A Christian community hall in India’s predominantly Hindu West Bengal state was attacked by Hindu radicals during a launch ceremony, according to local reports quoted by The Christian Post.
The Indian English daily newspaper The Telegraph reports that three people linked to President Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party were arrested Sunday night in connection to the attack on the community hall dedicated to Jesus Christ in East Midnapore Village.
The attack took place on Saturday afternoon when around 800 people from 28 different villages were gathered for the building’s inauguration. The building is called Jishu’r Aradhona Griho (or Jesus’s Prayer Home). Hindus in the area were suspicious that the community hall would be used to convert Hindus to Christianity.
A first information report was filed with police by the organizer, pastor Anup Kumar Gosh. Gosh said that a mob of about 20 men attacked with crude bombs and sticks. The activists are also said to have planted Hindu flags.
News 18 India reports that the attackers first attacked vehicles parked in the vicinity of the center and then hurled crude bombs and beat worshipers as they tried to flee. The men also entered the church and destroyed church property.
“They damaged everything that belonged to the church,” Gosh told News 18.
Gosh told The Telegraph that four people, including two children, were injured in the incident. Kanai Lal Das, the husband of a BJP official, was accused of being the leader of the attack. BJP leader Swapan Ray, however, told The Telegraph that Das and the three men who were arrested have been framed.
District Superintendent of Police V. Solomon Nesakumar told News 18 India that seven men were accused of participating in the assault.
“We are carrying out raids and hopeful of nabbing the remaining accused,” Nesakumar said.
Gosh told The Telegraph that of the 800 people who gathered for the inauguration, “hardly 10 were Christians.”
The Christian Post reached out to the persecution advocacy nonprofit International Christian Concern, which also reported the attack in West Bengal, for information as to why so many non-Christians attended the event. A response is pending.
Christian Persecution in India has greatly increased since the election of Modi in 2014 and the rise of the BJP party. India now ranks as the 10th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List.
“Every year more violent incidents are registered, mainly because the government is looking the other way,” an Open Doors USA dossier on the situation in India reads.
According to Open Doors, Hindu radicals view Christians “as alien to the nation.”
“Driven by a desire to cleanse their country from Islam and Christianity, nationalists do not shy away from using extensive violence to achieve their goals,” an Open Doors fact sheet reads.
In December, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom voiced concern about a new bill that the panel believes is trying to create “a religious test for Indian citizenship” in the majority Hindu nation.
Despite increasing religious freedom concerns in India, the country is not recognized by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations. However, India is listed by USCIRF as a “Tier 2” country of concern.