Religious freedom for Christians living in India is “steadily worsening,” according to one pastor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The situation in India is very sensitive right now,” he told The Christian Post. “Many believers in India are facing very serious situations. [The government] is clamping down on the churches and passing new laws to incite hatred and anger against Christians. They feel threatened by us, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be a Christian there. It’s getting harder and harder to live faithfully as a Christian.”
In Madhya Pradesh — one of the several Indian states with “anti-conversion” laws — three Christian pastors were attacked by Hindu extremists and arrested, ultimately charged with violating the state’s dictates, which, according to the U.S. Library of Congress, “seek to prevent any person from converting or attempting to convert, either directly or otherwise, another person through ‘forcible’ or ‘fraudulent’ means, or by ‘allurement’ or ‘inducement.’”
Those who break the anti-conversion laws are subject to fines and imprisonment.
According to an account published this week by the persecution watchdog International Christian Concern, six Christians — including Pastors Mahendra, Chatter Singh, and Nathan — were attacked my a mob “of approximately 30 radical Hindu nationalists” while they were gathered in a Christian home for a prayer meeting in Bagoli village.
The assailants assaulted the six believers and took them to a nearby police station, where the pastors were booked and charged for violating the state’s newly enacted anti-conversion law, which, as the most stringent mandate in the country, allows for a punishment of up to 10 years in prison for conversion through “marriage or by any other fraudulent means.”
Intended to replace the anti-conversion bill passed in 1968, the new law also prohibits religious conversion “by misrepresentation, allurement, force, undue influence, [or] coercion,” said state Home Minister Narottam Mishra.
ICC said the other three believers were released after local Christians intervened.
One local Christian leader, Pastor Lanjwar, told ICC the situation in Madhya Pradesh — as well as other states with anti-conversion laws — “is like a cyclone hitting the state.”
“Most of the house churches in the rural areas are shut down due to fear of arrest or violent attack,” he revealed.
Lower courts rejected bail petitions for the three ministers. The issue has since been appealed to the state’s High Court.
An anonymous source told ICC “there is no relation between what happened in the village and the charges filed by police against the pastors,” adding, “Yet the pastors were denied bail, which proves everyone involved in the case is complicit in sending the three pastors to jail.”
The new law in Madhya Pradesh has sparked what ICC called “a new wave of anti-Christian incidents.”
The Indian states of Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttrakhand have also enacted similar anti-conversion laws.
“Nationalists falsely accuse Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault,” ICC reported. “Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians due to false accusations of forced conversion.”