There were almost as many incidents in which Christians were threatened, reported and harassed in India in the first six months of 2017 than in the whole of 2016, according data from persecuted church advocacy Open Doors.

Figures published by World Watch Monitor show that Indian Christians were harassed, threatened or attacked for their faith in 410 reported incidents during the first six months of the year compared to 441 for the whole of 2016.

The data, which is being used in the compilation of the World Watch List - an annual ranking of the 50 most difficult countries for Christians to live in, includes two killings and 84 incidents of violent assault including 32 in which it is believed death would have resulted had timely medical aid not been provided.

The statistics also show that in 37 incidents, victims were socially boycotted - or threatened with it - by Hindu villagers if they didn’t change their religion back to Hinduism while in a further 34 incidents, victims were reportedly forced to leave their homes since they didn’t want to leave Christianity. In 14 of these cases, the victims had to leave their village or city.

World Watch Monitor reports analysts saying that the increase in incidents of persecution has never occurred at such a great rate.

An Open Doors spokesman described the trend as "alarming".

“Hindunisation of India continues to be the main reason for the increase of persecution of Christians in India," he said. "If it continues to be forced, violence against Christians and other minorities will increase too."

“India used to be an example of religious freedom and tolerance. We call upon India and the international community to do everything in their power to protect millions persecuted because of their faith. Hate campaigns should stop and police should act against anyone who harms another because of his or her faith.”

Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), which represents 14 million Protestant and Orthodox Christians, said in an open letter to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month that they were “exasperated” that “state and central governments are not taking severe action against the different expressions of vigilantism,” adding that “mere words of condemnation are not enough”.

And 101 Indian Christian intellectuals have signed an open letter to the country's Catholic bishops, expressing concern about the country’s move away from secular democracy to Hindu nationalism, and the consequent undermining of the country’s constitution, urging them to join the struggle to protect constitutional values. “The political process taking shape today is against every fundamental humane and constitutional principle of equality and dignity of every Indian...Indeed it is evil,” the letter said.

The intellectuals point to collusion of the state in acts of violence on minorities. “Official machinery often seems to be working in tandem with the vigilantes. Street lynching, victims charged as accused, stage-managed trials; all on the basis of religious and caste identities. The Church needs to act before it is too late,” the letter urged.

India’s Catholic bishops are encouraging all Christians in India to mark 10th August as a “black day” to highlight discrimination suffered by Dalit Christians in India for 67 years.

On that day in 1950 the president signed a constitutional order saying only Hindus could be considered a member of the “scheduled” caste (that is, disadvantaged people, referred to as Dalits in most Indian states), and so allowing only Hindus access to constitutional benefits, such as jobs given through a process of positive discrimination. The order has since been modified to include Sikhs and Buddhists, but not Christians and Muslims.

- with World Watch Monitor