04/09/2018 – The observance of Holy Week in India often highlights the country’s vulnerable Christian community. Prayer services, vigils, and processions mark the week, starting on Palm Sunday and ending with Easter.
This year, the observance of Holy Week was tarnished by a series of attacks by Hindu radicals on Christians simply practicing their faith. International Christian Concern (ICC) documented 10 such attacks across India, resulting in the hospitalization of several Christians with severe injuries. Below are three examples of the violence that these Christians endured.
“I was terrified to see my father in [a] pool of blood with multiple injuries,” Yohashua Reddy told ICC as he described the attack on his 55-year-old father, Pastor Koti Reddy. The deadly attack took place at 10:40 p.m. on March 29 as Pastor Reddy was praying on the grounds of Prathyaksha Gudaram Church, adjacent to his family home in Renichentala village in Andhra Pradesh.
According to Yohashua, his father was attacked by an unknown assailant wielding an ax. Pastor Reddy sustained five major injuries and remains in Narsaraopet hospital. “I didn’t know if my father would survive,” Yohashua told ICC. “We immediately rushed him to the hospital.”
Pastor Reddy’s family suspects that there is a connection between this attack and several death threats that their father has received, warning him to close down the church.
Another incident of violence occurred on Palm Sunday at a church service in Hyderabad, Telangana. “The entire church was terrified,” Pastor David Raju, head pastor at the Shalom Prayer House in Peddambaerpet, told ICC. “We had around 60 in the church worshipping on Palm Sunday. At about 10:30 a.m., a mob of 30 people came to the church shouting pro-Hindu slogans. They told us that we cannot continue the worship. The mob then forcibly took me to a Hindu house, where more people joined and further threatened me by saying that they would kill me if I didn’t stop the church in that locality.”
Pastor Raju has been leading his church in Peddambaerpet for the last eight years and has been attacked several times prior to the Palm Sunday incident. Each attack takes its toll both on Pastor Raju and the community he leads. “I will continue the operations of the church,” Pastor Raju told ICC. “But the members of the Shalom Prayer House have chosen to stay away from the church, fearing for their lives and social exclusion.”
Dr. Ronald John, President of Christian Joint Action Committee of Telangana State, said, “The times are posing dangerous threats to religious minorities, particularly for Christians. If one cannot practice the choice of his or her faith in private places, that itself explains the status of the lawlessness and the impunity that the perpetrators enjoy.”
“This is an absolute violation of the basic right that the constitution of India guarantees for all irrespective of religious affiliation,” Dr. John concluded.
In another incident, a mob of 40 Hindu radicals of the Hindu Munnani group attacked an Easter Sunday service at K. Pungampalayam, located in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Bishop T. Rajkumar told ICC, “Both Pastor Rajesh and Mr. Probin were seriously injured after these two church leaders were targeted by the assailants. Pastor Rajesh sustained a head injury and Mr. Probin has several bruises.”
After witnessing the attack, the entire congregation was frightened and fled the church. Fortunately, both Pastor Rajesh and Mr. Probin have received medical attention and are already recovering from their injuries.
In response to the Holy Week violence, Dr. John Dayal, spokesman for United Christian Forum, told ICC, “After a difficult Christmas, which saw even carolers arrested on charges of conversion, it has been a Holy Week of violence against Christians in many parts of the country. Colleagues have reported a spurt in persecution even in the National Capital Region of Delhi, especially in the immediate neighboring states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.”
What has been reported here by ICC is likely only the tip of the iceberg. Many incidents go unreported due to fear of reprisals or distrust in local authorities. As 2017 was one of the most difficult years on record for Christians in India, 2018 is shaping up to be similar. Prayer is necessary as India’s Christian community continues to face ever escalating levels of violence.