in 1964, when he attended the International Eucharistic Congress in Mumbai (known then as Bombay).
The last pope to travel to India was John Paul II, who made a trip to New Delhi in 1999. – with a report from Matters India