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Christians in India put under rising pressure

30 December 2021


A worshipper lights candles in St Luke’s, Srinagar, on Christmas Day. The 125-year-old church was abandoned during rising violence in the region in the 1980s, but has now been renovated and was opened for Christmas (News, 17/24 December)

A worshipper lights candles in St Luke’s, Srinagar, on Christmas Day. The 125-year-old church was abandoned during rising violence in the region in the 1980s, but has now been renovated and was opened for Christmas (News, 17/24 December)

ATTACKS on churches, as well as a government decision to deny a charity founded by Mother Teresa access to overseas donations, are the latest signs of increased pressure on Christians in India.

On Christmas Day, the country’s Home Ministry confirmed that it had rejected a request from the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa in 1950, to continue to receive funds from foreign donors.

The Guardian noted that the move came less than two weeks after accusations by Hindu groups that the charity was carrying out forced conversions in a home for girls in the state of Gujarat — a claim denied by the charity. The chair of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights told the newspaper The Hindu that an inspection had found that “non-Christians were made to learn Christian texts.”

Several attacks on churches across states were reported this week. In Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, members of Hindu groups — named by The Hindu as Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Bajrang Dal — burned effigies of Father Christmas outside schools. Christian missionaries were accused of trying to “allure children by making Santa Claus distribute gifts to them”, by the regional secretary of the latter group.

Fr Anand, a priest at Matridham Ashram, in Uttar Pradesh, where a Christmas event was targeted by a Hindu group shouting slogans such as “Stop conversions,” and “Missionary murdabad,” meaning “Death to missionaries,” told local media: “This is a symbol of what is happening because these people have impunity, and it creates tension. Every Sunday is a day of terror and trauma for Christians, especially those belonging to those small churches.”

The Hindu reported that, in another northern state, Haryana, a life-size statue of Jesus was desecrated on Christmas Day at Holy Redeemer RC Church, Ambala. Vatican News reports that on 22 December another RC church, in the Chikkaballapur district of Karnataka, a state in southern India, was vandalised.

This month, the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill was passed in the state’s legislative assembly. The legislation dictates that both the individual wishing to convert and the person performing the conversion ceremony will have to give 30 days’ notice to the district magistrate, and states that any relative or colleague of the individual will be able register a complaint, citing “misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by promise of marriage”. Punishments for those found in contravention of the legislation include prison sentences of between three and ten years.

About one third of states in India limit or prohibit religious conversion. Before the passing of this latest legislation, the Evangelical Fellowship of India warned that its proposal seemed to have “emboldened elements subscribing to a religious-political majoritarian ideology”.

This month, it reported 39 incidents of violence and threats against Christians in the state this year, drawing on the work of a “fact-finding team” from its religious liberty commission, which, it says, travelled to eight towns and cities in the region. The report includes case studies of the disruption of prayer and worship meetings, and assaults on pastors.

“It is clear and obvious that an atmosphere of fear and apprehension prevails in the Christian community, and its grass-roots religious clergy because of a systematic targeting through a vicious and malicious hate campaign,” the report says. “It is equally obvious that those involved in carrying out this hate campaign and fear-mongering enjoy protection and possibly support of elements in the political and law and order apparatus on the state.”

The warning has been echoed by Christian charities in the UK. The Moderator Bishop of the Good Shepherd Church of India, Dr Joseph D’souza, who is president of the All India Christian Council, told Release International this month that the situation in Karnataka was “tense. . . Extremists have crossed a red line by walking into Christian worship and conducting their own services. We have not seen anything like this before. They are interrupting Christian services with their Hindu chants. And these extremists are not being arrested.”

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