An attack on Christians “on the scale of Orissa” is brewing in Karnataka, a state in the southern part of India, according to local Baptists.
A huge increase in anti-Christian violence together with low-level persecution is causing Christians to fear the worst, Rev. Mannepalle Mohan Rao, general secretary of the Karnataka Baptist Convention, told The Baptist Times.
Christians have often faced attacks in India, but their number and severity have increased in recent years.
The most horrific came in August 2008 when large-scale violence organized by Hindu extremists broke out against the Christian community in Orissa, a state on India’s east coast. About 75 people were killed, 4,600 houses and churches burned, and more than 50,000 people were left homeless.
Rao thinks a repeat is on the cards in his state. “There is going to be a very big persecution,” he said. “Something big is being planned. We think it will be worse than Orissa.”
Karnataka, whose state capital is the modern city of Bangalore, used to be a peaceful place for Christians. That changed when the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) installed its first government in the state in May 2008.
The BJP promotes Hindu cultural nationalism, and Rao said there had been an increase in both physical and mental persecution.
The incidence of anti-Christian violence rose sharply during the campaign of killing in Orissa. Physical assaults on church workers and other Christians in Karnataka as well as vandalism of church property and furnishings have continued at an alarming rate ever since.
A judge in an independent investigation found that Karnataka had recorded the 1,000th attack on Christians in the space of 500 days in January.
Rao said the lower-level persecution involved people in state jobs now expected to chant party rituals and Hindu prayers. His children had also been mocked at school for having a father who is a Christian pastor.
“The ruling political party is very anti-Christ – against the evangelism and the work of the Lord,” Rao said.
“The mental persecution is increasing every day. This is why we fear an attack. Every week there is a decrease in the numbers of people going to church for fear of persecution. Particularly remote areas. There are so many being attacked where we can’t know the news.”
Vijayesh Lal, secretary of the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, also said that such an attack could not be ruled out.
“The group behind the Orissa attacks is very well networked in Karnataka, particularly the north of the state, so if they want to create a situation like they did in Orissa, they certainly could,” Lal told The Baptist Times. “It’s a possibility that has not been ruled out. Karnataka has gone from bad to worse. Since Orissa we have been receiving reports of incidents every day.”
Lal said the state government was considering an anti-conversion law, had ensured few offenders had been prosecuted and had manipulated the local media.
“The head minister of Karnataka refuses to look at the figures. He says everything is OK,” Lal said. “We need people to speak out against incidents of persecution of Christians.”
Because people are increasingly worshipping in their homes, Rao said one of his aims is to build strong networks among Christians there. “Their faith is still strong, but they need to be supported. We are trying to connect them.”
Both men requested prayer for the situation.