Islamabad: There have been 525 attacks against Christians (make up about 2.3% of India’s population) in India just in the first eight months of 2023. This year will likely cross the violent record set in 2022, and in 2021 before that.
New Delhi-based United Christian Forum (UCF), a civil society organization, released a stunning statistic, there have been 525 attacks against Christians in India just in the first eight months of 2023.
Numbers for this year are likely to be particularly high, given the violence in Manipur, where hundreds of churches have been destroyed in the last four months. A petition in the Supreme Court puts the figure of places of worship destroyed at 642.
The Archbishop of Imphal in June 2023, said 249 churches were destroyed in just 36 hours. All these incidents of violence are by mob violence led by so called vigilante groups of particular faith who are allegedly receiving support from the party (BJP) in power claims UCF in a press release. In the 11 years between 2012 and 2022, the number of incidents recorded went up four times.
The first big jump was in 2016, when EFI (Evangelical Fellowship of India) reported detailed 247 incidents. By 2018, the number of incidents against Christians rose to 132. After small dips in 2019 and 2020, it was back up to 129 incidents in 2021.
In Tamil Nadu according to EFI, anti-Christian violence often overlaps with casteist violence, and victims largely come from so-called lower castes in villages where dominant groups object to prayer houses and even the entry of missionaries.
In the most recent data for 2023 released by UCF, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Haryana have reported the highest number of incidents against Christians. Inflammatory statements on minorities by ruling BJP leaders or those holding high office seem to have been a force-multiplier and led to more impunity.
One of the most infamous attacks faced by Christians in India was the killing of Graham Staines (an Australian Christian missionary) & his two young sons one 10 & other seven years old in early 1999, in Odisha’s Keonjhar district. In its 2023 annual report the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) once again asked the US government to designate India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ when it comes to religious freedom.
USCIRF report about anti-conversion laws says:
These laws carry penalties of hefty fines/ imprisonment disproportionately targeting Christians and Muslims. Increasingly, anti-conversion laws are used to prevent interfaith marriages or relationships, including so-called ‘Love Jihads,’ a derogatory term that targets Muslims and refers to conversions occurring in the context of interfaith marriages. Pastors are routinely arrested on forced conversion and other charges, the EFI reports point out, and are faced with an unsympathetic and sometimes even violent police force
A.C. Michael, national convenor of the UCF says:
Most of the time, FIRs are filed against victims of violence, while perpetrators are allowed to go scot-free. Police usually try to pacify the victims, saying if you file a case then the attackers may become more aggressive, and then your life will be more dangerous. Many of the victims of such violence are in villages and so out of fear they themselves are also unwilling to get registered an FIR. Just this year (2023), 520 Christians pastors and others have been arrested in false cases.
Meenakshi Ganguly Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division says:
This attitude where stringent laws are used to persecute minorities but not those accused of violence against them undermines the rule of law. It is extremely important that political leaders, and in particular the prime minister, who enjoys tremendous approval among communities, publicly and repeatedly condemn communal attacks by government supporters.
Authorities should end bias in prosecutions. Prejudice in the justice system undermines rule of law. We have seen increasing communal tensions in India, fanned by hate speeches from political leaders promoting a majoritarian Hindu ideology that incite violence.