In October in Roorkee, north of New Delhi, a church service was attacked by more than 200 Hindu-nationalists who smashed the meeting-room and beat up visitors, some with iron pipes and the levels of persecution have escalated in India. On October 21, the India Press Club in New Delhi called for a press conference reporting that there have been 305 incidents of violence against Christians this year in India, including 69 in September alone. More than 1,300 women have been injured in these attacks, and 23 church-buildings have been damaged.
Nine states in India have now introduced so called “Freedom of Religion Acts”. Initially they were directed towards forced conversions but today they are a tool for Hindu-nationalists. Some Christians, who peacefully testified their faith and distributed Bibles, are now being charged in courts. In Uttar Pradesh, the penalty for unauthorized conversion can be up to 10 years in prison.
In the state of Karnataka, it the BJP state-leadership has decided all churches and missionaries should be registered with the aim that no “unauthorized” missionary activities may continue. In practice, the aim is to prevent gatherings, like house-churches, from existing. In Chhattisgarh, the Indian digital paper, The Wire recently reported (1st Oct. 2021) how a Hindutva leader, in front of senior BJP politicians, expressed that minorities in India, such as Christians, should be beheaded!
To give a comparison, Karnataka is a state with a population the size of France. Chhattisgarh has a population the size of Belgium and the Netherlands combined. Uttar Pradesh is a state corresponding to Germany, Italy and Spain combined. The nine states have about 450 million inhabitants combined.
Since Narendra Modi and the BJP came to power in 2014, with their Hindu nationalist agenda, they have fuelled divisions between Hindus and Muslims as well. The Citizenship Act, amended by the Indian parliament in December 2019, was rewritten to discriminate against Muslims. In addition, the new conversion laws criminalize marriage between two people of different faiths and segregation between people of different faiths is increasingly institutionalized.
In a report this spring from the University of Gothenburg, State of the World 2020: autocratization turns viral, the authors state that India, which has “been the world’s largest democracy”, has now moved away from the space of liberal democracy to being “an electoral autocracy”. Their analysis is the same as Freedom House, which in spring downgraded India’s status from “free” to “partially free.” More people are doing the same analysis and India is becoming an increasingly authoritarian state, where the free press and media are also finding it increasingly difficult to operate. In reporters without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, the country has fallen as far down as 142 out of 178.
In September, an academic online conference, Dismantling Global Hindutva, was held in the United States with the aim of dialogue on Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). The conference was supported by 53 universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and Berkeley, but organizers faced widespread pressure not to hold the conference. Participants cancelled after receiving personal threats and threats of violence against their families. University management received over one million emails (!) urging them to prevent their employees from attending the conference. The organizers themselves received death threats, they were threatened with sexual violence and violence against their families.
Academic, religious and political freedom is currently threatened by anti-conversion laws and increasing threats from politically supported Hindu nationalism. As siblings in the Lord from other nations, we feel concerned for or sisters and brothers in India and stand with them in prayer and love. We also encourage boldness in time of persecution and where we can, may we uphold our right to freedom of speech and freedom to religion.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of us!
By P. Andréasson, Pentecostal Church in Sweden, November 2021