Christians around the world are being called to pray for fellow believers in India where there is concern over a major Hindu extremist gathering that could result in violence against tribal Christians.
The call from Dr. K.P. Yohannan, president and founder of Gospel for Asia, comes ahead of the Shabri Kumbh festival which reportedly could attract a half-million Hindus to India’s Gujurat state on Feb. 11-13. In preparation for the "re-awakening" festival, Hindu homes are being marked with yellow flags, according to Yohannan, "leaving the small population of Christians extremely vulnerable to attack - as many already have been."
Rights groups fear the religious gathering could be a similar replay of the December 1998 rally where thousands of Hindu extremists shouted anti-Christian slogans and attacked Christian places of worship and other buildings owned by or related to Christians and Muslims.
According to Agence France Presse, activists on Sunday called on the Indian government to ban the festival.
The latest world report by Human Rights Watch, however, stated that "the Indian government has failed to contain violent religious extremism and to prosecute those who instigate or participate in religious violence. Such failures only reinforce communal resentments."
The lack of swift action by the government to counter societal attacks against religious minorities was also highlighted by the U.S. State Department's 2005 International Religious Freedom Report, although it noted improvement in the status of religious freedom.
Shabnam Hashmi of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy said around 500,000 tribals and Hindu activists are planned to be mobilized in the forests of Dangs district.
Festival organizers are "launching a major campaign against Christians," she said.
Of the 185,000 people who populate the Dangs district, approximately 8,000 are Christians. Some observers, including Yohannan, say the aforementioned percentage is smaller than the actual number of Christians that live in the district today. In any case, those thousands are considering evacuation before the major festival event.
Yohannan is urging for massive prayer and fasting to support those experiencing increased persecution and danger.
"Christians in the West must resolve to pray and fast," he says. "The situation is urgent; Christians all over India are in peril. In just the past few days we have received reports of our native missionaries being beaten and church meetings attacked in two other Indian states. Unfortunately, this happens almost daily, and the pace is increasing.
"The fanatics are becoming bolder and bolder," the GFA head added.
"We pray that God will protect the innocent tribal people who have been faithfully following Christ, and for the missionaries who are ministering among them, bringing them God's hope for a new life that has been denied by the Hindus for centuries."