NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Days after police tortured 20 Christians in India’s northwestern state of Rajasthan, Hindu extremists in Madhya Pradesh struck two churches in four days.
In central India’s Madhya Pradesh, where a law against forced or fraudulent conversions is routinely invoked to harass Christians – though none has ever been found guilty – members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal on Wednesday (March 4) stormed into a prayer meeting at a private residence at Haldad, near Julwania in Barwani District, with a contingent of police officers.
After the Hindu extremists accused pastor Lal Singh and Indram Chauhan of fraudulently converting poor tribal people, the officers arrested the two Christians.
“The Hindu group members caught hold of Pastor Lal Singh and Indram Chauhan, manhandled them and passed them over to the police, after creating much disturbance in the area,” pastor Anar Singh told Morning Star News.
Police reportedly confiscated Bibles belonging to Pastor Singh and Chauhan as evidence.
The incident took place near the Julwania police station, but officers took them to the Rajpur police station, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) away. The law requires that arrested persons be presented before a magistrate within 24 hours, but area Christian leaders said the process for Pastor Singh and Chauhan was delayed.
“Police personnel in Rajpur seem to be waiting for police people from Julwania police station to come and complete the formalities,” a local Christian leader said.
In New Delhi, Vijayesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) said he had received reports that Hindu extremists with the Dharm Jagran Samiti had surrounded the Julwania police station and prevented police from going to Rajpur to complete formalities necessary to present the arrested Christians before a judge.
“It appears that the Hindu groups want the Christians to stay in the police station for a longer period of time,” Lal said.
Barwani District has a history of attacks on Christians. According to the Religious Liberty Commission of the EFI, Christians in Barwani were targeted in October and November of last year, resulting in the arrest of pastor Ashok Pratap and Kallu Rai Singh. At least four people received hospital treatment for serious injuries.
On March 1, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) away in Alirajpur District, about a dozen Hindu extremists shouting anti-Christian slogans tried to break into a church service in Rampura village, sources said. The village is three kilometres from Jobat, a century-old Christian mission station.
While about 300 people were worshipping, the Hindu extremists led by Pratap Singh Dawar, head master of the government school in Jobat and leader of the Hindu Jagran Manch (Hindu Revival Platform), tried to force their way into the building, pastor Pastor Kanhaiya Lal (pictured) told Morning Star News.
“They were shouting slogans against Christianity and using abusive language,” said Lal, whose church worship site moved from Jobat to the village three years ago. “I had not seen most of them before and think they are from nearby villages, because I do not recognize them as residents from Jobat city.”
One of the Christians present alerted police.
“The sloganeering and abuse continued for over an hour, till the police reached the spot,” said Emmanuel Ariel of the Church of North India in Jobat. “They were vilifying the Christian faith.”
Kanhaiya Lal said police told church members to return to the building and continue their worship, which they did. Police continued talking with the extremists, eventually persuading them to pursue the matter legally and file a complaint, he said. In the complaint they named Noel Immanuel, who had given the church its land, and assistant pastor Pratap Rawat.
“Three of them have alleged that Pastor Pratap gave them money to convert to Christianity, when the fact is we have never seen these people before,” Kanhaiya Lal said. “I have heard that they even made affidavits to this effect and have deposed before authorities against us.”
Policemen have been visiting church leaders continually to record their statements, he said.
“I have been called to the police station tomorrow with four of my church members for statements again,” the pastor said. “It is troublesome, but what can we do?”
Alirajpur and surrounding areas also have a history of violence against Christians, said the EFi’s Vijayesh Lal.
“It was particularly violent in 2004, as many Christian homes were damaged, church buildings demolished and destroyed, Christians beaten up and at least one Christian woman was raped as a result of mass violence against Christians,” he said. “Incidents of attacks against churches have continued on and off, but largely calm has prevailed till last year.”
Three years ago Kanhaiya Lal’s Filadelfia church moved from a rented location in Jobat to Rampur village after Immanuel provided the land as a gift.
In October 2014, Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM) protested and threatened to burn the 100-year-old church building in Jobat after a Christian, Joseph Pawar, and a Hindu woman, Ayushi Wani, eloped. Under pressure from HJM extremists, police found the adult couple and annulled their marriage, ignoring their protests.
Human rights defenders criticized the administration actions as Wani was sent to a government shelter for women and Pawar was sent to Indore under strict police orders to refrain from contact with her. They were later reunited after the High Court of Madhya Pradesh declared the actions of the administration illegal.
Tortured in Rajasthan
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke twice in less than two weeks about religious freedom for all, police detained 20 Christians from Andhra Pradesh who were visiting Jaipur, Rajasthan, and tortured them in custody, sources said.
The members of the Hebron Church at Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, had come to Jaipur to sight-see and proclaim Christ. The 20 Christians, most of them middle-aged, were staying with A.P. David at Shanti Nagar in Jaipur.
As the group distributed Christian literature near the Mansarovar market area in Jaipur on Feb. 25, a mob of about 60 people from Hindu extremist groups ambushed them, said area Christian leader Rajesh Malaki.
“The mob abused them in filthy language and pushed the members around,” he told Morning Star News.
Rajasthan state president of the National Christian Council, Malaki said group left after the mob called police.
Pastor Walter Masih, the subject of international attention after a video of Hindu extremists mercilessly beating him in 2007 went viral, was the host of the group. He said the mob followed the group, subjecting them to much abuse, and some forced their way into the hostel where the Christians were staying.
“Soon the mob increased and the police arrived,” Masih told Morning Star News. “Instead of confronting the mob, who were trespassing and hurling abuses, the police rounded up the Christians in two Jeeps and took them to the Mansarovar police station, where they were beaten up by policemen.”
Officers kicked and pushed the Christians as they got out of the police Jeeps at the station, Malaki said. Assistant Sub-Inspector Daya Ram and two other policemen lined the Christians up, made them spread their palms and beat them with belts and sticks on their hands and wrists, he said.
“What is surprising is that the police, instead of protecting the Christians from the hands of the mob, took them to the police station and indulged in beating them using torture akin to third degree and abused them with objectionable language,” said Lal of the EFI. “If the protectors turn into perpetrators, where will the victims go? It looks like the police in Jaipur have not heard the prime minister’s promise of ensuring freedom of religion for all citizens of India.”
Civic and Christian leaders who reached the police station were horrified at the condition of the Christians.
“I was told by members of the civil society as well as Christian leadership of Jaipur, that the Christians were beaten up very badly,” Lal said. “Their hands were swollen red as a result of the beating that they got, in which belts and sticks were used on their hands and wrists.”
Masih added that some were bleeding, and one Christian’s watch broke off as a result of the beating.
“Policemen had also indulged in a lot of verbal abuse against the Christian group,” Masih told Morning Star News.
“When we reached the spot along with leaders from the Sadbhav Manch [Interfaith Dialogue platform] as well as some members of civil society, we were shocked to see the utter impunity and the scant regard for law as practiced by the police themselves,” Malaki said. “At least six people were seriously injured out of the 20, but there was no sign of the station officer.”
EFI reported that prominent community leaders spoke to the superintendent of police and assistant commissioner of police, and only with great difficulty did he get a complaint registered.
“The Assistant Sub-Inspector kept threatening the Christian group even in the presence of his superiors and then finally began pleading with them to agree to a compromise,” Malaki said.
The police station was filled with Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) throughout the effort to file a complaint, he said.
“The RSS workers tried to threaten us and hurled abuses at us, as we were speaking in favor of the Christians, but the police did not stop them,” Malaki said. “Since our group was an interfaith group and influential members of the community were part of it, we were not attacked and the police were willing to listen to us.”
At about 11 p.m., after more than nine hours at the police station, the Christians were released at the request of the local leaders. Police accompanied them to their accommodation in Shanti Nagar, where officers threatened their host.
“The policemen who accompanied the group back to Mr. David’s place threatened Mr. David with possible police charges against him if he continued to provide shelter to the Christians,” Masih told Morning Star News. “The policemen put so much pressure on Mr. David that he was forced to ask the Christians to move out of his property. The Christians, who were already tired and beaten up, were also told to leave Jaipur immediately by the same policemen, who warned them of a bigger and more vicious attack by the RSS the next day.”
A memorandum submitted to Police Commissioner Janga Rao by the Christian Community, Interfaith Dialogue platform and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties of Rajasthan the next day confirmed the police threats.
“What shocked us was that after we reached our own homes, we learned that the police which had gone to drop the 20 had pressured the owner of the hostel where they were staying, Mr. A.P. David, to not let them spend the night there,” the memo read. “The people were thrown out and told to make their way to the railway station and not return to the city; they were told that cases of conversions would be filed if they would not leave the city. Terrorized and devastated, the group left after midnight, despite our assurances, including informing you that the Mansarovar [Police station in charge] had indulged in this mischief of despatching them off.”
The memorandum demanded that three policemen who beat the Christians be arrested and suspended, and that the complaint registered by the Christians be converted into a First Information Report and be investigated. It also demanded that the station officer of Mansarovar police station be held accountable for threatening the Christians and pressuring David to make them leave.
“The State Police Department of Rajasthan must ensure that the law enforcement agency is free from all bias and from people who promote hatred,” the EFI’s Lal said. “We appeal to Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje to ensure that minorities are protected in her state and are free to profess, practice and propagate their faith without fear. This is what the prime minister has promised, and we expect that the Bharatiya Janata Party state government led by Mrs. Raje will keep the PM’s word.”