By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- Children are among dozens of Christians who have been beaten and driven from their homes in central India by Hindu militants because they refused to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ, activists and Christians have told BosNewslife.
Some 29 Christians, including men, women and at least eight children, were attacked in recent weeks in Katholi village after they told a local gathering that they would not deny their Christian faith, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Angry Hindus had earlier reportedly threatened four Christian families in the village, by performing Hindu rituals ahead of the
village meeting and ordering them to convert to Hinduism.
In the first attack, at least six believers were apparently seriously injured and needed medical treatment. When they returned to Katholi the next day, they were subjected again to further physical assault along with other Christians, activists said.
Perpetrators reportedly justified the attacks by claiming their "gods were angry" that their neighbours had become Christians.
“The [Hindu] villagers accused them saying- because of you our god and goddess are fleeing from our village. When they refused to forsake Christ they began to beat them," said Christian charity Open Doors which supports the Christian villagers. “Beating them they drove them towards their houses and threw out their belongings. They also started vandalizing their houses. To save themselves the believers ran away from the village and reported it to the police.”
Police investigating the incident ordered Hindu militants to stop
their attacks, allowing families to return to their destroyed homes, Open Doors said. Yet, as "villagers were making death threats" they were forced to leave again, Open Doors explained "They had to leave behind a 70-year-old woman and some of the children who couldn’t run fast enough.”
Some Christians have since returned, other activists said, but tensions remain high in the village and other parts of Chhattisgarh, one of five states where it is against the law to convert from, for instance, Hinduism to another faith. Other states are expected to introduce similar laws amid wider concerns among India's Hindu nationalist groups over the spread of Christianity in the mainly Hindu nation.
Open Doors said its partners have visited Christian villagers "and provided medical aid, made arrangements for their stay outside the village and provided them with basic supplies including clothes and food."
Yet, activists say this is one of an increasing number of stories of persecution in India. In another incident, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) away in Sukma village, other Hindu militants subjected two Christians to a two-hour "purification" ritual recently in which one of them was burned as fire-heated coins were forcibly placed on his tongue, reported Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), another Christian advocacy group supporting reportedly persecuted Christians.
"He also suffered burns to his back, shoulders, knees and feet. When the two Christians still refused to deny Christ, they were fined as well."
These were the latest attacks in India's central Chhattisgarh state, where at least 49 incidents of organized attacks against Christians were reported between January and April of this year alone, VOMC said.
Hindu militants have been attacking Christians more frequently and more violently across India with Open Doors estimating that the incidents have increased by 34 percent since 2013.
More than 350 Christians were known to have been physically attacked in the last year, including three women being raped and tortured and at least nine killed for their faith, activists say.
Devoted Christians have also been prevented from getting certain jobs, buying land or developing land in certain areas while distributing Christian literature has led to arrests in cities like Delhi, according to several Christian sources.
Of India’s 1.3 billion people, 80 percent are Hindu, and just over two percent are Christian, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist group, has been accused by critics of refusing to tackle attacks against religious minorities.
Earlier this year, India's government failed to issue visas to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in time for what the U.S. said was "a long planned trip to India."
The goal of the Commission’s trip was to discuss and assess religious freedom conditions in the nation.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the U.S. Congress last week however that he praised both nations' common democratic principles and hailed two heroes of nonviolence, India's Mahatma Gandhi and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
However he did not address congressional concerns about his government's record on religious tolerance and other rights issues.