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Faith and Freedom at Stake

Manoj Varghese Manoj Varghese
18 Oct 2021
Faith and Freedom at Stake by Manoj Varghese of Indian Currents

Dark clouds loom large over Christians and their Churches as they are attacked across the country, especially in the Hindi belt. In recent times, the atrocities against them have increased manifold. Almost a dozen attacks were made on them in just one day, October 10. This is in addition to the 13 church attacks reported on October 3. 

One thing common in all these violent attacks is the charges of ‘conversion’; whereas all of them had a transformation of their faith, they had not changed their religion. In 1956, Dr B R Ambedkar, along with over 3.7 lakh Dalit followers left Hinduism and embraced Buddhism after they suffered oppression and humiliation for decades. According to the Constitution, following a particular faith is the prerogative of an individual.

In Mau in Uttar Pradesh, Pastor Abraham, who serves with UP Mission, and eight others were arrested on the charges of ‘conversion’ while they were praying along with a congregation of around 50 people on October 10. They were accused of performing religious conversion. The locals here have been worshiping in Christian faith for the past 5-6 years.

They were booked under Sections 298, 504, 506, 3, 51 of IPC and certain sections of the Anti-Conversion Act. After much persuasion, and in the wake of no evidence, the charges were reframed by the Mau police station under Sections 151, 107 and 116 of CrPC for disturbing the public peace and harmony and entering into a conflict. After three days of custody, only three of them have been granted bail after being produced before the city magistrate.

The landlord of the house, where the worship was going on, has no problem, and has opened up the house for Church service. He has made a live testimony in the village after getting healed of a disease he was suffering from for the past several years. He had consulted several doctors, but in vain, and finally turned to Jesus and had taken several vows of commitment. He himself was a part of the congregation which was worshipping there.  

In another incident, as stated by Brajraj -- a human rights activist with Persecution Relief -- one Rakesh Gautam was threatened by two men reportedly of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, while he was in a prayer fellowship along with the local people in Masumpur village of Sitapur district. Later, on the complaint of the duo, he was taken to the police station and was kept in the police custody for almost 26 hours.

The local women, who were part of the prayer meeting, also had to undergo humiliation and investigation by the police for almost 12 hours. Rakesh has a small cloth business and stays in Ladoopur village, almost 10 kms away. He came to the Lord almost 10 years ago and lives along with his family of four children. No one lured him with money, job or other resources. He lives a life of hand-to-mouth, then and now. The only difference is the hope and peace he has found in Jesus.

In yet another incident, a group of people were intercepted by some right-wing activists while they were returning from a worship service at Madaripur village in Amethi. The villagers, dominated by Thakurs, asked them to refrain from Christian faith and prayers or face the consequences. On a complaint by the activists, one Rajkumar was arrested, but was released on the condition that they will not worship or conduct prayers in their house.

Later, the mob attacked a group of people including Rajkumar, Kuldeep, a senior pastor and an advocate. Yet again, with the help of some influencers, they were released from the police station. Bhim Army of Azad Samaj Party too intervened and mounted pressure on the administration and hence no FIR was filed, stated Kuldeep, a local human rights activist with Persecution Relief.

In Maharajganj, also in U.P., Sriniwas and his wife were beaten up by a group of religious extremists while they were leading a payer service along with around 40 people on October 10. The police intervened, but instead of safeguarding the victims, threatened them of dire consequences if they continued to worship further. They were also booked, but were released later. ‘How can the custodians of law violate the fundamental right of people pursuing a particular faith?’ asks Surender Pokhal of Evangelical Fellowship of India Religious Liberty Commission (EFIRLC). 

In a similar case, Pastor Sukh Sagar from Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh, was beaten up and taken to the police station;  Pastor Santosh Kanoj, Rajesh Buriya, Bhawsingh Chouhan and Vinod Rathod have been put in Bagli jail in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh since August 8, 2021.

Pastor Sudama Prasad, associated with the GEMS ministry, was attacked and his prayer meeting was disrupted at Dobhi in Gaya district of Bihar. Around 30 people broke into a prayer meeting and attacked Pastor Sudama, his 22-year-old son, and his wife. Since the pastor resides in rented accommodation, he has been asked to vacate the property.

In Campierganj, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, three pastors, Vishal, Govinda, and Karan, were taken into police custody. Allegations of religious conversion were made against all three pastors. Christian advocacy groups intervened and the pastors were released without being charged.

In Garhani, Bhojpur, Bihar, as the Sunday Service began in Gospel Echoing Missionary Society (GEMS) Church, a group of people stopped the worship service. They threatened the believers to kill them if they continued to pray there. Evangelist Jyoti Prakash serves as the missionary here. 

In Haliyal, Uttar Kannad, Karnataka, a group disrupted a Sunday prayer meeting which was led by an independent pastor, Suresh Durmani. Later, police from Haliyal visited the pastor and told him that only family members should participate in the prayer service and non-family members should not be invited. Pastor Suresh has been doing ministry for the last 10 years in the same area and conducts prayer in his rented accommodation. At present, he has around 40 members attending Sunday prayer meetings.

As per the Constitution of India, it is the Individual’s right to pursue any religious faith. But the country is witnessing alarming rise in attacks on people who are practicing a religion according to their belief and faith.  

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