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India: Christians suffer lockdown persecution

October 2020

India’s Christian communities have reported an alarming escalation of persecution while the country has been in Covid-19 lockdown.

According to a 33-page report by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), there were more than 135 confirmed attacks against Christians in the first half of 2020, including a lynching.

The report, Hatred and Violence Against Christians in India, was carried out by the Religious Liberty Commission of the EFI. It says there have also been concerted attempts to prevent Christians from worshipping and sharing their faith.

32 incidents took place in Uttar Pradesh, one of the more stridently Hindu nationalist states in India. The report claimed that, on June 4, a mob in Odisha crushed a 14-year-old Christian boy to death before chopping his body into pieces.

According to police reports, the boy and his family have faced harassment since converting to Christianity three years ago.

The report stated, ‘Christians in Kenduguda village have been facing many threats and are being continually harassed by religious fanatics,’ and said a pastor had complained four times to the police about the threats before the murder.

Elsewhere, in Tamil Nadu, a Christian father and son died after being allegedly tortured physically and sexually by police supporters of right-wing Hindu militants. The pair, Jeyaraj and Emmanuel Benicks, were accused of keeping their shop open during the Covid curfew.

There have also been attempts to prevent Christians from burying their dead. On 15 occasions, believers in Bastar and Dantewada were told they can only conduct burials if they observe local religious rituals.

In Chhattisgarh, village elders have summoned Christians to demand an explanation of why they refuse to participate in religious rituals that violate their conscience. They pressurised the Christians to recant and assaulted them when they refused.

Meanwhile, the report claimed that, in Jharkhand, Christians who refused to convert to the majority faith were threatened with being cut off from the water at the community well.

In the report, the EFI suggested that the upsurge in radicalism is being driven by militants who want to turn India into a strict Hindu state.

A spokesperson for EFI said, ‘We especially appeal to the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, to deal stringently with the various right-wing organisations operating in these states.

‘[Their] primary agenda is to create an atmosphere of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities.’

In 2019, the EFI recorded 366 attacks against Christians. Given the underreporting during lockdown, it may not be possible to make a direct year-on-year comparison on the number of attacks against Christians in India.