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Fear of Hindu Extremist Violence Ends Christianity in Village in Northern India

(Morning Star News) – The gruesome beating of a pastor’s family in northern India last month showed why a woman who was once Christian returned to Hinduism – and joined the mob attacking them.

“I was among the crowd abusing and accusing the Christian family,” the 30-year-old mother, whose name is withheld for security reasons, told Morning Star News.

Led by Hindu extremists in Udham Singh Nagar District in Uttarakhand state, a mob of 60 to 70 mainly female villagers assaulted 28-year-old pastor Sawan Pol’s father, mother, wife and 10-year-old brother in Bagwala village, near the city of Rudrapur, sources said. The pastor’s wife was holding their 6-month-old son during the assault.

Pastor Pol, who was away on ministry visits during the Nov. 8 attack on his home, said the assailants kicked his young brother in the groin.

“Some men were wearing boots – they kicked my little brother on his private parts with the boots on their feet and injured him so badly that he still cries with severe pain every time he urinates,” Pastor Pol said.

His father, 48-year-old Shyama Prasad, sustained internal injuries to his chest, knee, hands and legs and has pain throughout his body, he said.

“They beat my father, mother and wife in such a way that they would not profusely bleed,” Pastor Pol said. “They have sustained much internal injury. My father and mother are unable to walk. My father is not able to breath normally after he was beaten on his chest.”

Injured leg of Shyama Prasad, father of pastor Sawan Pol in Bagwala village, Uttarakhand state, India. (Morning Star News)

Though about 10 men were among the assailants, initially most of the attackers were women in order to discourage the pastor’s father from fighting back, he said.

“They knew my father would never resist attack by women, knowing well that the crowd would blame him for attempting to compromise a woman’s dignity if he tried to resist,” Pastor Pol told Morning Star News. “Two men caught hold of him while the women attacked him with hands and wooden sticks. My brother was begging the assaulters to leave my father alone, but to no avail.”

The mob then turned to Pastor Pol’s mother and wife, according to the former Christian woman.

“The mob dragged Pastor Sawan’s mother and wife and assaulted them by slapping them with bare hands and sticks,” she said.

She said she feared for her own safety and that of her family if she did not join the mob, but that she could not obey the other women’s calls for her to strike the Christians.

“Not even one woman was left who did not step forward and slap the family,” she said. “After knowing how pious and helpful the family has been not only to me but also to the entire village, I just could not hit them on their face – although I joined the mob to abuse the family, to save my own skin.”

She said she became a Christian and was baptized a few years ago after experiencing several miracles and answers to prayer, but that she grew afraid when a Hindu “holy man,” or Baba, arrived in the village about a year ago. He summoned every woman in the village and demanded that they pay him 5,000 to 10,000 rupees (US$70 to US$140) each or he would harm them and their families with black magic, she said.

“He performed some black magic, threatened us and ordered us to continue to visit him and revere him by touching his feet,” she told Morning Star News. “And all the women of the village have been regularly doing as he says.”

Before his arrival, there were 15 Christian families in Bagwala village, she said.

“All the Christian families, for fear of the Baba, returned to the Hindu faith,” she said. “He threatened me with fatal consequences if I ever went to church again. Baba said that he would harm my children using his black magic, and at no cost can I risk my children’s lives. I am very scared for the safety of my family, and I asked my husband as well to stop going to church.”

She said she knew that the Hindu “holy man” was a fraud, but that she would not risk him and his followers attacking her family as they did Pastor Pol’s family.

“This is the fate of those who will not submit to Baba,” she said. “If I would have resisted, I would undergo the same fate as that of Pastor Pol.”

The followers of the Hindu Baba have spread word throughout the village that no one should attend church services if they wish to safeguard their families, she added.

Police Inaction

In the two-hour assault, the former Christian said, the mob dragged Pastor Pol’s mother and wife and struck them, with his wife shielding their infant son from the blows.

“To save her son, she ran to a corner and hid him in her arms with her back taking all the beatings,” the mob member said.

Pastor Pol’s mother somehow escaped and shut herself in a room; the mob pounded the door with bricks, stones and wooden sticks, trying to break it open and assault her, the former Christian said.

“The mob accused the family of being Christian and carrying out forced conversions as they hit them,” she said, acknowledging, “all their allegations are false and fabricated stories.”

Pastor Pol said his young brother was traumatized.

“My brother was begging the assaulters to leave my father alone, but to no avail,” Pastor Pol said. “My house was completely vandalized when I reached home, and I was devastated to see my father, mother, wife and brother.”

He took his father 19 kilometers (11 miles) to Bilaspur, Uttar Pradesh state, for treatment. Prasad, his father, submitted a complaint at the Rudrapur police station that day, but police did not register a case, Pastor Pol said.

“The police came to our village and spoke to the head man of the village,” he said. “The head man hushed up the case by convincing the police in-charge that he will mediate and strike a compromise between the two groups [attackers and the victims]. So the police did not take any action.”

Pastor Pol later went to the police station to insist on registering a complaint, but the station chief said he would require not only the full names of the assailants but also their parents’ names, as well as their addresses.

“How can I know their mothers’ and fathers’ names and their correct addresses?” Pastor Pol said. “This is a way of demotivating me to pursue the case.”

Without money to hire a lawyer to move the case forward, he said he decided to take it no further with police.

Unwilling to Abandon Christ, Village

Heading an independent church called Jesus’ Followers’ Holy Gathering (Yeshu Bhakat Pavitra Sabha, or YBPS), Pastor Pol said his family has been facing threats for the past year.

His young brother is regularly bullied and threatened at school, he said.

“‘You are Christians, we will not let you settle here,’ is often what he hears while on his way to school,” the pastor said. “If I was alone, I would not fear – even if they cut me to pieces, I would not fear. But I am fearful for my family. Mine is the only Christian family left in the village, everybody else has chosen to leave Christ due to fear.”

He has been forced to stop gatherings in Bagwala, but he continues to lead worship services at nearby villages, he said.

“I cannot leave Christ, nor can I leave the village and go – they [Hindus] will say that we have fled due to fear,” he said. “If I leave, someone else will come [to lead services], but opposition will be strengthened to persecute this new pastor more.”

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Falsely Accused of Killing Hindu Leader in India, Five Christians Ordered To Be Freed

Journalist Anto Akkara on Indian TV program The Wire (Screenshot from YouTube)

(Morning Star News) – After spending 11 years behind bars for a murder they did not commit, five Christians in eastern India were finally ordered to be freed on Tuesday (Nov. 26), sources said.

The Supreme Court of India issued a decision granting bail to the five Christians from Odisha (formerly Orissa) state falsely accused of killing Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, whose death on Aug. 23, 2008 in Kandhamal District touched off anti-Christian attacks that killed 120 people, destroyed nearly 6,000 homes and displaced 55,000 Christians.

The five Christians remained in jail at this writing. One of the five Christians granted bail this week is reportedly mentally challenged. Because the Supreme Court issued the release on bail, the five Christians and two others freed earlier this year do not have to return unless the high court itself so orders.

“I am really happy that all of them are granted bail,” attorney Anupradha Singh, who represented the Christians, told Morning Star News. “The Honorable Judges granted the bail on the grounds that they have spent over 10 years in jail. Their behavior in the jail was also good, and the same was noted.”

Journalist Anto Akkara, who has been anchoring an online signature campaign at www.release7innocents.com since March 2016, was also elated.

“This is a big victory for truth and justice for Kandhamal,” Akkara, author of “Who Killed Swami Laxmamananda?” told Morning Star News. “I am thrilled.”

Buddhadev Nayak, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Durjo Sunamajhi, Sanatan Badamajhi and Munda Badamajhi were convicted in 2008. They were arrested by December 2008 along with Gornath Chalanseth and Bijaya Sanaseth, who were also convicted but managed to obtain bail in May and July respectively.

Christian leaders and activists have long maintained that the seven Christians were framed and falsely accused, and that the charge against the mentally challenged Badamajhi typified the absurdity of the charges.

“Considering the fact that the accused-appellant(s) had already undergone 10 years of their sentence as is the case of other accused directed to be released on bail, and taking an overall view of the matter, we are of the opinion that the above-named accused- appellant(s) should also be released on bail on such conditions as may be imposed by the learned Additional Sessions Judge, Phulbani in S.T. No. 16/18 of 2013-2009,” Supreme Court Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari wrote in their ruling.

The Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), said the legal fight does not end with the granting of bail to the seven accused Christians.

“This is just the first step,” Lal told Morning Star News. “The case still has to be fought at the High Court in Odisha.”

At the same time, Lal said he was glad that the Christians will be able to celebrate Christmas with their families.

“This is like a Christmas gift for them,” he said. “We are very grateful to the Human Rights Law Network, to the Bhubaneswar Cuttack Archdiocese, to [the United Christian Forum’s] John Dayal, ADF [legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom] and to everyone who contributed to securing this first step to their freedom. Special mention should be made of journalist Anto Akkara, who continued to create awareness about this case.”

Attorney Anupradha Singh echoed the sentiment that the quest for justice remains.

“This is a small success because the case is still pending at the High Court,” she told Morning Star News. “We will diligently fight the matter in the High Court.”

Spurious Case

The Reb. Dibya Paricha, a Catholic priest and an attorney based in Odisha state who has coordinated legal matters for the seven Christians, said he was hopeful that they will win acquittal from the High Court.

“They should not have been detained for so many years,” Paricha told Morning Star News. “Politics should not have been involved but, unfortunately, it was. We must understand that people’s lives and liberty are more important. I know personally that they are innocent.”

Attorney Bibhu Dutta Das, who has played an active role in legal matters following the anti-Christian violence in 2007 and 2008, said the accusations lack substance.

“There is no direct evidence against them,” Das told Morning Star News. “Their conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, and it is necessary that the chain of circumstantial evidence be established for conviction, but in this case, it was not so.”

Journalist Akkara expressed his frustration over the lagging legal process.

“Last week the Supreme Court observed that the constitution will lose importance if fundamental rights are not protected,” he told Morning Star News. “When I heard this, I asked myself what this meant for the seven innocents of Kandhamal. It was a shame that those people were still in jail for all those years. I see the bails as a silver lining, and it seems that now we are coming to the edge of the tunnel, towards freedom and truth.”

False Arrests

Hindu extremist leader Saraswati, widely believed to have encouraged violence on Christmas Eve 2007 that damaged 53 church buildings and 700 houses, was killed along with five of his disciples by a mob of armed gunmen at his ashram in Jalespeta, Tumudibandha in 2008. Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda took responsibility for the attack, but Hindu nationalist leaders led by Pravin Togadia alleged a Christian conspiracy.

Togadia marched with the body of Saraswati for 160 kilometers (100 miles) along predominantly Christian areas in order to provoke violence. The ensuing attacks on Christians’ homes and destruction with explosives of church buildings sent thousands of people into the forests.

Soon after Saraswati’s death, the police arrested and detained four Christians, including a 13-year-old boy. The four Christians were reportedly brought to the police station by members of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Togadia, the VHP leader, reportedly announced the names of the arrested Christians arrested before the police could.

The Christians were detained for more than 40 days before police let them go for lack of evidence. Later, however, police proceeded to arrest the seven Christians as scapegoats.

“The first batch of ‘Christian killers’ – four of them were beaten up and dumped in police stations by Sangh Parivar – were later set free by the police after 40 days of investigation,” said Akkara, who also produced a documentary, “Innocents Imprisoned,” on the 10th anniversary of Kandhamal in August 2018. “It was after their release, the seven innocents were arrested in two batches in October and December 2008 from the remote Kotagarh jungle area.”

The seven Christians were convicted of murder, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly and rioting by Additional District and Sessions Judge Rajendra Kumar Tosh on Sept. 30, 2013. Two prior judges presiding over the trial were transferred before Tosh heard the case and delivered the verdict.

Appeals against the judgment from the District and Sessions Court have dragged on since then. Their bail applications were denied, forcing them to appeal to the Supreme Court of India.

“We requested the judges in the High Court again and again, and the matter was listed many times, but was never heard,” attorney Das told Morning Star News. “Finally, when it came to the court of Justice Misra, he said that he will neither hear the case nor will he grant bail and thus rejected the bail applications. So, we had no other option but to come to the Supreme Court.”

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Police, Extremists Use Clampdown in Jammu and Kashmir, India to Thwart Christians

Protesters flee police tear gas directed at Kashmiris protesting India’s revocation of Jammu and Kashmir state’s special status in August 2019. (Morning Star News)

India (Morning Star News) – Heavy-handed revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and statehood by the government of India three months ago has led to measures used against Christians, sources said.

The government on Aug. 5 revoked the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir state in 1949 that allowed it to have its own constitution. By thus abrogating Article 370 and Article 35A of India’s constitution, the government set back separatist movements within the Muslim-majority state while ushering in security measures that make it nearly impossible for Christian congregations to meet.

Besides cutting off all communications and Internet access and imposing a curfew to forestall an uprising against the measure, the government prevented assembly by issuing an order, Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Effective on Aug. 5 in Srinigar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, and in Jammu on Nov. 9, Section 144 prohibits assembling of four or more people, with those violating it subject to charges of rioting.

Besides thousands of security forces sent to the area, Hindu extremists have used the order to prevent Christians from meeting for worship, sources said. Based on Section 144, police took pastor Mohan Lal Kaith of the Ranbir Singh Pora (R.S. Pora) area in Jammu District into police custody on Nov. 10 as he led Sunday worship at a congregation member’s home.

Police took him into custody on both Nov. 10 and Nov. 11, releasing him each evening at 6 p.m. after spending the day threatening and intimidating him, he said. Police told him that Section 144 prohibited his congregation from meeting.

“I asked them, ‘If Hindu temples, Gurdwaras [Sikh temples] and mosques, and pujas [Hindu worship] can take place despite the imposition of Section 144, why not Christian prayers? It is the norm, Christians gather and worship on Sundays across the world. Why are you targeting me alone?’” Pastor Kaith said. “But the SHO [Station House Officer] was very angry, and he asked me to plead with the Ram Sevaks [worshippers of Ram] and [Hindu extremist] Bajrang Dal activists for forgiveness, and that I was wrong to question him. I told them, ‘All right Sir, I didn’t know that Section 144 was imposed. Please forgive me.’”

A large mob gathered outside the police station. Relatives present, fearful that the mob might target his small children, begged police and Hindu extremists to free him, the pastor said.

“The Station House Officer of R.S. Pora police station hurled abuses at me that I am a baba [religious guru] in the making, and that I have no idea that he can trap me into a huge case from which I can never get out of,” Pastor Kaith told Morning Star News.

The station officer continued threatening him, telling him repeatedly that he was wrong to lead Christian worship, and that cases against him had already been filed, the pastor said.

“Then I told him that, ‘I have not violated the Indian Constitution, and I abide by every word written in it as framed by its makers. If still you see fault in me, it is fine – you can forcefully frame me in any case that would incriminate me for sharing about Christ, but I will not stop,’” Pastor Kaith told Morning Star News.

He said he had decided to face whatever consequences might follow. The Bajrang Dal and Ram Sevaks had been threatening him three months before the Section 144 order, he added.

“They threatened me and closed down the worship service in my own house, and then in two other areas in the homes of believers,” he said. “How far can they go to stop us from praying and worshipping together? Some of the new believers come to church for healing or for blessings, and when they see opposition from outside, they backslide and don’t turn up again.”

A remnant gathering remains, and they are praying that they would grow stronger in faith, he said.

Pastor Kaith said he has received scores of threats in text messages in the Hindi language over the past six months.

“Every few minutes I received a message that the Bajrang Dal and Ram Sevaks are aware of where I am, and that they are observing me closely, and that I should preach about Hindu gods while sharing about Christ, and that if I failed to do so they would punish me with death,” he said. “The neighbors in the village keep watch on me, and if they see me going out for prayer, immediately the message passes on, and a mob of Ram Sevaks and Bajrang Dal reach there to disrupt the prayer service. They use filthy language, so that we can never have a proper dialogue with them.”

Police filed cases against Pastor Kaith under sections 107 and 117 of the Criminal Procedure Code, suspicion of committing a breach of peace. He has been ordered to appear before a judge on Dec. 9.

Religious Freedom ‘Getting Worse’

The former state of Jammu and Kashmir has a Christian population of 0.28 percent according to the 2011 census, while Muslims make up 68.3 percent and Hindus 28.4 percent of the total 12.5 million population.

Since the repeal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, the state has been divided into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir in the west, and Ladakh in the east, effective Oct. 31.

“It has always been difficult for missionaries and pastors to serve in Jammu and Kashmir region, but the latest move taken by the Indian government abrogating Article 370 has stirred the anger of dominant Islamic community,” pastor Vishnu Dev, based in Punjab state’s Ludhiana District, told Morning Star News.

Islamist Kashmiri separatists and other Islamic extremists groups have also threatened and attacked civilians, hoping to sow chaos in response to the federal clampdown, and Christians are gripped by fear of violence, sources said.

On a recent visit to churches enduring persecution in Jammu and Kashmir Territory, Pastor Dev told Morning Star News that he was shocked to see that Sunday worships took place in secret.

“At the most, five families would gather in a house and would pray in secret. Microphones and large congregations have disappeared,” he told Morning Star News. “It is saddening that the religious freedom situation for Christians in the valley is only getting worse.”

He said Srinagar-based pastor Lance Thomas and his wife are under constant surveillance.

“They have been ministering in Srinagar and other areas of the Kashmir Valley in the toughest times now – they visit believers’ homes and worship inside their homes with Christian families,” Pastor Dev said. “Their movements are closely under the watch by police officials as well as religious extremists in the area.”

Communications Blackout

Ahead of the repeal of the state’s special status, the central government cut all communication lines and placed political leaders under house arrest to try to head off opposition protests, which have erupted sporadically.

As a result, the region has been without Internet service for more than 105 days.

Srinagar-based Pastor Thomas said both his phone numbers are tapped by government officials.

“I can’t communicate much over the phone right now, and because of the Internet clamp down, it would be very difficult to write an email also, as only one government cyber-café is open,” Pastor Thomas told Morning Star News.

Pastor Jeewer Joeswa of Rajouri District said he also has been hampered.

“In Kashmir Valley, the curfew is still on,” he told Morning Star News. “There are very few churches in the region, and nowhere will you find open worship as a congregation. All Sunday gatherings are done secretly inside a Christian’s home, hiding from the police and neighbors.”

The communications blackout has also been problematic, he said.

“It was a total blackout – we had no access to phone lines or Internet when the government was deciding to abrogate Article 370,” he told Morning Star News. “The connections were restored in Jammu Region in a couple of days, but Srinagar still suffers an Internet clampdown, and we could not reach our pastors and Christians there for weeks.”

Pastor’s Eardrums Injured

In the Jewel area of Jammu, Hindu nationalists seized a pastor from a house-church worship service on Oct. 6 and took him to a neighboring village, where they badgered him with questions and beat him, damaging his eardrums, he said.

Initially two men took him from the service he was leading, pastor Packiya Raj said.

“A mob of 25 strongmen joined the two persons, and they forcefully boarded me in a vehicle and took me to a garage and then to a village nearby,” Pastor Raj told Morning Star News. “They started badgering, ‘Tell us, how many more like you are in Jammu? How many believers did you get here? What are you doing in Hindus’ houses? Where are your believers and pastors, tell us their address?’”

They beat him as they questioned him, he said. After beating him further, they left him at the Domala police station, he said.

“The police didn’t help me, and they told me that prayers should be done inside a church and not at home,” Pastor Raj said. “The police officials told me that it is my mistake that I have gone to someone’s house, and the local people are angered. It is a very natural reaction, they said.”

Pastors from neighboring areas arrived at the police station within about a half hour. They asked officers to file a case against the assailants, who had falsely accused Pastor Raj of adultery, he said.

“They [Hindu extremists] told the police, ‘There were six to seven ladies in the house. We don’t know what this fellow was doing inside,’” he said. “They tried falsely to book a stronger case against me, but by God’s grace my wife and son also reached there, and police didn’t pay heed to these allegations.”

Over the following three days he suffered severe body pains, including pain in his ears, he said.

“The doctors told me that both my eardrums were damaged, and that I should undergo an operation,” Pastor Raj said. “By God’s grace, both the operations were successful.”

He declined to register cases against the attackers, who remain poised to accuse him of assembling for worship in a home, though apart from Section 144 as implemented in the region, home worship is not illegal in India.

“I live in a rental house here, and it is not safe as the people connected to the assailants also live very close by, and I am constantly under watch,” he said. “If I speak any louder, they can hear me.”

Originally from Tirunelveli District in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state, Pastor Raj and his wife, Rajakani, had a strong desire to serve among those who have never heard of Christ, he said.

“I was working as an assistant pastor in Chennai when I received the confirmation from the Lord that I should serve the unreached in Jammu and Kashmir. We immediately obeyed and moved to Jammu with our son, who was 1-year-old then,” he said. “After much toil, we now have four to five families in each village. Even among the neighboring houses, there would be at least one person who has heard of Christ and desires to come to Him but is afraid, because of their families and the presence of Hindu extremists in their area.”

In September 2018, while distributing gospel tracts in Amb Grota and Nagbani villages, Hindu extremist Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS) members chased them away, threatening to kill them if they see them again in those areas, Rajakani said.

Elesh Prabhu Vasave, secretary of the Friends Mission Prayer Band of Jammu and Kashmir region, requested prayers for peace to return to Kashmir, and for safety of pastors and missionaries serving in regions stripped off of Internet and phone service.

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

U.S. Pastor Stranded in India after Arrest on Declarations Charge

India (Morning Star News) – A U.S. pastor attending a Sunday School conference in India is stranded in the country after he was arrested for failing to report money he was carrying.

Pastor Bryan Nerren, 58, was traveling to Sikkim state in northeastern India for a Sunday school conference along with two U.S. pastors on Oct. 5 when they were detained at the Bagdogra airport, the closest airport to Sikkim. While the other two pastors were let go, Pastor Nerren was arrested when authorities alleged that he had violated the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and the Customs Act by not declaring the cash that he was carrying for his trip and for conferences in India and Nepal.

“They showed me an email from the Delhi office directing them to detain and arrest me for breaking the law,” Pastor Nerren told Morning Star News. “I told them repeatedly that no one has told me that I need to declare this money. Not even the customs people [in Delhi] who interrogated us.

“I also told them that so far I have not stepped out of the airport onto Indian soil, and that I can go back to Delhi, fill in the necessary forms and come back to Bagdogra, or I can fill the forms right here, but they did not listen. They did not even deport me, but arrested me.”

Pastor Nerren was scheduled to visit Sikkim for four days and then go to Nepal for another nine days, but following his release on bail on Oct. 11 he is awaiting trial in Siliguri, a border city in the state of West Bengal, India. The Siliguri Civil and Criminal Court imposed a travel ban on him and confiscated his passport and travel money on Oct. 6.

Foreign nationals bringing foreign currency into India over a prescribed limit are required to fill in a form to declare it. If the value of the foreign exchange in the form of currency notes, bank notes or travelers cheques exceeds US$10,000, or its equivalent and/or the value of foreign currency notes exceeds US$5,000 or its equivalent, a form has to be filled to declare it.

The three U.S. pastors had arrived in Delhi, India in the early morning of Oct. 5 at around 1:30 a.m. by KLM from Amsterdam and had proceeded to obtain visas on arrival.

“I was not given any form by KLM in the incoming flight to Delhi that spelled out that I had to declare the currency I was bringing in,” Pastor Nerren told Morning Star News. “No one questioned us while we cleared immigration.”

After clearing immigration, Pastor Nerren was detained by customs officials who, during a security check for his connecting flight to Bagdogra, discovered the money that he was carrying for the conference and their trip.

“They detained us till after 4 a.m. and questioned me about the money I was carrying in my backpack and some in my travel pouch. I was not hiding that money nor concealing it,” he said. “Three investigators asked me questions for over an hour. They also questioned us separately. They asked me if I was a Christian and I answered in affirmative. They asked me the reason for carrying the money, and I truthfully answered that it was for a children’s conference and for my Nepal trip. Then they asked me if the conference was for Christians or Hindus and I told them that it would be a Christian conference.”

After questioning Pastor Nerren and the two others, the investigators cleared them and allowed them to board their flight to Bagdogra, he said.

“The investigator told me that he was convinced by the answers that I had given, and that we were free to go to Bagdogra. They shook our hands, smiled and let us go,” he said.

On landing at Bagdogra airport, however, two customs officials carrying Pastor Nerren’s photograph on their phones detained him, he said. They confiscated his passport and the travel money, arrested him and took him into custody. The other two pastors were let go, and it was then that officials showed him the email from Delhi ordering his arrest.

He was arrested under sections 104 and 135 of the Customs Act of India for failing to declare funds he was carrying.

Forbidden Contact with Embassy

After his arrest, he was not allowed to meet with anyone, including personnel from the U.S. embassy, he said.

The two other pastors were the ones who informed his family in the United States that he had been arrested and jailed.

“I suffer from sleep apnea and use a C-PAP machine to sleep, without which I can even suffocate and die during my sleep,” he said. “When I told the police officers about my condition and that I need the machine, they took me from one police station to the other so that my machine could be plugged in, but it was not possible. So they took me to the emergency room of the Medical Doctor’s Training Hospital, where finally I could use the machine.”

He faced some ill treatment at the small hospital, he said.

“When the doctor learned that I was a Christian, he spit on the ground and only then took a look at me,” Pastor Nerren said.

He added that nearly 20 people died during his nine-hour stay at the hospital.

“The patient whose bed was given to me soon passed away,” he said. “Another person who had already died was there in the room, and no one knew it till it was discovered by cleaning staff of the hospital. In all, three people in the room where I was died.”

After his first night at the hospital, Pastor Nerren was moved to the Siliguri Correctional Home, where he spent the next five days and nights. All jails in the state of West Bengal have been renamed as Correctional Homes.

During the six days he was in jail, he was taken to the hospital twice more for checkups. After six days in jail he was released on bail on Oct. 11, but under a travel ban.

Tapan Kumar Choudhary, the attorney for Pastor Nerren, told Morning Star News that the bail conditions were harsh.

“Pastor Bryan was arrested and presented before the court on Oct. 6 and was subsequently granted bail, but the bail conditions were harsh and required two bail bonds of 1 Lakh [100,000] rupees [US$1,412] each or local land papers in lieu of the bonds,” Choudhary told Morning Star News. “This was again challenged by me in the upper court on Oct. 9, and the bail was granted on Oct. 10 with relaxed sureties. The court this time asked only for two bail bonds of 10,000 rupees [US$141] each, and hence he was released on bail on Oct. 11.”

The pastor’s next court date is scheduled for Dec. 12, he said. His attorney has filed an application to the Customs department for the release of his passport and money, he said.

Pastor Nerren is staying with friends at an undisclosed location.

He first visited South Asia in 2002 with a trip to Nepal, where he started the Asian Children Education Fellowship, which has trained more than 20,000 leaders in Nepal, according to its website. The ACEF has also engaged in community development and social work digging community wells, holding medical clinics, and assisting in providing uniforms and books to over “2,500 children who would have never had the opportunity to attend schools.”

A native of Shelbyville, Tennessee, Pastor Nerren leads the House of Prayer Church, part of the International House of Prayer Ministries, along with his wife Rhonda. He has been to India three times before in the last 15 years. It was his involvement with Nepali churches that brought him to India this time.

His wife said in an Oct. 29 American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) update that he has done nothing wrong.

“His only crime is living out his steadfast love for Jesus. He’s my best friend, and I need him home,” she said. “My special needs daughter needs her daddy home. My son and his family want their dad and Grandpa ‘Popeye’ home. Please pray for our family. Pray for the hearts of the officials who have the power to give him back his passport and let him come back to us.”

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Video: Hindu Extremists, Police Shut Down Worship Services in Uttar Pradesh

(Morning Star News) – Police broke up a congregational gathering of 6,000 worshipers in northern India on Tuesday (Oct. 15) after Hindu extremists leveled false charges of black magic, arms possession and forcible conversion against the pastor, sources said.

An administrative officer from Bahraich District, Uttar Pradesh, arrived with police in Pandeypurwa village, in Hardi police jurisdiction, announcing that the outdoor venue for the gathering had to be vacated by 8 a.m., said 23-year-old pastor Santosh Jaiswal.

“At least 6,000 were present for prayers, and within minutes the congregation scattered, and the police dismantled the stage and barricades,” Pastor Jaiswal told Morning Star News. “I have received information that I have been booked for insulting religious beliefs and for possessing arms, but I had never spoken about any religions. I don’t possess any weapons.”

The administrative officer, Surendranath Tripathy, and officer Shankar Prasad investigated allegations of forced conversion and found no evidence against Jaiswal, but police ordered him to stop the worship services, the pastor said. He relocated to the area to proclaim Christ among rural villagers on the border with Nepal less than seven months ago, he said.

Pastor Jaiswal said that officers Tripathy and Prasad accused him of performing black magic on Hindus.

“About a week before inspection, a Brahmin [high caste Hindu] journalist came to Sunday worship with cameras,” Pastor Jaiswal said. “He videotaped the congregation lifting up their hands and praying, and some groaning as they were held by evil spirits, and he also interviewed some people who experienced healing. Soon the local news media reported the prayers as black magic rituals, and that a Christian priest is promoting blind belief.”

The police officers parroted the same accusations, he said. Attempts to reach officers Tripathy and Prasad were unsuccessful.

“Some of the members from the congregation came to me and urged me to go into hiding, fearing my arrest,” Pastor Jaiswal said. “I wanted to face the police even if it would lead to my arrest, but I was moved to safety to a believer’s home.”

The First Information Report also names as defendants the pastor’s wife, Kajal Jaiswal, his sister Kunti Devi and a female believer. The open worship venue of about an acre belongs to his sister, who made it available for ministry, he said.

“People suffering from long-term illnesses and those captivated by evil spirits are relieved through prayers,” he said. “We share the gospel with them, and when they put their belief in Christ, they are healed. Only their faith heals them, it is not me. I am nobody to perform any miracles or magic tricks. When a person in pain requests for prayers, all I do is pray for them.”

He was working as a supervisor at a pub in Delhi when he first learned about Christ and developed a strong yearning to boldly proclaim his faith before as many people as possible, he said. He left his job and received training in Haryana state for two years, then returned to his native Pandeypurwa to minister among his own people, he said.

“In March, we were a home church of 12 believers,” Pastor Jaiswal said. “Soon the sick and people in need of prayers came to us. As we prayed, Lord gave them deliverance, and people also came from villages far away. When one receives healing, the entire village, curious to know about Christ, throngs to prayers.”

Within months, hundreds of people increased to thousands, he said.

“Now at least 6,000 people gather for prayers on Sundays as well as on weekdays,” he said.

Village President Ram Sufal Mishra is aware of the services in the village and has never opposed them, he added.

Tricked into Jail

In Lakhimpur Kheri District, Hindu extremists last month surrounded pastor Shibu P. Matthew’s house threatening to attack him for his faith, but when he called police, they arrested him.

Released on bail on Saturday (Oct. 12), Pastor Matthew had cancelled a church service in Musupur, six miles from his home, on Sept. 8 due to a warning of an impending Hindu extremist attack, but a mob of Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, or VHP) members found his home in Jahanpur and demanded that he come out, he said.

“They were abusing me in filthy language that I convert Hindus to Christianity, and that India is a Hindu country and I should be strictly punished for going against the Indian nation,” Pastor Matthew, 52, told Morning Star News. “Youths from the church had come over, and we thought we could spend the time in singing and worship. Then we heard a loud knock on the door. It was the Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] activists. We did not open doors and locked ourselves inside the house.”

He called Phoolbehar police, who threatened to take the mob into custody and then told the pastor he would need to come to the police station since he had reported them.

“I supposed that I was being summoned to the police station to give a written complaint,” he said. “But it was not so. The Hindu militant leaders were furious, and they levied pressure on police to register cases against me. The police whom I believed had come to my help until a minute ago had now taken their side. They also started accusing me of forced conversions, and that I distribute foreign funds among innocent Hindus and attract them.”

Under pressure from the vice president of the VHP, Shivnarayan Paswan, and his counterparts from the Bajrang Dal, police filed a First Information Report against him that night and presented him before a judge, who sent him to Lakhimpur jail, Pastor Matthew said.

The Hindu extremist leaders persuaded police to confiscate the pastor’s phone, saying it could contain evidence of forced conversions and foreign donations, he said.

Hindu extremists are working in an increasingly organized manner, said the coordinator of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in Uttar Pradesh.

“They are mapping even the remotest areas where Christian prayers are held and are targeting one after the other,” said the coordinator, whose name is withheld for security reasons. “In the first phase, it is only threats and warnings through a known person or village council. If these threats are not taken seriously, the strongmen from the militant group [Bajrang Dal] are deployed; they even call the police to their support.”

Local media are also enlisted, spreading biased, sensationalist news that touches off Hindu nationalist sentiment and instigates Hindus against Christians, he said.

“Musapur is a hamlet and it is not well connected to road or transportation – they reached even there, and also shut down five churches in surrounding villages as well,” he said. “Once a church is shut down by the extremists, they set up their informers in that village to collect information if the churches have started functioning again,”

Since March, ADF-Uttar Pradesh has organized more than 70 trainings to advise church leaders on how to exercise their legal rights when under attack by police and Hindu extremists, he said.

“As many as 100 pastors attend each training camp, and they have been informed of their rights and strategies that can be adapted to deal with police and authorities at the time of the attack or arrests,” he said. “We are connected with victims from across the state via the toll-free helpline, 1-800-208-4545, and smaller teams have also been built in almost all the districts, working like a rapid action force to come to victims’ aid upon receiving information about attacks or arrests.”

Originally from Thiruvalla in southern India’s Kerala state, Pastor Matthew had moved with his family to Uttar Pradesh following a divine call after he underwent heart bypass surgery, he said.

“After the surgery, we sold off whatever was left in Kerala and moved to Uttar Pradesh, because God had put this zeal in my heart that we should minister among people who had never known or heard about Christ,” he said.

Police Seal Off Worship Venue

In Varanasi District, another pastor has moved to three villages in the past three years due to pressure from Hindu extremists to stop worship services.

Pastor Dasarath Pawar of Evangelical Churches of India told Morning Star News that the congregation has scattered since their latest move from Madhuban Lawn to New Colony.

“We only gathered in the evenings in Madhuban Lawn, and their accusations were that we are converting Hindus to Christians, and that they had warned me several times before but I had continued the prayers,” he said. “On Sept. 8, a batch of 25 strongmen of Hindu Yuva Vahini threatened us that the attack would be brutal if we don’t obey this time. The church property has been sealed by police, and they are not allowing us there.”

Christian Family in Hiding after Hindu Extremist Mob Assaults Them in India

Hindu extremists severely attack retired pastor and his family in northern India. Photo: Morning Star News

(Morning Star News) – A retired pastor, his wife and their sons are in hiding from police after a Hindu extremist mob injured them in a gruesome assault in northern India, sources said.

Patram Mangala, retired Church of North India pastor now helping to run St. John School in Sohna, Gurugram District in Haryana state, sustained injuries to his nose when he was hit with a spade in the face, and his 28-year-old son Abhishek Mangala lost four front teeth and ruptured blood vessels in his eye in the Sept. 22 attack.

Pastor Mangala’s 65-year-old wife Sarla Mangala sustained an injury under her right eye apart from internal injuries to her body, and their son Raj Kumar Mangala, 40, sustained internal injuries in the attack, which appeared to be rooted in a recent court judgment against the Hindus in their attempt to erect a Hindu idol on the property, the retired pastor said.

The 68-year-old Pastor Mangala and his wife were cleaning their front yard in the early evening when a group of Hindu extremists with wooden sticks surrounded them and began to assault them, he said. Between 30 to 40 other people then joined in the assault.

Pastor Mangala’s sons ran to help their parents but were also attacked. The pastor said he could identify only some of the assailants, and that those who joined in had been notified earlier for a well-planned attack.

Abhishek Mangala lost teeth in assault by Hindu extremists in Sohna, Haryana state, India on Sept. 22, 2019. (Morning Star News)

“Two men, Anil Kumar and Danny, smashed a stone on Abhishek’s face, breaking four of his front teeth,” Pastor Mangala told Morning Star News. “His mouth was profusely bleeding, and his face was covered with blood. Abhishek’s lip tore, and his left eye blood vessels ruptured.”

Their home is part of the St. John’s school premises, and the assailants picked up a spade used for repair work on the institution in the attack, he said. They also struck them with rocks lying outside the gate, along with sticks.

“They began to hit me with their legs and fists and manhandled my wife by pushing her and hitting her,” he said. “They abused us using vulgar language and threatened to kill us. The attackers snatched the gold ring that I was wearing in my finger and snatched my son Abhishek’s cell phone as well.”

Besides the injury to his nose from the spade, Pastor Mangala sustained injuries to his thigh and other parts of his body, he said.

The family reported the assault to city police in writing on Sept. 24, but officers registered no complaint for nearly a week – in stark contrast to a false complaint registered against the Christians the day of the attack, he said.

“The culprits have been threatening us to kill us, and they have warned us that if we go to the police, they will kill us,” Pastor Mangala reported in his complaint, translated from Hindi. “In the future if I or my family members are attacked, these people named in the complaint should be held responsible. I request that strict action be taken against these hooligans and a First Information Report be registered and they be arrested. I pray that justice be given to me and my family.”

Local news media broadcast the Hindu extremists’ false charges as stated by a police official and the main accused in the pastor’s complaint, Anil Kumar. Officer-in-Charge Arvind Dahiya told Punjab Kesari News Channel that an FIR had been registered against Pastor Mangala, his wife and their two sons for “breaking the Hindu temple and illegally trying to take possession of the Hindu temple land under the Indian Penal Code.”

They were also charged with rioting, being armed with a deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant, injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation, he said.

Kumar told media that the Christian family attacked him and the others.

Denying all allegations, Meenal Mangala, the daughter of Pastor Mangala, told Morning Star News that she felt helpless as she does not know who to contact for help.

“The allegations against us are false and fabricated,” she said. “We don’t know what to do. It is our property, and we have the papers to prove it. They forcefully wanted to worship their god on our land. Through court we stopped that and won the legal battle, but now they are spreading a false and fabricated story through media, and it is being telecasted on local TV.”

Meenal Mangala said the family has submitted a CD to the police containing footage from CCTV cameras installed at the school facing its front gate. The cameras captured the entire assault and show how the Hindu extremists beat the family, she said.

Fearing arrest, the Christian family has left their home and gone into hiding since being released from the hospital.

Only after Morning Star News spoke to Investigating Officer and Assistant Sub-Inspector Shish Ram asking why no action was taken on the complaint of trespassing and assault filed by the Christian family did officers register a case against the assailants on Friday (Sep. 27).

Ram said a case was registered against the Hindu assailants under First Information Report 608 for rioting, rioting armed with deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation.

He said justice would be done, though no action has been taken yet.

The land on which the St. John’s School was built was purchased in Sarla Mangala’s name on Sept. 30, 1985, according to official records. She and Pastor Mangala were running the school and residence in 2015 when some Hindus trespassed and erected a Hindu idol and brought construction material onto the campus, Sarla Mangala charges in a lawsuit.

“On June 10, 2015, in the evening between 6-6:30, some anti-social elements came to our land and tried to enter forcefully,” Pastor Mangala said. “They threatened to kill my wife if she did not leave the property, hence we filed a complaint in the court claiming that the property is ours and that no construction should be done on that land. I approached the court against the trespassing four years ago and got a stay from the court. The court pronounced judgment in our favor two months ago.”

Tehmina Arora, director of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India, said in a press statement earlier this year that India must enact laws to protect religious minorities from such attacks.

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith,” Arora said. “It is worrying to see these horrendous acts of mob violence continue. It is high time special laws are enacted to protect Christians and other religious minorities from being attacked and then imprisoned under false accusations.”

Mob attacks are not isolated incidents in India, added Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF-International.

“While the right to religious freedom is protected by the Indian constitution, we nonetheless see Christians face persecution and denial of their fundamental rights,” he said. “Sadly, the recent mob attacks are not isolated incidents but testify to what many Christians experience in India today. All people have the right to freely choose, and live out, their faith.”

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Photo: Retired pastor’s wife, Sarla Mangala and son, Abhishek Mangala

Christians Forced to ‘Reconvert,’ Banished from Village in India

Christian is forced to undergo “reconversion” rite to tribal religion in Mahuatoli village, Jharkhand state, India on June 14, 2019. (Morning Star News)

India (Morning Star News) – Christians who worshiped privately in their homes in a village in eastern India were dragged to local leaders last month and forced to bow to a goddess idol, sources said.

The mob action on June 14 followed an announcement two days earlier by the heads of Mahuatoli village, Gumla District in Jharkhand state, that 12 Christian families would be banished if they did not return to the tribal Sarna religion, they said.

Threatened with death, most of the Christian families have fled the village.

“Threats have always been there in this area in Gumla District, but it had never escalated to this point that the Sarna extremists vowed to take lives,” said area pastor Boyen Munda. “They are not in a right state of mind now. The Hindu extremist forces have joined hands with them and have been inciting them against the believers.”

The mob of 20 villagers broke into the home of Jogiya Munda and pushed him and his widowed mother out of their house, the pastor said. Munda and his mother, who have been Christians for 17 years, were dragged to the village leaders and forced to sit and bow to the goddess idol, Pastor Munda said.

“They poured buckets of water on them [as a purification rite] and made them do a ritual which is believed to be a procedure to renounce Christ,” Pastor Munda said. “They fled to a safer place very far away. The village heads plotted to kill the mother and son if they find them praying any day after the ‘reconversion ritual.’”

The Sarna ritual is akin to a last chance for those who have left to return to their former tribal religion, he said. Two families who were also forced to undergo the ritual ostensibly renounced Christ and remain in the village, he said.

“But they shared with us that they have not done it on their will but because of the pressure they had been put through,” Pastor Munda said. “It has been a month since the Christians are scattered in neighboring villages seeking refuge. It is the monsoon season, so if they can’t return back to cultivate their land, they will have to go hungry for next one year.”

The Sarna villagers had refused to supply water for the Christian families’ farm fields, disconnected their electricity and threatened to stop all government benefits, he said.

“But they [10 Christian families] stood against the plots devised by the most powerful religious extremists,” Pastor Munda told Morning Star News.

He said the Christians never held group worship in Mahuatoli village, instead traveling to Dolaichi for more secure worship.

“They never had an open service or loudspeakers – it has always been a private family prayer at each individual’s house,” he said. “Even that few minutes of private prayer is being seen as crime.”

Banished

At the June 12 meeting of leaders in Mahuatoli, the 12 Christian families were summoned for the public announcement of their banishment from the village.

“The Sarna religious heads and village council were present,” area Christian Gangadhar Munda told Morning Star News. “In front of the villagers, they declared us as ‘polluted’ and that the village should be cleansed from Christianity.”

The leader read out orders for villagers to refrain from mingling with Christians, exclude them from family and social gatherings, and to refrain from speaking with them, buying from or selling to them, or having any communication with them, Gangadhar Munda said.

Distressed by the orders, Christians Mangra Munda Junior and Balveer Munda, along with Gangadhar Munda, raised their concern, he said.

“We told the village heads that we don’t approve their decision, and that it is a fundamental right, and that we are free to practice Christianity,” he said. “We said we belong to this village as rightfully as other Sarna villagers. We did not commit any crime to be humiliated and ostracized publicly like this. How can they pass rules convenient only to them?”

The village leaders rebuked them for objecting to their ruling, he said.

“It angered them that we raised a voice against them,” he said. “They said, ‘These Christians should be cleansed at the pandal [a raised platform for seating idols].’ But some of the village heads said that we should not be forced, and that if any Christian wants to return to Sarna faith, they should come to the pandal on their own. Nobody among our 12 families accepted this offer. We stood strong in faith and decided that no matter what happens, we will not give up our faith.”

In the early evening, however, a large mob showed up at Balveer Munda’s house, he said. They destroyed the entrance and demolished the walls, and when Balveer Munda tried to stop them, they shoved him away and stole food grain, clothes and chickens, Gangadhar Munda said.

“It was a robbery in broad daylight,” he said. “When we tried to stop them, the mob threatened us that we would be killed if we don’t vacate the village immediately. Their threats grew intense; they said they will not offer us even a drop of water, and that our lands will be snatched away if we don’t obey their orders and convert to Sarna.”

His wife, he added, was in her 39th week of pregnancy at the time.

“They terrorized the woman and children,” he said. “My wife was horrified watching them threatening me that they would kill me. She was panicked and under stress the past month.”

Anima Munda, who gave birth on July 10, told Morning Star News that the family immediately fled to Dolaichi, nearly four miles from Mahuatoli, on foot.

“I’m scared to go back to our home,” she said.

Her husband said leaving their home at that time was especially difficult, and his wife’s inability to eat well since then weakened her, contributing to a prolonged labor of 24 hours.

“We had no other option but to move from the comfort of our home to a believer’s house in neighboring village,” he said. “It was a sudden decision, and my wife had not fully adjusted herself here and had not been eating well. The doctors said she was too weak for labor.”

Police Inaction

On June 17, the Christian families went to Bharno police station to submit a complaint, but officers refused to register their pleas and advised them to arrange a “compromise” and not file a case.

They then filed a complaint online, thus getting a First Information Report (FIR) registered, met with the Gumla District superintendent and handed over copies of the complaint and FIR, sources said.

A source who spoke on condition of anonymity said Hindu extremists influenced the villagers.

“We received information that the villagers received orders from Hindu Jagran Manch [Hindu Awakening Forum], an affiliate of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [World Hindu Council] and its youth militant partner, Bajrang Dal,” the source said.

Aggrieved by police inaction, the Christians filed a private complaint under Section 200 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Gumla District Court on June 26. A hearing was scheduled for Monday (July 15), attorney Makshud Alam said.

“An increasing number of incidents of mob violence are happening in Jharkhand,” Alam said. “The extremist forces are setting up [tribal] Advisasis against Muslims and Christians.”

Police officials at the Bharno police station denied that the Christians came for help.

“They never approached us, and we did not receive any complaint,” Jaswinder Choudhary, the officer in charge of the station, told Morning Star News. “There are no religious issues in Mahuatoli village, and everybody is living in peace. If there be any problem, they can always file a complaint, and we will take action.”

Local newspapers tending to sympathize with Hindu nationalism such as Dainik Bhaskar, Prabhat Khabar and OP India claimed that Christians underwent gharwapasi (“reconversion” or “homecoming”), and that they were lured into Christianity earlier for healing.

Jharkhand state has a recent history of anti-Christian violence. On April 10, Jharkhand police found four Christians lying in a pool of blood in Gumla District. A mob of 25 Hindu vigilantes trying to stop the slaughter of cows, which are considered sacred, had accused the Christians of killing cows and attacked them with swords and sickles.

One of the four, Prakash Lakra, reportedly succumbed to his injuries.

“The state government and the ruling BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] are complicit in targeting the church and the Christian community,” John Dayal of the United Christian Forum told Morning Star News. “They have ranged tribal Sarna who are not Hindus against their brethren who have accepted Christ.”

Hindu extremists are targeting the church with an eye to grabbing land allotted to or bought for Catholic and Protestant educational and medical institutions the past century, he said.

“And they are persecuting missionaries, including Catholic nuns,” Dayal said. “The chief minister himself is party to hate speech. It needs be remembered that a Christian has been lynched by ‘cow vigilantes’ in the recent past.”

Advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India has recorded close to 160 incidents of hostilities against Christians in the first half of 2019.

Anti-Christian sentiment has grown worse since the BJP’s rise to power in 2014, according to Andreas Thonhauser, director of external relations at ADF International. Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected earlier this year.

“Many Christians had hoped that voters would not grant him a second term as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy,” Thonhauser wrote in a recent issue of the Catholic Herald. “While Modi won his first elections primarily on economic and reform-oriented ideas, this time his party focused on Indian identity and the Hindu nation.”

The outcome of the elections is not good news for the country’s Christians, Thonhauser wrote.

“Although Christians comprise only 2.3 per cent of India’s population, they are known for running excellent schools and well-maintained hospitals,” he wrote. “Anti-Christian sentiment is not a new phenomenon. Nevertheless, the situation has grown worse since the current ruling party’s rise to power in 2014.”

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Modi came to power.

Villagers in India Deprive Five Christian Families of Farmland, Food, Water

(Morning Star News) – Village leaders in eastern India prohibited five Christian families from working on their farms or walking on the main road before district authorities this month revoked the order, sources said.

Leaders of Banhardi village, in Jharkhand state’s Latehar District, told the five families in April to either convert back to their ancestral Sarna religion or face punishment, Christian leaders said. When the Christians refused to renounce their faith, the village on April 10 issued a decree instructing that their farmland be confiscated and prohibiting them from interacting with anyone, fetching water and buying or selling, they said.

Before district officials arrived on May 13 and annulled the April 10 decree, the Christians had to go outside the village to look for food and other items to meet daily needs and were on the verge of starvation, said Motilal Oraon, one of the persecuted Christians.

“We had to carry drinking water from some other village to our homes,” Oraon told Morning Star News. “They did not allow us to enter our own farmland or work in it. We went searching for work in somebody else’s farmland in a distant village, as we could not find work in our own village. Our families were starving.”

After District Collector Rajiv Kumar intervened and annulled the order, the villagers agreed to let the Christians receive government rations and water, but they said they will continue to refuse to associate with all who have converted to Christianity, area pastors said. The villagers also said that they will forbid any Christian preacher from entering the village.

Along with Motilal Oraon’s family, the other Christian families punished were those of Madhwari Oraon, Banarasi Oraon, Lukku Oraon and Rajesh Lohara.

Sarna, also called Saranaism, is recognized as the indigenous religion of Adivasi tribes in eastern India. All Banhardi villagers followed the Sarna tradition of their ancestors until one family put their faith in Christ eight years ago, said Asaf Surin, senior pastor of the main Believers Eastern Church in Bariatu Jagir, 12 miles away. Gradually, four other families followed, he said.

“These five families are the only Christian families in the village of about 500 homes, and they attend worship at a small fellowship belonging to the Believers Eastern Church,” Pastor Surin said. “The fellowship meets at the house of a Christian about a mile away from Banhardi in village Riche, jointly with five Christian families of Riche.”

Beneswar Oraon, pastor of an area Believers Eastern Church, said that retaliation to this extent was unprecedented.

“Initially there was no persecution until 2016, but then the villagers noticed the increase in the number of families turning to Christ,” Pastor Oraon told Morning Star News. “They got together and discussed their concern, saying that if they did not stop Christianity from spreading, the whole village will soon become Christian.”

More than 30 families attended the village meeting on April 10 in which they decreed that land owned by the Christians be confiscated and distributed among their non-Christian relatives; the Christians would not be invited to any marriage ceremony in the village or be allowed at any funeral; any villager found taking part in or attending any function in Christians homes would have to pay a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$14); and the Christians’ grocery ration card under the government distribution program, and all women’s self-help group memberships, would be cancelled.

“While the Christians where helplessly struggling to meet the basic needs of their families, Newswing [a local newspaper] published the news of this boycott, which then caught the attention of the authorities,” Pastor Surin said.

District Collector Kumar, along with an investigation team, reached the village on May 13 and initiated talks between both parties, the pastors said. He then ordered that all the local leaders’ decisions be annulled.

Sub-Divisional Police Officer Virendra Ram, who headed an investigating team, instructed the villagers to follow their own religion and let the five families practice their faith. Police also said that everyone could equally access government rations.

After the visit from the district authorities on May 13, the ration distributor approached the Christians on May 15 and insisted that they collect their share of the ration allotted for them.

“We are so delighted at the way God has heard our prayers,” Motilal Oraon said. “We got help even when we had approached nobody. God opened a way, and the authorities themselves walked inside our village and rescued us from starvation.”

Jharkhand’s population is 26.3 percent tribal, of which 14.5 percent follow Christianity, 39.8 percent Hinduism, 0.4 percent Islam and the rest other ancestral religions including Sarna, according to the 2001 census.

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Photo: Five families in village in Jharkhand state, India punished for becoming Christians. (Morning Star News)

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