As India gradually emerges from its national lockdown, International Christian Concern (ICC) has documented a sudden spike in attacks on Christians across the country. Since the lockdown has lifted, ICC has recorded at least eight incidents of persecution in just two weeks. These incidents include physical assaults, damage to Christian properties, and threats issued by radical Hindu nationalists.
“They kicked me like they would kick a football,” Pastor Suresh Rao, a victim of this new wave of persecution, told ICC. “They dragged me into the street and pushed me to the ground. There, they started to trample on me. They tore my clothes, kicked me all over my body, and punched my left eye. I have sustained a serious eye injury as a result of a blood clot.”
Pastor Rao, who serves as a church planter in India’s Telangana state, was brutally attacked on June 21 while he was praying for a sick person in Kolonguda village. According to local Christians, Pastor Rao arrived at the sick person’s house around 9:30 a.m. for prayer. Soon the house was surrounded by a mob of nearly 150 people led by a man named Ashok.
The mob broke into the house, dragged Pastor Rao into the street, and beat him. During the attack, members of the mob claimed Pastor Rao was involved in illegal religious conversions, converting Hindus to Christianity.
“They said that India is a Hindu nation, and there is no place for Christians,” Rao explained.
“I am prepared for this kind of eventuality,” Pastor Rao, who has faced multiple encounters with radicals, told ICC. “I know the cost of serving Jesus in these remote villages, and I will continue to serve the people of this region.”
On June 11, an independent church in India’s Tamil Nadu state was burned to the ground by unknown individuals, leaving over 100 Christians with no place to worship.
“I was so distressed and pained in my heart,” Pastor Ramesh, head pastor of Real Peace Church, told ICC. “It was hard labor for 10 years to build the church. All the hard work and sacrificial donations from the poor congregants were brought down to the ground. All that is left is ash.”
Members of the Real Peace Church told ICC that the burning of the church was not discovered until it was too late. People arrived at the church, located in Vaylur village, at approximately 5:30 a.m. to find that it had been completely burned to the ground.
“We couldn’t save anything,” a church member explained. “All the furniture, musical instruments, pulpit, and offering box was completed burned.”
“In the last ten years, I have been told numerous times by radicals to close the church,” Pastor Ramesh said. “By God’s grace, I was able to endure all these hardships and abuses, but this time it is total devastation.”
On June 13, radical Hindu nationalists threatened members of Laymen Evangelical Fellowship Church as they were preparing to reopen their church after nearly three months of lockdown. According to Pastor Augustine, the radicals told the Christians they were not allowed to conduct any prayers or even congregate on the church premises. The radicals claimed that the Christians were all carrying COVID-19 and infecting non-Christians with the virus.
In response, Pastor Augustine filed a complaint with the police. He also asked the local Member of the Legislative Assembly for permission to hold future worship services.
“We don’t know what future holds,” Pastor Augustine told ICC. “However, we are concerned that the radicals will not allow us to have a church service.”
Recently, the Supreme Court of India permitted the public observance of a major Hindu festival in Odisha amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The court cited the importance of faith and religious rituals in rendering its decision.
As India continues to emerge from COVID-19 lockdown, many Christians fear that a spike in persecution will follow. So far, ICC has documented an escalation in both the number and severity of attacks on Indian Christians, giving weight to the fears.