“The rights of minorities are absolutely safe in India and are being protected by the BJP-led government.” This is what India’s Minister for Minority Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, told Ambassador Sam Brownback, the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, during a meeting last month.
Minister Naqvi made other lofty claims during the meeting, such as the notion that India’s law enforcement was taking action against perpetrators of religiously motivated violence, which, if true, would have religious minorities celebrating. Unfortunately, these claims do not reflect the reality facing many of India’s religious minority communities.
According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), the numbers of violent attacks on Christians, India’s second largest religious minority, have more than doubled since the BJP-led government took power. In 2014, EFI recorded 147 violent attacks against Christians in India. In 2018, after four years of BJP rule, EFI recorded 325 incidents.
In a report recently released by the Alliance Defending Freedom India (ADF), Christians in India suffered 247 instances of persecution in just the first eight months of 2019. According to ADF, First Information Reports (FIRs), a report filed by police that initiates an investigation, have only been filed in 28 of the 247 cases documented.
These numbers paint a picture of a very different reality facing India’s Christians. However, these numbers fail to fully illustrate the suffering experienced by the individuals they represent. To add color to this picture, International Christian Concern (ICC) interviewed several Christian victims of persecution.
“I was almost killed,” Pastor Rommel, whose name has been changed for security reasons, recently told ICC. “I fell to the ground in the pool of blood. I thought to myself that I have little chance for survival.”
Pastor Rommel, along with two other Christians, was attacked and brutally beaten by a group of six men on October 22, 2019, outside of Jamudi, a village located in India’s Gujarat state. The attackers were led by a man named Rakesh, who is believed to be the surpanch (village president) of Jamudi.
The attack took place around 8:30 p.m., when Pastor Rommel, along with a man named Shantilal and Shantilal’s wife, Mallika, left Jamudi. The group of Christians was traveling home after conducting a prayer service in a Christian home in Jamudi. The six men brutally beat the three Christians.
“They thought that I was dead and left me on the road,” Pastor Rommel explained. “Later, I was brought to the hospital, unconscious, by Christians from Jamudi village.”
“No action has been taken against the attackers so far,” Pastor Rommel said. “In spite of reporting the incident to the police on a formal complaint. Also, the hospital did not give me the medical-legal certificate for the injuries I sustained in the attack, so no statement was taken by police about the incident even though I was seriously injured.”
Local police have registered an FIR (FIR # 1/39/2019), however, the criminal offenses mentioned in the FIR are not relevant to the incident. According to Pastor Rommel, it appears as if police want to help the attackers because they only charged the attackers under nominal offenses in the FIR.
“The assailants are roaming freely in the village and threatening the local Christians to recant their faith,” Pastor Rommel explained. “The attackers are even referring to the attack on me as a threat against the local Christians if they refuse to recant. This is the kind of situation we are living in.”
In a similar incident, Pastor Mantu Prasad from India’s Jharkhand State told ICC that local police and radical Hindu nationalists have been working together to close down his house church. Located in Domchanch village, the house church with a congregation of 50 members was ultimately closed because of harassment by the police.
“There is absolutely no rule of law,” Pastor Prasad told ICC. “Whatever the Hindu radicals say, the police execute. A police officer threatened me that either I stop the church worship or I will be sent to jail. They harassed me to sign a paper which said that I will not conduct worship in the village from here onwards. They threatened that they would put me and 10 other church members in jail if I refused to sign.”
The trouble started for Pastor Prasad and his congregation on September 8, 2019. On that day, a mob of radical nationalists attacked the Sunday worship service, leaving several members of the congregation injured. When the police got involved, they sided with the radical nationalists and closed down the church.
After the closing of his house church, Pastor Prasad fled Domchanch village, fearing further attacks. “I will continue to serve Jesus,” Pastor Prasad told ICC. “However, I also know I will continue to face similar challenges because of my ministry.”
As the testimonies of Pastor Rommel and Pastor Prasad illustrate, the India displayed by Minister Naqvi is not the same nation that India’s Christian community experiences. In many cases, local law enforcement works hands-in-glove with the perpetrators of religiously motivated violence. Often, these perpetrators are connected with the ideological allies of the BJP.
Article 25 of India’s constitution guarantees the freedom of religion for all of the country’s citizens. However, the last five years of BJP rule have seen a government that only pays lip service to this constitutional protection. The BJP-led government must do more to secure the rights of religious minorities in India, including the country’s Christians. Until then, such lofty claims, such as those made by Minister Naqvi, are better left unsaid.
This story first appeared on Persecution.org here.