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CNA Staff, Jul 31, 2020 / 06:15 am (CNA).- Hate crimes against Christians in India increased by 40% in the first half of 2020 despite a three-month nationwide lockdown, according to a new report.

In a report published July 29, the ecumenical group Persecution Relief said it had documented 293 incidents between January and June, including six cases of murder and five of rape.

“Compared to last year’s number of 208 incidents, this year has seen a disconcerting rise of 40.87% in spite of the complete nationwide lockdown which was imposed for almost three months,” the report said.

The authors highlighted persecution in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where 63 reported hate crimes took place. Describing Uttar Pradesh as “the most hostile state against Christians in India,” it accused local authorities of assisting extremists.

The report said that the next worst state for Christians was Tamil Nadu, in southern India, which recorded 28 cases, followed by the east-central state of Chhattisgarh, with 22 cases.

Persecution Relief, founded by the Indian Christian Shibu Thomas, has documented more than 2,000 incidents since it was launched in 2016.

Thomas said: “The vicious cruelty of these crimes exposes the tainted mentality and attitude of the religious extremists of this day and age. This frightening and dangerous crusade of religious nationalism and intolerance has now peaked at new inhuman altitudes.”

India, which is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country within the next decade, is ranked as the 10th worst persecutor of Christians worldwide by the charity Open Doors.

Open Doors said that persecution of religious minorities has increased since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party gained power in 2014, with thousands of incidents every year. It accused the ruling party of allowing extremists to attack Christians with impunity.

In April, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom asked the U.S. State Department to place India on a list of “countries of particular concern” because of attacks on minorities.

In a note introducing Persecution Relief’s report, Thomas asked: “How did all of this happen amidst the world’s largest and longest lockdown in recent times? Wasn’t every citizen supposed to be following government protocol? Did authorities try to stop them? Who should be held responsible for the barbaric attitude of the religious extremists in India?”