Rising intolerance leading to anti-minority sentiments have caused 305 attacks on Christians in India in the past nine months, reported a Christian group last week.
Anti-minority sentiments that have been on the rise since the right wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party took over the reigns of governance in 2014 are now spiraling out of control, said the United Christian Forum.
Father Suresh Mathew, editor of the weekly Indian Currents, also said the attacks on Christians are part of a bigger plan to establish a “Hindu Rashtra” or Hindu state.
In a media briefing last week, the United Christian Forum helpline reported that it has recorded 305 incidents of violence against Christians from January to September this year.
The most number of cases, 69, were recorded in September, said AC Michael, the forum’s national coordinator, during the media briefing in the national capital, New Delhi, on October 21.
On the same occasion, the Forum, with the Association for Protection of Civil Rights and the United Against Hate, released the result of its investigation into the the October 3 attack on a church in Roorkee in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh recorded 169 incidents of violence against Christians in a matter of 273 days, while Karnataka, which is under BJP rule in the south, posted 32 incidents.
Michael, a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, said “the attacks took place across 21 states with the northern states accounting for the maximum of 288 instances of mob violence.”
The list of victims included 1,331 women, 588 tribals, and 513 Dalits who were injured during the incidents of attack. There were also 28 incidents of damage to places of worship/churches recorded.
On October 3, Hindutva goons attacked a Pentecostal church at an upmarket locality in Roorkee.
The 200-strong mob beat those gathered for worship, including 65-year-old Sadhana Lance who managed the church since its pastor, Dickens Rockwell Lance, died in September last year,
Pearl Lance, a software engineer and daughter of Sadhana, said the mob “slapped me, pulled my hair and molested me.”
“They snatched my mobile phone and money even as some men pinned me down while others, including women, attacked me,” she said.
Eva, Pearl’s younger sister, said the attackers did not look like hardline Hindu goons but were “educated men and women connected with right-wing organizations who barged into the church and accused us of proselytization.”
The attackers broke furniture, musical instruments, CCTV cameras, and injured worshippers, some seriously.
Rajat Kumar, who was beaten with iron rods and dragged on the ground, had to be hospitalized.
“I rushed to my car to take him to the hospital. But the mob, most of whom had come by cars had blocked the passage,” said Eva. “I pleaded with them with folded hands to make way, but they did not budge. They just laughed at our plight,” she said.
Eva said the attack was a “meticulously planned.”
“They came in just as the worship was about to begin and went on a rampage attacking those gathered and destroying church property. They even took away the [CCTV camera recordings] so that there is no shred of evidence against them,” she said.
Before the attack, the Lance family had reported suspicious activities outside the church to the police for four times. They said they were followed when they ventured outside and received “anti-Christian threats.”
“We were assured of security by the police, but no help came,” said Eva.
“Even on the day of the attack, we kept calling the police, but they arrived an hour later after the mob had done the damage although the police station is a stone’s throw from the church,” she said.
Eva, a student, said that police registered non-bailable offenses against her mother, accusing her of indulging in dacoity and a murder attempt.
Almost three weeks have passed since the incident, but police have yet to act on the attackers.
Father Mathew of India Currents said Christians have become sitting ducks when they are in places of worship, trains, buses, and other public places.
“At stake is the people’s fundamental right to live and their freedom to practice a religion of their choice,” said the priest.
The priest said also fueling the attacks is the indifference of law-enforcement agencies when right-wing mobs take the law into their hands.
He said police personnel “turn into statues” at the sight of a marauding saffron brigade and turn to look the other way when hapless Christians are shoved around.
Father Mather cited several incidents of attacks on Christians, including when two nuns were accosted in Mirpur in Uttar Pradesh by right-wing vigilante groups.
On the same day, a Christian pastor and several churchgoers were also dragged to a police station, accused of proselytizing.
In March, two nuns and two postulants who were traveling on a train, were also attacked and forced to disembark in Jhansi and were taken to a police station on charges of converting people.
The cases of attacks went up in recent months after new anti-conversion laws were enacted in several states of the country.
Father Mathew blamed Church leaders for their silence on the issue. He said certain sections of the Church hierarchy do not seem to have their ear to the ground.
“Their knee-jerk reaction is tantamount to turning a blind eye to the attackers,” said the priest.
“There have been voices of concern and condemnation coming from several countries and world organizations censuring these attacks, but the Church hierarchy adopts an ostrich-type approach, as if it is under the spell of the government,” added Father Mathew.