“Every day we have four or five attacks on churches and pastors, and every Sunday it doubles to roughly ten – this we have never seen before” said a persecuted Christian leader of a major denomination in 2023. The main sources of Christian persecution in India is the Sangh Parivar, a consortium of Hindu extremist organizations that include the influential paramilitary and strategic group known as the RSS (National Volunteer Association), the BJP, the main political party and the Bajrang Dal, a violent youth wing.
All serve a fascist ideology called Hindutva, which seeks to make India a pure Hindu nation. The parliamentary party, the BJP first took power in the late 1990’s, and violence against Christians especially in the state of Gujarat, quickly followed. But after losing elections in 2003 they returned to power in 2014 under Narendra Modi, the first prime minister to come from the ranks of the paramilitary RSS. Modi added an anti- Muslim, anti-Christian populism element to Hindu extremism and increased the BJP majority in elections in 2019. Christians have suffered in two main ways. One is they experience targeted violence to displace them from certain areas.
This is because Hindu extremists are brilliant at organizing mob violence. In 2023 alone, violence against the mostly Christian Kuki tribe in the North Eastern state of Manipur left hundreds dead and over 200 churches razed to the ground. The other tactic however is more subtle, with extremists taking over the key institutions of the judiciary, education and media.
As a Christian leader said, “These institutions have been hollowed out from the inside, so they have become instruments of extremism rather than protectors and promoters of truth…if Christian are beaten the government is careful to do nothing to bring the perpetrators to justice, but weave a narrative that always blames Christians.” Another tactic of Christian persecution in India is to starve faith-based organizations of the ability to receive funds from abroad, with over 19,000 charities by 2020 having lost this privilege. In a mere twenty years, the Christian (and Muslim) minorities in India have been made to feel like they no longer belong in a land they have been resident in for centuries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
The Prime Minister, Mr Modi, may be a favorite of the Western powers, but he has normalized hatred in a country that used to be much more tolerant of religious difference. It was only in 2005 we lived in a secular democratic state; now, sadly, we live in an authoritarian vigilante state. It happened so fast we were not ready. Pray we wake up before it is too late.”
—Persecuted Christian leader of one of the largest denominations
History of Christianity in India
Christianity’s roots are ancient and for some, apostolic. Tradition insists that the first Christian in India was the apostle Thomas and was martyred. The ancient church he founded is still going in India today, known as St Thomas Christians, and even preserve ancient liturgies in Syriac and Chaldean. But they were largely high caste, and either unable or unwilling to evangelize lower castes.
Roman Catholicism established itself with the arrival of the Portuguese in south India in the 1500’s and still give southern states like Kerela a Christian character. Protestant missionaries arrived in the early 1800’s. India’s Christian churches were notable for their ability to found schools and hospitals. It was said recently that 60% of all schools and 70% of hospitals traced their founding to Christian churches. In more recent years.
Christianity has prospered with its strong appeal to bring dignity to the lower castes, and many so called “Dalits” – otherwise known as “untouchables” by traditional Hindus – have found refuge in a faith that refuses to regard them as inferior. It is thought up to 60% of India’s Christians come from these lower castes.