'Even prayer groups are called conversion setups': Why are Indian Christians being increasingly assaulted for their faith?

The people of Kerala, India resident in Italy commemorate the Holy Week with prayers and depiction of crucification of Jesus Christ on April 10, 2022 in Rome, Italy.
6 min read
17 February, 2023

On February 4, a ‘Dharma Sansad’ or Hindu Parliament was organized at Jantar Mantar in the Indian capital Delhi, advocating for the killing of Muslims and Christians to establish a Hindu Rashtra, or a country controlled completely by Hinduism and its followers.

The event, which was held barely meters away from the Indian Parliament, saw speakers such as Mahamandleshwar Swami Bhakt Hari Singh, a Hindu priest who told Hindus that “When will you kill Christians & Muslims? We should keep weapons at home. We should kill Muslims and Christians”.

Such conclaves where radical Hindu priests instigate masses to commit hate crimes against Muslims and Christians have become a regular occurrence under the ruling Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has completed nine years in power. From August 2021 to December 2022, at least 20 such events occurred, as reported by Article-14.com.

"According to the 2023 Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA) Annual Report, 1198 cases of verified violence against Christians occurred in India during the calendar year 2022"

Christians who make up just 2% of India's 1.4 billion people have been at the receiving end of hate crimes, by far-right radical Hindu groups such as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

In an incident of hate against the community, 0n January 2, a Hindu right-wing mob vandalised a statue of the Virgin Mary, breaking the statue into pieces, in Naranyanpur, in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, told The New Arab, that the community has been living under increased fear, more particularly since the last four years as the state has experienced a rise in such incidents.

A mob of suspected Hindu nationalists break into a church
A mob of suspected Hindu nationalists break into a church in Naranyanpur armed with sticks and shovels

According to the 2023 Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA) Annual Report, 1198 cases of verified violence against Christians occurred in India during the calendar year 2022.

Amid these figures, Pannalal also feels that by staying silent on such grievous hate crimes, the government is allowing the Indian Constitution to be trampled.

While the January 2 incident of vandalism of the statue of the Virgin Mary, stood documented; Fulchand Baghel, a local priest from Bandapal alleges that even his church, near Narayanpur, was vandalised. Baghel’s village Bandapal, saw mobs entering the New India Bible Church with sticks and stones to topple the structure.

During the evening, on the same day, the Church was ripped apart by hateful men, Baghel explained. “Many of us even fled the village to safer places, the mob was hellbent on tearing apart everything that our Church had. Our own village people have made our lives difficult because we practice Christianity” he said.

The church was left in ruin
The church was left in ruin

Locals from Bandapal told The New Arab that neighbouring villages had also been under attack from Hindu mobs.

John Dayal, spokesman of All India Catholic Union views the increased attacks against Christians as a stepping stone in the Hindu right-wing’s larger scheme to achieve the target of the Hindu Rashtra. “Cases are rising all over India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Karnataka.

This amount of hate is not spontaneous, but it is contagious. This is part of a political strategy of polarizing people, by stigmatizing a particular community. After driving Muslims to the wall, some Hindu fanatics are choosing to stigmatize Christians” Dayal said. He also added how even Christian group gatherings are now being seen as conversion meets, “even our prayer meetings are called conversion setups” Dayal lamented.

Christians from various parts of the country have alleged that while the country-wide violence against the community has picked up pace in the two BJP tenures, since December, Hindu mobs have amped up their actions against Christians in response to a purported ‘conversion racket’ which they fear will turn all Hindus to Christians.

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In another bizarre incident of hate crimes against the community, on December 23, 2022, in western India’s Gujarat, people dressed as Santa Claus were allegedly beaten up by a Hindu organisation in the state's capital Ahmedabad.

The Hindu organization behind the attack - Bajrang Dal, has a history of vandalising the properties of Christians and Muslims, which they consider as anti-India. The Bajrang Dal also alleged that the people dressed up as Santa Claus were into conversion activity by offering religious books to people.

On the same day, footage of more anti-Christian violence in southern India’s Karnataka went viral, with videos of a group being assaulted for distributing chocolates and Bibles. Margaret Prabhu, a Christian from Karnataka’s Bangalore views the situation as extremely insecure. Prabhu, who belongs to a middle-class family feels scared for her children who go to schools with majorly Hindu students. “I remember how hijab-clad girls were harassed, I don’t want my children to suffer because of being Christians, but this is how the Hindu right wing is spreading hatred against us,” Prabhu said.

In December 2022 again, former BJP MLA Bhojraj Nag led a rally against the converted tribals in Narayanpur. Local tribals said that even while they convert out of volition, slogans were raised against them, that they were forcefully converted to Christianity. Owing to such rallies and violent sloganeering many have fled to exist safely as Christians. Locals have also alleged that since the rally, several churches in Chhattisgarh have been violently broken down out of hate and suspicion towards the community.

Concerning the chaos that Christians are combatting, Gurvinder Singh Chadda, president of the Akhil Bharati Isai Samudaya Adhikar Sangathan, a Christian rights group, claims that there is an agenda behind attacks against Christians. Chadda asks that while Hindus openly and freely distribute their religious books for public consumption, the Christian community’s prayers behind closed Church doors are viewed with suspicion of conversion.

He also says that though the BJP rules the Centre and many other states where violence against Christians occurs, Chhattisgarh is ruled by the largest opposition party in India, the Congress, he asks, “Why don’t they see that Hindu groups are targeting Christians?”

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The New Arab also spoke to Szarita Laitphlang, National Secretary of the Indian National Congress. Laithphlang explained how the country’s Supreme Court in 2014 issued a ruling directing the central and state governments to take steps to prevent incidents of communal violence, including attacks on the Christian community, and to provide adequate security to the victims. She also added that in 2018, the Bombay High Court directed the government to take action against hate speech targeting the Christian community and to ensure their safety and security.

Laithphlang believes that the government has a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all citizens and to take swift action to prevent and address incidents of communal violence.

Indian Christians today face an existential threat and have often accused their various state governments and police of not acting on their complaints of violence, genocidal threats and persecution, leading to an increase in vicious attacks on them, their institutions, and their places of worship.

Tarushi Aswani is a freelance writer based in India.

Follow her on Twitter: @tarushi_aswani