MUMBAI, India – Four separate incidents of violence and intimidation around Christmas time illustrates that India’s powerful militant Hindu national movements continue to make life increasingly difficult for the country’s Christian minority.
Six people were injured on Thursday when a youthful mob belonging to an extremist Hindu nationalist group attacked a Christian church, claiming that the church was forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity.
According to a report in the Times of India, roughly 60 people were in the mob that set upon the Full Gospel Church, located in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh state.
“The attackers were waving saffron flags and were armed with sticks,” said AB Lal, the church’s pastor. “They barged into the church and kept chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’,” adding that the church was vandalized in the incident, which he said went on for roughly an hour.
Saffron is the color associated with India’s Hindu nationalist movements, and “Jai Shri Ram”, meaning “Hail Lord Ram!”, is a common battle cry.
According to witnesses, the attackers shattered the church’s window panes and even uprooted Christmas trees, roughing up several congregants in the process.
“We are so scared that we have to now cancel all the programs in church,” Lal said, saying that local police have put the attack down to “unknown persons.”
In another anti-Christian incident earlier this month in western India on December 14, Christians were beaten while caroling.
Father Stephen Rawat, parish priest of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Banswara Rajasthan in Udaipur diocese, told Crux that to date no arrests have been made in that incident either.
“Whenever we make enquiries, police merely say that they are still searching,” he said.
It’s a frequent complaint of Christians and other minorities that police forces, especially in rural areas, are often reluctant to investigate crimes linked to Hindu nationalist groups, since they are often the effective political power in the area and some police members may even have ties to the groups.
Another incident took place in the same area of Western India over Christmas, where Sajan K. George, President of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told Crux that eight Pentecostals were beaten and injured by a group of armed men who attacked their Christmas service.
Banswara Superintendent of Police Anand Sharma said on Monday that a formal complaint was lodged against eight persons over the attack. Of the accused, he said only one has been detained, while the others absconded.
Sharma said the clash broke out when a group of Hindus some 200 yards away from the church objected to Christians playing hymns and Christmas songs over a loudspeaker, and went on a rampage.
Elsewhere in the state’s Alwar district on the same day, around 10 bike-borne militants allegedly threatened a Christian pastor, accusing him of carrying out religious conversions, local media reported.
George strongly insisted that Indian Christians have done nothing to provoke the violence.
“Christians are not doing anything illegal,” he said, “and religious Freedom is a Constitutional guarantee.”
For some time, the roughly 30 million Christians in India, about half of whom are Catholic, have suffered various forms of intimidation and harassment, including physical violence. One human rights observatory estimates there’s an average of one physical assault on a Christian somewhere in India every other day.
In the main, the violence is driven by Hindu nationalists who accuse Christians of the use of force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.
The charge of untoward proselytizing techniques is strongly rejected by Christians officials, including the leadership of the country’s Catholic church.