The Christian Forum of Chhattisgarh state in India called on its political parties to commit to ensuring freedom of religion, as elections for the state’s legislative house took place yesterday (12 November), Catholic news agency UCAN reported. Meanwhile, several attacks on Christians were reported in the first week of this month, across a number of states.
The forum prepared a charter of demands reflecting concerns over the security of Christians, who constitute only two per cent of Chhattisgarh’s 25 million population. The state is currently ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The demands included the withdrawal of around 400 land-related cases described as “fake” by the forum; “bogus” conversion charges against Christians; the end of discrimination against Christians in getting government jobs; Christians’ adequate representation in the state’s Minorities Commission; and scholarships for Christian students who need financial help.
The forum claims the BJP government has supported the persecution of Christians by Hindu nationalist groups, including destruction of churches, attacks on pastors and bans on Christian services in villages.
Attacks by Hindu extremists
Clergymen accused of forced conversions were attacked by Hindu extremists in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state on 7 November, reported AsiaNews.
During an annual meeting of Pentecostal leaders to discuss Christmas celebrations, around 25 people broke in to the hotel where the meeting was taking place in Agra, a city famous as the home of the Taj Mahal, and attacked people with sticks, damaged musical instruments and assaulted several women, while shouting “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail to the Hindu god Ram), according to AsiaNews.
Police then reportedly arrested some of the victims following a complaint of one of the attackers. They were later released on bail. None of the attackers were arrested.
On the same day, during the Hindu Diwali festival, a Pentecostal church was set on fire in Punjab state, AsiaNews reported.
The Indian Pentecostal Church of God, located in the village of Harchowal, near the Pakistan border, was vacant at the time of the incident. The unidentified assailants burned Bibles, furniture and the church’s electrical system. A local activist reported that the police are conducting an investigation but no arrests have been made.
Earlier this month, in southern Karnataka state, Pastor Srkanth Durgappa was reportedly attacked by 25 Hindu extremists on 4 November while leading a Sunday service in the village of Lokapura. According to International Christian Concern (ICC), he was then dragged to a police station, where he was beaten and sustained a fracture to his chin bone. The pastor was reportedly released on the same evening, with a warning that he must not conduct prayers in the village.
In the same state, on 1 November, a mob of about 100 Hindu extremists attacked a prayer meeting in Hubli city and injured several Christians, one of whom was hospitalised with a serious head injury, ICC reported.
Local sources told ICC the mob stormed into the house where a weekly prayer meeting of the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission was taking place and started beating participants, with no explanation.
Arjun S. Athimathi, who sustained the head injury, told ICC he was targeted because he was leading the meeting, in the absence of the pastor.
“We were beaten up in the presence of the police. They were watching us like spectators,” he said. “We were taken to the police station on the false charges that we were involved in forcible conversions, and the police filed an FIR [First Information Report] against us.”