Weeks after all police stations in a district in eastern India were ordered to keep surveillance on Christians and report on any “conversion” activities, Hindu nationalist leaders held an anti-Christian rally there, advocating for violence against the Christian community, according to a report.
The rally, attended by less than 500 people including prominent leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, was held in the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh state on Tuesday, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said in a report.
“Let us drag people from the church and stop conversions at any cost,” Amit Sahu, president of the state unit of the BJP, told the crowd, challenging them to make the Bastar region a “conversion free zone.”
“We will frighten Christians who are involved in conversion work in the region,” Roop Singh Mandavi, another state BJP leader, told the gathering. “We will not allow the missionary work to be carried on in Bastar and will protect the Hindu religion by stopping the conversions.”
Although it attracted a thinner crowd than had been portrayed prior to it, the rally has spread fear among local Christians.
“We took a long breath after seeing the poor show in attendance,” a Christian leader from Chhattisgarh was quoted as saying. “It was expected that 10,000 to 12,000 people would turn up for the rally. This was very concerning, but less than 500 people attended.”
A pastor from the Jagdalpur area added: “Though the rally was not successful in terms of numbers, the (Hindu nationalist) activists will be more aggressive. It is their plan to do reconversion programs, particularly in the villages and interior places. We won’t know about these incidents of persecution because of the remoteness of these areas. Only God can save His people.”
The superintendent of police of the Sukma district in the same state and part of the Bastar region recently issued a circular to all police stations directing officers to surveil the district’s Christian community and be on the lookout for “fraudulent” religious conversions and to act against Christians where these activities are found, ICC previously reported, adding that several incidents of intimidation, threats and assaults against the Christians of Sukma had been reported since the circular was sent.
Christians make up about 2.5% of India’s population, while Hindus comprise 79.5%.
India ranks as the 10th worst country globally when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2021 World Watch List. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged the U.S. State Department to label India as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating severe religious freedom violations.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India says in a report that it documented 145 cases of atrocities against Christians — three murders, 22 attacks on churches and 20 cases of ostracization or social boycott in rural areas — in the first half of 2021.
“The violence, detailed in the report, itself was vicious, widespread and ranged from murder to attacks on churches, false cases, police immunity and connivance, and the now normalized social exclusion or boycott which is becoming viral,” the report says.
“Since the current ruling party (Bharatiya Janata Party) took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences,” noted Open Doors’ World Watch List last year.
“The view of the Hindu nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is viewed as non-Indian. Also, converts to Christianity from Hindu backgrounds or tribal religions are often extremely persecuted by their family members and communities,” Open Doors said at the time.
Several Indian states have “anti-conversion” laws, which presume that Christian workers “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity.
While the anti-conversion laws have been in place for decades in some states, no Christian has been convicted of “forcibly” converting anyone to Christianity. These laws, however, allow Hindu nationalist groups to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext of the alleged forced conversion.
Some of these laws state that no one is allowed to use the “threat” of “divine displeasure,” meaning Christians cannot talk about Heaven or Hell, as that would be seen as “forcing” someone to convert. And if snacks or meals are served to Hindus after an evangelistic meeting, that could be seen as “inducement.”