The lives of Christians are under threat in 19 states in India, with the upcoming general elections raising further concerns about religious intolerance, according to a fresh report.

A total of 161 incidents of anti-Christian discrimination and persecution have been reported in the first 75 days of 2024 in India, as stated in a document by the United Christian Forum for Human Rights (UCF), an Indian ecumenical organisation monitoring Christian persecution.

The report, sent to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), highlights that national elections will be commencing in three weeks – running from 19th April to 1st June –, potentially exacerbating the existing tensions.

The statement said: “The Christian community in India continues to face targeted violence and hate crimes”, explaining that “the spread of Hindutva philosophy espoused by the Hindutva group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is, to a large extent, a principal cause of this growing persecution against Christians.

“Hindutva, a right-wing form of Hindu nationalism, is intolerant of other religions or cultures.

“The BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party], which took power in 2014, subscribes to this ideological approach and its political success has facilitated religio-nationalist rhetoric and action.”

The report went on to explain that “India is an example of ‘hybrid persecution’, where both pseudo-legal measures and bloody attacks are perpetrated against Indians with the ‘wrong’ religion”, concluding that “prospects for religious freedom, therefore, continue to appear negative”.

Regina Lynch, International Executive President of ACN, said: “India is one of the countries of greatest concern in ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World 2023 report, with ‘authoritarian government’ and ‘ethno-religious nationalism’ indicated as the main drivers of persecution.”

She added: “ACN is deeply concerned about the latest reports indicating a rise in intolerance and attacks on religious freedom in India, pointing to an increase in the persecution of Christians.”

Ms Lynch concluded: “We would like to invite our friends and benefactors to pray for India during this turbulent time.

“Let’s pray that religious minorities, including Christians, may see their human rights respected and upheld during the general elections and in the months and years that will follow.”