In the world’s largest democracy, believers are not free
(RNS) — On May 31, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a group of hardline Hindu nationalists broke into the home of a Christian pastor praying with his family. They dragged him from his home and beat him before handing him over to the authorities.
Rather than discipline the attackers, the police arrested and imprisoned the pastor, accusing him of deliberate and malicious acts against another religion, while failing to investigate the attacks against him.
Such events are becoming the norm among the country’s more than 1.3 billion citizens.
Earlier this year, a Christian pastor was allegedly assaulted, tied up and forced to sing a Hindu prayer. In December, festive Christmas celebrations were interrupted and statues of Jesus were smashed. Around the same time, a Catholic school was vandalized by a large mob as students were inside taking exams. On Maundy Thursday, a crowd clashed with dozens of worshipers gathered in a church. All suspected Christians were detained by the police and then arrested.
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As the largest democracy in the world, one would expect India to be a bastion of freedom, including freedom of worship. But religious extremism leads to a dire situation for Jesus’ followers there.
Ranked No. 10 on Open Doors’ 2022 Global Watchlist, India has become one of the most dangerous places for Christians to practice their faith in just a few short years. America and the rest of the free world must find a way to turn the tide of hatred in India, demanding an end to the vicious attacks on Christians and other religious minorities.
The driving force behind the wave of Christian persecution in India is Hindutva, an extremist strain of Hinduism that disregards India’s religious minorities, claiming they are not true Indians because they have allegiances that lie outside the country’s majority religion. A Pew survey found last year that although most Hindus say they are tolerant of other religions, 64% of respondents say it is important to be Hindu to be “truly Indian”.
New data reported by Open Doors USA, the organization I lead, shows that in 2021, eight Indian states recorded 50 or more violent acts of persecution committed against Christians. Eight additional states have recorded between 15 and 49 documented attacks. In total, Open Doors has recorded over 500 attacks, and our working hypothesis is that there are many that have gone unreported.
Why does the Indian government tolerate such blatant bigotry and sectarian violence within its borders? After all, religious freedom is enshrined in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which states that “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate their religion”.
Yet, during a June 2 press conference held by the US State Department to present the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken specifically singled out India for “the increase in attacks on people in places of worship”.
Part of the situation can be explained by demographics. Christians make up only around 2% of India’s population, meaning they lack the numbers needed to effectively shape public policy and demand accountability for treating Christian practice as a crime.
Sustained international pressure from countries like America could tip the scales in favor of freedom.
While Blinken’s public statements are a good start, much more is needed. The Biden administration must call on the Indian government to protect Christians and other religious minorities, especially their places of worship and other soft targets. We must demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration hold state officials and local police forces accountable for acts of religion-related violence and discrimination. And we must stand with our Indian brothers and sisters in prayer and let them know that they are not alone.
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The greatest democracy in the world can only succeed if the principles of its constitution – and the rights of citizens of all religions – are carefully and consistently respected.
(David Curry is the President and CEO of Open Doors USA, an organization that advocates for those who are persecuted for their Christian faith around the world. For nearly a decade, he led Open Doors in its mission to raise awareness and support for those who endure extreme restrictions and, in some cases, horrific violence to practice their faith. For more than 65 years, Open Doors has worked in the most oppressive parts of the world, empowering and equipping persecuted Christians in over 60 countries by providing Bibles, training and programs to help those who have been marginalized because of their faith Open Doors publishes the World Watch List, an annual report of the 50 most difficult countries to live in as a Christian.)