Mar 2024


The state of Bihar has been shaped by its partition from the province of Bengal and most recently after the separation of the tribal southern region now called Jharkhand.[1] The state enjoys a unique location-specific advantage because of its proximity to the vast markets of eastern and northern India, access to ports such as Kolkata and Haldia, and to raw material sources and mineral reserves from the neighbouring states.The percentage of population employed in agricultural production in Bihar is around 80%, and it is the fourth largest producer of vegetables and the eighth largest producer of fruits in India. Of the total population of 104 million (as per World Christian Database 2022), 88.71% lives in urban areas and 11.29% lives in rural areas. There are 15.91% Scheduled Caste (SC) and 1.28% Scheduled Tribe (ST) of total population in Bihar. The Hindu population is 94% and the Christian population is 0.20% of the state. The Dalits (Scheduled Castes) are 16 and a half million or 16% of the population while Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes) are a little over a million or 1.2% of the population. Muslims too are a significant population with 17 million or nearly 17% of the population.  The biggest bloc is the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) forming 49% of the population with the most numerous amongst them being OBC castes such as Yadavs, Kurmis, Vaishyas and Kushwahas[2]. There is a significant population amongst these OBC communities that are landed and have economic power in spite of being culturally stigmatised as belonging to backward castes. It is only these dominant OBCs that are well represented in the State Assembly and state-level bureaucracy, police, judiciary and administration. The current trend is that the other numerous OBC castes failing to achieve political representation amongst the dominant OBCs are forming new political parties to represent their own caste and are trying to forge alliances with parties in power. This strategy is allowing these OBCs to not only get a shot at political representation but also do provide material benefits to their caste groups by having a stake in the state apparatus.

The main political parties in Bihar are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Communist Party of India (CPI(M)), Communist Party of India (Marxist), Indian National Congress, and the Nationalist Congress Party. These are all national parties. The state parties prominent in Bihar are Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), Lok Jan Shakti Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)[3]. Nitish Kumar of JDU is the current Chief Minister (CM) of Bihar, a position he has held since assembly elections in 2015. Administratively, the Yadavs are classified as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and indeed the Yadavs experience both the cultural stigma of being identified as a ‘lower’ caste, and there are hundreds of thousands of Yadavs (and other non-Yadav OBCs) living in poverty. However, in the case of Bihar (and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh), the Yadavs through their numerical strength (they are nearly 12% of the population) and with a legacy of socialist secular and progressive leadership from the 1970s onwards, have ruled Bihar almost continuously from 1990 to 2005 (excluding brief periods out of power). Under the leadership of Lalu Prasad Yadav, his party the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has transformed the caste equations in the state of Bihar. Landed OBC castes such as Yadav and Kurmi have significant representation in both politics and bureaucracy. Scholarship on Bihar during Yadav’s rule has showed that Dalits and OBCs across the state felt protected and had a sense of dignity[4]. They were asserting their rights before the dominant castes. Yadav was able to bring together a wide range of OBC, Dalit and Muslim groups (well above 60% of the state population) against the minority dominant castes. However, in his attempt to undo the hegemony of the dominant castes, Yadav also introduced lumpen elements who criminalised governance and daily life to a large extent. After a decade long hiatus from power, Yadav’s son, Tejaswi Yadav leading the RJD is in power through an alliance with Janata Dal (United) or the JD(U), led by another OBC leader representing the Kurmi caste, Nitish Kumar (currently the chief minister). Together these parties represent a large OBC, Dalit and Muslim voting bloc to keep the BJP and Congress out (both parties represented largely by dominant castes and elites). However, after many decades of being in power, economic equality has continued to elude Bihar.

The history of Catholic faith can be traced nearly 400 years back when a Portuguese Jesuit (member of the Society of Jesus) Father Simon Figueredo SJ came to Patna in 1620 at the invitation of the Mughal Governor of Patna, Yohan Maquarrum Khan. Historians of Christianity in Bihar say that after 1713, Patna became a permanent centre for religious propagation. The Roman Catholics were the first Christians to arrive in Bihar. They built a small church in 1717 at a place now known as “Padri-ki-Haveli’ (or “mansion of the padre”) in east Patna. In 1740, the queen of Bettiah in West Champaran (about 200 kilometres from the capital, Patna) was sick and could not be cured by the local practitioners. The king invited Father Joseph Mary, a medical doctor to treat his wife. Father Joseph was successful, and the grateful king offered the Father the freedom to spread his religion in the region. In 1745 Bihar’s second church came into existence just beside the palace of King of Bettiah. With permission from the Vatican, a mission was established at Bettiah in 1769 with priests coming from Rome.  At about the same time, churches were also built at Bhagalpur, Purnea, and Munger.[5]

There is no amendment or special law implemented in state of Bihar, even though there is an increase in the number of attacks on the Christian community. These attacks must be read in the broader context of severe caste hierarchy, discrimination, and exploitation in Bihar. The Dalit and Adivasi communities (Scheduled Castes and Tribes respectively) face the brunt of the violence and economic exploitation. Most of the recent converts to Christianity are from this section of the caste-Hindu society. After many mass conversions, BJP leaders in the state started demanding for an anti-conversion law. The BJP leaders in Bihar who have already announced their support to the caste-based surveys in the state are also stressing on the implementation of the anti-conversion law at the national level.[6] While the current government is ruled by a combine of two secular parties – JD(U) and RJD, it is highly unlikely that anti-conversion laws will be implemented in Bihar. However, due to the caste-based antagonisms in Bihar that remain largely intact over the decades, vigilantism in Bihar is increasing rapidly and Dalit Christians along with Dalit Muslims are facing the consequences. The case study below illustrates the impact of growing vigilantism.


Pastor Sam, Gaya District, November 2022

Pastor Sam (name changed) is a spiritual Christian, who believes strongly in Christian scriptures and has a firm conviction to protect Christians in Gaya, because he believes they are under great threat of persecution and violence. He is not originally from Gaya district (although he did grow up there) but came here in April 2017 to start service.  Within 6 months, he had over 100 believers. “When I was conducting a mass on Sunday [in November 2022], they (Local OBC Hindus) attacked my wife who was 7 months pregnant. They tried to kick her on her womb. Believers saved her. They tried to shoot her. They broke everything. Local Yadav Hindus [Yadav is the most populous OBC caste in Bihar] claimed that they had the right to destroy us, as they didn’t want any conversions to happen. They broke my entire ministry. My landlords attacked me also. They threw out my things and said I was a convert.

Since this incident, many of his believers left the ministry out of fear and he had to rebuild his ministry. A few weeks later, in this difficult period he himself was attacked this time, and more believers left his ministry. He was an outcast in his neighbourhood and was under great threat of being attacked as he was also identified as an outsider despite being a native of the state, who came here with a mission to convert people. In a district where there was no Christianity, there was little or no tolerance to seeing people turn to this faith. “My landlord lived far from Gaya, in Bokaro. They somehow did not like the way I speak and my appeal. I was told that if I am Christian, there will be no place to stay. Also, landlords think I have a lot of money. I still don’t know where that impression comes from. I have minimal assets.”

“I am from a dominant caste; I belong to the Rajput [a dominant warrior caste] community but in my experience people from different caste groups have attacked me. The place where I live, Beghwari Gomti – people get shot inexplicably, they get murdered without warning; it is a dangerous place with many hitmen for hire. In 2019, a sopari (bounty) was given to murder me. When I was going to Amritsar, at the Gaya station, a gang of about 20 people landed up with stumps, hockey sticks. I was severely attacked at the railway station. There was no police or public who came to my rescue. By God’s Grace, I managed to escape.”

He left for Punjab to set up another ministry. Since he lost everything, he had to start from scratch. He stayed in Punjab for a couple of years. He kept changing his name and identity. But he had a calling to return to Gaya. He comes from a staunch Hindu family, and he did not know anything but Hindu faith, but a miraculous experience motivated him to convert. He was keen on becoming an Apologist – to represent the truth. “When my mother was cured of her paralysis after three near death experiences. After prayer, she woke up. This is when I surrendered to Christianity. I can prove that Jesus is a living god. In every religion, there is a reference to Jesus. In places like Paliganj and Danapur, no one has ever heard of Jesus. But slowly now 150 families believe in Christian faith. I have over a thousand believers. Every Sunday my believers come from Dhanbad, Patna, Bhabua, Bela, Jahanabad. More people come through these networks. I do home visits, distribute bibles and when we gather, we dance, sing, and pray.” He felt the need to be married and settle down. His wife too is a Church pastor. His believers are mostly from Dalit and Adivasi families. But there are Muslims and Brahmins also in his ministry. Mostly, they come with incurable illness and severe economic crises. Many are also claimed to be afflicted by evil spirits like Sheikh Sahib, Khuni, Naagin, Manush Deva etc. These evil spirits trouble them immensely but Pastor Sam has played a role in releasing these spirits and these believers are now able to live and take care of themselves.

Pastor Sam is also an exorcist. He shared stories of how he has brought dead babies to life and cured severe illnesses like blood cancer and alcohol addiction. One of his believers also shared her views on Pastor Sam. “I joined 1 year ago, and we faced a lot of issues because of bad energy and evil spirits in our house. Several incidents occurred and my husband lost his job, we had no food to eat, he became an alcoholic, was abusive to me and my children. He also tried to commit suicide several times. A friend asked us to visit the Church and when we we started praying, I felt another person’s presence – the divine grace of the Lord. Without me crying – tears fell from my eyes. I wanted to stay back more in the church. It was Christ who brought us out of this. All my husband`s intoxication has stopped after we were accepted in his ministry. He got a job, and we have food to eat now. “

Because of rigid and fundamentalist practice of Hinduism here in Gaya, the right-wing radical Hindu nationalist organisations affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are extremely active. They have barged into every house and hoisted flags to establish their presence and dominance. It is their land. For any other faith to co-exist is impossible. “One of my believers has a small shop and when they came to collect donation, they forced her to donate and threatened to kill her. They cursed her because they accused her of being Christian. Unexpected fights can easily break out here. BJP-led Brahminism has a strong hold, and they are against our belief systems.”

He expressed his disappointment in the mainline churches like Church of North India (CNI), Protestants, from whom he has received no support or solidarity. Even though he finds it difficult to support his believers with their many needs, he is determined to follow through with his conviction. Pastor Sam also claimed that several other pastors are preaching Christianity without even getting baptized formally. He fears that ideological enemies from the RSS and other groups are unable to distinguish between genuine and ‘fake’ pastors since for the Hindu vigilantes, all of them would be Christians. “As for me, here in Gaya, no one knows my real name. In my ministry I don’t force people to leave sindoor[7], mangal sutra[8] and caste identity. My income is purely from 10 % of my believers’ earnings. I use this to also help the needy.” At the time of meeting him, Pastor Sam is living precariously. While riding his motorcycle, he hides under a black helmet as he feels the need to conceal his identity in public spaces. He avoids preaching near his residence, as there have been physical attacks on him and his wife and he has been threatened and asked to move. He has had to move several houses since 2021 and this affects his ability to engage his believers regularly. But his faith remains resolute. The violence faced by Pastor Sam and his wife is an example of how Christianity and Christian identity becomes entangled with caste-based violence in Bihar. In this case, as with several others, it is the dominant OBC caste, Yadavs who have attacked the Ministry. The attacks are not directed at Pastor Sam or his wife individually, but rather the attacks are a way to destroy an institution that allows for Dalits and Adivasis to mobilise themselves and improve their economic situation thus reducing their dependence on the Yadavs.

Pastor Sevak, Magadh District, May 2022

Pastor Sevak (name changed) hails from Magadh district but currently resides in Bodhgaya. He started practicing Christianity in June 2004 after his wife recovered from a near death experience. Since then, he has been spreading the faith in his village and has built his ministry in and around his village for approximately 100 families under great threat. In late 2019, he was chased by a group of Yadavs (dominant OBC caste) who beat him when he was riding back home from a prayer meeting. They hung him upside down on a tree blaming him for converting people in the villagers. His believers untied him and rescued him after they left. In 2021 too, he was threatened that his whole family would be killed. For eight days they surrounded his house and asked him and his believers to return to Hindu faith (the practice of Christians or Muslims ‘reconverting’ to Hinduism is popularly called Ghar Wapsi or Homecoming). He faced severe attacks in May 2022, when one of his believers refused to conduct a ceremonious ritual on the land of a dominant caste family. The ritual is called “Bali” and is usually performed by people from the Manjhi community, a Dalit caste, to remove bad spirits and bless the land for a good harvest and prosperity in general. Because he was now following the Christian faith, he refused to perform the ritual, which led to massive backlash against him and the pastor including his family.

The dominant castes (such as Rajputs and Jadhavs) gathered in large numbers and called for a local meeting organized by the village-level government (called Panchayat). These dominant castes surrounded believers in the village, cursed and humiliated them. They made them sit in the middle and intimidated them with death threats. The meeting was organized where Dalit believers were larger in number. There was no one left to do the Bali ritual in the village, because everyone from the Dalit community had turned to Christian faith. The believers were beat up with sticks. Subsequently, 200 people walked to the pastor Sevak’s house and asked him to conduct the ritual because he is responsible for converting people in the village. The believers felt it was extremely dangerous for the pastor to stay in the village and organised his escape with his family to Bodhgaya. Since then, his family has not been able to return to the village (where he owns a small patch of land) and his house. It has been locked and he is uncertain about the future. Pastor Sevak argued passionately that pastors need legal support to practice their faith and worship according to their beliefs. They are in hiding still and are unable to practice openly. This setback with the believers can lead to pressure on economic sustainability of the church and church activities, and pressure from right wing fundamentalist groups with no protection and extreme danger for pastors and their families.

In September 2022, in the village of Naranga Gaon, 15 kilometers from Bodhgaya, a Church has been shut down. There were armed gangs in autorickshaws who came and threatened to break the church down. They are constant monitoring if church activities continue in this area. The word that Christianity is on the rise and must be stopped is spreading quickly and creating hate amongst people. A visit to these places gave the unmistakable sense of high tensions between Hindus and Buddhists[9] on the one side and Christians on the other side. Both Hindus and Buddhists saw Christians as a threat. In a place where lawlessness is accepted and internalized, it does not seem to matter what is legal or not, violence breaks out in a very arbitrary sense, and consequences can be irreversible.

Similar issues are mushrooming slowly in areas like Barachatti, a town in Gaya district and bordering the state of Jharkhand. The area is slowly growing tense with increasing communal polarisation and a peaceful community of Christians are unable to openly express their faith in Christ. The women take a huge brunt of this hostility. If they stop wearing the common symbols of Hindu marriage (vermilion on the forehead for instance), there is suspicion and humiliation from not just their neighbours and others in their community but sometimes even from their own relatives and immediate family. Slowly, the Christians have stopped celebrating birthdays, weddings, funerals, and festivals due to fear of getting attacked by the Hindus. Yet, there is not a single believer or pastor, who is doubtful of their faith or conviction to face any hurdle that they have to face directly or indirectly. Their faith acts as the strongest form of resistance in this climate.

From these instances, the underlying pattern is the intersection of Dalit identity with Christianity, and the resulting persecution Dalit Christians face at the hands of the dominant castes, such as the Yadav. The dominant OBCs including Yadavs have little patience for Dalits, especially Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. Adivasis too have been sidelined. Although the RJD and JD(U) maintain a progressive political discourse in favour of Dalits and in favour of religious harmony and secularism, their government has failed to stem the increasing vigilantism of the landed or dominant OBC groups and the vigilantes of the dominant castes (such as Rajputs and Brahmins). Mass unemployment, lack of infrastructure, weak support from a BJP ruled union government and an inefficient bureaucracy riddled with corruption all are major challenges that need to be addressed urgently to prevent increasing inequality. In the face of extreme inequality, the carefully stitched solidarity between Muslims, Dalits and OBCs is coming undone rapidly. Religious minorities will be caught in the crossfire in the coming years unless the RJD-JD(U) combine can prioritise economic and social justice for the oppressed castes of Bihar, including and especially the oppressed castes from religious minority communities.



[1] https://msmedipatna.gov.in/Pprofile/Bihar%20-%20State%20Profile-2018-19.pdf

[2] https://thewire.in/caste/bihars-caste-census-nitish

[3] RJD is a political party that was the offshoot of Congress alternative Janata Dal formed in the 1970s. Lalu Yadav has been one of the most popular leaders of the RJD and represents the Yadavs, a dominant Backward Class (OBC) in the state of Bihar.

[4] Civility in Crisis: Democracy, Equality and the Majoritarian Challenge in India. Edited by Suryakant Waghmore and Hugo Gorringe. 2021, Routledge.

[5] https://newsd.in/bihar-the-first-church-and-christmas-meet-in-bihar/

[6] https://www.siasat.com/bjp-leaders-in-bihar-advocate-for-religious-conversion-law-2346347/

[7] Vermilion applied on the forehead of a Hindu woman to denote her status as a married woman.

[8] A particular type of necklace worn by a Hindu woman to denote her status as a married woman.

[9] There are many Dalits and Adivasis in Bihar who have converted to Buddhism for two reasons. The first is the geographical location of Bodhgaya. It is where the Buddha is supposed to have meditated and gained enlightenment. Unsurprisingly, there are many Buddhist monks and missions sponsored by countries around the world that are active in Bodhgaya. The second is that one of the most important anti-caste leaders of the 20th century, Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in a mass ceremony in Maharashtra in 1956 just a few months before his death. He believed that Dalits would never find emancipation in Hinduism and had decided that the best way for Dalits to emancipate themselves in terms of finding an alternative religious identity is to convert to Buddhism. For these two reasons, Bodhgaya has many Dalits who have converted to Buddhists and it is also the reason why they are hostile to Dalits who convert to Christianity, since many of the Buddhists feel that Dalits are taking the wrong path by choosing Christianity rather than Buddhism.

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