Persecution Relief, an ecumenical group, has organised a prayer campaign set to end on 7 October. Some 1,200 violent episodes have been recorded in the past two years. Christians are threatened with expulsion if they do not convert to Hinduism.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Persecution Relief has organised for early October a week of prayer against religious persecution in a country where anti-Christian violence is growing, with attempts to drive them from their homes and destroy their churches.
Hundreds of thousands took part in the initiative, which included calls for the release of about a hundred clergymen and believers jailed on false accusations of forced conversions, said Pastor Shibu Thomas, founder of the ecumenical organisation,
"They don’t want to live in India with fear, or face threats of being driven from their homes because of their faith", the Christian leader told AsiaNews. For them, “Prayer is our only resource”.
This is the second edition of the initiative, which ends on 7 October. "The response has been extraordinary,” Rev Thomas noted. “Hundreds of churches, Christian institutions and Bible colleges" are involved in the event whose goal is "to create greater awareness and help open the hearts of God's people".
Such a campaign has become necessary because of the numerous incidents of discrimination and violence against Christians in the Hindu majority country.
Persecution Relief has recorded more than 1,200 episodes in the last two years, including 60 cases in just nine months in Uttar Pradesh, a state governed by a Hindu guru known for his hostility towards the followers of Christ.
According to Pastor Thomas, there is no reason why Christians should suffer discrimination. They "are peace-loving people who have contributed significantly to India’s growth, providing excellent schools and colleges, hospitals, orphanages, old homes."
For him, persecution is due to the fact that "several fundamentalist religious groups, under the umbrella of the ruling party (Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP), are trying to polarise and divide the community, thus destroying the secular fabric of India. Christians have been openly threatened that if they wish to live in India, they must embrace Hinduism and forsake Jesus."
So much hatred has been “injected into society by Hindu religious and political leaders, openly, without impunity or fear of reprisal. No one speaks against it. Christian festivals are especially targeted” and for this reason in many states take place in secret.
Persecution is directed not only against Christian believers and pastors, often imprisoned for their faith, but also against their places of worship, with churches closed or vandalised.
The most common way to persecute minority Christians is through "excommunication", a term that signals "social boycott" by village leaders and residents, which, Pastor Thomas notes, can include the denial of government subsidies, food rations or medicines, as well as education.
Christians have been “banished from events held in the village, deprived of water from the public well, deprived of water and fodder for their cattle, not allowed to bury their dead but forced to cremate them or asked to bury them in the jungle.”
Social boycott can have the effect of forcing Christians to abandon their faith to avoid being marginalised.
The Persecution Relief network does not only raise awareness, but provides financial support in cases involving forced conversion trial, the rebuilding of destroyed churches, medical treatment for Christians hurt in attacks, as well as temporary accommodations for people who lost their homes to fire set by Hindu radicals.