Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Christianity is India’s second largest minority religion after Islam, with approximately 28 million followers, constituting 2.3 percent of India’s population (2011 Census). Yet Christians form the major religious group in three states of India – Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland – and significant majorities in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, all in north–eastern India. Other states with significant Christian populations include Kerala, Tamil Nadu and coastal Andhra Pradesh.
Christianity was introduced in India by Thomas the Apostle, in Kerala, according to accounts, in 52 CE. Other accounts speak of Bartholomew the Apostle having introduced Christianity, in Maharashtra (along Konkan coast) around the same time. By the 6th century CE, Christian communities are said to be firmly established in India. Christianity in India is made up of people from different church denominations. In Kerala it is mostly the Saint Thomas Christian community, mostly Syrian Christians. Roman Catholicism was introduced to India by the Portuguese, Italian and Irish Jesuits in the 16th century. Since the 19th century, Protestant denominations have also been present, including Pentecostal, Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, Presbyterian, Mennonite and Lutheran communities. Traditional Anglicism was introduced by British missions under the British Empire.
Although the majority of communal violence in India has targeted Muslims, Christians have increasingly been under attack since the 1990s. Violence against Christians reached particularly high levels in 2008 and 2009, and once again in 2015. Christians form a majority in four states in the north–east – Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh – yet in actual terms, the states with the largest Christians populations are Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Recent violence against Christians has reportedly been concentrated in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana, all states in which Christians form a small state-level minority.
Christians face threats, intimidation and violations of freedom of religion or belief, including destruction of churches, attacks on pastors and the illegal detention of church workers. They have also been the target of discriminatory laws and practices: for example, in June 2014, more than 50 villages in Chhattisgarh implemented bans on non-Hindu religious practices, ostensibly to prevent missionary activities. Anti–conversion laws have a particularly negative impact on Christians. This is both on account of their discriminatory content and by providing a level of legitimacy to allegations that Christians are performing forced conversions. Despite little evidence to support such claims, they have been invoked by right-wing groups to garner support for attacks against India’s Christian minority. In April 2017, for example, police in Uttar Pradesh halted a prayer meeting at a church upon receiving reports of alleged forced conversions from the right-wing Hindu Yuva Vahini.
Many Christians are also Adivasis, which contributes to the socio-economic, political and cultural discrimination they face. Dalit Christians similarly face high levels of intersectional discrimination. This is exacerbated by their lack of official recognition as ‘scheduled castes’ according to the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950, which prevents them from accessing reservations, including certain protections and benefits, available to Dalit Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. A recent case highlighted the issues facing Christian Adivasis. In April 2019, Prakash Lakda and three other members of Jurmu village in Jharkhand were attacked by a mob. Lakda had followed local traditions by leave an ox that had died for the other villagers to carve up for its meat. The mob beat the four villagers, forcing them to chant Hindu slogans while parading them through the streets. They were left in front of the police station for several hours, before being taken to the hospital; Lakda was found to be dead on arrival. The police filed a complaint of cow slaughter against the four men. Despite police findings that the ox had been dead long before the incident, the local court refused to allow charges to be dropped.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in