Christians in India fear that persecution of their communities will intensify after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won elections in four states, which will be seen as an overwhelming endorsement of the party’s anti-minority stance.
As per the results announced this week for elections in five states, the BJP retained power in four states, including the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the northern state of Uttarakhand, the southwestern state of Goa and the northeastern state of Manipur.
In northern Punjab state, the BJP lost the election.
Uttar Pradesh state witnessed at least 102 incidents of violence against Christians in 2021, according to a report by the United Christian Forum.
Days before the announcement of the results, Hindu nationalists had warned some Christians that the community in the state might face “extermination,” The Telegraph reported.
“A Hindu leader has already threatened us that they are waiting for the election results and after that they will exterminate Christians from Uttar Pradesh,” a local Christian, Emmanuel Singh, from the state’s Jodhikapur village, was quoted as saying.
Nandu Nathanael Singh, Singh’s father and a Christian minister, was attacked recently.
As he was reading a chapter from the Bible at a prayer meeting with 25 other Christians, he heard chants of “Bring the traitor out.” A mob of Hindu nationalists, accompanied by the police, had gathered outside his home, accusing them of “forced conversions” of Hindus.
The mob also chanted, “Free India of Christian priests.”
Within hours, Nathanael Singh and his wife, Savita, were arrested and falsely charged with unlawful conversion, criminal intimidation and intentionally insulting religion. They were released five months later.
Ten states in India, including Uttar Pradesh, have passed “anti-conversion” laws, which presume that Christians “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity.
While some of these laws have been in place for decades in some states, no Christian has been convicted of “forcibly” converting anyone to Christianity. These laws, however, allow Hindu nationalist groups to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext of the alleged forced conversion.
The law states that no one is allowed to use the “threat” of “divine displeasure,” meaning Christians cannot talk about Heaven or Hell, as that would be seen as “forcing” someone to convert. And if snacks or meals are served to Hindus after an evangelistic meeting, that could be seen as an “inducement.”
“The return of the BJP to power means more trouble for us," Emmanuel Singh was quoted as saying, about Uttar Pradesh. "With the BJP in power, the attacks on Christians will increase in the next five years. We are worried because they hate our faith, our religion. The BJP government doesn’t tolerate any other faith except Hindu.”
Open Doors USA, which monitors Christian persecution in over 60 countries, has also reported that persecution against Christians and other religious minorities has increased since the BJP took power at the federal level in 2014.
For India’s Christians, 2021 was the “most violent year” in the country’s history, according to the report by the UCF, which recorded at least 486 violent incidents of Christian persecution in the year.
The UCF attributed the high incidence of Christian persecution to “impunity,” due to which “such mobs criminally threaten, physically assault people in prayer, before handing them over to the police on allegations of forcible conversions.”
Police registered formal complaints in only 34 of the 486 cases, according to the UCF.
“Often communal sloganeering is witnessed outside police stations, where the police stand as mute spectators,” the UCF report states.
“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”
Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80%.