New Delhi- Three major states in India are grappling with a surge in violence against Christians, with Uttar Pradesh at the forefront with 211 incidents, followed by Chhattisgarh with 118 and Haryana with 39 incidents in 2023. Persecution, as termed by the community, intensified in 2020 and 2021, reaching a peak in the first ten months of 2023. Reports include instances of harassment, physical attacks, threats, intimidation, false arrests, and, in some tragic cases, fatal assaults. The total number of Christians arrested in India in 2023 was 648, also a record, of which an unheard of 440 cases were from the state of Uttar Pradesh. Out of these, 35 Christians were awaiting release in October 2023.
Renowned Human and Christian rights activist, Dr. John Dayal, shared with The Mooknayak, a chilling account of the situation, revealing that Christian institutions have been systematically targeted.
Dr. Dayal's study constitutes a chapter in a report titled 'Promises and Reality,' which serves as a Citizen's Review of over four years of the NDA II Government from 2019 to 2023. The report has been coordinated by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan. Dayal, a renowned Christian political activist, holds positions as a member of the National Integration Council of India, Secretary-General of the All India Christian Council, and a past president of the All India Catholic Union. The data from his study further highlights 13 districts in India where practicing Christianity is becoming increasingly difficult, evoking a sense of apprehension within the community.
Dr Dayal said, " There are 13 Districts in India wherein practicing Christianity is becoming dangerous. Bastar is leading with 51 incidents of violence against Christians followed by 14 each in Kondagaon and Azamgarh, 13 each in Jaunpur, Raebareli and Sitapur, 12 in Kapur, 10 each in Hardoi, Maharajganj, Kushinagar and Mau, 9 each in Gazipur and Ranchi. Christian institutions have reported being targeted, harassed, attacked, threatened, intimidated, arrested based on false allegations and in some cases, fatal assaults. It is only a matter of time before the call for “war against Muslims” is extended to other religious minorities, particularly the Christians. Each year, Christians are most vulnerable to attacks in the second half of the year—particularly in the months from August to December, the Christmas season."
This surge in violence has not been deterred by the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite lockdowns and restricted mobility, the Christian community continued to face targeted attacks. The collapse of media infrastructure during the pandemic further exacerbated the situation, making it difficult to accurately document the crimes against Christians. Civil society activists struggled to provide socio-legal assistance to affected individuals in villages, amplifying the underreporting of crimes, the veteran activist stated.
A 2020 report of EFI (Evangelical Fellowship of India) states that crimes against Christians are under-reported due to the unwillingness of the police to register criminal complaints, and with courts being virtually closed during the pandemic, affected Christians had little access to justice. As in the case of Dalit Christians and adivasi Christians, Christian women are vulnerable to violence and discrimination due to their intersectional identities.
Women’s bodies have been the site of communal and targeted violence against religious minorities in India since independence, with a discernible pattern of attacks and impunity for the same. Incidents of communal (violence and targeted attacks against religious minorities have intensified in the past two decades, when the Hindu extremist forces became active, and widened their support base.
Sexual and gender-based violence on Muslim women has been documented in many contexts. Catholic nuns, who are conspicuous due to the religious habits that they wear, are often attacked deliberately to teach a lesson to, shame and intimidate the Christian community in India, and to force it into a subservient status in Indian society. The Hindu right wing’s hate propaganda that falsely accuses all Christians of conducting forcible conversions, provides a further justification for targeted attacks on nuns. Some reported attacks in recent years include the following:
In June 2017, a Catholic nun, Sister Bina Joseph, was detained along with four tribal girls at a railway station in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and subsequently arrested, based on a complaint by 50 members of Bajrang Dal alleging forced conversion.
In April 2019, when a Class 10 student of a Catholic school in the state of Tamil Nadu ended her life as she had failed in the mathematics exam, her family members reportedly attacked the school along with a mob of about 200 persons, assaulted nuns who were managing the school (who had to be hospitalized) and vandalized the institution. Four nuns who were targeted for vicious attack, including an attempt to strangle them with rosary beads they wore on their necks, were reportedly hospitalized for some days.
In March 2021, four nuns, including two postulants, were attacked by members of Bajrang Dal, while they were travelling by train to their homes at Rourkela in Odisha and forced to get off the train in Jhansi. They were falsely accused of conducting forced conversion on the two postulants who were younger women, and the four women were taken into police custody and questioned for several hours before being released. The Syro-Malabar Church reportedly said that it was a pre-meditated attack as 150 Bajrang Dal activists had assembled at the railway station in no time.
In October 2021, two nuns—Sister Gracy Monteiro and Sister Roshni Minij —who were waiting at a bus stop in Mau in the state of Uttar Pradesh were falsely accused of conducting forcible conversions and taken to a police station by vigilante groups and detained there the entire day.
In January 2022, after a 17-year-old girl ended her life in a hostel run by Catholic nuns in the state of Tamil Nadu, a 62-year-old nun—Sister Sahaya Mary—was arrested, and accused of forcibly converting the deceased prior to her death. The arrested nun was granted bail several weeks after she was arrested, and the Central Bureau of Investigation has now taken over the investigation.
These are just illustrative cases. They indicate a common pattern of targeting nuns and making false allegations of forced conversions against them, and using state machinery (particularly the police) to harass, detain and arrest them.
Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) stands as a formidable national civil society platform established in 2004 following the World Social Forum in Mumbai. With a mission to monitor governance accountability and eradicate poverty and social exclusion in India, WNTA has garnered the support of over 3,000 civil society organizations and network members.
Operating through anchor organizations and civil society leaders across states, WNTA plays a pivotal role in coordinating with various civil society networks and forums. The organization's work revolves around three key pillars: conducting an annual review report on the performance of the union government based on electoral promises and constitutional mandates; producing an annual review report on the progress of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the country; and articulating the demands and aspirations of the people to political parties before elections through the 'People's Manifesto.'
As the national partner of the Global Call for Action against Poverty (GCAP) and other global SDG platforms, WNTA contributes significantly to the larger discourse on governance, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development in India.