Crimes against Christians have seen a steep increase of 60% between 2016 and 2019. In 2019 alone there were 527 incidents of hate crimes against Christians of which 109 were in Uttar Pradesh alone, followed by 75 in Tamil Nadu, 32 in Karnataka, 31 in Maharashtra and 30 in Bihar, according to the annual report released by Persecution Relief.
In 2016, there were 330 incidents, in 2017 440 incidents, in 2018 477 incidents, making it a total of 1774 incidents in these four years. In 2019, 199 incidents were cases of threats, intimidation and harassment, 105 instances of attacks on churches and 85 incidents of physical violence. There were four murders as well.
In most states, there has been a direct link between BJP gaining power in a state and the rise of violence against Christians there. Uttar Pradesh has been the most hostile state towards Christians and with the rise of BJP in the state, there has been a corresponding increase in crimes against Christians. In 2016, there were 39 cases of hate crimes against Christians in Uttar Pradesh, but by 2019, it had increased to 109.
According to the report by Persecution Relief, there is only 0.18% Christian population in Uttar Pradesh, but they have been the target of increasing violence. According to various news reports, several Christian families were beaten, water denied for their crops, the Sunday worship disrupted, and women pastors assaulted by police officers. Pastor Vinod in Uttar Pradesh was recently heckled, attacked and arrested, while Rahul Kumar was heckled by BJP supporters in his own home.
Pastors in Uttar Pradesh are arbitrarily arrested under Section 151, which states that whoever joins or continues in any assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace shall be punished with imprisonment. Additionally, Section 144 is imposed in areas where Sunday worship happens.
This is followed by Tamil Nadu, which has also seen an increase in crimes since 2016 when there were 29 such incidents. In 2017, there were 57 incidents and in 2018, 67 incidents. In Tamil Nadu, most of the persecutors of the church attacks are by Hindu Munnani cadres and their affiliated organisations.
Interestingly, with the rise of Congress in Chhattisgarh, crimes against Christians have dropped in the state. In 2016 when BJP was in power, there were 54 instances, but in 2019 when Congress is power, there were 21 instances of crimes against Christians.
The police often misuse and abuse their authority and operate as extended hands of the religious fanatics. “In many instances, hate speeches by influential leaders sometimes involving the lethal narrative around national identity based on religion, have played a massive role in bringing division amongst the once amicable masses,” said Shibu Thomas, the founder of Persecution Relief.
The Persecution Relief report recommended that the Home Ministry should instruct police heads in every state, to impartially uphold the law at all times; to protect religious minorities and treat every threat against religious minorities seriously. They have also demanded that the Indian government must repeal the Anti-Conversion law, which has been passed in eight states as this is a direct attack on an individual’s freedom to choose one’s faith enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution.