Last August 27, Hindu militants in the village of Mehndikheda, Madhya Pradesh state, chased Christians from a Pentecostal prayer service and destroyed their meeting place. Two weeks later, near Calcutta, Hindu extremists burned Christian books they had seized from schoolchildren. A week later in Gujarat state, Hindus severely beat Methodist pastor Paul Christian and four of his church members for showing a film about Jesus.
Such incidents have become more common since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies came to power in 1998. For half a century the government has given religious minorities a role in Indian society, but now the BJP condones radical Hindu elements that forcibly strive to turn the world's largest democracy into a Hindu-only nation.
The radicals' fusion of Hinduism with nationalism—Hindutva—has struck primarily at Muslims, but violence against Christians also has surged this year. Attacks on Christians occur weekly, The Washington Times noted on February 25. In one case, militants shot two church workers and a teenage boy; in another, extremists beat two missionaries as they were bicycling home; and a mob of 70 Hindus attacked a group of children attending a catechism class in a church.
India has known various religions throughout its history, but extremists of the National Volunteer Movement (RSS, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) advocate a return to ancient days of Hindu glory described in scriptures such as the Bhagavad-Gita. Eighty percent of India's population adhere to some form of Hinduism, 12.5 percent are Muslim, and 2.4 percent are Christian, according to Operation World.
India's constitution calls for full religious freedom. But nationalists, portraying Christianity as a "foreign religion," have succeeded in passing local legislation that limits Christian activities and conversions in some states. In November 1999, Orissa state—where Hindu extremists killed missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in 1999—passed an order prohibiting religious conversions without the prior permission of local police and district magistrates.
Additionally, 1.2 million schoolchildren are now learning a false version of history that disparages Christianity, according to Zenit News Agency. The national government relies on the support of the RSS and the militant World Hindu Council (VHP, the Vishna Hindu Parishad) and has provided them political patronage. This has enabled the extremists—whose Hindutva ideology asserts that "India is Hindu only"—to rewrite the nation's history.
Church leaders in India have pleaded in vain for the government to curtail the violence of Hindu mobs against Christians. In March RSS activists attacked two Catholic priests on their way to a police station to report an attack on a church-run school in Khurda, according to the SAR news agency. The previous day, RSS and VHP extremists pillaged and set fire to a mission station of the Divine Word Society in Sanjeli, Gujarat.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has failed to take strong action against rampant Hindu extremism, rights organizations say. He has held up some Hindu fanatics as exemplary.
The Bush administration has tightened political and economic ties with India to encourage policies favorable to the U.S. anti-terrorism effort. In writing to a member of Congress, to the State Department, or to Indian officials, note that these ties should encourage religious freedom in India.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that the administration more swiftly and explicitly urge the BJP to condemn and halt the violence against religious minorities.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
New Delhi 110004, India
Ambassador Lalit Mansingh
Embassy of India to the U.S.
2107 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Pray that officials would uphold India's constitutional rights of religious freedom, and that Christians would be united and courageous before widespread persecution.
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
You can also contact your representative or senator online, as well as the White House.
The U.S. State Department Human Rights Report and Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for India are available online.
Christianity Today's "Bearing the Cross" articles by Jeff M. Sellers have focused on persecution in countries including Laos, China, Indonesia, Sudan, North Korea, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Christianity Today's persecution archive has more articles on religious discrimination and violence from around the world. The World Report section allows readers to search for past articles by country (see articles on India).
For more articles, see Yahoo's full coverage on India.
Christianity Today articles on religious tensions in India include:
Critics Assail Dialogue with Hindu RadicalsBut some Christians see talks as an opportunity to build bridges in times of persecution.Critics Assail Dialogue with Hindu Radicals. (May 14, 2002)
New Curriculum 'Tampering' with History, Indian Churches ProtestChristian leaders allege that a current education proposal promotes Hindu nationalism. (Dec. 12, 2001)
Law Could Curb Foreign Donations To Churches, Indian ChristiansWorry Stringent legislation is aimed at cutting off terrorist funding, but could hurt non-government organizations. (Nov. 9, 2001)
Christians Encouraged as 50,000 Dalits Leave HinduismLow-caste Hindus see conversion as their only escape from oppression. (October 11, 2001)
India's First Dalit Archbishop Holds 'No Grudge' Over Predecessor's AttackOnce "untouchable" Dalits make up bulk of country's Christians. (May, 11, 2001)
Plans to Resolve India's Interfaith Tensions Face Delays and AccusationsDid India's National Commission for Minorities plan a meeting to discredit Christians? (July 20, 2000)
Foes Claim BJP is Using Arms Training to Win Crucial Election in IndiaFears mount that reason for camps is to galvanize support for temple construction. (June 29, 2001)
Bomb Explosion During Mass Stirs Fear, Public Outcry in BangladeshSuspects linked to rash of attacks. (June 25, 2001)
India Election Results Rattle Ruling NationalistsHindu BJP "getting irrelevant day by day" say rivals. (June 13, 2001)
Despite Tensions, Indian Churches Agree to Talks With Hindu GroupsMainline churches will join talks, but other Christians say "partisan" meeting is dangerous. (Apr. 11, 2001)
India Relief Abuses RampantRadical Hindus hijack supplies in quake intervention. (Mar. 20, 2001)
In Orissa, You Must Ask the Government If You Want to Change ReligionChristian church leaders say they're trying to ignore the controversial law, but police aren't doing the same. (Mar. 12, 2001)
Churches Angry that Indian Census Ignores 14 Million Christian DalitsOnly Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist members of "untouchable" caste being counted. (Mar. 2, 2001)
India's Christians Face Continued ThreatsWe must preach what we believe in spite of Hindu pressure, says Operation Mobilization India leader. (Feb. 15, 2001)
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