THERE were at least 177 incidents of persecution and repression of Christians in India in 2015, a new report from the Evangelical Fellowship of India says.
Christians in India amounted to just 2.3 per cent of the population in the last census, in 2011, but they are one of the main targets for violence, mainly from Hindu nationalist extremists.
The 177 cases documented by the report are thought to be a drop in the ocean, as many cases are not recorded by the police or local governments.
Madhya Pradesh, a large state of 73 million people in central India, had the most recorded attacks on Christians: 36 cases were found by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. These included dozens of cases of Hindu fundamentalists’ storming into church services, harassing and assaulting church leaders, and alleging that the Christians were trying to forcibly convert other Indians.
The neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh recorded at least 20 cases, and Uttar Pradesh, in northern Indian, recorded 22.
The most common form of persecution was physical violence, in the form of beatings and attacks by mobs, which accounted for 68 of the 177 incidents documented. There were also 18 reports of pastors’ and church leaders’ being arrested.
There were two reports of rapes, including that of a 71-year-old nun from a Roman Catholic convent school in March in West Bengal, and a 47-year-old RC nun in Chhattisgarh, who was reportedly gagged and tied to a bed at the medical centre where she worked before being assaulted.
The report says that persecution of Christians must be seen in the context of sustained violence against India’s much larger Muslim minority as well. Muslims and Christians have been labelled as “enemies of the nation” by Hindu extremist groups linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Also of concern are laws that forbid the conversion of Indian citizens to Islam or Christianity in some states, which have been highlighted by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.