By BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Church leaders in India expressed alarm Tuesday, March 4, over “a dramatic increase” in attacks on Christians in the state of Andhra Pradesh, where in recent weeks one pastor has been murdered, others beaten, and churches demolished.
The All India Christian Council (AICC) advocacy group said it documented 72 incidents of anti-Christian violence and hostility in Andhra Pradesh in 2013, nearly double the 39 recorded a year earlier.
Today the state, India’s fifth-most populous, has the country’s highest rate of anti-Christian incidents, according to AICC investigators.
“The jump from 39 incidents in 2012 to 72 incidents in 2013 is alarming,” said Moses Vatipalli an AICC project coordinator, in remarks released by World Watch Monitor (WWM) news agency.
In the deadliest known attack in the state this year, armed Hindu militants on January 10 knocked at the door of Hebron Church pastor O. Sanjeevi’s house in Vakirabad town, then hit his wife with an iron rod after she opened the door.
Christians said the attackers stabbed Pastor Sanjeevi eight times. He died three days later, leaving behind his wife and four children.
“About 250 church members he looked after felt bewildered and deprived by the incident,” an area church leader, said Reverend Madhusudan Das, of the Evangelical Fellowship of India umbrella group in published remarks.
The Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches has petitioned the state chief minister and the National Human Rights Commission of India to improve protection for Christians.
The plea did not prevent a February 2 attack on the Bethel Gospel church building in Hyderabad, a western
district of Andhra Pradesh, which was reportedly burned to ashes.
Earlier on New Year’s Eve, extremists in the town of Rajamundry set fire to a worship centre operated by a church named Dr. John Wesley of Young Holy Team, after the church members had conducted a night service, WWM reported.
And on December 28 in the town of Narketpally, Suverthamma Moses responded to a late-night knock at the door and was struck on the head with an iron bar, then stabbed, Christians said. When her husband, Nama Moses, a Baptist pastor, rushed in, he was reportedly stabbed multiple times.
“The attack took less than 10 minutes while three extremists were standing outside the house. The neighbours later came to their rescue and rushed them to the Kameneni Hospital,” added Franklin Sudharkar, AICC’s general-secretary, in a statement.
Moses and his wife survived the attack. Sudharkar told WWM that the Hindu Vahini, a nationalist youth oganization suspected in the stabbings, have severely injured at least six pastors in Andhra Pradesh.
Advocacy officials say policies of the influential Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has contributed to an atmosphere of hatred towards Christians. The BJP is the ruling party in three of the five Indian states with laws that forbid forced religious conversions.
The legislation is frequently used to shut down churches or intimidate Christians who speak about their faith, according to rights activists.
The party has proposed stiffer penalties in one of those states, Madhya Pradesh, India’s second-largest.
Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, another BJP-ruled state with anti-conversion laws on the books, is “the poster child for India’s failure to punish the violent,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Commissioner Mary Ann Glendon in a joint November opinion column.
While under BJP rule, Karnataka state had the country’s highest rate of attacks against Christians from 2010 through 2012, according to Christian estimates.
In early 2013 the Indian National Congress Party took over; the number of attacks dropped from 50 in 2012 to 28 in 2013, said the Global Council of Indian Christians.
The BJP holds only two of the 294 seats in the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly, but has been making inroads across India, including advances in two state assemblies during December elections, WWM observed.
National parliamentary elections are scheduled for May, and Narendra Modi is the BJP’s candidate for prime minister.
Hindu militants have expressed anger over the spread of Christianity in India, a predominantly Hindu nation of over 1 billion people.
In a reaction, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) made clear it was closely monitoring the situation saying it had urged believers to “Pray for God’s protection over all Christians living in Andhra Pradesh” especially “for pastors and Christian workers…that they would continue to place their trust in the Lord and engage in missions in spite of the present situation.”
It was also important to “Pray that the Lord would grant repentance to those who are instigating
violence against Christians,” stressed the WEA, which claims to represent some 600 million evangelical
Christians in 128 countries.