After last week’s rash of attacks on Christians in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Christian leaders have appealed to the federal government for protection from Hindu radicals.
According to Christian leaders, more than 20 attacks on Christians have already been recorded in the state this year, sometimes with the complicity of the police, who have filed fake conversion cases against them. Madhya Pradesh was one of the first Indian states to pass the so-called “Freedom of Religion Bills” to prevent people from converting to Christianity, and unauthorized religious conversion is a punishable offense in the state.
On Sunday, a three-member delegation met with federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh to request his assistance in ending what they called “continuous anti-Christian attacks” in the state ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The delegation was formed to meet with Singh after a series of attacks on Christians last week, including the vandalism of three Christian churches and an attack on a hostel for disabled children run by Augustinian nuns.
The delegation told Singh that one of the attacks on Christians praying in a church in Indore took place while police looked on. Eyewitnesses claimed that police stood at the gate while the radicals rushed into the church and assaulted Christians, accusing them of conversion activities.
“They kept hitting us, alleging that we were involved in religious conversion and fake healings,” said V Joseph, a Protestant pastor.
A Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh (national Christian forum) spokesperson, Anita Benjamin, said that “Singh listened to what they had to say and immediately telephoned Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and told him to take action against those involved in the attack.”
At the Augustinian home for handicapped children, marauders threw heavy bricks on the roof of the building, which broke through, falling into the inhabited rooms below, yet missing the sisters who were sleeping there.
The local bishop, Chacko Thottumarickal, noted that, fortunately, there were no children there at the time of the attack. “Fundamentalists seem to have a feeling that they can do anything and get away with it,” he said.
Sajan George, head of the “Global Council of Indian Christians” (GCIC), condemned the assault, calling it “an attack not only on the sisters but also on disabled children, which aggravates the severity of the act.”
George also said that the attack was “an affront against society itself, to which the religious offer a tireless and generous service through the care of needy children.”
Earlier this month, Indian officials criticized the 2015 report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which placed India on the “Tier 2” list of countries where religious freedom violations “engaged in or tolerated by the government” are serious and are “characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ standard.”
Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the report reflected ignorance of India and its culture and was “nothing but a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.