How will Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the fifth of our series we hear from India.
“Where is the joy? There is so much of fear now,” said AC Michael, a prominent Christian leader, when asked about the mood among Christians as they prepare for Christmas 2017. Michael, the co-ordinator of the United Christian Forum, which monitors incidents of anti-Christian violence in India, told World Watch Monitor that the arrest of a group of 30 carol singers from a Catholic seminary in Satna in central Madhya Pradesh state and, later, eight priests has shaken Indian Christians.
They were detained after a Hindu man accused them of trying to convert him. The priests’ vehicle was torched outside the police station while they were detained inside, and some reports said the singers were assaulted by activists linked to the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal. “With carol singers being beaten up, many even here in the national capital are afraid of going out to sing carols these days,” Michael, who is based in New Delhi, added. Allegations of attempted conversion also lay behind an attack on a church and its priest in the southern state of Kerala earlier this month.
Christians blame a recent increase in attacks on Hindu nationalist extremists, who they say have become emboldened since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government came to power in 2014.
Michael said that because of the increasing intimidation of Christians, including schools, this Christmas would be the worst in India in a decade. Christmas 2007 saw almost 100 churches in Kandhamal, Odisha state, destroyed and worshippers terrorised in what would be a forerunner to weeks of violence the following August in which nearly 100 Christians were killed and 56,000 made homeless. Seven Christians, six of them illiterate, remain in jail for the murder which triggered the violence, responsibility for which has been claimed by Maoists.
Other Christians in India complain of a different sort of pressure. Wanting to focus Christmas on the poor and the diversity of Christianity in India, they despair of the over-use of English and imported Western symbols such as Santa Claus and reindeer.