Hate crimes and targeted violence against Christians in India during the first two months of
2019 showed a jump of 57 percent over the same period in 2018, a new report revealed.
During January and February, 77 incidents of “hate and targeted violence against Christians” were documented in India as compared with the 49 cases recorded during the same period last year, according to the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
The EFI report said that the official figures are invariably low, because most cases of persecution go unreported, either because the victim and witnesses are too frightened to speak out, or because the police ignore the harassment and fail to file mandatory First Information Reports.
The sharp rise in Christian persecution for 2019 had already been forecast by Release International, a U.K.-based charity that helps persecuted Christians around the world, which warned in early January that persecution against Christians would rise this year, particularly in a few key nations, including India.
“These are countries that have long been on the list but we’re seeing an upwards curve, an alarming rise in persecution,” said Andrew Boyd, spokesman for Release International, underscoring India’s “militant Hinduism.”
The acts of persecution and harassment in January and February include the murders of two Christians last month, one in Odisha state and the other in Chhattisgarh state. The Christians — one of whom was a convert — were killed by Maoist rebels, known as Naxalites, after villagers hostile to the Christian faith falsely reported them to the rebels as police informants.
“We have reasons to believe that both men, who were in their 40s, were killed because of their faith,” said the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the EFI. “We have recorded cases where Christians have been facing social boycott and have been excommunicated from their villages, and in a few instances have had to flee to save their lives.”
Other cases of harassment involved abuse by law enforcement officials.
On January 13, female police officers interrupted a Christian worship service in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state where Christians make up a tiny minority, and arrested four women and two men, including the female pastor who was conducting the worship service.
At the police station, one of the female police officers forcefully struck the woman pastor, Sindhu Bharti, rendering her unconscious.
“Boiling tea was forcibly thrust in her mouth because the police thought that she was feigning her unconsciousness,” said Madhu Bharati, an eyewitness to the event. “When that did not work, they poured two jugs of cold water on her face, not caring that it was already severely cold due to winter.”
Pastor Bharti had to receive medical treatment for her injuries.
The cases of Christian persecution recorded in the first two months of 2017 were very close in number to those in 2018 — 50 cases as opposed to 49 — which makes the leap to 77 cases in 2019 all the more disturbing.
In its 2018 annual report titled “Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India,” Alliance Defending Freedom-India (ADF India) said there had been a “sudden spurt of violence in a few districts of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous province, and in Tamil Nadu in the extreme south of the subcontinent.”
On March 18, ADF India said that India’s Christians have been victims of “collective, systematic violence” in the first months of 2019, and that even Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity had been threatened.
Open Doors’ World Watch List of nations where it is most difficult to be a Christian placed India at number 10 in 2019. Just seven years ago, India was ranked number 31 but has climbed the ranks every year since Narendra Modi, a hardliner of the Bharatiya Janata Party, came to power as prime minister in 2014.
Christians make up just 2.3 percent of India’s population of 1.3 billion, which is overwhelmingly Hindu.