(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.”
(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.
“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
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.”
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.”
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.
(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)
INDIA (Morning Star News) – Cases of hate and violence against Christians in India increased 57 percent the first two months of this year compared with the same period last year, an advocacy group reported.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission (EFIRLC) documented 77 incidents of hate and targeted violence against Christians in January and February, up from 49 cases during the same period last year. The cases include the murders of one Christian in Odisha state and another in Chhattisgarh state, both in February.
“We have reasons to believe that both men, who were in their 40s, were killed because of their faith,” the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the EFI, told Morning Star News. “We have recorded cases where Christians have been facing social boycott and have been excommunicated from their villages, and in a few instances have had to flee to save their lives.”
Of the 77 incidents, 16 took place in Tamil Nadu state, 12 in Uttar Pradesh, six in Maharashtra and five in Chhattisgarh, the report found. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and, surprisingly, Kerala each saw four cases, followed by other states, Lal said.
The 49 cases recorded in the first two months of 2018 followed the documenting of 50 cases during the same period the previous year.
In one of the incidents this year in Uttar Pradesh, female police officers on Jan. 13 disrupted a Sunday worship service and arrested four women and two men, including the female pastor leading worship. At the police station, a female police officer physically assaulted the woman pastor, Sindhu Bharti, who fell unconscious.
“Boiling tea was forcibly thrust in her mouth because the police thought that she was feigning her unconsciousness,” an eyewitness, Madhu Bharati, told Morning Star News. “When that did not work, they poured two jugs of cold water on her face, not caring that it was already severely cold due to winter.”
Those arrested were charged with intent to hurt religious feelings, defilement of a place of worship and rioting, among other charges. The intervention of Christian leaders resulted in police freeing the arrested female Christians, but the men were kept under judicial custody.
Pastor Bharti received medical treatment for her injuries.
In the murders, two Christians were killed by Maoists, known as Naxalites, after area tribal people influenced the rebels in Odisha and Chhattisgarh respectively.
“Munglu Ram Nureti from Kohkameta village in Chhattisgarh was killed because villagers who were opposed to his practicing the Christian faith falsely reported him as a police informer to the Maoists,” Lal said. “Anant Ram Gond, from Nabarangpur in Odisha was killed a day before Munglu Ram Nureti in a similar but more gruesome manner. He was already being persecuted for his faith for some time. It has been reported and verified by credible sources that he was reported to be a police informer by villagers [who were angry at him becoming Christian] to the Maoists, which led to his killing.”
Gond had been living outside the village for some time after facing social boycott because of his faith, Lal said.
“There have been occurrences where Christians have been taken to temples and made to chant Hindu verses and seek forgiveness for the ‘sin’ of conversion,” he told Morning Star News. “At least two instances have been recorded where public banners against Christians have been placed outside Navsari, Gujarat and in Alangulam village near Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. The Navsari banners prohibit the entry of Christians in the town, while those in Tamil Nadu, apparently put up by the Hindu Munnani, reportedly ask the Hindus to awake against religious preaching in the village.”
Alliance Defending Freedom-India, which provides legal advocacy for Christians, reported on Feb. 19 that 29 incidents against Christians took place in January.
Throughout 2018, the EFIRLC documented 325 incidents against Christians in India. The previous year, it recorded 351 such cases, up from 230 in 2016.
Its 2018 annual report, “Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India,” released on Feb. 22, took note of the “sudden spurt of violence in a few districts of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous province, and in Tamil Nadu in the extreme south of the subcontinent.”
The cases documented in the report are by no means exhaustive, as it was based on voluntary reporting and civil society investigations, it states. The EFIRLC said most cases go unreported, either because the victim and witnesses are terrified, or the police, especially in the northern states, turn a blind eye and refuse to record mandatory First Information Reports.
With general elections due in April-May, attempts at religious polarization were at an all-time high, the report noted. It added that the “small Christian community, 2.3 per cent of the 1.3 billion population, which seems to be targeted on issues of conversion, is also collateral victim of the hate crimes against the much larger Muslim community, which is about 15 percent.”
Over 40 percent, or 132, of the documented incidents in the 2018 report took place in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Christians were targeted the most. This was followed by Tamil Nadu with 40 incidents, while Telangana came third with 24.
The increase of incidents in Uttar Pradesh can be attributed to the systematic campaign against Christians in the eastern part of the state, particularly Jaunpur District, where 45 incidents were documented, according to the report.
Churches in Jaunpur have been targeted through a systematic campaign involving Hindu extremist groups, media, local politicians and the state administration, according to the report. Arrests and detention of pastors and the stopping of church services have become commonplace.
Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state of India, home to almost 17 percent of the country’s population. Christians make up only 0.18 percent of the state’s population.
The state is currently led by Yogi Adityanath, who along with being the chief minister is also the high priest of the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur. The chief minister is also founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a Hindu youth militia that has been involved in communal violence and in targeting religious minorities.
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. India was ranked at 31st in 2013 but has been ranked worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.
“We are still collecting and verifying information almost on a daily basis,” Lal said.
India (Morning Star News) – Hard-line Hindus on Jan. 9 tore down a church building in southern India because it was built on the west side of a village, which they said violated Hindu principles of placement and positioning, sources said.
The Vastu Shastra architectural and planning principles, a Hindu version of Feng Shui, were said to oppose the construction late last year of the church building in Narnepadu village, Muppalla Mandal, Guntur District, in Andhra Pradesh state. Saying the building’s placement opposed Hindu beliefs, the village president and her husband called a meeting of Hindus and Christians on Jan. 9.
“That morning the village president’s husband, also a local political leader, telephoned church pastor Koteswara Rao and asked him to be present at the meeting to discuss the matter, but Rao declined the invite as he was pre-occupied with his tasks for the day and said that he can be available the following day,” a Narnepadu-based pastor, Konda Lazarus, told Morning Star News. “This annoyed the leader, and he ordered the tribal men to demolish the church.”
The church had met in a rented shed in the same area in 2017, but tribal and upper-caste Hindus who strongly believe in Vastu Shastra collected more than 100 signatures expressing their objection to Christian worship in the location, Pastor Lazarus said.
“Rao and Christians stopped gathering for prayers,” he said. “Last year, area Christians purchased a piece of land in the same locality hoping to construct a church and gather for prayers regularly. They invited Pastor Rao and, since December 2018, the church started anew.”
The Muppala Mandal Pastors Fellowship of Guntur District encouraged Pastor Rao’s ministry in Narnepadu village, he said.
“There has been opposition, and it had been dealt with peacefully so far as we understand that villagers do not have awareness about our rights, and do not really understand why Christians gather for prayers,” Pastor Lazarus said. “Most of the residents are illiterate and only follow the instructions of the village elders: If the elders think having a church to the west is evil, it is evil. They don’t try to reason beyond that.”
Church leaders filed a complaint with Muppalla police, who told them they would file a First Information Report (FIR) soon, Pastor Lazarus said. A Hindu leader from the area identified only as Devendra, however, has asked the pastor not to register a case and to settle the issue amicably, he said.
“But we could see no sign of confession or acknowledgement of crime among the attackers or the leaders who provoked them,” Pastor Lazarus told Morning Star News. “The discussion hasn’t yielded any positive outcome. Hence, we are hoping the police book a case and conduct a fair investigation.”
India this year cracked the top 10 on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, ranking 10th, up from 11th the previous year.
Earlier in neighboring Telangana state, radical Hindus stopped a Christian group’s van and set Bibles and gospel tracts on fire, sources said.
In the Kismatpur area southwest of Hyderabad, Christians on Dec. 11 were on their way to meet friends at a construction site after a Christmas-themed outreach of singing and passing out tracts and Bibles, said one of the Christians, veterinarian Noah Gunti.
Realizing their construction worker friends had been sent to another site, they were returning to the main road when a car darted in front of them, nearly hitting the van, he said.
“We stopped, and the person driving the car could see the Bible verses written on the van, and he started abusing us in vulgar language,” Gunti told Morning Star News. “He made some calls, and within a few minutes, about 15 to 20 people had gathered. Then they started beating me and unloaded the van, dumped all the Bibles and Christian literature at one place and lit fire.”
Video of the incident the Hindus circulated on social media does not show how they beat Gunti before setting the Christian literature on fire, the 51-year-old father of three said.
“At least 350 Bibles were burned, but we did not stop,” Gunti said. “That week we continued sharing gospel. We must seek strength from the Lord and must strive to do more work.”
If Christ’s disciples and missionaries throughout history had stopped when they faced persecution, the gospel wouldn’t have reached him or his friends, he said.
“They target us because they are ignorant, they do not know what they are doing,” he said. “Governments cannot protect us from persecution. Any kind of protests or representation to the authorities will not help. We should not be afraid to be used by the Lord, in fact we must be prepared to be persecuted.”
Also in Telangana state, a Christian’s request to an upper-caste Hindu neighbor that he not dump construction debris at a church site in a suburb of Hyderabad led to a group of radical Hindus attacking a church – and police filing a FIR against the Christians.
The upper-caste Hindu who dumped the construction trash on Hebron Church premises in Jagathgir Gutta had regularly played loud music or Hindu devotional songs during worship services to disturb the Christians, said a 36-year-old church member identified only as Pramod.
When a pastor identified only as Allageshan on Dec. 21 requested the neighbor clear away the debris before a service at the site, the Hindu became furious and beat him, telling him to mind his own business, Pramod said.
“They refused to clean their trash and told the pastor to go complain against them,” Pramod told Morning Star News. “I went to meet my pastor and told him that now that they have become violent, he must inform the police, but he refused to do so.”
As Christian youths went to prepare the building for the evening service, Hindu neighbors followed them on motorbikes, taunting them in vulgar language when they stopped at a tea stall for snacks, he said.
“They mocked the youths, saying, ‘Hey look at these cowards – spineless fellows! We attacked their pastor, but they have no guts to speak up,’” he said.
They drove recklessly around the Christian youths on their motorbikes trying to provoke a fight, he said.
“There was a clash between the groups,” Pramod said. “The youths managed to escape from there and went to church, back to their work of cleaning and unrolling the carpets, making preparations. But they did not share about the attack, and within 10 to 15 minutes, a mob of over 40 Hindu extremists struck the main gate.”
The assailants were shouting vulgarities, he said.
“I rushed to rescue the youths and tried to videotape what was happening,” Pramod told Morning Star News. “But they pinned me down like wrestling champions and bruised my left eye. My phone was taken away, and I was lying there helplessly.”
His father received word that he was beaten and came running from their house four streets away, he said.
“They pushed him, and he too collapsed,” Pramod said. “They were heavily drunk and attacked us like wrestling or boxing champions in rage. I’m sure they must be professionals. I lifted my 62-two-year old father, and we both went to Jagathgir Gutta police station in that condition.”
Police refused to take their complaint, saying the written report was not in the proper format, he said.
“Then, a day later, the area’s circle inspector changed the version, and filed it as a dispute between both parties so they could book cases against me and my dad,” Pramod said. “I was shocked when the inspector told me that he has no other option but to send my dad and me to remand. They booked an FIR against us.”
While the inspector did not follow through on his threat to take them into custody, Jagathgir Gutta police registered case against Pramod and his father, fabricating a charge of “voluntarily causing hurt using dangerous weapons” under Section 324 of the Indian Penal Code, he said.
On Dec. 31 in Andhra Pradesh state, police stood by as Hindu women knocked down a temporary wall Christians had erected as a barrier against cold winds during a New Year’s Eve service, sources said.
Church members in Kothagudem village, West Godavari District, had returned to their homes at about 8 p.m. and were planning to gather again in an hour, Pastor Shyam Sunder told Morning Star News. The choir was still singing at the site, he said.
“Within about 15 minutes, neighboring Hindu women barged inside and destroyed the wall, right in the presence of police,” Pastor Sunder said. “Yet we continued the prayer service and later filed a complaint in Ungaturu police station.”
Local village leaders and Hindu families said they would cover the costs and pleaded with the Christians not to file a case, he said.
Upper-caste Hindus opposed reconstruction of the aging, original church building last year, applying pressure on authorities to deny permission. A junior civil judge ruled in June that reconstruction could begin and directed opposing parties not to interfere, but a local Hindu official has yet to grant permission for the reconstruction, the pastor said.
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
Photo: Church building demolished on Jan. 9, 2019 in Narnepadu village, Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh state, India. (Morning Star News)
(Morning Star News) – Christians in India who previously experienced little or no opposition reported that Hindu extremists stoned, slashed and terrorized them this Christmas season.
At least 18 incidents against Christians were reported and verified during the Christmas season, according to the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). Of those incidents, 10 were reported from Uttar Pradesh state, three from Uttarakhand state, three from Tamil Nadu state and two from Maharashtra state.
“Both the frequency of the attacks and their intensity has increased in the past few years,” said the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the EFI and the national director of the RLC.
The worst attack took place in Kowad village, Kolhapur District in Maharashtra state, where masked men carrying sharp weapons attacked a Christmas gathering on Dec. 23. The bloody assault sent seven Christians to hospital intensive care, with three undergoing surgery.
Around 20 masked men barged into the Sunday worship service of the New Life Fellowship Church with swords, knives, iron rods, glass bottles, stones and other sharp objects and attacked the congregation meeting at the presbyter’s residence. Milton Norenj, coordinator of the New Life Fellowship Jadhinglaj, said the suspected Hindu extremists entered the service shouting, “Jai Bhawani, Jai Shivaji,” that is, victory to Bhawani, a Hindu goddess, and victory to the historical Hindu warrior king Shivaji.
“They barged into the worship hall and began to throw big stones and empty beer bottles at the worshippers,” Norenj said.
Pastor Bhimsen Ganpati Chavan, 36, who has been leading the church since its inception 12 years ago, said about 40 people were present at the service when the Hindu extremists arrived.
“As soon as they entered, they began to shoot empty beer bottles and stones at the congregation,” Pastor Chavan said. “As they stepped forward, they attacked us with swords, iron rods and knives mercilessly, men and women alike.”
Of the seven people who were hospitalized, three had serious head injuries. One of the three Christians who underwent surgery, 48-year-old Vittal Jadhav, lost part of his finger to a sword chop. Jadhav also sustained a fracture in his shoulder, and he lost so much blood that doctors had to postpone an MRI needed to decide on surgery.
In all, the injuries of six of the 16 men injured were serious, while two of the 11 injured women received deep cuts on their hands, requiring stitches.
“I have been living here since the year 2000,” Pastor Chavan told Morning Star News. “We have faced some opposition before, but never an attack of this kind.”
Hindu extremists had issued threats and told church members to leave the area in 2014-2015, he said, but the issue was resolved after church leaders filed a First Information Report (FIR) with police, he said.
Swati Chavan, the pastor’s wife, was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday (Dec. 26).
“I was hit by an iron rod on my hand and received a head injury,” she said. “They hit my back repeatedly with their fists, which caused swelling. I had to undergo a head scan to rule out clotting.”
The attack, which lasted five to seven minutes, would have gone longer had it not been for the quick thinking of Pastor Chavan’s 65-year-old mother, he said.
“My mother had just ground fresh red pepper,” he said. “She took handfuls of the powder and threw it on the faces of the attackers. It got into the eye of one of the attackers, and they began to withdraw and fled.”
Some women and children in the congregation ran to the police station, five minutes away, for help, and by the time officers arrived, Christians had already called for an ambulance, he said. Three ambulances carried the injured first to a local private hospital.
When doctors saw the condition of the injured, they told the Christians to take eight of the more seriously wounded to a hospital in nearby Belgaum city, Pastor Chavan said.
Seven Christians were admitted in the Intensive Care Unit and are still undergoing treatment. Swati Chavan was discharged after receiving treatment.
Sachin Bagde, 23, required surgery for a clot in his head suffered when a stone hit his skull. Arjun Mutkekar, 47, also underwent surgery for a broken hand and elbow, as well as a hip injury, Pastor Chavan said.
Maruti Patil, 69, suffered a serious head injury and fractured his hand. Sachin Jadhav, 25, son of Vittal Jadhav, sustained a deep cut on his head. Ashok Mane sustained a head injury beside a hand fracture and injury on his neck.
Police detained a few people and registered a case against unidentified attackers for injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class (Sections 295 of the Indian Penal Code), attempt to murder (Section 307), voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons (Section 326), rioting (Section 147) and rioting armed with deadly weapon (Section 148).
A delegation of Christian leaders met with the district collector and the superintendent of police on Wednesday (Dec. 26). They asked authorities to take swift action.
Officers formally arrested five people on Saturday (Dec. 29). Ajay Appaji Patil, Gajanand Bhaukana Patil, Amul Bhaukana Mudgekar, Mahesh Parshuram Patil and Gopal Laxman Kalkamkar, all of Belgaum District in Karnataka state, were arrested, according to local media.
“The investigations are still on, and we will soon reveal to the media what organization the attackers are associated with,” the investigating officer told a television news reporter.
Hindu Extremist Strategy
In almost all 18 cases reported during the Christmas season, police came under pressure from Hindu extremists, revealing the strategy of Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) groups to harass Christians with legal problems, sources said.
Christian leaders throughout India condemned the attacks.
“They want to create communal disharmony for their own political advantage,” said Nehemiah Christie, legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India’s Tamil Nadu coordinator told Morning Star News.
Christie said Hindu nationalists have a well-planned strategy to target Christmas processions, services, carols and programs to try to create an atmosphere of disharmony and polarize people.
Shibu Thomas, head of Persecution Relief from Kerala state, said religious freedom is at stake especially for the minority community, who must be given full freedom to practice their religion and faith in peace.
“The secular fabric of India and Indian democracy is being shredded every day,” Thomas said. “It might take several years to eliminate the hatred that has been injected in the society based on religion, polarizing communities.”
Children’s Bus Attacked
In Haridwar, Uttarakhand state, a mob of about 30 men from the Bajrang Dal, the youth-wing of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), stopped four buses carrying 200 children on their way to a Dec. 25 Christmas program.
The children, all Hindus from slums of Haridwar, were on their way to the nearby city of Dehradun. The Bajrang Dal complained that the children were being taken to churches in Dehradun to be forcefully converted to Christianity and subjected to sexual abuse by pastors.
They demanded the arrest of the teacher – a Hindu – who was escorting the children to the Christmas program. The teacher, Sandeep Kashyap, was arrested, and police came under intense pressure from extremists to hold him in custody even after learning that no forceful conversion was taking place, sources said.
Rajeev Uniyal, the officer in-charge at Shyampur police station, said that the Bajrang Dal accusations were baseless.
“The Bajrang Dal volunteers suspected that these children were taken to Dehradun to forcefully convert them and make them Christians, but our prima facie enquiry has revealed that nothing of such sort was going to take place,” Uniyal told Morning Star News.
The older children in the bus told police that they were all Hindus and were going to Dehradun to attend the Christmas program. The teacher, Kashyap, said that he has been working with slum children for 10 years and has been taking them to the Christmas program the past four years.
“Never has such a problem risen in the past years,” Kashyap told Morning Star News. “I did not know that taking the children to witness a Christmas program was such a big crime.”
Police ‘Exhausted’ from Baseless Complaints
In Uttar Pradesh state, newspaper Amar Ujjala on Wednesday (Dec. 26) reported that police were exhausted on Christmas Day from taking several calls alleging “forceful conversion,” and that they had to comply by raiding several Christmas programs.
“All our energy is getting consumed in running around,” a police officer from Uttar Pradesh who requested anonymity told the newspaper. “Phone calls keep coming from Hindu groups who allege conversions, and so we have to go and investigate. We cannot afford to ignore them.”
A Christian leader from Uttar Pradesh requesting anonymity told Morning Star News that, while at a police station to speak to the officer in charge, he witnessed police receiving at last 25 to 30 phone calls.
“All these calls were from Hindu organizations, some from their top leaders, pressuring the police to stop alleged conversions happening in Christmas services across the district,” he said. ‘The police listen to them as they enjoy political patronage. The police also know that their charges are false, but they have to act.”
What is happening in Uttar Pradesh, especially in Jaunpur, is very worrying, said Lal of the EFI.
“We have documented many instances where the police, instead of protecting and safeguarding the religious freedom of Indian citizens, are actually stopping them from participating in worship,” Lal said. “Even Christmas services were disrupted by policemen in uniform. Arbitrary arrests and detention of pastors and Christian leaders on the most frivolous of excuses seems to have become the order of the day.”
Anyone can accuse someone of forceful conversion without offering any proof, and police take it upon themselves to stop regular worship services and arrest the pastor and congregation members, he added.
The 10 incidents reported from Uttar Pradesh during the Christmas season include disruption of worship services by police as well as by members of various Hindu nationalist groups; arrests and detention of pastors and Christian leaders; and raids on churches and homes of pastors, according the EFI’s religious liberty commission.
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.
India (Morning Star News) – Five families in eastern India were at a worship service last month when they received a phone call telling them to return to their homes immediately.
The Christians rushed nearly four miles from their church in Lisiya village to their homes in Durula, West Singhbhum District in Jharkhand state, where they found the shanty of one of the families in ruins. Villagers under the influence of tribal movement Adivasi Ho Samaj had left the home of Sidiu Bari and his family in shambles.
Members of the Adivasi Ho Samaj, which in turn had come under the influence of Hindu extremists to join forces against the spread of Christianity, persuaded villagers that they must drive the five Christian families out, area resident Subod Sinku told Morning Star News.
“They damaged Bari’s roof, threw away their clothes and utensils and took away a sum of 20,500 rupees [US$280],” Sinku said. “Even after all this, they were not done. There was lot of verbal abuse and verbal grilling that continued for at least a week after the [Oct. 18] incident.”
Threatened with expulsion from the village and with seizure of their farmland, three of the five families converted back to the tribal religion, Sarnaism, he said.
“Pastors and Christians from Lisiya and surrounding village churches tried to encourage them to continue in the Christian faith in these testing times,” Sinku said. “But we were only able to get Sidiu Bari to write a complaint and report the matter to a local police station.”
Police advised against filing a First Information Report (FIR), telling the Christians to try to settle the matter “amicably,” he said.
Another source said on condition of anonymity, “The situation in Jharkhand is turning worse since the Ho Samaj joined hands with the RSS [Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], holding meetings to instigate the tribal population against their own brethren for choosing to follow Christ.”
Sinku, 25, said that in his home village of Deoghar District, his family has warned him that he will be thrown out of his parents’ home and will not receive his share of land if he continues in his Christian faith.
“Putting faith in Christ is a matter of heart, and gradually as a new convert from the Adivasi religion grows in fellowship with other Christians, one’s entire lifestyle gets transformed,” Sinku said. “You learn many things. You become particular about hygiene, your intake of food, dressing, and you are not afraid to move to the city for education and get a job. This is not how indigenous tribes live. And, they think that we can afford the clothes, food and education from the supposed amount we received because of conversion to Christianity. It is completely false.”
Church Building Converted
In Ranchi District on Oct. 20, Sarna members broke a lock and barged into a church building while Christians were away attending a burial service of a young female member at another site, area residents said.
In the absence of anyone at the church building in Garh Khatanga, Hindu and tribal religion extremists surrounded the structure. Outside elements had instigated the villagers, who joined the extremists in breaking a cross on the building and chanting slogans against Christianity, Pastor Amandeep Bodra told Morning Star News.
Church members heard about the attack but, occupied with comforting family members who had lost a child, they decided not to try to stop them and thus avoided a fight, the pastor said. The next day they reported it to police, who have taken no action, he said.
“The Sarna activists had removed the cross and had set up a signboard saying, ‘Sarna Bhavan[Sarna Complex],’ and the police tell us to compromise with them,” he said.
The church purchased land and constructed its building on it about six months ago, and no one objected, he said. The now 70-member church had begun meeting in 2014.
The tribal animists have put their own lock on the building, which they have not been using, and they do not let the church use it, the pastor said.
“If we also break open the land and claim it back, the situation will get worse,” he said. “Police will not wait long to book severe cases against us, and there will be physical violence against us.”
Church leaders told the village president that they are willing to forfeit the land and requested the official show them another plot for construction of a church building, Pastor Bodra said. They have not heard back from him and are worshipping in a congregation member’s home.
In Surlu village, dozens of RSS members and tribal animists on Oct. 5 met to plan how to punish villagers for becoming Christians.
“The village president agreed to the propaganda put forth by them,” said area resident Nirmal Boraiburu. “Their plans were very harmful. They decided that Christians should not be allowed to go into the open fields to answer the call of nature. How can a human survive in such conditions?”
The Hindu extremists and Adivasis later told the Christians that they can farm their fields, but that they cannot pass through others’ fields to get to their own, Boraiburu said.
“Which means there will not be a path for us to walk to our field,” he said. “How can we plough or grow a crop when we can’t even enter the field? The entire village joined hands against us that nobody would give us work. But what prompted us to vacate the village was that some women made an announcement that now that these Adivasis have converted to Christians, they are no longer our tribe’s, and that Adivasi men are free to rape Christian women.”
The Christians have fled to Odisha state, Boraiburu said
“The pastor and believers here helped us build some huts to take shelter,” he said. “There in Surlu, women are usually alone at home after men go to work; it is not safe anymore. My two sisters are pursuing their studies, and dad works, in Chaibasa District. I left the property and everything in Surlu for their safety.”
As a handful of Christians among the majority Sarna adherents, they would have risked provoking the entire Adivasi community against them by reporting them to police, he said.
Earlier in Bokaro District, Hindu extremists used an elderly, bed-ridden man to give a false police statement of forcible conversion against Christians, sources said.
The ordeal began when pastor Sikandar Ravidas received a phone call from a police inspector telling him to bring documents related to church construction, on the request of revenue authorities.
Pastor Ravidas went to the police station near Lal Mithiya village, along with his father, Mahabir Das, and Binod Ravidas. There the inspector insisted they go with him to Chandrapura police station, said the pastor’s uncle, Manoj Ravidas.
“We received a phone call after he was taken into custody in Chandrapura,” Manoj Ravidas said. “He called us saying to pick up the documents, as they are being sent to jail the next day. After reaching the police station, we learned that police wanted to frame Binod Ravidas, former president of Lal Mithiya, in a case.”
A village official who is a staunch supporter of the RSS and the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party used the elderly Mani Ravidas to give a false statement to police that Christians were involved in forced in conversions, Manoj Ravidas told Morning Star News.
“The complainant, Mani Ravidas, is a bed-ridden old man,” he said, adding that the official obtained his thumb prints to sign an FIR against Binod Ravidas. “He brought the pastor into picture to make the case stronger under the state’s anti-conversion laws.”
Eight Christians, including the pastor, Ajay Ravidas, Lakhi Devi, Hiralal Shaw, Motilal Shaw, Robert Edward, were booked on Sept. 26 under Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for wounding religious feelings, and under Section 4 of Jharkhand’s “Freedom of Religion Act” (anti-conversion law). Under the law, forcible conversion can be punished with up to four years of prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$1,370).
“Pastor Ravidas’ wife and their 3-year-old are now under the protection of believers in Lal Mithiya village,” Manoj Ravidas said. “Even their own relatives can’t meet her or provide any sort of help as, the official might plot against them as well. He has a criminal history.”
Ajay Ravidas was taken into custody after he tried to report Hindu extremists chasing him on motorbikes, Manoj Ravidas said.
“He went to the police station to report against the bikers, but police arrested him instead,” Manoj Ravidas said. “He discovered in the police station that he also has been booked in the same FIR filed on Sept. 26.”
The initial judge and an additional district judge have rejected bail petitions.
“We are urging the church members to be united and strong, but they are very upset that the pastor has been in jail for more than 40 days now,” he said.
The coordinator of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India’s Jharkhand unit, Sandeep Tigga, said it is sad that lower courts refuse to take cases booked under the anti-conversion law, so the file gets passed to appellate courts, where matters remain in litigation for so long.
“Christians avoid taking legal course of action in most cases as they fear revenge attacks from extremist groups,” Tigga added. “Most of the Christian youth are the first generation getting into education, and they don’t want court cases to be an impediment to their studies, and even if they take a courageous step to report, police advise them to settle with the help of a village council.”
ADF-India organizes sessions for pastors, youth leaders and Christians in Jharkhand to make them aware of their rights and provisions in the law, Tigga said. ADF undertakes legal advocacy for religious freedom in several countries.
The group notes in its campaign celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it is sadly ironic that Christians are persecuted in India, a country with a long tradition and legal framework of freedom of religion. Article 18 of the U.N. declaration asserts that believers have the freedom to practice their faith “in teaching, practice, worship and observance,” ADF notes in its campaign to obtain signatures supporting the Geneva Statement on Human Rights at www.ImHumanRight.org.
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.