A fact-finding mission to India’s Kashmir Valley found that Muslim leaders’ increasingly shrill opposition to conversions has instilled fear among the Christian minority, which has been threatened as Christmas nears.

Christians in Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s northern-most state of Jammu and Kashmir, are “really scared,” said Dr. John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council and part of the fact-finding team. “Christian men, women and children are in a state of panic, fearful of their security, uncertain of the future, uncertain of their jobs.”

The Rev. Chander Mani Khanna, pastor of All Saints Church in Srinagar, was arrested on Nov. 19 on charges of hurting religious sentiments of Muslims after several youths were baptized; he was released on bail on Dec. 1. But the pastor of the Church of North India denomination, who is due to retire early next year, may never be able to go back to his church due to security concerns, Dayal said.

“There may be no proper celebration of Christmas in the church if the bishop does not send a new priest immediately,” he added. “The church [in Srinagar] needs to get its act together in how it faces such religio-political persecution.”

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