Christians in parts of India continue to face extreme persecution. A new report shows well over 100 cases in 2020 alone, including the murder of a 14-year-old boy whose body was then dismembered.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) released a report this week claiming that there were 135 incidents of physical violence or other forms of violence against evangelicals in the first six months of 2020. The EFI says that much of the violence is coming as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The absolute sense of impunity generated in the administrative apparatus of India by the Corona pandemic lockdown, and the consequent absence of civil society on the streets and in the courts, has aggravated the environment of targeted hate and violence against Christians in major states and the National Capital territory, as seen in the data available till June 2020," the organization says in the report.

The report also says that these stories are not being accurately reported in the country because of "the near-collapse of the media and the consequent absence of journalists in the field" as a result of COVID. However, the report says, "even in normal times" police were often slow to react, if at all.

Teen's body dismembered

"The most horrendous case of lynching and dismembering of the victim’s body was reported from Odisha’s Kenduguda village in Malkangiri district on 4 June, where a 14-year-old Christian boy was allegedly crushed to death with a stone by a group of people who then chopped the body into pieces and buried in several places. In the FIR, the police noted that the victim and his family including his father had adopted Christianity three years ago," Pastor Kosha Mosaki says.

The family had been facing harassment from some of the villagers for the past three years, and they're not alone. "Christians in this village have been facing many threats and are being continually harassed by religious fanatics," Mosaki says. "[The boy] was earlier attacked in February this year. I have made four complaints at the Malkangiri police Station regarding these attacks.”

The EFI says much of the violence and lack of protection is due to a caste system still at work in many areas. Police are allegedly recruited by politicians in the dominant castes, which are inimical to the Christian community and its pastors, a large number of whom are from marginalized castes and economically poor or less affluent sections of society.

Christians have also been blocked from burying their dead in several instances. "They were told that since they had not followed village religious rituals, they would not be allowed to bury their dead. There have been 15 such confirmed incidents in these districts since 2019."

The EFI says that while the numbers reported are high, actual numbers may be even higher. "The reasons for underreporting are fear among the Christian community, a lack of legal literacy and the reluctance/refusal of police to register cases."

The police have been very reluctant and slow to register FIRs in these cases involving cognizable offences despite being duty-bound to do so under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Even in the cases registered with the police, most never come to court.

More than just violence

The report also says that while violence is at an alarming rate there are also other concerns at work like unjust laws and committees being set up that discriminate against Christians. "Retired judges of the Supreme court have put up red flags, expressing their dismay at the manner in which the Code of Criminal Procedure, or CrPC, is being interpreted by the authorities in the country. In the Covid lockout conditions, there is no possibility of a national debate on such issues, even less so within the Christian community, the poorer of which are hard hit by the loss of jobs, and were among the millions who migrated from urban centres back to their homes in the villages of north and central India."

The EFI says that it "appeals to the Government of India and the respective State Governments of the States named in the report to ensure the rule of law and the security of religious minorities in India.

"We especially appeal to the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, to deal stringently with the various right-wing organizations operating in these states whose primary agenda is to create an atmosphere of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities."