It’s been 24 years since Graham Staines, who spent 35 long years as a Christian missionary nursing leprosy patients in Baripada, Odisha - was burned alive by a group of right-wing activists. His sons Philip and Timothy faced a similar fate.
Not much has changed since then as Christians in India continue to face targeted attacks on their faith including threats to Christian gatherings, churches, and educational institutions.
Here is a look at some attacks on Christians in the past.
From August 25 to 28, 2008, Hindu mobs attacked the Christian community in Kandhamal in Odisha in retaliation to the killings of Hindu monk Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati and four others. According to reports, while it was suspected that Maoist insurgents were behind the killings, many Christian settlements bore the brunt of the arson, which left more than 50,000 people homeless.
According to government reports, the violence resulted in the burning down of 395 churches and over 5,600 houses and the ransacking of over 600 villages. Sme reports place the number of those killed at more than 500. Many Christian families were burnt alive and thousands of them were forced to convert to Hinduism or worse, they would have to face violence.
During the attacks, a Catholic nun was gang-raped by a mob who then paraded her half-naked on the roads. The incident grabbed headlines and many took note of how the onlooking police did not intervene as the mob tried to strip her naked. The mob could be heard shouting "Bharat Mata Ki Jai".
The same year saw another wave of attacks directed against Christian churches and prayer halls in Karnataka by the Hindu organisation Bajrang Dal. The violence first erupted on 14 September 2008 when about 20 churches were vandalised in various districts of Karnataka including Mangalore, Udupi, and Chikkamagaluru among others.
During the same attacks, several symbols of Christianity were under threat in Tamil Nadu. Three churches in Erode and Karur districts were stoned, a statue of Mother Mary in Krishnagiri was stolen and an idol of Jesus in Madurai was vandalised - all in over five days.
Post-2014, attacks against Christians saw an uptick. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, anti-Christian hate crimes have doubled since 2014.
2015 was pitted as the worst year for Indian Christians in the history of post-Independence India, according to a similar report released by the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF). The forum compiles statistics with regard to cases of religious persecution of Christians for decades. Their data shows there have been at least 365 major attacks on community members as well as institutions for practising and spreading their faith in 2015.
Delhi in that year saw a whole of six attacks on Churches and a Christian school - which included alleged arson attacks on churches in Rohini and Dilshad Garden along with acts of vandalism in churches in Jasola and Vikaspuri.
Fast-forward a couple of years, at least 305 incidents of violence against Christians were recorded in the first nine months of 2021, according to a fact-finding report released by the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights, United Against Hate, and United Christian Forum. Some of these have been reported from states such as Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.
On 3 October 2021, a prayer house in Roorkee was allegedly vandalised by a mob of nearly 250 people after accusing Pentecostal evangelist Prio Sadhna Potter and those present of illegal conversions.
The following month, members of the Bajrang Dal and the RSS allegedly vandalised a newly set up church in Delhi’s Dwarka area. The people who were participating in the Sunday prayer meeting at the Church were accused of violating the Delhi Disaster Management Act (DDMA) guidelines as the premises had not been officially registered as a religious site.
On 12 December 2021, members of Hindu right-wing groups allegedly set fire to Christian religious books in Karnataka’s Kolar district. According to a report by NDTV, this was the “38th attack on religious minorities in Karnataka in the last 12 months”. The report also said that the number of attacks on the community has increased ever since the government started considering a bill to ban forcible religious conversion.
A year later, amidst the festivities of Christmas, a spate of attacks against Christians angered the community. They eventually staged a protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar a few weeks ago, saying that, “Our people are being beaten up.”
The first attack among these was on December 20, 2022, when a man dressed up as Santa Claus was beaten up by a Hindutva mob in a residential colony in the Makarpura area, Vadodara in Gujarat. According to media reports, the victim, Shashikant Dabhi, dressed up as Santa Claus entered the Avdhoot society in Makarpura where Christian families were celebrating the Christmas fervor.
Dabhi entered the society and started distributing chocolates to people and wishing everyone a ‘merry Christmas’. Soon, he was attacked by a group of people who warned of such a celebration as it was a ‘Hindu-dominated’ area.
Two days after Christmas, a church in Karnataka's Mysuru was vandalised by unknown people, who also damaged the statue of a baby Jesus. The incident took place in St Mary's Church at Periyapatna.