A Christian bishop in India is calling on leaders in his country and around the world to speak up against the growing persecution of Christians on the subcontinent.
Rev. Joseph D’Souza, who is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India, told Fox News Digital he is concerned about India’s image in the world because of escalating attacks against Christians in the country.
“The last few months have become an open season for attacks against Christian minorities,” said D’Souza, who is also the founder of Dignity Freedom Network and president of the ecumenical All India Christian Council.
‘A bizarre situation’
Anti-Christian vigilantes have been persecuting believers throughout India in recent months by going through villages interrupting church services, burning Christian books and assaulting Christians during worship, according to government documents and interviews reported on Wednesday by The New York Times.
“These are not isolated events, but it is a coordination going on, because in state after state, similar kinds of incidents are happening,” D’Souza said. He noted how 2021 has seen approximately 300 such attacks against Christians, who make up only 2.3% of the population in the Hindu-majority country.
“And what is happening now is the attacks have crossed the line in that they’re entering into Christian worship services, worship places, gatherings,” he added.
The increased attacks from far-right Hindu groups come as nine Indian states have passed so-called “anti-conversion” laws, which ostensibly are intended to prevent conversion from one religion to another by force. D’Souza and other critics claim the laws violate the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Indian Constitution.
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On Thursday, the state of Karnataka, which lies along the country’s southwest coast, became the latest to pass such a law. The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, was passed by voice vote in the state’s legislative assembly, despite large protests and chaotic scenes on the assembly floor, according to The Times of India.
One congressional leader ripped up the paper on which the legislation was printed, saying, “Their focus is only on the Christians.” Another denounced the bill as “draconian.”
The law prohibits “unlawful conversions” from one religion to another by “misrepresentation, force, allurement, fraudulent means or marriage,” and also mandates that anyone seeking a religious conversion must notify a magistrate.
“It’s a bizarre situation,” said D’Souza, who predicted the law would lead to much more violence in Karnataka.
A report published Dec. 13 by the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) claimed that continuous talk from the government about anti-conversion law has emboldened anti-Christian vigilantes.
“It is clear and obvious that an atmosphere of fear and apprehension prevails in the Christian community and its grassroots religious clergy because of a systematic targeting through a vicious and malicious hate campaign,” said Rev. Vijayesh Lal, EFI general secretary, according to Ucanews.
D’Souza, who noted that forced conversions are considered anathema in Christianity, sees the attacks against Christians as lingering expressions of India’s caste system.
“This is not ultimately about India’s Christians and Christian community,” he said. “It’s ultimately about the rights of the low caste and the untouchables.”
Noting the appeal that Christianity holds toward the outcasts of society, he said he sees the attacks as a concerted effort “from an upper-caste Hindu elite that does not want these people to exercise whatever rights they have, including the right to believe or not believe; to stay within the caste system or not stay within the caste system.”
“And so, at a deeper level, this is the ongoing battle in India’s culture between the majority low castes, women, and the elite upper castes who don’t want to give their hold up on the masses,” he added.
D’Souza said he is appealing to Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi and India’s home minister to address these issues, noting that religious minorities voted for him because he promised the country economic development and progress.
“We don’t feel this is progress right now,” he said.
‘Without any doubt’
D’Souza, who has traveled widely and would visit the U.S. every few months before the pandemic, also discerned that persecution against Christians is growing globally.
“Without any question and without any doubt, Christians are the most persecuted minority now in the world,” he said. “It’s never been so bad before as now.”
The archbishop pinpointed the persecution of Christians under Sharia law in Muslim countries such as India’s neighboring Pakistan as especially “unbelievable.”
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Despite what he described as “a rising voice within the democracies of the world against Christian persecution,” D’Souza wishes the U.S. and the West would do more, which he said includes seeing their own legacy in the proper light.
“The West, which has a Christian heritage, is terribly and unnecessarily apologetic about anything to do with Christians because of the history of colonialism and everything,” he said, noting that colonialism has been over for half a century. “They need to know they are now in 2021. This is another world.”
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He lauded the Biden administration for taking a stand against the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China. But he encouraged the administration also to attend to the plight of persecuted Christians.
“They have to look at the world and say, ‘What are we saying and doing about the Christians around the world? And what are we saying and doing about the Christians in India?’”