Covid-crisis spike in anti-Christian violence, discrimination in India reports regional watchdog
In the first half of 2020 the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) recorded 135 cases of targeted violence and discrimination against Christians, including three murders, according to its half-yearly report published in July.
Lynching, mobbing of worship services, false accusations and arrests, community ostracisation and efforts to prevent Gospel sharing were among the cases reported in the first six months of the year, which peaked in March at the height of the Covid-19 crisis.
The EFI criticised an “absolute sense of impunity” that developed in India’s administrative apparatus alongside a decline in civility during the pandemic lockdown, which brought a marked increase in targeted hate and violence against Christians in several states.
The report stated that recorded figures were only “indicative” and many more cases are likely to have gone unreported due to lockdown travel restrictions preventing journalists and activists working in the field, especially in rural areas, as well as Christian communities’ fear of reprisals.
Police reluctance to investigate and record persecution incidents is also continuing to limit victims’ access to court justice.
The EFI particularly called on the BJP-governed states of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which saw some of the highest numbers of incidents (32 and 15 respectively), to take action to dampen the rise of extremist groups that is generating an “atmosphere of fear”. Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand states, where the BJP was defeated in the 2019 election, also saw an intensification of persecution, with 24 and 10 cases recorded.
In Telangana State in January, Anitha, a Christian woman who holds regular prayer meetings at her home, was violently dragged from an auto-rickshaw by extremists. The attackers verbally abused and assaulted her and some Christians travelling with her. They warned her not to have any more meetings and then filed a complaint against Anitha at a nearby police station.
In one of the worst atrocities reported, a 14-year-old Christian boy, Samaru Madkami, was brutally murdered by a group of extremists in Kendugudu village, Odisha State, in June. Samaru, described as a “passionate Christian” by his pastor, was tortured by his attackers before they slit his throat and smashed his skull with a rock.
In an incident in Tamil Nadu in February, seven Christian pastors were taken into police custody in Sathankulam, where they were brutally assaulted and verbally abused by the officer in charge for “propagating the Christian faith”.
In Chhattisgarh state, also in February, extremists assaulted and threatened to kill a Christian man, his wife, their children and his mother in an attempt to force them to renounce their faith. The attackers ransacked the family’s home in Tikanpal village and looted food supplies and livestock.
In three separate incidents in May, Christian families in Bastar and Dantewade districts, Chhattisgarh State, were prevented from holding funerals by extremists, who told them that they could not bury their loved ones without paying a “fine” because they had not taken part in “the religious rituals of the village”.