Christian minority faced escalating violence and harassment in May 2024 even as the country voted

(Photo: EFI)

A disturbing wave of mob attacks, disrupted religious gatherings and obstruction of funeral rites has swept across several Indian states over the past month, highlighting the escalating threats and hostilities faced by the country's Christian minority community. The incidents, occurring throughout May 2024, and reported by various sources to Christian Today underscore a growing pattern of intolerance and violence against Christians, raising significant concerns about religious freedom in the country.

It was reported from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh that Kushmita from Deoria district was conducting a prayer meeting on May 5 when she was attacked by a group of religious extremists. During the attack someone informed about the same to the police, who reached the venue and detained Kushmita and two others. Shockingly, as per the report, they were held at the police station with a demand for ₹20,000 for their release, under the threat of being sent to jail if the payment was not made.

On the same day in UP’s Kaushambi district, unruly protesters forced their way into Pastor Ranji Lal's prayer assembly, disrupting proceedings before summoning police who took the pastor into custody.

The central state of Chhattisgarh saw several particularly egregious cases of violence and discrimination. A particularly brutal incident occurred in Nainanar, Bastar, where Motiram Kashyap, a Christian, was viciously attacked after the sudden death of his grandfather, when he went to pay the last respects. Motiram and his Christian companions were assaulted with sticks and stones by locals when they visited the deceased's house. Motiram was left in a critical condition in the hospital, while another victim, Lachu Kashyap, also sustained severe injuries. The victims did lodge a complaint with the Kodenaar police station, but the community remains in shock and fear.

In a truly horrific incident on May 4, 25-year-old Kosa Kawasi was hacked to death with an axe and knife by his own family members in Kapanar village, Darbha, after he refused to renounce his Christian faith. Despite previous threats and a formal complaint to the police, no protective action was taken. This murder, carried out by close relatives, reflects the intense familial and community pressure exerted on converts to abandon their faith.

Religious fault lines over burial rites for the Christian dead sparked tensions again in this sensitive area of Chhattisgarh. In Narayanpur district on May 13, the family of Ranjit Salaam faced violent opposition from villagers who refused to allow his burial on community lands reserved for the rites. The situation became so bad that the family had to leave the dead body at the village boundary, where it lay the entire night. The next day, finding opportunity, the family buried their dead.

“Loss of dignity in death and obstruction of Christian burials has become a common phenomenon in the Bastar region,” a source from the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission told Christian Today. “The problem has become so grave that Christians cannot even mourn their dead properly. Tribals have a custom of burying their dead on their lands and on common designated spaces in the village. However, right-wing organizations have infiltrated tribal bodies and panchayats to the local level and have created significant problems for the Christian tribals, some of whom have been Christians for decades. Obstruction of burials, social ostracization, forced seizure of land and denial of employment are among the many pressures that Christian tribals in these districts live with while the authorities are apathetic.”  

Across the month, multiple other incidents saw Christian worshippers briefly detained by police amid disruptions by mobs. On May 12 in Haryana's Bahadurgarh, Pastor Joel's prayer meeting was disrupted, leading to his and some believers' detention, though they were later released. However, concerns about their safety have prompted the filing of an application for police protection.

In Maharajganj on May 26, a Christian identified as Chauthi was arrested during prayers before being released on bail, while Pastor Rohit and others faced temporary detention from police in Rajasthan's Karauli district after extremists lodged complaints. These detentions, often based on flimsy pretexts, reflect the widespread use of law enforcement to harass and intimidate Christian worshippers.

On the same day in Chhattisgarh's Bhakhara town in Dhamtari district, right-wing mobs rampaged through three churches, engaging in vandalism, physical assaults, sloganeering, and verbal abuse to prevent worship services from proceeding - all as police allegedly stood by and admonished the worshippers instead.

The recurring pattern of violence, harassment, and hate speech - frequently accompanied by apparent police inaction or complicity - has stoked grave fears within India's Christian minority community of a broad campaign to intimidate and marginalise them through threats and force.

"These attacks point to an organised and systematic attempt to make Indian Christians feel like second-class citizens in their own homeland," said senior journalist and activist John Dayal. "The lack of security and social boycotting they increasingly face is extremely alarming. Such violence can only increase in dept and frequency in coming years, with increasing pressure on institutions, land leases and regulations."

With general election results looming, many remain apprehensive that a potential third term for BJP could embolden further alienation, injustices and curbs on the rights of Christians and other minorities.