Christians in India face escalating attacks and disruptions

A 20-foot tall Jesus statue stands before it was demolished by the government in India's Karnataka state in February 2022. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube)

In March and April 2024, India's Christian minority community faced an escalating number of attacks, disruptions of religious gatherings, and legal cases across multiple states, highlighting the continued challenges to freedom of religion in the world's largest democracy.

Reports available with Christian Today India, sourced from persecution watchdog organisations and first-hand accounts point to a concerning pattern of mob violence, often allegedly involving Hindu nationalist groups, targeting Christian places of worship, and falsely accusing clergymen of illegal conversions. Several pastors and worshippers were detained by police, though many were later released without charges.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh alone, incidents were reported in the cities of Unnao, Kaushambi, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Raebareli, Saharanpur, Maharajganj and Kanpur. On April 1, police called in a pastor in Unnao over conversion allegations before releasing him. In Kaushambi, eight people were arrested after Hindu groups disrupted a gathering, leading to charges under Uttar Pradesh's controversial anti-conversion law.

The central states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh also saw multiple cases. In Madhya Pradesh, the Christian community had to approach the Supreme Court of India to regain permission for a prayer meeting after it was revoked by authorities citing law and order concerns.

In Chhattisgarh's Durg district, Pastor Dhalsingh Sahu was briefly detained, while in Dhamtari district, a church faced mob disruptions, vandalism, destruction of property, and the Church members were reportedly assaulted while on their way back. The authorities reportedly put verbal pressure on the organization to register in the state despite being registered nationally.

Church properties were vandalized in several places. In Maharajganj, Uttar Pradesh, as per a local account, unknown assailants broke into a church on March 28 and damaged chairs, pulpit, bibles, and sound systems while the pastor was away. In Raebareli on March 26, a pastor was severely beaten up by a village mob who accused him of conversions for not celebrating Holi.

While India's constitution enshrines secularism and freedom of religion, rights groups have often raised alarms over a multitude of anti-conversion laws enacted by Hindu nationalist-led state governments in recent years. Christians, Muslims and others have urged better law enforcement against disruption of gatherings and hate crimes.

“As the world's second-most populous nation, our record on religious freedoms remains under intense scrutiny. These recurring reports across states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh suggest an environment of growing intolerance and impunity for those depriving India's Christian minority of their constitutional right to freely practice and propagate their faith,” said a leader to Christian Today on condition of anonymity.

India ranks 11th on the World Watch List (WWL) 2024. The WWL lists countries where Christians are most targeted for their faith.