In the Jhabua District of Madhya Pradesh state in India, over 50 house churches were prohibited from gathering for worship on Sundays after the Sub-Divisional Officer issued a memo to police stations in the Thandla and Megnagar blocks declaring a ban on religious Christian gatherings that don't have permission from the local magistrate. The circular was ordered by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and other radical Hindi nationalist groups.
"I read the circular last Friday and decided not to have worship on Sunday," a local pastor said, as per International Christian Concern. Some local Christians said they worried about not being allowed to exercise their religious freedom rights, as guaranteed by the constitution of India. The local pastor added, "The last five months have been difficult. Our congregation has been reduced from 40 members to 15. Even these 15 are now scared."
The local pastor lamented, "I know as a pastor that I need to endure hardships and persecution for my faith. But I am worried about those who are showing interest and coming newly to worship with us."
According to the Christian Post, Indian authorities had also sent out similar notices to Christian leaders in the district, requiring them to present evidence of their legal conversion to Christianity. More than 300 Christian leaders and pastors have been in dialogue with Indian authorities and even submitted a memorandum, but the situation did not change.
Madhya Pradesh is one of several states in India that has "anti-conversion laws," which presume that Christians are being forced to convert or are being bribed with financial benefits to convert to Christianity. Some of the "anti-conversion laws" have been in effect for decades in some Indian states, but no Christian has evern been convicted of "forcibly" converting other people to Christianity. The laws are instead often used to carry out religious persecution against Christians by Hindu nationalist groups, who make false claims about alleged forced conversion.
"Anti-conversion laws" in India state that citizens cannot use the "threat" of "divine displeasure" or that Christians cannot speak about Heaven or Hell as it would mean they are "forcing" someone to convert. Any snacks or meals served to Hindus constitue "inducement."
Christians are a religious minority in India, making up only 2.3% of the Indian population. Up to 80% are Hindus, while radical Hindu nationalists are the ones carying attacks on Christians, accusing them of using force or monetary rewards to get more Hindus to convert to Christianity. Persecution watchdog Open Doors USA ranks India as the 10th worst offender when it comes to Christian persecution.
Christianity Today reported in August that the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) recorded 145 incidents targeting Christians in India from January to June 2021. Researchers wrote, "Violence against Christians by non-state actors in India stems from an environment of targeted hate. The translation of the hate into violence is sparked by a sense of impunity generated in India's administrative apparatus."