Anti-Christian violence in India has intensified, with politically motivated attacks occurring more frequently since the elections in March, a new report said.
According to the All India Christian Council (AICC), a nonprofit organization that promotes freedom of religion, anti-Christian violence in India rose by almost 20 percent and the number of murders doubled last year. The organization gave details in its report, 'Atrocities on Christians in India,' Release International reported.
A fresh attack against Christians occurs every 40 hours, the report said. Uttar Pradesh and Telangana saw the greatest increase in anti-Christian violence in the country.
"The attacks have become severe and more frequent. Incidents used to be confined to a few states. Now the violence has spread to 23 states," the report stated, according to Release International.
Some cases of violence include church workers being "beaten, threatened and killed," churches and Christian schools being bombed, Bibles being burnt, worship services being disrupted and Christians being forced to renounce their faith, Release International said.
"Fanatics have become more common, attacking minorities, boys and girls who are dating and the Dalit community," a partner of the organization said. The Dalits, who fall outside the caste system, are considered as untouchables.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is pushing for an all-Hindu India, won by a landslide in the elections last March. The party's victory will allow it to install a president it chooses in the upcoming election in June, which could spell disaster for Christians and other religious minorities.
According to a separate report prepared by the Catholic Secular Forum based in Mumbai, religious minorities in Uttar Pradesh experienced "almost a three-fold increase in cases of violence" before the March elections were held, the Hindustan Times said.
The report, 'Indian Christian Persecution,' also said that attacks against Christians increased in Punjab, where 11 cases of anti-Christian violence were recorded in 2016. Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa also saw an increase in attacks on Christians.
"The type of repression started now marks a general pattern of attacking minorities and the backward classes. The idea, I suppose, is to terrorise and subjugate, which is not what is expected in a democracy," MF Saldanha, the group's chairperson, said, according to Hindustan Times.
However, despite increasing Christian persecution in India, the body of believers continues to grow and more people are getting saved, even among the Dalits.
"For some years now, we have watched the alarming rise of religious intolerance in India. This is highlighted by moves to impose anti-conversion laws, not only at state level, but across the country," Paul Robinson, chief of Release International, said.
"The message from the Bible is that persecution will never stop the spread of the Church or the gospel," he said. "Many Dalits are coming to Christ, partly because for the first time they are finding love and acceptance. No law can ever prevent that."
In early April, India's Supreme Court ruled that careless or unwitting "insults" to religion cannot be prosecuted. This is good news for Christians and other religious minorities who have often been abused through the misuse of Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which states that "deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs" is punishable by up to three years in prison.
"Insults to religion offered unwittingly or carelessly or without any deliberate or malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of that class do not come within the section," the ruling said.