|This church building in northern India was destroyed by Hindu extremists
Image: Gospel for Asia
Although in many parts of India our brothers and sisters are left in peace, in some areas believers are vulnerable to abuse and violence by supporters of the Hindutva movement, which strives to make the country religiously “pure”.
In August 2013, a Christian community in northern India had almost finished constructing its church building when a 1,000-strong mob came to destroy it, before beating the pastor and other Christians. It was part of an ongoing anti-Christian campaign in the area.
Militant Hindus regularly threaten and attack Christians and disrupt worship services; in 2013 one church group reported a total of 131 anti-Christian attacks in the country in the previous year. Karnataka state, where persecution is particularly severe, saw the highest number of anti-Christian attacks.
The authorities often do little to help; the police frequently arrest the Christian victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. Corruption is also rife in the courts, and Christians’ unwillingness to play the system dishonestly works against them. Since the horrific and sustained anti-Christian violence in Orissa state in 2007-8, many of the crimes have gone unpunished. In contrast, seven Christians were imprisoned for life in October 2013 for the murder of the militant Hindu leader whose death sparked the violence, despite an apparent lack of evidence against them and responsibility for the killing having been claimed by a Maoist group.
Christian activities are restricted by “anti-conversion laws”, which are currently active in five states. These prohibit conversions by “force, fraud or allurement”, but they can be misused to prevent legitimate Christian evangelism.
Much of the Hindu extremist activist activity has been prompted by the remarkable growth of the Church in India in recent generations, especially amongst Dalits. Two-thirds of India’s 27 million Christians are Dalits, who are at the very bottom of the Indian caste system. Under Indian law, Dalits who are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist are given certain advantages which are not available to Christian or Muslim Dalits. This discrimination keeps the latter two groups trapped in intense poverty.
According to tradition, the apostle Thomas brought the Gospel to India, and there has been an established Christian community since at least the 2nd century. Later there were a number of mass conversions, especially among the lowest levels of the Hindu caste system.