Christians in India are facing a new level of persecution, with burned church buildings, beatings that result in broken limbs and Christmas services and prayer meetings disrupted by Hindu militants in at least seven states, according to reports distributed by Voice of the Martyrs.
One church, a thatched building in Orissa state, was torched after church members had decorated and prepared for Christmas festivities, the report said, leaving them with no place to worship.
Asit Kumar Mohanty, who represents the Global Council of Indian Christians, said his group is investigating the church burning.
No more offensive an act than singing Christmas carols proved to be too much for the militants to accept, with widespread reports of harassment and arrest for those caught singing Christmas advent songs on Christmas Eve, officials said.
VOM said its sources, including Compass Direct News, told of attacks by Dharma Sena, a militant Hindu group, which had announced plans to close all church services for Christmas Day.
A pastor and 10 other missionaries were beaten and in yet another attack, Hindu extremists belonging to Bajrang Dal attacked 20 Christians who had gathered in a church to mark the birth of Christ.
“They stormed into the church, beat some of the Christians and destroyed hymnbooks and Bibles. Five Christians were injured in the attack, three suffered hearing loss due to a blow to the head, and a Bible school student’s hand was fractured,” Compass reported.
Officials also are expressing alarm over India’s move towards more attacks on Christians after one lawmaking body in Dharamshala passed legislation banning so-called “forced religious conversions.”
That would give authorities the go-ahead to “punish” anyone who “forced or induced someone to change his/her religion,” opening wide a door to retaliate against Christians after the fact if anyone converts, they said.
It was the sixth Indian state in recent months to adopt such laws, which typically are used to target any Christian ministry.
Hindu extremists also terrorized the more than 400 tribal Christians who had gathered in Maharashtra state to celebrate a prayer service on Christmas Eve.
“Before the service could begin … a large [force] from the local Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad barged into the assembly, shouting slogans against Christianity and driving the Christians away from the prayer hall,” the report said. Fearing further violence, the prayer meeting was cancelled.
And a Hindu extremist group called Dharam Jagran Samiti alleged it had “reconverted” a large number of Christians to Hindu, according to the Asian News International.
In another location, Christians were called to a police station on Dec. 24 and ordered not to conduct any service on Christmas.
Joseph K. Grieboski, who heads the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said it’s clear that the powers in government in India are committed to discrimination against and persecution of religious minorities.
“These recent incidents show the challenges our brothers and sisters in India face for believing in Jesus Christ,” VOM said. “Pray God will strengthen them as they stand for Him.”
VOM is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.
It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.
He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.
The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.