Christians call for end to India's forced conversion laws

Burnt Bibles from the attacks on Christians in Manipur. (Photo: Open Doors)

Release International, a UK-based Christian ministry, has used India's national elections to renew calls for an end to anti-conversion laws, saying they have led to an increase in arrests of Christians and violence against believers.

Almost a billion people will vote during India's six-week-long elections, starting from April 19 through to early June. As well as being the world's second-most populous nation, India is the world's largest democracy, but many are concerned at the rise in nationalist sentiments that is often expressed through violence against religious minorities.

"We have seen a dramatic rise in intolerance towards Christians since the BJP first swept to power in 2014," Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International, said.

"Our partners in India report pastors beaten, churches attacked, and prayer meetings disrupted at the hands of ultra-right wing Hindu militants. At the same time, states in India are passing anti-conversion laws which prevent Christians from sharing their faith with Hindus."

A new report from the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) has captured the dramatic increase in acts of violence against Christians, recording an 'unprecedented' 601 cases of persecution against Christians in India in 2023, and warning that the figures 'only scratch the surface'.

These findings were reinforced by the United Christian Forum, which said that the violence has only continued into the first quarter of 2024. Their latest report documented more than 160 attacks up to the middle of March.

"Our message to India is to act immediately to halt the spread of intolerance and repeal these anti-conversion laws. These laws fly in the face of India's constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, including the freedom to propagate one's faith," Mr Robinson said.

"India is the world's largest democracy, yet it is heading in a divisive and authoritarian direction. And where intolerance is allowed to rise, violence will inevitably follow."

The growing Hindutva movement, which sees Hinduism as central to Indian identity and has strong links with the current government, has often found expression in acts of violence carried out by paramilitary-style right-wing groups.

A team from Release International recently conducted a fact-finding visit to India, and spoke to pastors who had been physically attacked or arrested, or both, for spreading the Gospel message.

One pastor, who was brutally attacked along with his wife in their home before being arrested and fined by the police under the anti-conversion laws, told Release International, "Even if I die, I will not stop serving the Lord and doing the ministry he has given me in this village."

In Tamil Nadu, a pastor was badly beaten by a Hindu mob while handing out Bibles on the street. Another, from Uttar Pradesh, was repeatedly harassed and questioned, and eventually imprisoned after a Hindu girl was healed following Christian prayer and her family stopped attending their Hindu temple.

Release International's partners in India provide legal assistance to church leaders who have been accused and arrested, as well as offering emergency relief and medical care to those caught up in the violence. They also supply Bibles to allow pastors to continue spreading the Gospel in the face of persecution.

"The level of the violence and destruction is a warning to India that this culture of intolerance towards minority faiths by the overwhelming Hindu majority must end," Mr Robinson said.

"Our message to India and its people as they go to the polls, is that for the violence to stop, you must repeal these anti-conversion laws, which encourage extremists and are fuelling violence."

Republished from Christian Today UK.