As the Indian General elections conclude with the victory of the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Indian Christians fear that the marginalisation of the country’s minorities will intensify.
Local church leaders told Open Doors’ contacts that the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government has already created a lot of problems for them in their work and that they had hoped the government would change so that they would have more freedom.
“Now that the ruling party comes in again, Christians might have very difficult times,” Sujal*, a church leader, said. “It will be difficult for the churches to function. There will be more violence against Christians. The BJP is a pro-Hindu party and is polarising the minds of Indians on the ground of religion, spreading communal disharmony. It rouses religious intolerance, promoting Hinduism, crowning it as the only religion in India and belittling Christians and Muslims as intruders.”
Since the BJP came to power in May 2014, Hindu nationalism, radical extremism and the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities have seen a dramatic rise. The inaction of the state or national authorities contributed to an increased level of impunity for Hindu radicals especially in BJP ruled states.
While Open Doors’ local partners recorded 147 incidents of violence against Christians in India in 2014, they have recorded 216 incidents in the first quarter of 2019 alone, including two murders. These are just the incidents that Open Doors local partners have verified; it is likely that many other incidents have gone unreported because victims are afraid to speak out.
Henrietta Blyth, the CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said: “It is an increasingly worrying time for Christians in India. Over the last five years they have experienced a significant level of violence, discrimination and intolerance against them. We hope that this second BJP victory will not be a mandate for increased persecution but will instead be an opportunity to heal the increasing divides in India.”
In the elections the BJP-led Alliance won a clear majority in the Lok Sabha –the lower chamber of the parliament – which means that they will continue to oversee local administration of many cities, towns and villages.
India’s Christians are expecting that so-called anti-conversion legislation, which prevents people from converting away from Hinduism to any other religion, will be implemented more rigorously and in more states. In states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where those laws are in force, the persecution of Christians is already on the rise. Other states that have such a law are Uttarakhand, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Jharkhand. Rajasthan and Arunachal Pradesh have also passed similar legislation, but it has not been signed off by the state governor.
The nationalistic characteristics of the BJP stems from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) right-wing, Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation which has formed the BJP as its political wing. RSS is behind the promotion of the Hindutva ideology where “To be Indian is to be Hindu” is a leading theme. In this narrative, religious minorities, such as Christians and Muslims, are not considered Hindutva and are, therefore, thought of as foreigners. Worshippers from both religions have faced intense persecution at the hands of extremists.
In partnership with local churches, Open Doors provides emergency aid, training, Bibles, advocacy support, and legal seminars to people who have suffered persecution. It costs £22 per month to resource a local Rapid Response team that brings emergency aid to victims of violence. The aid includes visits to the victims of persecution, provision of groceries and clothes to those who had to flee their homes and covering medical costs of Christians who sustained injuries in attacks on them. Open Doors also provides legal support to those who want to file a report with police or need to go to court, through our local partners.
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. In a country with a total population of 1.3 billion, they make up a tiny minority. In rural areas Christians are often very isolated. Christians in India face high levels of violence from extremists, with thousands of attacks taking place every year.
*name changed for security reasons