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FOCUS March 2022 Volume 107

Patterns in Hate Crimes Against Indian Christians

People’s Union for Civil Liberties

From violent attacks to verbal abuse of Christians during their prayer meetings, Karnataka is witnessing a sharp increase in both the frequency and intensity of these attacks led by the Hindutva 1 groups. While these attacks on the face of it appear to be geographically spread out, in reality they arise out of a far sinister concerted political project of reducing Christians to second-class citizens who must not be allowed to exercise their constitutionally provided fundamental right to freedom of religion. This political project finds its roots in the Hindutva ideology as articulated by M.S. Golwalkar in "We or Our Nationhood Defined": 2

The non-Hindu peoples in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture i.e., they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its age-long traditions but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead-- in other words they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less preferential treatment--not even citizen's rights. There is, or at least should be, no other course for them to adopt. We are an old nation; and let us deal, as old nations ought to and do deal, with foreign races, who have chosen to live in our country.

Golwalkar, in a book chapter titled "Bunch of Thoughts," refers specifically to the Christians. 3 He notes that: "So long as Christians here indulge in such activities and consider themselves as agents of the international movement for the spread of Christianity, and refuse to offer their first loyalty to the land of their birth and behave as true children of the heritage and culture of their ancestors, they will remain here as hostiles and will have to be treated as such."

Local Police is seen to be colluding with the Hindutva supremacists to incite fear and hatred against Christians, and police commonly turn a blind eye to incidents of violence, abuse, sexual assaults, economic and social boycott.

In some cases, large mobs barged in during Sunday morning prayer meetings, and executed violent attacks leading to injury, damage to property, psychological and physical trauma. In some others, smaller mobs disrupted prayer meetings, threatening murder, criminal charges of forced conversion, or even the revoking of reservation rights. A common theme in these incidents is the threat of pressing criminal charges under Section 295A and Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (both sections refer to offences relating to religion 4).

Each time victims were contacted, a common response at the beginning of conversations was that the victims almost always were initially confused about which incident was being referred to. This indicates how frequently they encounter violence, threats and disruption by Hindutva mobs and how the lives of thousands have been filled with fear because of their religious faith.

In many cases, the pastors and believers have not just suffered from trauma from a particular attack, but continue to face dire consequences of being a religious minority in their daily lives. At the very heart of it, all these attacks must be seen as an attack on the fundamental right to freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution.

Right to Freely Practice Religion

In most cases, Christians have been forced to shut down their places of worship and stop assembling for their Sunday prayers. Effectively, these attacks by Hindutva groups on praying as a religious community in a gathering act as a bar on the freedom to practice religion itself. Leave alone the right to propagate religion, today the attacks in Karnataka are actually on the right to freely profess and practice religion. This is in direct violation of a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution:

Article 25. Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion

    1. Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion

It is extremely important to note that the Christian community in rural and semi-rural Karnataka hail from impoverished backgrounds and are mostly from Dalit and lower caste communities. Prayer meetings held on Sunday mornings are important spaces that provide support and a sense of belongingness. These spaces allow both for religious expression of the believers as well as a sense of hope in the future.

When pastors are threatened by the Hindutva groups to shut down these prayer meetings, it is not only a gross violation of their right to religious freedom but also robs an entire community of their right to dignity and the right to life defined as psychological well-being.

In many places after facing the attack or hearing about attacks on Christians in different parts of the State, members of the community are scared. After the attacks, prayer meetings in many places have been discontinued. There is an omnipresent fear among Christians. This fear is a hindrance to dignified existence.

The fact that several Christians are being violently attacked in their own houses of worship, spending days in jail, criminalized, humiliated and discriminated against, only because of their choice of religion, is the dismal consequence of today's state-sponsored Hindutva extremism in Karnataka.

Hate Crimes against Christians

Broadly, all these attacks on Pastors, believers and churches are communal hate crimes. Hate crime as a concept arguably is able to recognize the harm done to the victims as members of a collective or a social group. In the United Kingdom, a hate crime is defined as "any crimes that is motivated by hostility on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity." 5 In the Indian context, the social groups of gender and caste have to be added.

The Supreme Court in Tehseen Poonawalla v Union of India,6 recognizes hate crimes as,

20. Hate crimes as a product of intolerance, ideological dominance and prejudice ought not to be tolerated; lest it results in a reign of terror. Extra judicial elements and non-State actors cannot be allowed to take the place of law or the law enforcing agency. A fabricated identity with bigoted approach sans acceptance of plurality and diversity results in provocative sentiments and display of reactionary retributive attitude transforming itself into dehumanisation of human beings. Such an atmosphere is one in which rational debate, logical discussion and sound administration of law eludes thereby manifesting clear danger to various freedoms including freedom of speech and expression. One man's freedom of thought, action, speech, expression, belief, conscience and personal choices is not being tolerated by the other and this is due to lack of objective rationalisation of acts and situations.

Living under Threat in a Post-pandemic Karnataka

Attack in Hubbali on 17 October 2021 7

- Testimony of Pastor Sanket

When we started the prayer meeting, there were already some people wearing saffron scarves sitting inside the church. During the prayer, they suddenly started chanting bhajans and slogans like Jai Shri Ram. This group of people who were from Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, soon started shouting at me and accusing me for forcing someone called Vishwanath to convert to Christianity.

1_HateCrimes.jpgThey started beating up the believers and some of them started assaulting me. I sustained many severe injuries.

After the believers and I were dragged to the police station, a bigger mob of about one hundred people gathered. The police could not do much because the mob was growing in number and were becoming very violent. They kept some of us in the police station and lodged a First Information Report against us. Six others and I were taken in an ambulance to the hospital, after which the hospital issued a report saying that we only had minor bruises and no fractures. The police arrested some of us and we were kept in jail for eleven days.

Now, we are no longer praying together in the church. Christians are facing threats on a regular basis from neighbors and others in the town. Not just me, but so many of our believers are also being told to vacate their houses by their landlords and house-owners. The same mob from Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad are spreading vicious rumors in attempts to get Christians terminated from their jobs, and to make it difficult for them to apply for new ones.

Christians in our locality are very scared. Still, many are slowly trying to return to pray on Sundays.

Even recalling the psychological torture that I had to undergo for eleven days, the physical and emotional pain we all had to suffer is very anxiety-inducing and it has become very difficult for me to retell this story.

Attack in Yadgir on 19 September 2021 8

- Testimony of Pastor Jim

I was organizing weekly prayers for eight months in the same prayer hall for fifteen believers. One such Sunday, two hundred people came to our prayer hall and started raising slogans against Christianity. A Panchayat member named, Narsappa, and many people from the village joined the crowd and started exerting pressure on the believers to not go to church anymore. They spoke in abusive language against me and my faith.

Within five minutes of the mob's verbal abuse and shouting, the police came. Perhaps they were nearby because they knew that this was happening. The police detained four of us at the station till 8 pm before giving any of us any information. They filed a complaint against me, a woman, her husband and their son under 295A, but refused to file our complaint against the Hindutva mob that was abusing us verbally.

Our lawyer came to the police station at 5 pm but the police refused to file our complaint even after he spoke to them. They told us that the Sub-Inspector had instructed them to not file any complaint on behalf of us. We were in jail for three days.

Now, prayers have completely stopped and the believers from that village are no longer coming to church. They have also been facing threats from school teachers, who have said that they will expel their children from school. Ration card shops and smaller businesses have also started refusing to sell to Christian customers.

Failure of the State

The COVID-19 pandemic brought severe distress to Karnataka, wherein marginalized communities faced severe shortages of food and a complete lack of access to healthcare. Agricultural laborers, daily wage workers, and other workers in the informal sector in particular, faced severe crises because of non-payment of wages.

During such a time, when thousands lost their lives and thousands more lived on the brink of survival, the need of the hour was health-centric and people-centric governance, solidarity among communities and communitarian relief to protect communities from poverty and hunger.

Instead, the State through the police and the administration was complicit in antagonizing those praying. In many cases of mob violence, the police arrested pastors and believers. They even issued formal notices to churches to stop prayer meetings. One of the reasons cited by authorities was that the church was allegedly violating COVID-19 protocols. Neither was there any lockdown in place nor were there limitations regarding small gatherings, and yet, the police along with the administration use the excuse of COVID-19 to interrogate and accuse Christians. At a time of such increased vulnerability, the minority community was marginalized even further by the inaction of the State to protect their fundamental rights. This failure of the State further marginalizes a minority community in how they live their lives struggling to access education, shelter, food, livelihood and basic dignity during COVID-19 pandemic. These daily struggles are exacerbated with the threat to their life and liberty leaving them in a place where exercising their social, economic, civil and political rights is a distant reality.

The social and cultural fabric of diverse and secular Karnataka is stained with this dispossession faced by Christians as also the discrimination and atrocities faced by Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims.

* This is an edited excerpt of Criminalising the Practice of Faith - A Report by PUCL Karnataka on Hate Crimes against Christians in Karnataka, December 2021.

For further information, please contact: PUCL Karnataka Chapter, 59 Shivaji Road, Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore - 560051 India; e-mail:


[1] "Hindutva is a political movement advocating Hindu nationalism and the establishment of a Hindu state," Collins, Hindutva is the name by which the ideology of the Hindu right, represented by the political party Bharatiya Janata Party, or Indian People's Party (BJP), is known. It is also the ideology of the cultural body known as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Core (RSS), which was founded in 1925 and with which the BJP has strong links. See Arvind Sharma, On the Difference Between Hinduism and Hindutva, Education About Asia, Online Arcoves, Volume 25:1 (Spring 2020) Asian Philosophies and Religions, Association for Asian Studies,

[2] Golwalkar, M.S., We or Our Nationhood Defined, Bharat Prakashan, 1939.

[3] Golwalkar, M.S. "A Bunch of Thoughts," in Hindu Nationalism: A Reader, Christophe Jaffrelot, editor, Princeton University Press, 2007.

[4] Chapter XII, "Section 295A. Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs;" "Section 298. Uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings." Full text of these sections available at India Code,

[5] Olivia Hambly, Joanne Rixom, Shivani Singh and Tamsyn Wedlake-James, "Hate crime: a thematic review of the current evidence," Research Report 102, UK Government, October 2018,

[6] Tehseen S. Poonawalla vs Union of India, 17 July 2018, AIR 2018 SC 3354,

[7] "Row between Bengaluru church followers and local residents, cops file FIRs," The News Minute,

[8] Videos of news report on this incident available at