ANTI-CONVERSION laws in India must be repealed to curb the rapid increase in religious hatred in the country, Release International has warned.
The charity was responding to the report Hate and Targeted Violence Against Christians in India, which was published by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) on Tuesday. The report records 366 separate persecution incidents targeted at Christians in the country in 2019, and more than 40 attacks in the first two months of 2020. The 2018 report documented 325 attacks: an increase of more than 12.5 per cent in one year.
An accompanying statement from EFI explains: “Most incidents are physical violence, threats, harassment, and the disruption of church services by religious radicals or the police. Disruption of prayer meetings and Sunday worship is now a trend across many states. Many Christians have been falsely accused and detained on charges of forced conversion.”
The chief executive of Release International, Paul Robinson, said: “In the face of growing Hindu nationalism, Christians are increasingly becoming targets for violence and attacks on their churches. We ask the Indian government to acknowledge the growing violence and act to protect its Christian minority. It should repeal the anti-conversion laws, which are being used to stir up religious hatred.”
The law legislates against “forced conversion”, which, he says, is “wide open” to abuse and could lead to further violence. “Any warning of judgement could be considered a threat, and the promise of heaven as an inducement. Christian charitable works could be portrayed as a form of bribery.”
Christian converts from the Dalit community — often referred to in India as “untouchables” — are particularly vulnerable to persecution from right-wing Hindu groups. Pastor Kumar Swamy said: “I grew up constantly hearing from my own mother that I am a subhuman. . . The gospel is the answer to the problems of the Dalits — it has the power to liberate, give dignity, hope, and true liberty. Dalits are coming to Jesus Christ in large numbers.”
The EFI report recommends that the Indian government enact “comprehensive national legislation” against targeted and communal violence; arrest people who promote sectarian hate, including false allegations of Christian conversion; and prosecute police who are “complicit” in attacks against religious minorities. Details of incidents in each state are listed at the end of the report.
Last month, the interdenominational charity Persecution Relief reported a sharp rise in religious persecution in India in 2019. Reported incidents increased by 60 per cent — from 330 to 527 — between 2016 and last year. The increase from 2018 was ten per cent (News, 28 February). Earlier this month, 46 people, mostly Muslims, died in violent sectarian conflict in Delhi (News, 6 March).