Mar 2024


Punjab is one of the smaller states of India.[1] It is located in the northwestern part of the sub-continent. At the time of partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, Punjab was bifurcated into two parts on religious grounds: West Punjab (in Pakistan) and East Punjab (in India). For historical and geographical reasons, western part of Punjab was the most prosperous and developed while the eastern part was relatively backward. 1 Post-partition Punjab was faced with the lack of infrastructure necessary to accommodate four million displaced persons. Partition changed not only the overall demography of the area but also the religious composition of the population. With the mass exodus of Muslims to Pakistan on the eve of partition, Punjab became a Hindu majority area, and after reorganization, as constituted now, a Sikh majority area.1

Sikhism is a religion based on the teachings of Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the first guide and mentor for Sikhs. He was succeeded by nine Gurus, with the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh (1666-1708) naming the Guru Granth Sahib (the central scripture and holy text for Sikhs) as his successor and bringing the line of human succession to a close. The word Sikh has its roots in the word Sikhna (to learn – in Punjabi and Hindi). The compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib started as a compilation of Guru Nanak’s poetic compositions but has expanded to include teachings of the next generation of nine Gurus who succeeded him. The text also includes teachings of various devotional mystics and poets who preached values of tolerance, equality, and compassion. Over the centuries, due to differences in the Sikh community about who should succeed as Guru, Sikhism has branched off into several sects such as the Nihangi Sikhs (the armed warriors), the Udasi Sikhs (missionaries) and the Sevapanthis (doing charitable work). The most important place of worship (called Gurdwara) for Sikhs is the Golden Temple in Amritsar city of Punjab. The work on building the Gurdwara was started by Guru Arjan (the fifth Guru) in 1581, and the first volume of the Guru Granth Sahib was placed inside the Gurdwara in 1604. The founder of the Sikh empire (1799-1849), Maharaja Ranjit Singh rebuilt the Gurdwara in marble and copper and placed a gold overleaf in 1830, which is why it is popularly called the Golden Temple today. Formed in the 1920, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) is a powerful organisation responsible for the Gurdwaras in Punjab and nearby state of Himachal Pradesh as well as the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Crucially the SGPC has become the main body that speaks on behalf of Sikhs and is very powerful as the key organisation that represents the majority religion in Punjab. Although there are some seats reserved in SGPC for Dalit Sikhs, the bulk of the SGPC is captured by Jat Sikhs.

As per the World Christian Database 2022, Punjab has a population of nearly 32 million people. In terms of religion, Sikhism is the majority religion with 58% of the population (18.5 million) while Christianity is followed by 2.20% of the population (just above 700,000 people). Hindus form approximately 37% of the population (nearly 12 million). Like in other states, caste crosscuts and intersects religious identity. Broadly speaking, Punjab has four caste clusters. The rural dominant castes, most prominent among them being the Jat Sikhs (estimated to be roughly 25% of the population, or eight million people), also tend to represent the agrarian class interests. The second major caste cluster is that of the largely urban Hindu dominant castes. They have traditionally dominated the economy of Punjab in areas of trade, commerce and industry. They have been the primary social base of the BJP and the Hindu communal politics in the region. The third major caste demographics in the state are that of the Dalits or Scheduled Castes (SCs). Against the national average of around 16%, they make for nearly 32% of the state population, more than 10 million people. However, only six percent of all the landholdings in the state are cultivated by them. Punjabi Dalits are quite divided in terms of their religious and cultural identity and unlike their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh for instance, they have so far unable to establish effective political representation. The fourth cluster, comprising the Other Backward Classes or OBCs, has been surprisingly almost invisible in Punjab politics, even though they too make for 31% of the total population.[2] Although Sikhism does not legitimise caste discrimination in its scriptures, teachings and values, in practice there has been caste discrimination within Sikhism at all levels. More than half of all Sikhs (close to 60%) are Jat Sikhs who are dominant both in terms of caste identity but also economically powerful through ownership of land. The major Dalit Sikh groups are Mazhabi Sikhs (Mazhabi is an Arabic word meaning faithful in the religious context) and Ravidasia[3] Sikhs. Over 90% of the Christians in Punjab are Dalits[4] (whether Sikh or Hindu).

The Punjab Land Alienation Act (1900) had the unintended consequence of officially depriving Dalits, along with other non-agricultural castes, the right to own land. The relationship of Dalits with Jat Sikhs (a dominant land-owning caste in Punjab), thus, is that of landless agricultural workers versus landlords, in many cases the Dalit Sikhs effectively serving as bonded labour to the Jats. In Punjab, primarily an agricultural state, land ownership assumes utmost importance in determining social status. Nowhere in India, are Dalits so extensively deprived of agricultural land as in Punjab.[5]

In 1950, when the Indian constitution was drafted, Sikhs (along with Buddhists and Jains) were categorized as Hindus in some clauses. The main demand of the Sikhs of Punjab after partition of India was to secure a separate electorate and reservation of seats from the central government. The Sikhs were deeply offended by this categorization into Hindu and saw its refusal by the Congress Party (INC) to recognize the independence of their religion. A Presidential Order was passed in 1956 which extended affirmative action benefits and special protection of Dalits not just in Hinduism but also to Dalits in the religions of Sikhism, although unfortunately it was not extended to Buddhism until 1990 and even to-date these benefits have been denied to Dalits and Adivasis following Christianity and Islam[6]. The sharpening of differences between Sikhism as a separate religion and Hinduism resulted in large-scale violence took the lives of thousands of people from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. The creation of Punjab state on a linguistic basis by the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966 was an attempt to satisfy the demand of the Sikhs for a Sikh majority, Punjabi speaking state within India. A state that lost considerable area in Pakistan in 1947, was further reduced due to the emerging politics of the time. A substantial area in the southern part of Punjab went on to become Haryana, while the hill districts were awarded to then union territory of Himachal Pradesh.[7]

The fallouts of the Green Revolution[8], the aggressive and militaristic intervention by the union government to address Punjab’s problem, and increased communalisation of politics led to an eruption of militant violence in Punjab. The so-called Operation Blue Star and anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984 led to a manifold increase of violence in Punjab.[9] This violence was carried out in the name of the Khalistan movement, a social movement seeking a sovereign state of Khalistan either carved out of Punjab or the separation of Punjab itself from India. Although the Khalistan movement largely died out in Punjab by the 1990s, it continued to operate in the Punjabi diaspora in the UK, US and Canada. Today, the Khalistan movement has made a comeback with a new radical organisation called Waris Punjab De (founded in late 2021) led by Amritpal Singh Sandhu who models himself on the leaders of the Khalistan movement in the 1970s and 1980s. The gains from Green Revolution were distributed unequally among the various sections of the society and the different regions in Punjab. This led to the growing pauperization of marginal and poor peasants, who could neither reap the benefits of the land nor find employment in the industrial sector. The mismanagement of the wealth generated from the green revolution as well as the failure to develop other industries to absorb educated Sikh youth added to the resentment in the Sikh community.[10]

The current political parties which dominate the state are the Indian National Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal). While the previous government was Congress-led, the recent 2022 Assembly elections in Punjab provided a majority to the Aam Admi Party, represented by Bhagwant Singh Mann (a popular humourist) as Chief Minister. The farmer’s movement has gathered strength of farmers from Punjab who led a robust peasant protest that pressured the Union government to repeal the three farm laws. The leap of farmers from the mobilisational to institutional practice of politics by floating a political party, Samyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM), shows their rejection of any dependence on political benevolence. Development politics blended with politicization of caste have significant potential for ushering in a new political culture in Punjab.[11]

There is a notion that the Apostle Thomas, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus, visited Punjab. This tradition is based on the story of Thomas visiting King Gondophorus in India told in The Acts of Thomas, a third century Gnostic composition originating most probably in Edessa. On more solid historical ground, Christianity entered the Punjab in 1834. Its initial adherents were largely urban, literate, and socially diverse. A mass conversion movement of rural Dalits transformed the community into a larger community. The missionaries from the US Presbyterian Church expanded their work to include major mission stations at Jullundur, Ambala, Lahore, Hoshiarpur, Ferozepore and Moga. A second wave of Protestant missions arrived in the Punjab towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries under very different circumstances. These include the Salvation Army, the Seventh Day Adventists, the American Methodists, the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission, and the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society.

In the years following independence and partition, there have been three important developments that have altered the ecclesiastical patterns established in the nineteenth century. The first of these was the completion of the transfer of power from the overseas missionary societies to Indian churches under Indian leadership. The second consisted in a series of adjustments in ecclesiastical boundaries among virtually all denominations following partition so that the Indian churches became completely separated from the Pakistani churches on the other side of the border. A third development was that the church foreign personnel were replaced by a far larger number of priests and nuns from Kerala (Catholic and other churches). As a result of all these developments, the ecclesiastical picture and the church loyalties of Punjabi Christians are far more Indian, more diverse, and more complex than they were a hundred years ago.

Caste is not pronounced within the community, but the community is conscious of its low status and recognizes that conversion has improved their status. Christians have not fared so well in Punjabi political culture. Prior to Independence the Christian leadership, in their opposition to the rampant communalism all around them, refused to organize politically as a community.[12]This decision has led to little or no political representation of Christians in Punjab that continues to date. In 2018, the Punjab Assembly passed a bill called the lndian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill includes the insertion of Section 295AA into the Indian Penal Code to give life imprisonment for any ‘injury, damage or sacrilege’ of four religious books, (Guru Granth Sahib, Koran, Bible and Geeta) ‘with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people’. This is the first time in independent India that a punishment usually given for willfully murdering another human being has been extended to the defilement of religious books.[13]


Pastor Rohit, Patiala, December 2022

“There is no fence, but God will be my fence”

Pastor Rohit’s (name changed) village is predominantly constituted of Ravidas Sikhs who are Dalit (Scheduled Castes) and other Sikhs from Other Backward Classes (OBC). Pastor Rohit’s family were once Ravidas Sikhs and used to believe in idol worship. He lost his parents at an early age, and his siblings had to manage and look after each other. A family of three brothers and one sister, they used to work in brick kilns, an extremely exploitative industry. Growing in abject poverty, the pastor developed boils on his body. He met a pastor and after he was blessed by the Lord, he was healed in a week. His whole family turned to Christian faith. In 1997, he was baptized and in 2003 he got involved in church planting.

He conducted his own ministry in a rented place. Most of the villagers come to the church to be released from evil spirits. More that 300-400 people have given up on addictions. There is a massive change in their nature and people have turned to the spiritual. Pastor Rohit says, “I have managed to bring about real, practical and material changes in peoples’ lives because of their faith in the Lord.” Since 2018, Ravidas Sikhs wanted to have their own village, so they formed their own village government (Panchayat) with about 150 families, comprising of about 500 votes for the Panchayat elections.  They wanted this separation so that their issues could be heard, and Government benefits could reach them directly. This village appointed its own village head (sarpanch). The pastor ran a small house church here where about 70-80 people would assemble on Sundays for mass. Pastor Rohit has spent close to 12-13 lakh rupees (approximately 15000 USD) on building the church, of which 4 lakhs [approximately 4800 USD] is in loans, and 4 lakhs is my personal savings [he sold one of two motorbikes gifted to him by believers], and 4 lakhs is contributions from my believers. This church is of the Pentecostal faith. Security and police come there to protect the pastor and the believers on Sundays. “We don’t want to close the church – because it gives a wrong message to the believers. My wife is also a pastor. Most of our believers are women as their husbands and sons have gone abroad for work.” Given that there were no history of antagonism between Sikhs and Christians, Pastor Rohit never thought that building a church in this village would be a risk. He would be proved wrong.

It is a fact that many people from Ravidas faith are moving to Christianity, simply because their lives have changed drastically – people are becoming more prosperous in their caste group, women are giving birth to healthy children, children have got access to better education, opportunities for earnings have increased, they have moved away from deadly addictions and illnesses. Now, in this village the Ravidas Sikhs complained to the police when they found out that the pastor had acquired land to construct a church. “I had already bought the land in 2021, the papers were in my name. The person who sold the land to me did not have any issue, but his brothers had raised opposition against such use of the land. They did not want me to construct a church. I started off with the main structure, only plastering and fencing was remaining to be completed. We focused more on the church, less on our home. Our house is 300 metres inside the main road, while the church is on the main road. They opposed further construction by complaining to the police and demanding a stay order.”

“Legally they could not get a stay order. This provoked them as they were confident,  they could stop the construction of the church but were not successful. So, on 1st December 2022, four people from my village broke into the church premises and pushed me around and beat me up. This was around 8 pm. They also cursed me and my believers and threatened me that I will not be allowed to complete the construction of this church.” False allegations of conversions (of paying people money for converting) against the pastor were raised. The pastor along with two believers went to file a complaint against his attackers. The police took note and while they were returning on the Pastor’s motorbike, a few bikes stopped them and beat them black and blue with lathis (long wooden sticks). He recalled, “They beat us and threw us in the fields nearby. We fell unconscious and were unable to seek help for a couple of hours. Slowly, we managed to get up and drag ourselves to the side of the road. We were in hospital for 15 days. They broke my believer’s hand as well. They were responding in anger that I complained to the police.”

They found much later that after Pastor Rohit had given his statement at 8 pm, his attackers had met with representatives of Waris Punjab De[14], a radical Sikh group that has gained a lot of followers in 2022 following the popular farmers protest in Punjab (and other parts of India) in 2020-21. Pastor Rohit suspects that his attackers’ interaction with members of Punjab Waris De encouraged them to act against him. The pastor and the believers were admitted to hospital and were recovering for over a week. Further, his bike was also completely destroyed by the attackers.

Two days after this incident, false news spread on social media accounts that the pastor was distributing Bibles and conducting conversions by paying people money. Even though the village head is related to the pastor, he spoke against the pastor confirming that he is converting people to Christian faith. This further tarnished the image of the pastor at the local level. The pastor’s wife and two sons have been living in fear ever since. Only one of the identified attackers have been arrested, the others have been roaming around freely in the village. In his ministry there are 45 families from nearby villages (including 15 families from the village in which the Church is built). Pastor Rohit was rueful as he said, “In retrospect, I feel that we were safer before we moved into a new village. We were respected by all caste and class groups there. When Ravidas Sikhs decided to come together and make a panchayat, it became more dangerous to have any kind of different beliefs or opinions. The irony is that we are all related, and relatives can prove to be more dangerous than strangers. There is a high chance that I could be distantly related to the people who attacked me and my believers who comprise of daily wage workers.” My wife and children, and believers are worried and are struck by fear after this incident.

Pastor Som (name changed) who run a house church in Khanna, a city in Ludhiana District, stated that “No one is interested in actually making this a religious issue, while it is. To throw the pastor’s Bibles and attack them without any reason or warning is a crime. That their Bibles were thrown into the field should have been a recorded fact, perhaps then the whole Christian community would stand by the pastor. It is a violation of Section 295 A [a section of the Indian Penal Code relating to hurting or insulting religious beliefs; ironically this section is used mostly by the police to file cases against Pastors for forced conversion]. It usually comes out as a personal matter or a family dispute and this does not account for violations against religious beliefs. We, as non-denominational Christians are in more danger and the police does not file the right charges on persecutors. Nobody has the right to go against someone religious beliefs in a secular country.  They filed Sections 323, 341, 427, 506, 148 and 149, all bailable offences against attackers. When our people go to the police, they are not aware of the law, or they are too intimidated by the system. Only unless these incidents are addressed as a violation of religious freedom, can we prove anything. In most of the FIRs I have seen, there is nothing officially on the record to prove that this was an attack on religious faith and belief. Besides, many of the attackers pay off Rs. 5000-10000/- [approximately 60 to 120 USD] and get away. It is very difficult to follow up cases like that of Pastor Rohit, because pastors like him are quite scared to pursue it.”

There were subsequent rumours to malign the image of Pastor Rohit – that he used foul language and forcibly converted people to Christianity. To convince the police otherwise, the attackers simply say that the Pastor dissuades people from going to the Gurudwara, the sacred place of worship for Sikhs. The police does not give credence to factual evidence from the pastor’s side and almost always takes the side of the attackers, hence the truth never comes out. “The Police, local government bodies and media are not on the side of the pastor. Everything operates like a business; you can close all matters with money. Even though the other party has no evidence to prove that anything is wrong, people and sometimes even our believers are too scared to support us,” confirmed Pastor Rohit.

In Punjab, the police have started sending security forces to most churches for Sunday service. This situation is unique to Punjab. On December 25th, 2022, and 1st January 2023, the Police sent six police personnel as security to Pastor Rohit’s house. But this does not necessarily guarantee safety of the pastor. Pastor Som also mentioned a recent incident in Tarn Taran, “People are not afraid of the police. Gangs have barged into a prayer meeting in police presence and have attacked the church and police.”  Due to increased violence, pastors across Punjab are sending letters and statements for security purposes. But so far, the only action that the authorities have taken is to provide security from the police force, but it clearly is not sufficient.

Even the one person who was arrested from the group who attacked Pastor Rohit, was arrested not because of this attack but because the same group had earlier attacked a non-Christian shop keeper for other reasons. The police had to act in order to prove that law and order prevails and in order to instil some fear in these attackers, the police arrested one of them to send a signal. The attackers are young between the age of 21-28, and identify as Sikh fundamentalists, who feel that their faith is threatened by Christians. As a way of protecting their faith, they are resorting to violence against those who are turning to other religions, especially those from their fold. There is a fear that in every village around 15-20 families specially from Dalit background are turning to Christianity.

In the case of Pastor Rohit, after the attack and after filing the complaint, 6-7 days later, the same attackers returned to attack him again when he gone to the market to buy vegetables. He was beaten by 4-5 people. Subsequently, the pastor complained again to the police but there was a counter complaint against him, about how the pastor cursed the perpetrators and was abusive about their religion. Given that there is no evidence, and the pastor is sole complainant against a group, the attack is neither considered as an act of violation, nor is it recorded as illegal by the police.

There is no unity between pastors, there is no one to support us, if we are in trouble. Even pastors are concerned about their own ministries, they are not thinking of the larger picture. There is zero support from the mainline churches. And Christians are a minority, for instance in my village of Ravidas Sikhs, the whole village is against the pastor. Our own caste group is against us. We had more support in the mixed village which consisted of all caste groups. We became a separate village, comprising mostly Ravidas Sikhs, from SC community as Government facilities were not reaching them. When there were about 500 votes from SC community, they chose to form a separate village in order to get better benefits from the State for their community. Only 15 families from these have turned to Christian faith. Many people here especially the youth have taken to following a really orthodox version of Sikh religion. Amritpal Singh’s [15]influence is spreading wide and far amongst the youth especially. Knife and addiction to drugs have become the language between people,” lamented Pastor Rohit.

Pastor Rohit has currently returned to Patiala with grace and courage. While there are several forms of threats surrounding him, his faith seems to be unshaken. He sums up by saying, “The truth is that I am not scared. I wanted to make my church and it actually happened. I feel the attackers have to feel ashamed and feel afraid, I am not doing anything wrong. I don’t ask my believers for donations, money, food. It will come to us on our own. The faith will carry us through. I strongly believe that Jesus will save me.”


Pastor Jasdeep, Ludhiana, December 2022

In a village in Ludhiana district resides a mixed community of about 250-300 families, of which approximately 20 families or about 100 people follow Christian faith. There is a large house church at the centre of the neighbourhood and the ministry comprises over 400 families from nearby villages. Pastor Jasdeep (name changed) and his family went carol singing on 20th December 2022, when a man randomly tried to attack the pastor. One of his believers came to protect the pastor, the attacker hit the head of the believer, tearing his right forehead apart. There was curses and threats, saying Christians are dirty, we will kill them. The attacker was intoxicated and was a neighbour of the believer. He had developed hatred towards Christianity since he used to witness rallies coming to their house. The pastor lives in his own house, but they went carol singing to a believer’s house whose house was on rent. As soon as the attack happened, the perpetrator ran back to his house and went into hiding. The police was informed immediately, and a police complaint was filed against the neighbour. But the police did not record the true statement and no charges were filed against him. He was arrested for a few hours for one night and subsequently released.

Monty (name changed) the believer who was attacked, after being discharged from the hospital decided to stay in the church for 10-15 days. The perpetrator passes by his house every day. There is fear in the air amongst believers after this incident. The police is not interested in taking this up seriously. They come, take photos and leave, to show that they are doing something but in reality, they are not providing any security for Christians. Monty is an e-rickshaw driver. With great difficulty he took a loan to get an e-auto and has a long way of repaying it back. Because of this attack he is unable to work for through December and January. There are five people in his home. “I am unable to work. The wound was quite deep and my head hurts intensely through the day. My mind is weak and I feel sleepy. But I know that the pastor will get us justice.”

Pastor Jasdeep’s wife stated, “This happened suddenly and unexpectedly. He could have killed all of us. The perpetrators are not afraid of the law as there is no action that the Government is taking. Amritpal Singh Sandhu [of WPD] is popular among the youth and they are taking his word literally, where people will now start coming and cutting off our limbs! Just like how the Mughals killed the Sikhs, they will kill the Christians. It is as brutal. So far, we have lived peacefully, but this incident has left a bitter taste in every way. The scary thing is that people in the neighbourhood support this violation. One or two shopkeepers said that it is good that the pastor feels threatened, because they are converting people. No one came forward to help us. They remained silent. They could have warned us. To date, they have not even apologized. They think that they have power over us, because they are Jat [dominant caste Sikh, although Jats are present in neighbouring states of North India too], and we are Dalit.”

Early this year in January 2023, in the evening during prayer meetings, a mob of 30 people from Bajrang Dal [a vigilante and radical right-wing group affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the RSS] came and said Jai Shri Ram [Hail Lord Ram]. 30 people came together. They tried to stop the prayer meeting. The police has not taken action against any of these people.


Pastor Sukhdeep, Amritsar, August 2022

Pastor Sukhdeep (name changed) runs a non-denominational Pentecostal ministry in a village close to Amritsar city. Approximately 500 people from different villages near Amritsar city gather on Sunday for the prayer service. Pastor Sukhdeep has his own YouTube channel and Facebook page, and he runs one of the biggest ministries for a house church. Most believers here are from the Dalit community, comprising of Majbi Sikhs and Saassi Sikhs. Several people from oppressed castes have been attracted to this church as they felt cured of emotional and psychological turmoil. In 2006, around 300 people gathered at his church and attacked the Pastor’s family and his congregation with stones, bricks, and weapons. There were no deaths, but the threat was clear that a church cannot be standing here. The police arrived later, and a compromise was forced between the parties by the police to settle the matter.

A group of 150 people came to give the first warning to Pastor Sukhdeep on 24th June 2022, threatening that there will be a direct attack against the pastor. They barged in and spread fake news about the meeting saying that they were converting people. On August 28, 2022, a healing session and prayer service was disrupted at 9 am. A mob of 300 people (roughly aged 20-40 years, but also including a few younger teenagers) gathered with swords and revolvers. They started beating the believers and had come determined to kill the pastor. The believers somehow managed to move him to one of the nearby houses. The mob found this house and kept beating at the door with swords. Christian leaders were immediately alerted and arrived just in time to protect the pastor. This attack on the believers went on non-stop for approximately four hours. They beat people with swords and started pulling off women’s veils and other clothing. Everything was destroyed – tables, chairs, sound system, mobile phones were snatched and crushed.

After the incident, many pastors from across Punjab arrived. Large number of police from Amritsar also gathered but they did not intervene further. A police complaint was filed late that night, but no action has been taken so far against any of the perpetrators. After the attack, the perpetrators made a video stating openly that they were here to kill the pastor. In the course of the attack, a 21-year-old young woman and a recent convert, was beaten to death. Her death was covered up and not reported. 300 believers stepped back and stopped coming to church after this incident. The family members of the young woman have chosen not to report the case. They feel ashamed that their attackers were Sikhs (this family was also Sikh before they converted to Christianity) and have decided to re-convert to Sikhism. Besides, the girl’s brothers is an addict and the family fears that if they take up the issue with the police, they will use the brother’s addiction to get them into trouble.

The media reported it as a clash between two religious’ groups, while it was a direct attack on Christians who were unarmed. “It was an organized communal riot. People became very vulnerable after this. We still have to conduct prayers for them on the mobile so that it gives them some support and assurance that the Lord is with us. In October 2022, more than 500 pastors and believers across Punjab, took out a protest in Amritsar, demanding for the arrest of these attackers. The slogan was [redacted] Village demands justice. The main roads were closed. Some media covered it, but nothing changed. Main line churches-maintained distance and disassociated with this incident,” said Pastor Baldeep (name changed), brother of Pastor Sukhdeep.

Due to the Sikh identity of the attackers, there was a risk that this incident would spiral into a full-blown political issue. The Christians leaders and other political parties negotiated with the Pastors to close the case. When the Pastors checked about hiring a lawyer, they found that there was no support from any groups after the incident occurred. At the moment the church runs from Pastor Sukhdeep’s house, where the service used to take place initially. While it is a huge risk, it has not stopped the believers from coming to church. One of the believers said, “On the 25th Of December 2022, we took a rally back to our village demanding for justice and also inviting other Christians to join us in our quest for justice. The rally was stopped midway by the same people who attacked us in August. We had to return, as they threatened to kill us. People, especially the Sikhs, have a vengeance against Christianity.”

Pastor Paul (name changed) who accompanied the group of pastors to file a police complaint emphasises that Christians’ rights are denied because of the cultural oppression and stigma that comes from belonging to an oppressed caste, “No one supported them through this phase. A lot was destroyed in the process. An advocate came but there was no cooperation from the people. It was a climate of fear where no one wanted to come forward to testify what had happened. A police complaint was filed at 1130 pm, but no one has been arrested to date. The Police too was requesting us to compromise. There is something else backing this up – power, influence, and money. Even Pentecostal and other Christian leaders who are not from mainline churches and who have come forwards to support us are also acting in an opportunistic way. These leaders seem to be in direct communication with the police, but they will not let our pastors meet with higher authorities to place their concerns. The real issue is that there will riots in Punjab if Sikhs are arrested. If there was real unity between pastors, we could have been in a better place. At the moment, most Christians, especially Dalits are afraid. Even though the law is on our side, we are culturally suppressed.”

Sikhism was never fundamentalist as a faith, rather it was always hidden, given that many people in Punjab went abroad to work. After Amritpal Singh Sandhu has taken over the leadership of Waris Punjab De (WPD), this outfit has been spreading hate between Sikhs, Hindus and Christians who previously enjoyed harmonious social relations[16]. These groups have become popular and have been openly displaying their disrespect and intolerance[17] for Christianity. Many who are addicted to drugs are also roped into WPD’s fundamentalism as money is promised to them. Specifically, they are concerned with how people who do not revere the religion continue to use the government benefits of being Scheduled Caste without changing their names. Because of a high level of unemployment, poverty has increased resulting in a high crime rate. It is no longer safer for children to be outside home after 6 pm. Desperation for money could lead to heinous crimes. Access to churches have become dangerous over the last six months, given that believers have to travel long distances.

The popularity of Amritpal Singh and his organisation WPD, along with their increasing attacks on Christians can only be attributed to the underlying history of caste-based discrimination, inequality, and oppression similar to many states in India. Given that Christian Dalits are not able to access the benefits of affirmative action or protection against atrocities under law, they are dependent on accessing development through their church that stands with them at all levels – from the spiritual to the material. It is this development of the Dalits that is not acceptable to the dominant caste groups. Political parties have failed to provide any sense of development for the unemployed, the poor and the oppressed. As a result, millions of young people in Punjab are faced with hard choices – religious fundamentalism and/or separatism, migration, drug use. Unlike Hindu majority states, a key factor for persecution of Christians is the impunity provided to the perpetrators from the Sikh community. While in one case the perpetrators were Jat Sikhs who are relatively elite compared to OBC and Dalit Sikhs, two of the cases mentioned have Ravidasia Sikhs acting as perpetrators. Caught in the ideology of aspirational Sikhism peddled by WPD and many others, it is evident that Ravidasia Sikhs are unfortunately going back on the teachings of their guru, Ravidas and instead turning on their fellow Ravidasias who have converted to Christianity. The persecution of Christians has spiked very recently (from mid or late 2022) and is increasing rapidly because the government of Punjab (whether it is the Congress governments of past or the current Aam Admi Party led government) are hesitant to protect religious minorities or potentially offend Sikhs. As the BJP’s bran of Hindu nationalism becomes more visible and authoritarian across the states of India, the majority population of Sikhs in Punjab may well decide to support organisations like WPD that emulate the BJP’s authoritarian tactics.



[1] https://niti.gov.in/planningcommission.gov.in/docs/plans/stateplan/sdr_punjab/sdrpun_ch1.pdf

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/358722431_Political_and_Electoral_Dynamics_in_Punjab

[3] Ravidasia Sikhs are followers of Ravidas, a mystic and poet in the 15th-16th century (exact date of birth is a matter of historical debate). Ravidas was born in what is now Uttar Pradesh and comes from a Dalit community that works with leather. Outside Punjab in most north Indian states, the caste is referred to as Chamar. His devotional verses are included in the Guru Granth Sahib and his teachings preach against caste based discrimination and for equality in the spiritual and material domains of life. In 2009, the then Guru of Ravidasis, Niranjan Das and his deputy were attacked by orthodox Sikh militants. While Guru Niranjas Das managed to survive, his deputy Ramanand Das succumbed. Following this attack, Ravidasias in India and the diaspora have broken off from Sikhism and practising Ravidasia as a separate religion, although in Punjab there are Ravidasias who still believe themselves to be part of Sikhism.

[4] https://indianexpress.com/elections/punjab-election-christians-dalit-identities-7763265/


[6] https://scroll.in/article/970613/for-70-years-dalits-have-been-denied-freedom-of-religion-through-a-presidential-order

[7] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/punjabs-tryst-with-destiny-3099537/

[8] After famines in 1964-66 that led to shortfall of foodgrains, the Indian government under Indira Gandhi became receptive to American modernisation of agriculture through mechanisation, high yield varieties of seeds and extensive of use of fertilisers and pesticides. The objective was to increase the food production capacity dramatically in order to meet the shortfall. The state of Punjab became the main success story of the ‘Green Revolution’ with increased production of wheat and increased income for large landowning farmers in the 1970s.

[9] https://punjab.global.ucsb.edu/sites/default/files/sitefiles/4-Sekhon%20%26%20Singh%20FINAL%2022.1.pdf

[10] https://www.jstor.org/stable/41421658?read-now=1&oauth_data=eyJlbWFpbCI6ImFsZXhAbWFyYWEuaW4iLCJpbnN0aXR1dGlvbklkcyI6W119&seq=10#metadata_info_tab_contents

[11] https://thewire.in/politics/punjab-elections-political-churning

[12] https://punjab.global.ucsb.edu/sites/secure.lsit.ucsb.edu.gisp.d7_sp/files/sitefiles/journals/volume16/no1/2-John%20Webster16.1.pdf

[13] https://cjp.org.in/punjab-blasphemy-law-unconstitutional-and-undemocratic/

[14] Waris Punjab De literally translates to Heirs of Punjab. The organisation was started in 2021 by Sandeep Singh Sidhu (also called as Deep Sidhu) a Sikh activist and popular film actor. He was an active participant in the 2020 farmers protest against the regressive farm laws passed by the Modi government. His experiences in the protest led him to start Waris Punjab De in 2021 – as a progressive movement for the youth of Punjab to move away from drugs, reduce migration overseas and revitalise belief in the core values of Sikhism. Deep Sidhu died in an accident in February 2022. After his death, his organisation Waris Punjab De was taken over by Amritpal Singh Sandhu (a dominant caste Sikh) who till then had been living in Dubai for a decade. He came to India in September 2022 and took charge of Waris Punjab De. Unlike Deep Sidhu, Amritpal Singh and his followers have been extremely aggressive against religious minorities and advocated not only a return to orthodox Sikhism but also has advocated for Khalistan, i.e., the separation of Punjab from India in favour of a separate nation called Khalistan.

[15] https://caravanmagazine.in/politics/amritpal-waris-punjab-de-khalistan-ajnala-bhindranwale

[16] https://hindupost.in/crime/amritpal-led-khalistani-outfit-behind-sudhir-suris-killing-red-alert-in-punjab/

[17] https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/jalandhar/christians-protest-sikh-preacher-jalandhar-8214835/


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