As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the Christmas season with joy, things are different in India. Indian Christians are worried. They foresee a tougher Christmas season this year as attacks on their community and places of worship continue to occur on a near weekly basis. Across the country, pastors have decided to cancel rounds of caroling and other Christmas programs as a safety precaution.
“Keeping in mind what happened last year, we have cancelled the carol rounds and Christmas events this year,” Pastor Vinod Kumar, founder of New Life Prophetic Ministries in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “The situation for us in Coimbatore and Tirupur is not favorable at all. We are not sure if we can peacefully celebrate Christmas [even] on Christmas day.”
Pastor Vinod, who leads a church in P.N. Palayam, was the victim of an attack last Christmas. On December 9, 2017, while Pastor Vinod was leading a pre-Christmas celebration, a mob of 150 Hindu Munnani activists barged into his church, beat those gathered, and destroyed Christmas gifts which were to be distributed amongst the congregation.
Following the attack, more than 20 Christians were detained by the police. Thankfully, they all were later released. However, authorities decided to close down the church in P.N. Palayam.
“Still today, the church hall in P.N. Palayam is locked by the government authority,” Pastor Vinod reported. “We are far from doing anything in the name of Christianity in that village, let alone Christmas celebrations.”
In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2017, multiple attacks on Christmas events were reported in Rajasthan. Among those reported was an attack on over 500 Adivasi (tribal) Christians gathered at a Samudaya Bhavan (a government community hall) in Pratapgarh. The event was organized under the banner of Messiah Shakhty Semite. On December 19, 2017, members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) brutally beat the Christians gathered in Partapgarh for the Christmas celebration. Several Christians sustained injuries and two others were arrested on forced conversion charges.
“We know our constitution gives us the right to worship and the right to assemble, but in practice we are at the mercy of the majority religion.”
“This year we are not sure how many will turn up for the Christmas celebration, having bad taste of last year’s event,” Pastor Bansilal, leader of Messiah Shakhty Semite, told ICC. “Christians are [under] tremendous pressure from the right-wing Hindu hardline groups. We cannot openly have any sort of Christian events in public. Even private gatherings have close surveillance. We know our constitution gives us the right to worship and the right to assemble, but in practice we are at the mercy of the majority religion.”
“We had to completely stop all our church activities, including Christmas carols,” Pastor Sam P. Jacob, a pastor in Uttar Pradesh, told ICC. “I am not the only person to stop church activities. The majority of independent churches in the Agra region are under pressure and they are being harassed by the Hindu radicals.”
Pastor Sam was attacked in Agra by the members of VHP and Bajrangdal on October 30, 2018. Pastor Sam and his pregnant wife, Rajina Sam, were brutally beaten with hockey sticks and baseball bats as they attended an event to map out Christmas programs with other pastors in Agra.
Pastor Sam said that he is not sure what the situation will be like on December 25. Because of this uncertainty, he is planning for a secret Christmas event with other local pastors facing a similar situation.
“The last year has been [a] difficult year,” Pastor Karma Urah, head pastor of the Believers Church in Hermu, Jharkhand, told ICC. On Christmas Eve 2017, Hindu radicals dragged Pastor Karma out of his house and brutally beat him. “Prior to December 24, 2017, more than 35 people used to gather for worship,” Pastor Karma explained. “Since the attack on the Christmas Eve service, five families went back to their previous religion. From that day onwards, we stopped the worship service in the village. For this Christmas, we cannot think of having an event.”
Across India, Christian leaders find themselves under pressure and conflicted this Christmas season. As attacks on Christians and Christmas programs have become more common, many are considering cancelling traditional Christmas programs in the name of safety and security for their community. In particularly hostile places, Christian leaders are pushing their Christmas celebrations underground. Remember to pray for these Christians in India whose holiday will likely be marred by fear and intimidation.