Church leaders have called for increased protection for religious minorities in India after Christians were targeted in a spate of at least ten attacks in the days leading up to a visit by American President Donald Trump.
The two-day presidential visit began on 24 February amid escalating violence in north-east Delhi, with at least 22 people killed and more than 200 injured in renewed rioting over controversial new citizenship legislation.
The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) registered ten incidents of hate crime and violence against Christians, including mob attacks, police intimidation and the disruption of worship services, between 20 and 23 February.
Vijayesh Lal, national director of the Religious Liberty Commission, said violent incidents had become a “regular phenomenon for Christians in many parts of India” on weekends, especially on Sundays. The latest attacks happened on the weekend before President Trump’s visit when he was due to discuss religious freedom in India with Prime Minister Modi.
Five of the incidents took place in Uttar Pradesh. Two incidents took place in Tamil Nadu, and one incident each was reported from Telangana, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh states.
In Chhattisgarh state, on 20 February, religious radicals 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 also ransacked the family’s home in Tikanpal village and looted food supplies and livestock. The family escaped serious harm and were later treated for injuries in hospital.
On 21 February, seven Christian pastors were taken into police custody in Sathankulam, Tamil Nadu state, where they were brutally assaulted and verbally abused by the officer in charge for “propagating the Christian faith”. The following day, Pastor Austin Dinaker and members of his church were stalked and beaten by extremists as they returned home from a worship service in a suburb of Hyderabad, in Telangana state.
On Sunday 23 February, extremists attacked Christians during a prayer service in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and dragged the two pastors to the police station.
Vijayesh Lal called on Modi and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah to take note of “these regular spates of violence against the minority community” and provide security and protection so that the “fundamental right to practise, profess and propagate the faith would not be hampered”.
North-east Delhi was hit by three nights of rioting after protests broke out on 23 February over the introduction of a new citizenship law granting Indian citizenship to migrant refugees from a number of religious groups, including Christians, from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excluding Muslims. A previous wave of violent protests, across nine states, left at least five dead when the legislation was passed in December 2019.
Barnabas Fund, barnabsfund.org