Religious liberty is at stake for persecuted Indian Christians

A Roman Catholic nun of the Missionaries of Charity order holds a rosary as she takes part with others in an all religions prayer as they pay tribute to the Sri Lankan blasts victims, near the St Thomas church in Kolkata, on April 23, 2019. (Getty Images)

Christmas is not over. According to the Church calendar, the Twelvetide of Christmas lasts until January 5th.

During this season, we cannot forget the persecuted church in India. Let me tell you the story of how I came to realize how crucial it is to support this marginalized religious minority.

On the night of June 1, 2007, a threatening act took place in Gayaganga, West Bengal. St. Peter’s Catholic Church, a building where the Christian minority in the region assemble for worship and fellowship in an otherwise hostile environment, was ransacked and desecrated by a gang of vandals. The miscreants, who disfigured statues, smashed murals, and escaped with a gold-plated monstrance, created widespread fear amongst Christians in India. My aunt, Grace Johnson, lives near this church and she was shaken by this incident.

As a worried nephew, I stayed in contact with my aunt and followed the news. Although the crime happened at a church that she did not attend, as a member of the Christian minority in West Bengal, she continued to feel unsafe, with good reason. She along with numerous employees of the Christian humanitarian organization she works for, The Himalaya Evangelical Mission, has received death and torture threats over the past decade. Last year, the Himalaya Evangelical Mission, even had its orphanage facilities vandalized.

The arduous journey that my aunt has endured is not an anomaly when it comes to the treatment of Christians in India.

For over 200 years, Christian humanitarian workers and missionaries have established charitable organizations that have benefited Indians such as those who are low-caste and indigent.

However, there have been brutal attacks on the vulnerable Christian minority that are primarily instigated by vigilante groups of Hindu nationalists. Religious liberty for Christians, a population of 28 million, is at stake, and this is especially true in rural India.

The persecution of Christians has increased markedly over the past few years. India has leaped from a rank of #25 on 2015’s World Watch List to #15 in 2017. Worryingly, it is currently ranked at #11.

This increase in persecution is a result of the continuous Hinduization of India. This Hinduization, or Hindu nationalism, is the belief that India should be a Hindu country. Any other religion practiced in the country is not seen as truly Indian.

Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not in power when my aunt went through her terrifying ordeal a decade ago, Hindu extremist groups have been spreading fear and pushing their nationalist agenda since then. When Narendra Modi was elected as Prime Minister in 2014, he brought about a nationalist government that created the conditions for this Hindu nationalism to thrive. In doing so, he exacerbated the persecution of Christians.

While the sources of Christian persecution in India varies, most of it comes from a variety of Hindu radical groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Shiv Sena, and Vishya Hindu Parishad. They carry out brutal attacks that are aimed at intimidating or even killing religious minority groups.

Since Prime Minister Modi’s re-election, the Evangelical Fellowship of India has documented some 350 cases of violence and other forms of persecution against Christians last year. That is more than double the rate compared with the 140 annually before the BJP assumed power.

In January, a violent mob of thousands in Jammu and Kashmir interrupted a Christian burial ceremony to seize the body of the deceased for Hindu cremation.

In May, a hardline Hindu group in New Delhi led by controversial Hindu leader Om Swami Maharaj, called on Christians to be expelled from India. They accused Christians of promoting terrorism and Maoism in the country. If the Christians do not leave, Maharaj said, his hardline group will use force to expel them.

In June 2018 in Jharkhand, five female Christian anti-human trafficking activists were the victims of a horrific crime. The women, who were working for an organization backed by a Christian missionary group, were attacked by at least six armed men, kidnapped, and taken into a forest where they were gang-raped at gunpoint.

Despite prominent calls to address Christian persecution, the Modi government and its allies in the Indian states refuse to take action.

My aunt’s experience with this nationalist government epitomizes the catastrophe. In the aftermath of the incident of the vandalism of its orphanage, the Himalaya Evangelical Mission appealed to the Government of West Bengal for better protection. Yet the security that was provided was inadequate, and there have been several additional incidents of vandalism since then. There is a complete lack of accountability on the part of the government to keep Christians safe.

Attacks like this cannot be allowed to continue. Many concerned Indian citizens and politicians of conscience advocate for a true Indian democracy in which all religious minorities are protected. As an ally of India and a model of democracy for the rest of the world, the United States needs to support them.

The Trump administration must have the moral courage to issue a statement condemning the Indian government’s support of Hindu nationalist groups that persecute religious minorities.

The American government and concerned Americans can make a positive difference through supporting organizations that aid persecuted Indian Christians, such as Open Doors USA and Samaritan’s Purse. Only in this manner, can Indian Christians, and secular Indians feel there is hope.

The beloved Christmas carol Hark the Herald Angels Sing contains a stanza that reads:

“Peace on earth, and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled.”

This Christmas season, let us be part of this mandate reconciliation of bringing heaven here on earth by supporting the persecuted Christian church in India.


A Massachusetts native, Jeevan Mathew is a writer and social entrepreneur. He currently holds an AmeriCorps position with Social Capital Inc. (SCI), where he serves as a Volunteer Outreach Coordinator.

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