Hate crimes against Christians continue to increase in India and have reached an alarming figure of 515 thus far this year.
The figure was reached with over a month to go before the close of 2022 as compared to 505 incidents in the previous year, according to the ecumenical persecution watchdog United Christian Forum (UCF).
The UCF report note that hate crimes rose sharply and steadily since 2014 when the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power.
In 2014 there were 148 incidents, the following year the figure rose to 183, then to 216 in 2016, 248 (2017), and 328 in 2019. The next year, due to the pandemic, the figure went down to 279.
Topping the list of targeted violence against Christians are the states of Uttar Pradesh in the north and central Chhattisgarh.
Uttar Pradesh has recorded over 100 incidents per year from 2018 when it clocked 105 to the current year with 149 cases.
This is due to the number of vigilante groups who harass Christians. One such group, the Hindu Jagran Manch (loosely translated as “Hindu Awake Forum), is active in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, said Father Anand Mathew, director of the Vishwajyoti Communications in Varanasi.
He has collated reports from media and came up with at least 14 major incidents of hate crimes against the community in a span of five days from November 20-25.
The IMS priest said these groups are more active on Sundays when they storm prayer houses, places of worship, and homes of pastors. They would attack and seize Bibles and prayers books. The victims are threatened, thus spreading fear and terror in villages.
Police arrest the pastors and believers — who come from other faiths for prayers — but the perpetrators are allowed to go scot-free. In some cases, pastors praying in their homes with family members are also arrested.
A case in point is Pastor Raju (only one name was given) and his wife from Ghazipur City who were forcibly converted into Hinduism faith at a ‘gharwapasi (home coming)” ceremony.
Surprisingly, even Chhattisgarh, under the rule of a so-called secular party, has seen a sharp rise from 25 incidents in 2018 to 115 incidents as of November 21.
The state has witnessed an increasing number of cases of attacks on churches, places of worship, pastors, and Christians. Last week, eight tribal families were attacked and 15 were people injured, some seriously, in the state’s Kondagaon district. The police claimed it to be a family dispute and took no action against the perpetrators.
In the south, Karnataka state has been notorious with hate crimes with cases having increased from eight incidents in 2018 to 30 on November 21.
With impunity, vigilante groups threaten or physically assault people in prayer, before handing them over to the police on allegations of forcible conversions. Often communal sloganeering is witnessed outside police stations, where the police stand as mute spectators despite constitutional protections for freedom of religion.
There are 79 FIRs (First Information Report) lodged against pastors on false allegations of conversions under the Freedom of Religion Act in six states where such laws exist. Several members of the community are in jail. Bail has been repeatedly denied.
Eleven states have passed the anti-conversion bill. A report by EFI’s religious liberty commission claimed that continuous talk by the government about the anti-conversion law has emboldened anti-Christian vigilantes and created “an atmosphere of fear and apprehension” among Christians.
The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that India be designated as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as set forth by the International Religious Freedom Act.
The commission is a congressional-appointed body but its recommendations are not mandatory to be implemented.
Religious freedom and related human rights in India are under threat with the government continuing to promote and enforce policies, including laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships, etc. that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and Adivasis, said the USCIRF in its November 22 report.
The report claimed that the Indian government continued to suppress critical voices — particularly religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf — including through surveillance, harassment, detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and by targeting NGOs under the Financial Contribution (Regulation) Act.
It cited the arrests of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair based on a 2018 tweet “perceived to insult Hindu religious beliefs,” and rights activist Teesta Setalvad for allegedly fabricating evidence implicating Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The Indian government has, however, rejected the report, describing it as “biased and inaccurate.”