The United Christian Forum (UCF) has demanded urgent judicial and government intervention to check the rapid rise in incidents of violence, coercion and false arrests, traumatising the community. This persecution is most acute in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, the UCF said, citing data collected from its National Helpline Number 1800-208-4545 and human rights groups.
Although the year 2022 is not even halfway over, there already have been 207 cases of violence. Just in May this year, UCF recorded 57 cases. In 2021, the UCF had documented 505 cases, with Christmas seeing 16 acts of violence, including desecration and breaking of statues of Jesus Christ at a historic church in Haryana.
“This data flies in the face of statements by government functionaries and leaders of the ruling parties at the Centre and in the states that there is no persecution, and that there are only a few stray incidents by fringe elements," UCF National president Michael Williams said.
It is ironic that the culprits, many of whom film their acts of vandalism and physical violence on unarmed women and men, seem to defy the law; peaceful pastors and others are arrested on charges of “conversion” during routine prayer services.
In all such cases, the police is either a mute spectator, or an active participant in the persecution. Despite our appeals to senior officials and administrators, the police have failed to follow protocol, rules, and investigations.
More than one incident has taken place each day so far in 2022. There were 40 incidents in January, 35 in February, 33 in March, 40 in April and nearly double in May with 57 incidents in 31 days with almost two incidents a day.
There were 48 incidents in Uttar Pradesh, 44 in Chhattisgarh, 23 in Jharkhand and 14 in Madhya Pradesh. As the new anti-conversion ordinance is implemented in Karnataka, six cases were reported from the state.
Other than physical assaults, incidents include brutality against women, vandalism, forcible closure of churches, disruption of Sunday prayers and social ostracization which is most visible in small towns and villages. We cite two cases from Chhattisgarh and one from Uttar Pradesh as illustrative of the persecution of Christians.
On May 2, in Bastar district, a 65-year-old Christian woman and her son were threatened with a social boycott by the panchayat if they professed the Christian faith. The two maintained they were Christians and would remain so.
At this, they were attacked and severely injured. The woman sustained multiple injuries, including a wound on the head, and had to be hospitalised. A complaint has been filed before the Superintendent of Police and the District Collector.
On May 31, in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh, a pastor was conducting a prayer service when a mob barged in, dragged him out, beat him up, saying he was converting people. The police, rather than acting against the assailants, arrested the pastor, booking him u/s 295A IPC (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings). He remained behind bars until his bail on 3rd June 2022.
As per the records of UCF, there were 127 incidents in 2014, 142 in 2015, 226 in 2016, 248 in 2017, 292 in 2018, 328 in 2019, 2020 in 279 (perhaps pandemic gave some relief to Indian Christians), and 505 incidents in 2021 and year 2022 so far till the end of May have witnessed 207 incidents in 151 days.
(The views expressed are personal)