Christians across India fear that persecution will increase if the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) wins the upcoming Indian elections. The elections run from 11 April – 23 May 2019.
One pastor told Open Doors: “People regret their choices of 2014. Where I live, most people don’t like the BJP at all. They shouldn’t win. But we are afraid that the elections will be rigged. Maybe the voting machines will be hacked or maybe people will be given money if they vote for the BJP. We, as pastors, were promised land and protection if we voted for them.”
Many are afraid to speak out at all; those who did speak to Open Doors asked for their names not to be mentioned. Anti-Christian violence has increased dramatically as the BJP has come to power with India rising 18 places to number 10 on the Open Doors World Watch List over the last five years.
Last year 775 violent incidents were recorded affecting 50,819 people. Persecution experts at Open Doors believe this figure is actually dramatically higher but that many incidents go unreported and therefore unrecorded due to intimidation of victims.
Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK, said: “The situation for Christians and other religious minorities in India is worsening year on year. It is vital that whoever is elected to form India’s next government does everything in their power to improve the legal and societal environment for India’s embattled religious minorities.”
Another pastor told Open Doors: “The elections are directly connected to our freedom. We really hope the BJP won’t win the elections. We pray that the Indian National Congress becomes the biggest party.” This pastor has been expelled from his home for two years after being accused of forcibly converting a girl to Christianity. Both the girl and the pastor were beaten severely. “This is the country we live in,” he said.
A third pastor said that after becoming active on social media, he received a warning letter. He said he has since been working more carefully and has not been active on social media at all.
“I hope Modi and his BJP won’t rule anymore after the elections,” the pastor told Open Doors. “They have done nothing for Christians and other minorities. All the decisions they make are against minorities. I fear for the future of my country and my family, especially my children.”
Another church leader told Open Doors that not only Christians but people from other religious minorities are very worried too.
In the coming elections voters will elect 543 members for Lok Sabha or the lower chamber of the parliament. The BJP’s main rival will be the Indian National Congress party while over a dozen regional parties, popular in particular states, will also compete. Christian candidates, all of them from the predominantly Christian north-east India, will most likely be part of the Indian National Congress party. According to local sources, the desirable outcome for religious minorities would be if the Indian National Congress were able to form an alliance of parties that would oppose the BJP.
India is number 10 on the 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.
Sixty-four million Christians live in India which is less than five per cent of the population. The Indian government is led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, who believe that being a Hindu is part of Indian identity, and frequently turn a blind eye to attacks on those of other faiths. Christians in India face high levels of violence from extremists, with thousands of attacks taking place every year.