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As Religious Tensions Rise, Anti-Christian Persecution Spikes in India

Aviva West.

Aviva West.

In another indication of a worsening climate for religious minorities in India under a Hindu nationalist government, a number of Protestants, including two American citizens, and a Catholic priest have been arrested under the country’s contentious anti-conversion laws that have been the subject of considerable criticism.  

In northern Uttar Pradesh state, a Catholic priest, Dominic Pinto, was arrested on February 5 along with six Protestants accused of attempting to convert impoverished Dalits, also known as “untouchables,” from Hinduism to Christianity.

In Assam, located in the far northeastern part of India, two American Baptists were fined on February 2 for participating in religious activities that contravened the terms of their tourist visas.

Although the Americans, identified as John Matthew Boone and Michael James Flinchum, were not arrested and were required to pay a $500 fine, Pinto and his Protestant associates remain in custody awaiting a bail application.

Local media reports indicate that Pinto serves as the director of the Navintha pastoral center of the Catholic Church’s diocese in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh. He had reportedly agreed to allow the center to be used for a meeting of a group called “Khrist Bhakts,” meaning “followers of Christ,” which includes Hindus, Muslims, and other religions who draw inspiration from—and pray to—Christ. 

The media reports cited sources as saying that during the meeting of some 200 individuals, a faction of Hindu activists tried to interrupt the gathering. Subsequently, the activists staged a demonstration outside the local police station, alleging that the meeting aimed to convert underprivileged Hindus, particularly women and children. 

Pinto and six others, including five Protestant pastors who were present at the meeting, were arrested and held in custody. They are charged under the state’s anti-conversion law and, if found guilty, could receive up to 10 years’ imprisonment each.   

Lucknow’s Bishop Gerald Mathias criticized the situation, calling it a severe misapplication of the state’s draconian anti-conversion law. He told the Catholic newspaper Crux that police filed a complaint without any evidence or proof of conversion.

“They come under mob pressure or succumb to the dictates of higher-ups,” he said, alluding to local police, adding: “This is a typical case of harassment and atrocities against Christians.” 

Referencing information from United Christian Forum, a New Delhi-based ecumenical group, a Catholic news outlet called Matters India reported that out of the 687 incidents of anti-Christian persecution documented across India from January to November 2023, as many as 287 occurred in Uttar Pradesh.

Christians make up just 0.18 percent of the population of Uttar Pradesh, which exceeds 200 million people. Hindus, by contrast, constitute nearly 80 percent of the state’s populace. Nationwide, Christians are just 2.4 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people.

In Assam, the pair of American Baptists, Boone and Flinchum, have been cautioned against participating in any further religious activities.

Hindu activists alleged that the duo was involved in religious preaching at the Baptist Christian Hospital campus. Subsequently, police interrogated Boone and Flinchum the following day regarding their actions.

A local police official told journalists that because the two Baptists entered India on tourist visas, they were not permitted to engage in religious activities or promote religious beliefs.

John Moolachira, the archbishop of Guwahati, a major district in Assam, told Crux that state authorities were harassing Christian institutions, evidently “to instill fear in the mind of Christians.”

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