“This was a sad Christmas”, say India’s Christians, navigating the shadows of hatred From Manipur to Delhi, Christians look back, with CJP, at the year that was 2023, reflecting with pain and regret, living amidst discrimination and violence

05, Jan 2024 | CJP Team

“I still see my home when I look out of the window. I know it hasn’t been burned yet.” A student, who left her home in Manipur earlier this year after the conflict escalated, spoke to us at Citizens for Justice and Peace about survival and her faith. 

As we go forth into the New Year, the news that on average every day two Christians have faced attacks is a reality India is confronted with. India’s Christian community, a significant part of the nation’s diverse religious fabric, has been faced with a torrent of hate speech and discrimination by members of radical extremist Hindutva groups. 

CJP is dedicated to finding and bringing to light instances of Hate Speech, so that the bigots propagating these venomous ideas can be unmasked and brought to justice. To learn more about our campaign against hate speech, please become a member. To support our initiatives, please donate now!

Amidst the rich tapestry of cultural coexistence and historical contribution, instances of discrimination, attacks and violence against Christians rings a bell of alarm for the community and the nation at large. In this year-ender, we delve into the intricacies of these challenges, examining the slurs while centring the voices within the community itself.

CJP spoke to Nancy, name changed, who is from Tamil Nadu. She works for a national faith based development organisation and is based in Northern India. Reflecting on the past decade, she stated that, “In the last eight years things have changed drastically in the country. Hate is regularly spread against minorities which is bad for democracy. I haven’t experienced any prejudices or instances personally directly but there is growing suspicion among colleagues and friends who were once close. They now support the current regime which is both sad and very scary. Also, many Christian organisations have lost their FCRA this year which has made me sad. I feel that despite harbouring good intentions of helping the needy and uplifting the nation, the commitments of the Christian community are eyed with suspicion. Though some Christian groups do engage in conversion (which is a fundamental right – though I am not for conversion) every organisation and individuals are perceived through the same lens.”

Accusations of foreign funding and conversion activities which are often fuelled by conspiracy theories by Hindutva organisations seem to have run amok this year. Amidst the many tropes that constitute anti-Christian sentiment, the salient amongst them is the idea that Christians missionaries are conniving to forcefully and coercively convert Indians to Christianity. Hindutva leaders have made allegations of Christian missionaries receiving financial support from companies such as Tide and Rin to convert people forcefully and incentivise people through monetary means. 

Reflecting on the arrival of Christmas this year, Nancy highlights how everyday life of the Christian community is being affected adversely by the current, dominant political dispensation, “This would be a sad Christmas for many Christians as many have lost their jobs. Mass loss of employment will push many to poverty and the rural poor who depend on the development sectors will be further affected. The right wing in India and around the globe is taking control. The Palestine situation has made this Christmas even more sober and darker with the US, a Christian country, aiding the violence, which makes it even more deplorable. Violence and capitalism has destroyed the world which is also supported by Christian nations who are friends with our right-wing government. Closer home, we can see how Manipur has faced unspeakable violence which still continues: more than 50,000 Christians are in refugee camps. A sad Christmas for all and it’s painful.” She states that there is no government support in the wake of these incidents and what makes it even worse for the community. 

There is also an attempt to create hateful rhetoric surrounding certain individuals and figures, such as Mother Teresa, which adds another layer to the discourse. The figure of Mother Theresa, revered globally for her humanitarian efforts, has been portrayed by some as a threat to India due to allegations of mass conversions. Furthermore, the accusation that Christians, as a community, have broken temples and destroyed statues further fuels tensions and add to the fire as an attempt to distort history. 

“The landscape is definitely changing as we hear each day pastors are attacked and put in jail.” Expressing her apprehension, she states that she is worried how India will be home for the minorities in the years ahead and “if at all our children will have any future here.” “However,: she adds,” I feel the Muslim minorities are attacked even more whereas the Christian leaders are cosying up with the ruling party due to the large amount of property and other priorities instead of saving the country from hate violence and destruction.”

Dennis, name changed, highlighted a growing trend of derogatory language online, often involving terms like “rice bag” converts. In recent years, proponents of Hindutva hard-line ideologies have persistently asserted that Dalits who have embraced Christianity have converted as they were “lured” by financial incentives. The approach involves not only showcasing and stigmatising conversions to Christianity and Islam but also perpetuating casteist attitudes toward Dalits and other marginalised converts. 

He further continues, “I think the rise of online hatred might be an effect of Islamophobia, especially because it has become more common online to see people use derogatory slurs. You can also see people online and offline praise Hinduism as compared to Abrahamic religions, so there seems to be a pronounced bias and superiority of Hinduism that is upheld by certain factions.” 

Dennis further describes his experience in public, “I have a thick beard, I have been called ‘Osama’ by kids in the metro.” Sharing further, he reveals the apprehensions about displaying religion in public, “I don’t wear any overtly religious stuff in public” Dennis’ statements reveal that violence and persecution against religious minorities, whether it is Christians or Muslims, is an interlinked phenomena, and that fear remains ever present. 

Hindutva organisations seek to justify violence and communal sentiments against Christians by saying that they “kill” cows and eat their meat. In many of their hate speeches, Christian and Muslim both feature as “foreign enemies” that seek to wage conspiracy against Indians and Hinduism. Such narratives, though largely contested, range through and foment communal sentiments in the country and continue to shape perceptions and contribute to an environment of suspicion and mistrust and violence against Christians. 

Sangeeta, name changed, a working professional in northern India narrates that she converted to Christianity while completing her studies. She kept her religion a secret for several years, with only close friends, knowing about it. “I began reading about Christianity when I was going to college. I also attended the Church and found the atmosphere very warm and welcoming, which is what led me to adopt the faith. However, I was very apprehensive about the reaction that would come from my loved ones and family if I were to share with them news of my change in religion.” Talking about the growing rise of hatred, she says, “Yes, of course, it is a source of fear and increased my apprehension even though I was never concerned about it before I changed my faith. I am apprehensive of talking about my faith publicly on social media.”

Fear is a common thread found in all these personal accounts. This is not without reason. 2023 has seen wide and far instances of violence against Christians. In Chhattisgarh alone, a state until this month ruled by the opposition Congress party, Christians form a minority and mainly belong to tribal communities. Both of these aspects make the new converts as well as existing Christians on the land greatly vulnerable to violence by Hindutva groups. About two percent of Chhattisgarh’s Christian population primarily resides in the southern Bastar region. On January 2, 2023, an act of vandalism targeted a church in Narayanpur, Chhattisgarh which was fuelled by accusations of the Church engaging in “conversions.” Prior to this, between December 9 and 18, 2022 approximately 1,000 Adivasi Christians had found themselves persecuted, and it led to a mass displacement from their homes. 

Manipur too is a state that has witnessed constant conflict since May 2023. According to news reports, around 120 churches have been vandalised in the state. The ethnic conflict between the majority Meiteis and the minority Kuki tribe has led to over 180 casualties and the displacement of about 60,000 people.

CJP spoke to Julianne, named changed, from Manipur who similarly talks about how Churches are routinely attacked to break the morale of the Christian community in Manipur. Julianne, a student from Manipur, says “These days’ things have gotten worse.” Talking about how Christians are targeted in Manipur, she narrates about how the government has publicly decried the building of churches in the hill regions of Manipur, “In the valley, several churches are routinely attacked on the basis of religion. They pick on our religion particularly because they know that attacking churches is what is going to hurt us. So Churches are routinely destroyed in Manipur, several were destroyed this year, too, in Manipur. People back home started reading the Bible’s book on Revelation, as it talks about times where people face persecution.” 

“Overnight we became terrorists, overnight we were declared illegal immigrants. We did not have any idea that this is what would happen in our own homes. Sometimes I look out of my window, and I feel like I can see my old home in Manipur. I have hear that it was not burnt; but our belongings have been stolen.” Julianne continues with a calm, steady voice, revealing a steely resolve, “I need to start accepting that home is not a place. While what happened and is happening in Manipur should never happen to anyone, I feel there is much to learn from what has happened, God is always trying for us to learn something.” Talking about how the conflict has affected her, she says, “I used to not feel comfortable talking about my faith earlier. I used to feel, not exactly ashamed, but that it was uncool to talk about my faith in public. But now I feel like I am closer to God.”

The people of Manipur have faced harrowing times. Students like Julianne, and many belonging to the Kuki-Zo community have reportedly faced severe discrimination in the state. About 27 students from the community were reportedly prevented from taking their exams due to their identity. Violence against Meiteis has also erupted, leaving a people with severe fissures and suspicions and a state and central government disinclined, hostile even, to furthering dialogue and peace. Christians in Manipur, across the ethnic divide are a peculiar and specific target.


Hindutva’s “rice bag converts” controversy

Anti-Christian violence: Opening of a church resisted, police raids aid the rightwing

Alarming rise in violence against Christians in India as G20 Summit takes centre stage

Bible College in Imphal was burned down


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