Abishek* is considered a threat to India because he is a Christian. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the militant Hindu nationalist group linked with the ruling BJP, have stated that they want to see India free of Christians and Muslims by the end of 2021. Increasingly, Indians see Christianity as unpatriotic therefore violent attacks against Christians are increasing.
As an Open Doors local partner, Abishek* is part of a rapid response team that visits Christians in India who have been attacked for their faith.
“As soon as we get the information, if that place is okay and the situation isn’t too sensitive, then we go to the place directly and we meet with the believers,” Abishek said. “We encourage them; we comfort them; we stand with them shoulder to shoulder and we share with their sorrows.
“We help them if their house is burnt, if their house is attacked physically, we provide them with some help to really repair that house. If they have been beaten up then we take them to hospital and we provide them with good treatment. If they have been expelled from their village or from their home then we give them shelter by taking them into another village so they can be safe there.”
One family that Abishek helped had lost their father who used to distribute Bibles and support poverty stricken Christians. This drew the attention of the Naxalites, a militant Maoist group in the area. Some sources in India report that the RSS extremists pay Naxalites to attack Christians and other religious minorities.
“The Naxalites wanted to completely remove this man from this community,” Abishek said. “At 4am, early in the morning, the Naxalites came from the jungle and took this man from his own home. They took him to the jungle.
“Then they just beat him. They tied his legs and hung him up in a tree. They were hitting him with big sticks, with rods. And when he was completely senseless, they took him down and they just shot him. Such a heinous killing, so brutal. They killed this man of God.”
The Naxalites threatened to kill his widow and their three young children if they reported the incident to the police.
“I went to that family and I cried with them,” Abishek said. “I encouraged them, I comforted them from the word of God. The man’s wife was telling me, ‘Thank you so much. Nobody has come like that and comforted us.’”
Abishek provided the family with food and helped them to move to a safe place. When the children are old enough to go to school, he will also help to pay for their school fees.
Abishek’s explains that his Rapid Response team is at risk: “We are always facing danger. People keep their eyes on us. When they attack one believer in a village, then they look to see who is supporting this person. And when they see us, they ask lot of questions.
“We face danger from Hindu extremists because they want to completely eradicate the root of the support from these local believers. They think that Christianity is not the religion of India – they think it is a foreign religion. They want to completely eliminate this religion, this people from India. That’s why they target us when we go to the field and help the believers.”
Attacks on Christians in India are increasing. In the first quarter of 2019, Open Doors recorded 216 persecution incidents against Christians, including two murders and 11 cases of attempted murder. Over 45 cases were physical abuse, where victims suffered temporary or permanent physical problems because of the assault. There were a further 37 cases of Christians being forced to leave their homes and 12 cases where Christians were detained by the police on false charges of luring people to Christian conversion.
Open Doors wants to double its impact in India through reaching the most vulnerable people with practical support and legal assistance. It costs £15 to equip one Rapid Response team, like Abishek’s, for a month to bring emergency aid to victims of violence.
A Hindu convert himself, Abishek has been working to help persecuted Christians in India for over five years. He said: “I joined this ministry to really serve the persecuted church. The people who are poor, those who have been thrashed, those who have been really hated, who have been persecuted and tortured for the sake of Christ Jesus. It is really wonderful to serve this group of people.”
India is number 10 on the Open Doors World Watch List, the annual ranking of the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. 64 million Christians live in India – less than five per cent of the total population. The Indian government is led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, who believe that being a Hindu is part of Indian identity. They frequently turn a blind eye to attacks on those of other faiths.
Christians in India face horrific levels of violence from extremists, with thousands of attacks taking place every year. Several states in India have brought in anti-conversion laws, and the BJP have made it clear that they would like to make these laws nation-wide. Such laws are often used as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians, and make it difficult for Christians to share their faith with others.
*Name changed for security reasons