INDIA: Karnataka Most Dangerous State for Christians

In 2011, the southern state of Karnataka (pictured in red on map) recorded the highest number of attacks against Christians in any Indian state, with 49 cases of violence and hostility according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s (EFI) annual report, “Battered and Bruised…”.

Another southern state, Andhra Pradesh, recorded 17 cases of violent attacks and discrimination, while the central state of Chhattisgarh recorded fourteen. Orissa recorded eleven incidents followed by Kerala, with ten.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) is deeply concerned at the continued hostility towards Christians, mainly in the form of violent attacks, but also involving false accusations. Rev Dr Richard Howell, General Secretary of the EFI, commented: “The Christian community in India continues to suffer for the sake of their service and witness to Jesus Christ. With 140 major incidents of violence against the community in 2011, the crucial issues of the rights of minorities and freedom of faith are involved. The church will continue to serve the nation and pray for those who are persecuting.”

RECENT ATTACKS IN KARNATAKA

Attacks on Christians accelerated over Christmas and the New Year in Karnataka, which was identified as the most dangerous state for Christians for the third consecutive year at the end of 2011. At least 56 attacks were reported in 2010 and 48 in 2009. Anti-Christian attacks have increased in Karnataka since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in May 2008.

The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), based in Karnataka’s capital Bengaluru, documented at least six anti-Christian attacks between Christmas Eve 2011 and New Year’s Day. The attacks were “shameful” and “a blot on the secular and democratic India,” said GCIC President Sajan K. George, adding that the local government and authorities were “complicit in the persecution against Christians”.

On 25 December 2011, a mob of about 20 extremists, armed with stones, sticks and clubs, forcibly entered a house near Surathkal, a few kilometres from the city of Mangalore, where Pastor Suresh of New Life Church, with his family and some other Christians, had been invited for Christmas dinner. Shouting abuse, the mob attacked all of them, including women and children. The attackers were allegedly from a local group called Hindu Jagran Vedike (Hindu Revival Forum). Injuries included a broken leg, a broken nose and head injuries, and the pastor’s wife, Latha, sustained serious chest injuries. The pastor was beaten with clubs while trying to rescue others. The mob left, shouting that they would kill the Christians. A local Christian said that the police arrested five of the attackers, but that they had been released on bail, and said that although a police complaint was registered, the officer who came to investigate the incident was heard questioning the injured about when they become Christians and how much they were paid for their conversion.

On 28 December, a group of men from the extreme nationalist Hindu group Sriram Sene disrupted the prayer meeting of Divyadarsana Ministry Church at a home in Davanagere. The intruders treated the Christians roughly, claiming that the purpose of the meeting was to convert Hindus. The police arrived, but took Pastor Raju Doddamani and four other Christians to the police station for interrogation. They were released late that night.

The same day, suspected Hindu radicals burned a crib and Christmas tree that were part of Christmas celebrations by Roman Catholics in Maripalla. The police arrested two men, who informed them that they suspected forceful conversion and hence set fire to the crib.

Also on 28 December, suspected Hindu nationalists attacked Hebron Full Gospel Assembly Church in Haleyangadi, while Pastor Prasanna was away. His wife, two children, mother, brother-in-law and a friend were praying inside the hall when the attackers broke in, ransacking the building and smashing all the windows. They also entered the pastor’s house, where they broke lights and windows and destroyed household items. It was reported that the attackers were shouting threats against the church, saying that they would not let it continue. The police have not arrested anyone.

On New Year’s Eve more than ten men, believed to be Hindu nationalists, entered the premises of Karnataka Calvary Fellowship Church in Ganeshgudi and forced the church to stop a prayer service. The police arrived and, according to reports, joined the mob in harassing and threatening the Christians with dire consequences if they continued with their “conversion work”. The police summoned Pastor P. R. Jose to the police station the following morning. When the pastor and some other Christians went to the station, they lodged a complaint against members of the mob and the two police constables for trespass and for their behaviour. The sub-inspector gave the two constables a severe dressing down, and advised the pastor to go ahead with prayer services without any fear.

On 1 January 2012, about 20 men disrupted the New Year’s Day worship service of Blessing Youth Mission Church at a house in Hunnur village in Bagalkot. Suspected Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu organisation, manhandled Pastor Siddu Seemanth Gunike and accused him of forcibly and fraudulently converting Hindus. Local police intervened and rescued the pastor and other Christians. (Compass Direct, Evangelical Fellowship of India)

BACKGROUND TO ATTACKS

Christians account for about 2.3 % of India’s population of 1.1 billion, while about 80% of Indians are Hindu. In recent years the rise of Hindu nationalism, encapsulated in the slogan “One Nation, One Religion, One Culture”, has led to violence against Christians by Hindu extremists. Typically, violent intruders break up church services, beat the worshippers and call the police to have pastors and other Christians arrested on false charges of “forcible conversion” or “forcible and fraudulent conversion”. Evangelism and conversion are legal in India. Attacks include arson, desecration of church buildings and property, and such violent assaults that many Christians have had to be hospitalised or have even died. The Christian community feels vulnerable to extremist attacks and helpless in the face of police inaction and often bias in favour of the attackers.