Sacramento, CA — Pieter Friedrich, a journalist and Anglican Christian based in Northern California, launched the new year by conducting a 7-day hunger-strike in solidarity with persecuted Christians in India, which has been ranked by Open Doors USA as the 10th most dangerous country in the world in which to be a Christian.
“That’s at least the third year in a row in which they ranked India as the tenth most dangerous country,” said Friedrich when interviewed by Fr. Joshua Lickter of Incarnation Anglican Church in Roseville, California. “I chose to do this in order to stand in solidarity with the Indian Christian Church, and to demonstrate to the persecuted Christians in India that there is somebody — there’s somebody abroad, outside of their country, a fellow Christian — who understands what they’re going through, and who is willing to stand up and speak out, or temporarily starve themselves. In order to stand with them.”
A freelance journalist specializing in analysis of affairs in South Asia, Friedrich has spent the last five years focused primarily on researching and reporting on the Hindu nationalist movement in India and its impact on religious minorities. Consuming only water, tea, and coffee, he was on hunger-strike from the morning of January 5 to the morning of January 12, during which time he reports receiving hundreds of messages and comments from Indian Christians who expressed their gratitude and sense of encouragement felt by his gesture of support.
Besides Open Doors USA, the Voice of the Martyrs has recently labeled conditions for Indian Christians as “hostile.” Additionally, International Christian Concern awarded India as well as its prime minister, Narendra Modi, its “Persecutor of the Year” award, stating, “Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in 2014, Christian persecution has sky-rocketed.” In 2021, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the US State Department list India as a “Country of Particular Concern” for the second year in a row. “In 2020, for example, mobs — fueled by false accusations of forced conversions — attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services,” warned USCIRF in its latest report.
“Imagine if you’re worshipping in whatever congregation it is that you choose to attend, and all of a sudden, a mob breaks in and they beat you, they start to beat whoever’s leading that particular congregation, and the police come in and they start to make arrests — but they’re not arresting anyone from the mob, they’re arresting you just for being there in that congregation,” said Fr. Lickter. “That’s the kind of thing that’s going on at an increased level in India right now. It’s just so alarming.”
According to United Christian Forum for Human Rights (UCF), an India-based watchdog group, Christians throughout India suffered over 500 attacks in 2021. UCF reports that attacks have increased in number every single year since 2014. They reported 127 attacks in 2014; their 2021 figures demonstrate a four-fold increase over seven years. The rate of attacks rose sharply in the final two months of 2021 which, reported UCF, “witnessed over one hundred (104) incidents as if to warn Christians from celebrating the birthday of Lord Jesus Christ — Christmas.”
“Attacks on Christians have slowly risen over the past seven years of the Modi regime, escalated in the past year, and sky-rocketed in the past four months,” explains Friedrich. “The vast majority of these are coordinated mob attacks organized by militant outfits linked to the ruling BJP. Police invariably arrest the victims, not the perpetrators, who are emboldened and empowered by a sense of legal cover under these ‘anti-conversion’ laws which essentially criminalize changing your religion without permission from the government.”
Ten of India’s 28 states currently have anti-conversion laws on the books, while two more are strongly considering passing them.
Commenting on Open Doors USA’s ranking of India’s persecution level, Friedrich notes, “Out of the top ten most dangerous countries for Christians, not only is India the only legitimate democracy on the list but it is also the only country which is a strong US ally. Another thing that makes India unique is that it’s the only democracy in the world where both Muslims and Christians are simultaneously facing persecution for the same reasons and by the same source: militant Hindu nationalism. Except for North Korea (which ranks as #1 most dangerous), the source of persecution of Christians in all the other top ten countries is from Islamist extremists. In India, however, Muslims and Christians are bonded by a sense of shared suffering.”
Fr. Lickter, in his interview of Friedrich, warned that Indian Christians are “experiencing extreme suffering and oppression right now” and encouraged fellow clergy to speak about the issue to let others “know what’s happening in India.” Noting that “the groundwork is being laid right now for some massive persecution to occur,” he added, “This is really firing me up, and I want to do something about this.”
“My hope, my prayer, is that the American Christian clergy would — beyond my hunger-strike, as they begin to, hopefully, have an opportunity to be informed and educated about the issue — be prompted and provoked to speak out and stand in solidarity with their suffering brothers and sisters in India,” said Friedrich. “The American Christian Church, sadly, and I think it’s due to ignorance, is almost entirely silent on this issue.”