Date:  August 13, 2021

Two pastors and wife were comforting Hindu who lost family to COVId-19.

By Our Southern India Correspondent

HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – Three Christians are in jail after hard-line Hindus in northern India last week beat two of them, both pastors, and a Hindu they were comforting in the loss of his family to COVID-19.

Police take three Christians to jail from court in Uttar Pradesh India earlier this month. Morning Star News 150x220

Hindu neighbors from the upper-caste Thakur community in Phoolpur, Uttar Pradesh state on Aug. 3 attacked 62-year-old Lalji Vishwakarma and the two pastors, the Hindu said.

“A mob of Hindu extremist neighbors from the Thakur community barged inside the house and falsely accused me and the pastors visiting my house of forced conversions,” Vishwakarma told Morning Star News. “They have no pity that I have been grieving my family’s death.”

Pastor Neel Durai, pastor Vijay Kumar Patel and his wife, Kiran Devi, had come to pray for him and his granddaughters, Vishwakarma said.

“I lost my wife, son and daughter-in-law to COVID one after the other,” he said. “My young granddaughters, ages 10 and 12, and I were longing for God’s servants to visit us, pray for us and comfort us.”

No one else was invited to join them in the prayers, he said. His two granddaughters were the only others at the house as the pastors began reading from the Bible and praying for God’s comfort and peace on them, he said.

Initially a shopkeeper who runs a small grocery store near the house heard them praying, knocked on the door and asked him what was going on inside, he said. Vishwakarma told him they were only praying.

“He peeked inside and saw us holding Bibles in our hands,” Vishwakarma told Morning Star News. “I told him that he should not be mistaken, and that we are only praying for peace in our hearts since we lost our family members. But he went and brought the mob of upper-caste neighbors.”

Within a few minutes, about 20 Hindu extremists barged into his home, while others surrounded the house, he said.

“They started shouting, raising their voices to high pitches,” Vishwakarma said. “I tried hard to explain to them that it was a prayer for peace, but they did not pay heed to my words. Soon they started accusing us of forced conversions and started beating the pastors, my grandchildren, and me. I was crying, pleading for them to stop, but they would not hear a word.”

They reviled him in foul language, he said.

“They said, ‘This old fellow has no other work, he is gone after his wife’s death. He now wants to try a new faith,’” Vishwakarma said. “It is not true. My wife and son used to occasionally attend prayers. We heard about Christ but did not renounce any religion or religious practices. We were afraid of the society as we live in a Hindu-dominant area.”

As the assailants continued to beat them, some of them said they should turn the pastors in to police and file serious charges against them, he said.

“They had beaten up the pastors badly and also issued threats that they would kill us,” Vishwakarma said. “All this while I was continuously repeating that they have been mistaken and that we were only praying for peace since we lost our family. We are grieving the loss of my wife, son, and daughter-in-law. Should not they be considerate of our suffering?”

He and his grandchildren have also been sick, and had only a few other relatives who could visit them, he added. Neighbors among the assailants had told them the family was cursed and hence dying off from COVID-19.

“After the attack, my grandchildren got too afraid to stay in our house,” he said. “They fled to a relative’s house and have been staying there. I have been all alone since that day.”

Under pressure from villagers, officers at Phoolpur police station arrested Pastor Durai, originally from Tamil Nadu, and Pastor Patel and his wife, and charged them with forcible conversion and other crimes.

The forcible conversion charge was filed under a state ordinance that recently came into force against conversions “by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or marriage.” They were also charged under the ordinance for unlawful conversion of minors.

Police also registered a First Information Report (FIR) against them under non-bailable offenses of the Indian Penal Code against “promoting enmity between classes” (Section 153A) and “maliciously insulting the religion or the religious beliefs of any class” (Section 295A).

The Uttar Pradesh ordinance, similar to other states’ draconian anti-conversion laws, contravenes the provisions for religious freedom inscribed in the Indian Constitution, constitutional experts say.

The morning after the attack, Aug. 4, a representative of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India went to the Phoolpur police station and urged officers to conduct a fair and unbiased investigation based on truth and justice.

“A huge mob of Hindu militant Bajrang Dal and Hindu Yuva Vahini activists surrounded the police station shouting slogans against the Christians in custody,” an eyewitness told Morning Star News. “They staged a protest in front of the police station.”

At an Aug. 5 hearing, a judge at the Magistrate Court rejected bail for the three Christians. A subsequent bail plea filed before the District Sessions judge is yet to come up for hearing

The three Christians have been in judicial custody since Aug. 5 and spent the previous two days in police custody.

“The Hindu extremists have been pressuring me to record a statement against the pastors, and there is a threat to my life also,” Vishwakarma told Morning Star News.

According to ADF India’s records, there have been 28 incidents of hostilities against Christians in Uttar Pradesh state this year.

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 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.