Annual report from EFI's Religious Liberty Commission raises alarm

(Photo: EFI)

The Evangelical Fellowship of India's (EFI) latest annual report on religious liberty sounds a chilling alarm over the escalating violence and systematic persecution faced by the country's Christian community. The report for 2023 documents a staggering 601 incidents of violence against Christians, marking a drastic 45% surge from the previous year's 413 cases.

"Despite constitutional protections and India's long-standing tradition of religious diversity, the rise of divisive rhetoric and inflammatory language, often condoned or inadequately addressed by official channels, has emboldened sections of society to perpetrate acts of violence and discrimination against religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims," said the Reverend Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of EFI, who released the report.

The report highlights specific regions where the situation for Christians has deteriorated to distressing levels. Uttar Pradesh emerges as the focal point, recording a staggering 275 incidents. "The state also leads in arrests of pastors and believers, often on allegations of forced conversions, despite lacking substantial evidence," the report states.

Chhattisgarh emerges as another hotbed of targeted violence, witnessing 132 incidents, reflecting a deeply concerning trend across several states.

Unveiling the depth of persecution, the report exposes the cruel denial of burial rights to Christian families. India's revered tradition of religious diversity and constitutional guarantees safeguarding the rights of minority communities are facing an unprecedented challenge, according to Reverend Vijayesh Lal, the general secretary of EFI.

In his remarks while releasing a critical report, Lal expressed grave concerns over the rising tide of divisive rhetoric and inflammatory language that has permeated through official channels, emboldening certain sections of society to perpetrate acts of violence and discrimination against religious minorities, with Christians and Muslims bearing the brunt of such targeted attacks.

"The failure to effectively counter and address the spread of hate speech and divisive narratives has created an environment where extremist elements feel empowered to violate the fundamental rights of religious minorities," Lal stated, underscoring the urgency of stemming the tide of intolerance that threatens to erode India's long-cherished secularism and pluralism.

The report also brings to light the alarming trend of fabricated charges levelled against Indian Christians. "The false claim of forced religious conversions is being widely misused to target and harass Christians in India. Even in states without specific anti-conversion laws, Christian’s face harassment based on mere allegations of conversions. This narrative is conveniently used as an excuse to discriminate against and persecute the Christian minority community across the country," said Lal.

The issue of religious conversions has become a contentious battleground across India, with a growing number of states implementing stringent laws aimed at curbing proselytization, reflecting the rising influence of Hindu nationalist sentiments.

The states that have enacted such laws are Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Haryana.

The push for anti-conversion laws has been particularly strong in BJP-ruled states, where the party's ideological leanings have found resonance with the Hindu majority. These laws, which aim to restrict religious conversions through coercion or allurement, have been criticised by human rights groups and religious minorities as infringing upon the fundamental right to freedom of religion.

As the debate over religious conversions intensifies, the implementation of anti-conversion laws has become a political flashpoint, with opposition parties and human rights advocates accusing the BJP and its allies of undermining India's secular fabric and curtailing the constitutional rights of religious minorities.

Corroborating the EFI's findings, the United Christian Forum's (UCF) recent report, covering January to March 2024, documented an alarming 161 incidents of violence against Christians, with Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh emerging as major hotspots.

As India nears general elections in 2024, the EFI has issued an urgent call for action. "EFI appealed to the Indian government and state administrations to protect religious minorities and uphold the rule of law, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh," the report states.