Persecution of Christians continues to increase and become more violent in officially secular India. Experts and Christians accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of failing to ensure the religious freedom guaranteed under the country’s constitution.
“Every day it is increasing, day by day,” said the Rev. Sandeep Kumar, who pastors a small church in northern India.
On July 15, two men riding a motorcycle shot pastor Sultan Masih in the head and chest outside his church in Peerubanda Mohalla, UCAN India reported. Masih died on the scene. Locals took to the streets to demand justice.
“We will not perform last rites until police arrest the killers. It is [an] attack on Christians, and we will not bow to any pressure. We want justice,” one protester told The Tribune of India. Demonstrations ended only after police promised to take action.
Masih is one of several pastors attacked in 2017. In January, Hindu nationalists separately attacked and severely injured Pastors K.A. Swamy and Gandham Padma Rao. Another mob attacked Pastor Raorukala Samuel and members of his church while he preached in February. Police threatened Samuel and refused to file a report against the assailants, according to International Christian Concern (ICC). Additional attacks on clergy occurred in April and May.
Kumar, who is visiting the United States to raise awareness of persecution in India, said attackers have changed their tactics, focusing beatings on their victims’ heads to prevent them from continuing to evangelize after they recover. Such attacks have escalated in the past three years, Kumar said. Before then, violent incidents were less common, although Hindu fundamentalists sometimes interrupted church services, vandalized buildings, or slapped around a pastor. Now, even Christian women, children, and the elderly are at risk of physical violence.
“The impact of this, of course, is sometimes it discourages pastors. But on the other hand, they are being strengthened, and they think the whole situation is strengthening the church,” Kumar said.
Worsening persecution coincides with Modi’s tenure as prime minister, which began in May 2014. William Stark, ICC’s regional manager for South Asia, said he sees a correlation.
Under Modi, persecutors of religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims act with impunity, Stark said. Many think they have “tacit approval” from the federal government because Modi is a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Three years of federal leaders who won’t confront persecution and local authorities who don’t enforce the law created a cycle of more frequent and more violent persecution, Stark added. India now ranks 15th on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries with religious persecution, moving up from 31st in 2013.
Modi claimed in May his government treats all religions equally, but persecuted Christians and religious freedom advocates said his words and actions don’t match. Other Indian politicians have openly declared Christians and Muslims in India need to convert to Hinduism or leave.
Religious minorities also fear the growing strength of the BJP as its candidates continue to win elections, most recently clinching the presidential contest on July 18.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: July 28, 2017