One thing that makes the situation of persecuted Indian Christians particularly unique is that they live in the only democracy in the world — in fact, aside from China, possibly the only country in the world — where both Muslims and Christians are simultaneously facing persecution for the same reasons and by the same source: militant Hindu nationalism.
As I’ve reported, Hindu nationalists believe that in order to be truly Indian, you must be a Hindu. They seek to either eliminate or assimilate all non-Hindus. In the case of Muslims and Christians, they seek elimination. In the case of most other religious minorities, such as Buddhists and Sikhs, they seek assimilation — that is, to force them to identify as Hindus.
Because Muslims and Christians are targeted for elimination, they face the brunt of anti-minority violence in India today. Both communities are labeled as “foreign elements,” “internal threats,” and “traitors” to the nation. However, for a long time and for various reasons, Muslims — who are the largest religious minority group in India — have been the Number One Target of the Hindu nationalist forces that rose to power in 2014.
It began with the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister, despite his implication in an anti-Muslim pogrom that left thousands dead in the state of Gujarat in 2002. Under Modi’s regime, a wave of lynchings of Muslims gradually increased, with top ministers in his government even publicly garlanding lynching convicts. It expanded in 2019, when Modi’s regime annexed Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state, and exploded during the anti-Muslim Delhi Pogrom in 2020.
The threat to Indian Muslims escalated exponentially in 2021 as subsidiaries of the RSS paramilitary staged riots in the state of Tripura and rampaged through the streets of states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, often joined by members of Modi’s BJP as they chanted genocidal slogans against Muslims. Finally, last year concluded with synchronized hate conferences in both Delhi and Haridwar where Hindu nationalist demagogues, joined by BJP officials, pledged to “fight, die, and kill” in order to make India a Hindu nation and vowed to take up weapons to slaughter Muslims.
After seven years of impunity for a surge of xenophobic violence against Muslims, Hindu nationalists are now putting Christians in the crosshairs. The threat facing Indian Christians — and the impunity for their attackers — is substantiated by countless major Indian as well as international Christian groups.
For instance, describing conditions in 2020, the Evangelical Fellowship of India reported, “As a result of the anti-conversion laws, religious minorities can now be targeted by just about anyone, especially vigilante groups…. Moreover, this law places the burden of proof on the person who has been accused of conversion.” The Fellowship warned that the “primary agenda” of vigilante groups “is to create an atmosphere of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities.”
Moving into the first half of 2021, the Fellowship spoke of vicious and widespread violence which “ranged from murder to attacks on church[es], false cases, police immunity and connivance, and the now normalized social exclusion or boycott.” As they concluded, “The translation of the hate into violence is sparked by a sense of impunity generated in India’s administrative apparatus.”
That conclusion was echoed in December 2021 by United Christian Forum, an Indian human rights group, which warned, “The steady year-on-year increase in violence against the peace-loving community escalated in the last quarter to alarming numbers…. Sadly, this violence against the Christian community is compounded by the failure of the police to investigate and prosecute mobs and perpetrators.”
Every major international Christian organization focused on tracking persecution has reached similar conclusions about the increase in violence accompanied by impunity.
Open Doors USA, for instance, has — for the third year in a row — rankedIndia as the 10th most dangerous country in the world in which to be a Christian. For context, in 2013, before Modi came to power, India was ranked in 31st place. Now, however, labeled as a country of “extreme persecution,” India is ranked as even more dangerous for Christians than China, Saudi Arabia, or Sudan.
What makes India unique is that, except for North Korea (which ranks as #1 most dangerous), the source of persecution of Christians in all the other top ten countries is from Islamist extremists. In India, however, Muslims and Christians are bonded by a sense of shared suffering.
Open Doors USA further reported: “Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus, and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam. To achieve this goal, they use extensive violence, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. In their villages, Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and often physically attacked. If they don’t ‘re-convert,’ their community may boycott them, with a devastating effect on their ability to earn income and buy food.”
These reports are echoed by the renowned Voice of the Martyrs, which ranks India as “hostile” to Christians, stating: “The main persecutors are well-organized Hindu extremist groups, local governments and nationalist Hindus who seek to ‘purify’ India by making it entirely Hindu.” Warning that these groups seek to eliminate Christians, the outfit explained that it is because Hindu nationalists “view Christian converts as traitors to the Hindu homeland.” Illustrating the precarious condition of Indian Christians, Voice of the Martyrs warned, “Hindu nationalist informants live in nearly every village and report on the activities of Christians, resulting in attacks and arrests…. Many pastors have been beaten and jailed, and several are martyred each year.”
All of these conclusions are corroborated by 2021 reports from US-based International Christian Concern, which named India (among 7 countries in total) as a “Persecutor of the Year.” Warning that “Christian persecution has skyrocketed” since the Modi regime took power, the outfit notes that recent surveys of Indian Christians found that over 70 percent “reported they were concerned for their personal safety as Christians in India.”
As similarly detailed elsewhere, International Christian Concern reports, “Attacks on Christians and other religious minorities often go unpunished. In most cases, Hindu nationalist political leaders use anti-minority rhetoric for political gain. This hate speech inspires more assaults on minorities. When the police and local authorities take no action against the radicals, it emboldens radicals. Year after year, attacks on minorities are reported in greater number and severity.”
The outfit concludes: “Religious extremists have the green light to terrorize Christians with impunity.”
Sky-rocketing attacks, increasing in numbers and severity, almost always met with impunity, and the violence of the radical militants on the streets constantly encouraged by the hateful rhetoric of the Hindu nationalists in political office. First against Muslims, now against Christians.
The situation in India is spiraling out of control, but the outside world is taking very little notice.
Indian Muslims have been tyrannized for years, but now life in India is swiftly becoming a waking nightmare for Christians, as well. That’s why I’m on hunger-strike in solidarity with the persecuted Indian Church. I’ve heard their cries, and I’m hoping that you will too.
Something has got to give.
Pieter Friedrich is a freelance journalist specializing in analysis of South Asian affairs. He is the author of Sikh Caucus: Siege in Delhi, Surrender in Washington and Saffron Fascists: India’s Hindu Nationalist Rulers as well as co-author of Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent. Discover more by him at PieterFriedrich.net.