India’s Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that India’s constitution upholds the rights of religious minorities, a position it reasserted on 3 August this year, stating: “Nothing should be done, as might deprive the minorities of a sense of belonging, of a feeling of security, of a consciousness of equality and of the awareness that the conservation of their religion, culture, language and script as also the protection of their educational institutions is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution”. But a report by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) shows that despite this clarity from the judiciary, little has changed for Christians on the ground.
Persecution of Christians in India continues. In the first six months of 2016 there have been 134 recorded incidents of hate or targeted violence against Christians, up from 103 in the first six months of 2015. Christians in central and northern India continue to be the worst affected and there has been a significant increase in persecution in Uttar Pradesh state; a total of 25 incidents were recorded from January - June 2016, compared to 22 in the whole of 2015. The southern state of Tamil Nadu has also seen an increase, with 14 incidents recorded in the first six months of this year compared to a total of 12 in the previous year. Physical violence is extremely common and was involved in 45% of all incidents recorded in the first half of 2016.
The response from law enforcement agencies to the persecution of Christians is routinely poor, with a separate, independent survey in Chhattisgarh state by the civil society group the All India People’s Forum concluding that “The police and administration is extremely lax. On some occasions the police have openly sided with the Bajrang Dal [a militant Hindu group], refusing to protect the Christians...On the occasions where the district administration and police have intervened, it has not been to enforce the rule of law and uphold the Constitution and arrest the Bajrang Dal...rather the ineffectual mode of 'dispute resolution' has been adopted.”
The persecution of Indian Christians has intensified since Narendra Modi, leader of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),became Prime Minister in 2014. Christians have found themselves falsely accused of paying bribes to Hindus to convert to Christianity, forced or fraudulent conversions, or distributing inflammatory literature insulting to Hinduism. Laws to protect rural traditional customs in Chhattisgarh have been used to restrict non-Hindus from living in villages and to prevent Christians from building new houses or churches, despite India’s Supreme Court ruling in October 2015 that such interpretation of the law is unconstitutional. The EFI’s research, which was funded by Barnabas Fund, is based on recorded incidents only and is reported in its published Persecution Watch, Half Yearly Report 2016. The true level of anti-Christian violence is likely to be higher still. As the EFI states in its report at page 8, “… it needs be made clear that this is carefully corroborated and authentic data and may be just a fraction of the violence on the ground,”