India tightens Christmas security after Christians attacked

A man dressed as Santa Claus distributes sweets to the devotees after the Christmas prayers at a Church in Gauhati, India, Monday, Dec. 25, 2017. Though the Hindus and Muslims comprise majority of the population in India, Christmas is a national holiday celebrated with much fanfare. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
An Indian priest carries idol of baby Jesus to be kept in the crib after midnight Christmas mass at Saint Joseph's Cathedral on the Christmas eve in Lucknow, India, Monday, Dec. 25, 2017. Though the Hindus and Muslims comprise majority of the population in India, Christmas is a national holiday celebrated with much fanfare. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
An Indian Christian boy, left, confesses to a priest before the Christmas prayer at a Church in Gauhati, India, Monday, Dec. 25, 2017. Though the Hindus and Muslims comprise majority of the population in India, Christmas is a national holiday celebrated with much fanfare. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

NEW DELHI — Christians and others in India celebrated Christmas despite fears of an anti-Christian backlash in some parts of the predominantly Hindu country.

The Indian government asked states to increase security for Christmas celebrations this year after recent isolated attacks on Christians in northern India. No new incidents had been reported as of late Monday.

Vigilante groups have targeted Muslims since a Hindu nationalist party came to power in India in 2014. Some Christian leaders fear the attacks may now be spreading to their community.

"The poison of polarization has now made Christians also a target," said Madhu Chandra, the administrator of the All India Christian Council, a national alliance that works for religious freedom and the rights of marginalized people.

Earlier this month, members of a militant Hindu group allegedly beat up a group of Catholic seminarians and priests in Madhya Pradesh state.

Police arrested one member of the group, but also a priest, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. The priest was charged with forced religious conversion, an accusation frequently leveled against Christians in India.

In Uttar Pradesh state, an extremist Hindu organization warned schools in the city of Aligarh against holding Christmas festivities. State police were put on alert to ensure that festivities went on without incident, Indian media reported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party doesn't condone the violence against Muslims, Christians and others, but activists say it needs to do more to stop it.

"It is not enough anymore for political leaders and government leaders to make a statement against it, because the fringe is now becoming mainstream," Chandra said. "They are beginning to dominate the narrative."

Christians are a small minority in India, where Hindus make up 80 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people, and Muslims another 14 percent.

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