MUMBAI, India – A leading Christian activist in India is warning about a “heightened intolerance towards the Christian faith” after anti-Christian incidents in the country in late December.
On Dec. 28, several men were arrested after being accused of posing for a photograph with their Bibles outside a Hindu temple in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, while on the same day in Bengal, a Christian church was vandalized.
“Two anti-Christian incidents in India on the same day, in two Indian states, on the last few days of the year, are indicative of the heightened intolerance towards the Christians faith,” said Sajan K. George, the President of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), a Bangalore-based Christian advocacy group.
The four people arrested in Srisailam, Andhra Pradesh, were reading the Bible at a park close to the Mallikarjuna Temple, a popular tourist destination. The state police charged them with violating a 2007 law forbidding the propagation of other religions in places of worship or prayer.
According to local news reports, the four men were spotted by security guards opening the Bible and posing with it for photographs. The guards then brought the men to the local police station.
After appearing in court, they were released on bail.
Father Anthony Raj Thumma, the executive secretary of the Federation of Telugu Churches told Crux that the law is vague about what constitutes a worship space.
“It should apply only to the temple premises and not to nearby areas and public parks. And not at all to the whole town which is against the fundamental rights of the people of other religions living in these towns. The Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches had made representations to the government in the past regarding this matter, fearing its misuse,” he said.
Christians make up only about 1.3 percent of the population of the state, which is around half the national average.
Meanwhile, in the eastern state of Bengal, a newly-built church in the East Midnapore district was vandalized by a group of youths on motorcycles, who allegedly chanted Hindu slogans and carried the flag of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled India since 2014.
The BJP has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization.
Three people were arrested, and police were seeking five others allegedly involved in the incident.
“We had gathered for a prayer on Dec. 28 when about 30 riders on 12 motorcycles arrived outside. They hurled bombs, forcefully entered the campus and vandalized property. All of them were carrying BJP’s flag and chanting Jai Shri Ram,” Anup Ghosh, pastor of the church said.
“They broke the doors and smashed windowpanes, damaged 12 ceiling fans and the sound system, furniture and even the water tank,” he continued.
“Local residents identified most of the vandals and we lodged a complaint with the police, naming all of them. The attack has shocked us, especially because those who did it threatened to come back and launch similar attacks on all churches in the neighbourhood,” Ghosh said.
Police have not commented on the political identity of the men, but the BJP has denied its involvement.
The Apostolic Reconciliation Church – a small independent congregation – is located in Uttar Shibrampur village in the Bhagwanpur area of the East Midnapore district.
Bengal Chief minister Mamata Banerjee Dec. 30 spoke to the church’s pastor over the phone and assured him of police protection. She also promised that the state government will repair the damage.
“In both the cases, Andhra Pradesh and Bengal, the Christians were not indulging in any criminal or illegal activity,” George told Crux.
“The extremist right wing groups spurred on by false propaganda unleash their reign of terror against the vulnerable minority Christian community. In secular India we have enshrined constitutional guarantees of the religious freedom but regrettably, these freedoms are under serious threat,” he said.
Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.
Several states in India have anti-conversion laws, despite the fact the country’s national constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
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