Christians face escalating attacks across India ahead of elections

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A prominent civil society group has sounded the alarm over a surge in attacks and discrimination against Christians across India in the first few months of 2024, raising concerns about the erosion of fundamental rights and protections for religious minorities ahead of the upcoming general elections.

The United Christian Forum (UCF), a Delhi-based organization focused on Christian issues, released a press statement detailing 161 incidents of violence, harassment and ostracisation targeting the Christian community in the first 75 days of 2024 alone.

"January witnessed 70 incidents of violence against Christians, followed by 62 incidents in 29 days of February and 29 incidents in 15 days of March," the UCF stated, citing reports received through their national helpline.

The incidents span a wide range of offenses, including physical assaults, attacks on churches and prayer meetings, harassment of those practicing their faith, denial of access to community resources and false allegations – particularly those related to forced conversions.

Chhattisgarh tops the list of offenders

According to the UCF, the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh has emerged as the most problematic region for Christians, with 47 reported incidents of violence and discrimination. The press release painted a grim picture, with Christians being denied access to village water sources, the bodies of deceased Christians being threatened with cremation against their religious beliefs, and families being physically assaulted, threatened, and driven from their homes.

"In this state, sadly, even dead Christians are not spared, as many were denied burial as per Christian rituals. Local villagers have been threatening to cremate the bodies as a final act of 'Ghar Wapsi' (reconversion)," the UCF stated.

Though the Assam government proposed a ban on “magical healing” in the Assam state, and no such bill has been proposed or passed in Chhattisgarh, “A pastor of Assemblies of God last week was arrested from the pulpit and sent to jail for praying for the sick people who had come,” said Arun Pannalal, chairman of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum to Christian Today. “The sad part was that a congregation of 300 just sat silently watching while their pastor was arrested,” added he.

State-sponsored harassment in Uttar Pradesh

The group also highlighted the role of state authorities in perpetuating the harassment of Christians, particularly in the electorally significant state of Uttar Pradesh, which has witnessed 36 incidents so far this year.

"There is clear evidence of state-sponsored harassment of Christians in this state, as the police file false allegations of conversion against pastors even for praying in birthday parties and other social gatherings," the release noted.

The UCF helpline has recorded over 30 cases of pastors being arrested or detained under Uttar Pradesh's controversial Freedom of Religion Act, which critics argue is being misused to target minority communities.

Nationwide concern

While Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh top the list, the UCF press release documented incidents of violence and discrimination against Christians in 19 states across India, including Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha, Delhi, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal.

"In all, there are 122 Christians who have either been detained or arrested on false allegations of conversions in just 75 days of 2024," the UCF stated.

Speaking to Christian Today, A C Michael, National Coordinator, United Christian Forum, expressed great need for the Christian leadership to raise their voice against the attacks, “It is high time,” said Michael, “We, the Christian leadership of the country must stick out our necks and speak for the voiceless.”

Calling for action and fair elections

Expressing grave concern over the escalating attacks, the UCF has urged the nation's leadership to take strict action against the perpetrators of these crimes and ensure a peaceful and fair electoral process.

"As UCF, we request our leadership to put an end to this violence by taking strict action against perpetrators of all such crimes, and we hope and pray for a peaceful and fair election," the group stated in its press release.

“Till the time we are unable to defend ourselves against these false allegations of forced conversions, we will never be able to live in peace,” concluded Michael.