A mob of Hindu radicals in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh reportedly assaulted as many as 60 Christians who were praying at a Pentecostal church last month. A week earlier, the central government denied visas to a United States Commission investigating religious freedom violations in the country, which in turn caused the United States Congress to send a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing grave concern over growing religious intolerance in India.
According to International Christian Concern, a group of 25 Hindu radicals riding motorcycles barged into the church in Kachana Colony, Raipur, before physically violating congregants; stripping women naked and destroying various church properties such as musical instruments, Bibles, tables and chairs during regular Sunday prayers on March 6. While police officials immediately arrested seven of the alleged attackers, the remaining radicals are yet to be tracked down.
The attackers attempted to justify their assault, claiming that they were only trying to stop forced conversions at the Pentecostal church – an accusation often aimed at a comparatively small but growing Christian population in India.
“They began alleging that people were being converted [there],” said Arun Pannalal, president of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum. “[But], they fled before police could reach the spot. This is the sixth attack on churchgoers in Chhattisgarh in the past six week[s].”
Local activists claimed that an atmosphere of impunity led to an increase in such incidents of violence against Christians across the country.
John Dayal, spokesperson of United Christian Forum, said, “The vandalizing of the church [in Chhattisgarh] comes as the entire nation of India is debating the role of [radical Hindu nationalism] and the government in exacerbating an environment of hate and intolerance against civil society, the intelligentsia –and, above all– religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians.”
Reports of this latest church attack emerged only a week after India failed to issue visas in a timely manner to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, who has been attempting to inquire about the state of religious freedom in the country for a while now.
“We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government's denial, in effect, of these visas. As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit,” said Robert George, chairman of USCIRF.
“USCIRF has been able to travel to many countries, including those that are among the worst offenders of religious freedom, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China, and Burma. One would expect that the Indian government would allow for more transparency than have these nations, and would welcome the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF.”
Christians have been fighting for their rights in the Hindu-majority nation –with Dalit Christians in particular– planning a nationwide campaign for equal rights. One of the many legislations they are protesting includes a caste order that allows only Dalits –who identify as Hindu– to receive certain government benefits; and those who identify as Christian are allowed none whatsoever.
ICC stressed that this latest church attack was yet another sign of growing religious intolerance in India.
“Hindu radicals, who continue to go unchecked by the government, are dividing India along religious lines and labeling religious minorities, including Christians, as inferior and anti-India. India's government must do more to secure the constitutional rights of all of its citizens, including Christians, and to punish those who actively violate these rights,” said ICC's Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark. “Unless this is done soon, India risks forever losing its reputation as a pluralistic and tolerant democracy.”
In the days leading up to this attack, Christians across Chhattisgarh complained to ICC about being threatened and violated by members of Hindu radical organizations. On March 4, a group of radicals reportedly attacked Pastor Baliram in Kondagaon District, telling him and other local residents that Christian activities were no longer allowed in the village. A day later, Christians in Dantewada District were allegedly assaulted by members of the Hindu militant organization Bajrang Dal.
“Every day Christians are attacked,” said a local resident, wishing to remain identified. “What is reported in the media is like [the] tip of an iceberg.”
Photo Credits: The Christian Post