India: Increase in violence against Christians in Punjab

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Violence against Christians in Punjab state has been on the rise. Akal Takht is the highest earthly authority for the Sikhs. Its Jathedar, or chief spokesperson of the Sikh community, is Giani Harpreet Singh. He has recently accused Christian groups in the state of conducting large-scale forced conversions and demanded a law against such conversions. Unlike several other states, Punjab does not have an anti-conversion law. Article 25 of India’s Constitution guarantees freedom of “profession, practice and propogation of religion” for all citizens. However,whether this freedom includes the right to convert has been debated.

Sikh and Christian leaders have been called upon to diffuse tensions following anti-Christian rhetoric. There have been a string of attacks including on 31 August, when four masked men vandalised a church in Tarn Taran district bordering Pakistan, and set the church car on fire. Local leaders say the incident was meticulously planned to create discord between Christians and Sikhs in Punjab.

In another incident, a group attacked a prayer meeting led by missionaries in Daduana village, Amritsar district on 28 August. Describing the attack on his church, Pastor Sukhvinder Raja said 500 Sikhs wielding sharp-edged weapons, sticks and firearms had attacked the assembly of 200 worshippers—mostly women and children. “The attackers did not spare anyone, and injured around 45 people in the presence of a strong police force which had reached there as the Nihangs [Sikh warriors] started gathering.”

Raja adds, “I was their target but they failed to spot me. Members of the congregation rescued me and locked me inside a room close to the spot. The police have charged more than 150 Sikhs for disrupting the meeting.” The Pentecostal church met every Sunday for prayer, preaching and healing until recently at a rented field in the village, and had been growing by about 100 people every week.

House churches in Punjab have grown over the years by the thousands. They draw Dalit Sikhs, who do not formally convert to Christianity though they regularly attend church services. According to some estimates, there has been a 5–10 percent increase in the number of such churches over the past few years.

As allegations of induced conversion grow, Albert Dua, a former member of Punjab’s Minority Commission and president of the Christian United Federation in Punjab, has rejected the allegations: At church, “only prayers are said for them without any fee. There’s no such thing as a religious conversion. It’s the change of heart.” Parminder Kaur, a Sikh by birth, became a Christian some 13 years ago. She denies that economic incentives were offered for her to convert: “No one paid us anything.”

Christians and Sikhs are both minority groups in India, but Sikhs form the majority in Punjab. According to a 2011 census, Christians make up 1.26% of Punjab’s population of close to 27.7 million, while Sikhs are close to 58%.

Home Group Prayer:

Dear God,

We lift up the nation of India to you, especially the state of Punjab. We thank you that so many are turning to you in spite of opposition and persecution. We lift up the leaders in the government and the police force who have the power to stop the attacks against Christians, and ask that you would intercede on behalf of your people. May the Holy Spirit’s power and presence rest on Christians, that they will know your comfort and the peace that passes all understanding in these hard times. We stand with our brothers and sisters who are suffering and paying a great price for their faith, and ask that you will continue drawing people to you.

We ask these in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen!


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