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Hindu Extremist Hostilities Erupt During Christmas Season in India

January 08, 2015

Converts to Christianity at Bible study in undisclosed village in eastern India.

Christianity has long been under attack by Hindu nationalists in India, but indigenous missionaries report the Christmas season brought out greater hostilities. Fear and gloom spread across the land as anti-Christian sentiment struck at both social and governmental levels.

“By God’s grace we are doing well and our ministry is progressing well in spite of the hostile environment being created by the present Hindu nationalist government,” said a Christian leader in Central India. “The Hindu nationalist fringe groups are creating a hostile environment everywhere and oppose God’s ministry in every possible way.”

Hindu nationalists, who equate being Indian with being Hindu, attacked Christians at Christmas celebrations, had Christians arrested on false charges of “forced conversion” and launched aggressive campaigns to convert hundreds of Christians “back” to Hinduism on the false assumption that they were originally Hindus. Among poor Dalit (“untouchable”) Christians often targeted for such alleged “reconversion,” most were not born Hindus, but grew up practicing tribal religions.

The head of the Hindu extremist Dharma Jagran Samanvay Samiti (DJSS), Rajeshwar Singh, on Dec. 18 said his group would ensure that India is “cleansed” of Christianity and Islam by 2021. When the DJSS and other Hindu nationalist groups planned an event in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, to “reconvert” 4,000 Christians and 1,000 Muslims on Christmas Day, it caused an uproar from minority faiths. The government distanced itself from the largely fraudulent “reconversion” events – which involve threats and promises of material benefits to entice people to convert – and even reportedly pressured the organizers of the Christmas Day event to postpone it.

This attitude of the new, Hindu nationalist government that came to power in May 2014, however, produced even more shrill reaction from Hindu nationalists. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist fixture as former head of Gujarat State, then did not disappoint the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that leads the National Democratic Alliance government he heads. He proposed a “Good Governance Day” on Dec. 25 to divert attention away from Christmas, and his parliamentary affairs minister, Venkaiah Naidu, addressed the growing tensions over conversions by proposing a ban on all religious conversions – except “reconversions” to Hinduism.

Such a ban would violate religious freedoms guaranteed in India’s constitution, but it garnered approval from figures within and outside of parliament.

“People want to declare India as a Hindu nation; that is their plan now,” an indigenous missionary wrote in December. “Now the BJP has the full majority, and they think this is the best time to do things against Christians and Muslims. In Bihar, 40 families were ‘reconverted’ to Hinduism, due to threats on their lives and fear. It is happening in many parts of India now.”

The missionary added that his Christian community was forced to cancel many of their Christmas programs due to fear of attacks.

“The Indian religious situation is not good now,” he said. “Kindly continue to pray for India.”

Regarding the designation of Dec. 25 as “Good Governance Day,” while the Modi government maintained that it was optional and denied that officials had issued a circular requiring government servants to work on Christmas Day, Indian media published reports of some state government ministries ordering civil service employees to work on the holiday.

The Rev. Vijayesh Lal, head of the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission, told Morning Star News that putting Good Governance Day on Dec. 25 was politically symbolic.

“It generated enough controversy and put Good Governance Day in the memory of the people,” he told the persecution news service. “Next year it would be easier to push it alongside Christmas, and, in a few years, Christmas may effectively be sidelined as just the festival of the Christians.”

Christmas and Good Friday are official holidays in India, as are Muslim and Hindu holidays. Christians account for about 6 percent of the population in India (with evangelicals about half of that), Muslims about 14 percent and Hindus 74 percent, according to Operation World.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) recorded more than 31 assaults on Christians throughout December, Lal said. Christmas Day saw police in Uttar Pradesh stop Christmas celebrations in at least four towns because of complaints from Hindu extremist groups lodging false allegations of forced and fraudulent conversions. Christians are routinely accused without basis of forced or fraudulent conversion under “anti-conversion laws” in effect in six states.

The EFI report for December also included threats against Christian communities in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Bihar and Punjab states, and attacks on house churches and Christian buildings, including the gutting of a church in Delhi.

Pastors and ministry leaders may have seen Christmas dampened and hostilities visited upon them, but they are encouraging the brethren with the light of Christ.

“The Lord is great, and He is the victor and remains victor always,” said the Christian leader who commented that his ministry was going forward in spite of persecution.

Another ministry leader saw even greater light amid persecution. Pastor Naik recalled how he recently encountered a Hindu extremist who had led large-scale attacks on Christians in Kandhamal District, Orissa (now Odisha) state in 2008. The ministry leader found him worshipping in a Gosukia village church.

Christians protest on Dec. 2 after the burning of the interior of St. Sebastian’s Church in New Delhi on Dec. 1. (Morning Star News)

“I talked to him, and he was glad that he knew the Lord Jesus. He was very much repentant of his past activities,” Pastor Naik said. “As I was talking to him he said, ‘Now I know the Truth, and I will bring many to know this Truth.’”

The pastor asked him how he had come to Christ. The former Hindu extremist told him he saw victims of the 2008 violence fleeing to the jungle to save their lives without food and water, carrying their infants and elderly, and going without food and basic necessities for months – without forsaking Jesus.

“They prayed and worshipped their God inside the tents with grateful hearts,” he told the ministry leader. “They were so happy and joyful though they lost everything for their God. They did not take any revenge; rather they forgave and prayed for them. When I came to them, they gladly accepted me.”

The repentant man called all his relatives and friends and, in the presence of church leaders, confessed that he had done wrong by leading attacks on innocent Christians and destroying their properties and worship centers. Then he declared that he had become a Christian.

“He is now prepared to go to the jail if he would be convicted for his wrong doings,” Pastor Naik said.

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