NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – A rash of anti-Christian attacks this month hit Haryana state in northern India, where a new chief minister spoke against Christians and 45 were severely beaten at a burial service.
A mob of more than 700 Hindu extremists on March 6 assaulted the 45 Christians as they began burial rites for an elderly Christian woman at a cemetery in Faridabad.
“The Christians were beaten very severely as the mob targeted the Christians individually,” the Rev. Virendar Kumar of Bethenia Church told Morning Star News. “Each and every Christian was being beaten up by 10-12 people from the mob. Around 35-plus Christians are hospitalized in different hospitals in Faridabad. Some are seriously injured.”
The Christians were forced to flee, taking the body of the deceased with them.
The assailants said the Christian burial ground was too close to their village, Pali, a half kilometer away, so they would not allow Christians to bury their dead there. The local administration had assigned the graveyard to the Christians, and Christian churches in Faridabad have all necessary permissions and papers for it.
“This was the third plot allotted for the cemetery purposes to the Christian community in Faridabad after the old one got filled,” said pastor Sunil Salvation, president of the Faridabad Pastors Fellowship and secretary of the Faridabad Cemetery Committee.
A plot was first allotted to Christians in 2008 near Budhana village outside Faridabad, but strong opposition from villagers in Budhana compelled authorities to allocate another space, called Sector 8, next to Hindu and Muslim cemeteries.
“Trouble arose related to the Sector 8 cemetery as well, as someone claimed it was his personal land,” Salvation said. “We went to the administration, and finally this present cemetery was allotted to the Christians in 2013. We were told by the Joint Commissioner to go ahead with the burials, and that the local administration would build a boundary wall later.”
Two burials have already been conducted in this cemetery.
“We were given police protection for both the previous burials that we conducted, but March 6, being a holiday on account of the festival of Holi [Hindu festival of colors], we decided not to bother the police and perform the burial ourselves,” Salvation said.
Christians reached the cemetery at 11 a.m., Kumar said, and soon a small mob began following them, which quickly grew. As threats increased, some of the Christians began leaving.
“Only those who escaped early escaped the beating,” said Kumar. “I was one of them. It was a mostly young crowd, but because of color on their faces due to the festival, we cannot identify them.”
Salvation, who said he lost a new motorcycle in the attack, said the assailants beat Christians with the tools they had brought for digging.
“We were beaten mercilessly,” Salvation said. “The ambulance in which we were carrying the body was also broken; the glass windows were shattered. The spade with which we were digging the ground was taken up by someone in the mob, and he swung it at the ambulance driver with full force. Thankfully the driver ducked, and the spade did not hit him. If it had, the driver would not have survived.”
Other cars and motorcycles belonging to Christians were also damaged as a result of the attack. A car belonging to Mahavir Singh was destroyed.
Kumar said the Hindu cemetery is in the middle of Pali village, and the Christian burial ground is 1 kilometer away on government-allotted land.
“How can this happen in a country where law and order is supposed to prevail?” Kumar asked.
Salvation added that an illegal Hindu temple has been built next to the cemetery.
The village head of Pali was also present with the mob when the Christians were beaten, they said.
The Christians later returned with the body, this time with two police vehicles for protection, but the mob blocked them from burying it.
“Even with the police, we were not able to bury our dead in our allotted cemetery,” Salvation said. “She [the village head] stopped us again. So we left and somehow buried the dead in the old cemetery, which is already full.”
The next day a First Information Report (FIR) was filed in the local police station, naming only the village head, as the rest were unidentified. There have been no arrests so far. Christian leaders led by the Rev. S.P. David, president of the Faridabad Cemetery committee, submitted an application to the commissioner of police and the district magistrate.
The district collector has asked Christians to seek police protection before each burial.
“We do not feel bad that we were beaten up but are sad that the community is being targeted in this way,” Salvation said.
The Rev. Vijayesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission said Haryana has not been a hot spot for anti-Christian action until the past few months.
“Things have changed in the last few months, and now more than ever the minority Christian community in Haryana is being victimized by hate crimes,” Lal said. “We are concerned and urge the chief minister, Mr. Khattar, to intervene in the situation to restore the confidence of the community.”
Chief Minister Defends Desecration
Following the desecration of a church building under construction in Kaimri village, Hissar District, the newly elected chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, on March 16 defended the attack and accused the pastor of fraudulent conversion.
The Rev. Subhash Chand of the Believers Church returned to Kaimri after a trip to a nearby city on March 13 to find Hindu extremist groups had replaced the church’s cross with an idol of Hanuman and installed a flag of the Hindu extremist umbrella group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) depicting Ram, a Hindu deity.
Along with damaging and vandalizing the church building, the assailants also stole a water cooler and other items, he alleged in his First Information Report to police on March 14. The report accuses 14 people under Indian Penal Code sections 147 for punishment for rioting, 153A for promoting enmity between groups, 295 for destroying or damaging a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class of persons, 380 for theft in a building, and 506 for criminal intimidation.
Chief Minister Khattar of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who took power in October 2014, defended the vandalization during a budget session of the Haryana assembly and accused Chand of trying to convert Hindu boys by promising them brides. Saying villagers were opposed to the “so-called church,” the chief minister told the assembly that a complaint has been filed against Chand for allegedly assaulting a youth who ran away from a prayer meeting because Chand had insulted Hindu gods.
“The youth was shunted out and beaten up when he opposed the priest’s statement,” Khattar said.
Chand denied the accusations, saying the charge was frivolous.
On the same day (March 16), the Union Home Ministry asked the Haryana government to send a report on desecration of the church and action taken so far. On March 17, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern through social media over the church desecration and an incident in West Bengal, prompting police to arrest Anil Godara that day.
This led to widespread outrage by Hindu groups in the area; VHP leader Ravinder Goyal and Bajran Dal leader Kapil Vats led mobs that demanded the release of Godara and asked for the return of the Hanuman idol the church had taken down.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also issued notices to the chief secretary and director general of police in Haryana, calling for reports within two weeks. The NHRC has enquired about the steps being taken for the protection of religious places of minorities in the state.
Pastor Chand, meantime, has moved his family to the nearby city of Ambala for security reasons.
John Dayal, spokesperson of the United Christian Forum, told Morning Star News that he was astounded by the chief minister’s comments.
“His government has showed its commitment to Hinduism by its recent actions and comments on beef, making Gita [part of an epic tale in Hindu scripture] a part of the curricula and such,” he said. “His justification of the actions of the violent elements who oppose the church and attacked it undermines the rule of law in the state.”
Khattar’s comments also open vulnerable religious minorities to coercive action and violence by vigilante groups, he added.
“The chief minister has lowered the dignity of his office and betrayed the trust of people he is sworn to protect,” Dayal said.
This was not the first time that Chand had faced opposition. Members of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal on Feb. 11 attempted to destroy the church cross after objecting to construction of a church building in the area. More than 20 people gathered at the site demanding a halt to construction with chants and foul language. Chand had informed police.
Christian Loses Job
In the state’s Rohtak District, a Christian identified only as Mukesh lost his job after a mob publically targeted him over his faith.
On March 9 a mob gathered outside the small government hospital where Mukesh was working as a sweeper.
“The mob consisted of around 15-plus people and was stirred by Raj Kumar Dhaka, a lab technician working in the same hospital,” Mukesh told Morning Star News.
Mukesh said Dhaka, a local leader of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had called media to record the Hindus shouting chants against him. Originally from Farmana Badshahpur village, Rohtak District, Mukesh is a member of a church in nearby Kalanaur.
“They objected to me being a Christian and attending church in Kalanaur,” he said. “I am attending the Uddhar Ka Jeevan Kalisia [Eternal Life Church] since April 2012, when my wife was healed miraculously as a result of prayers.”
The media questioned Mukesh, as did the crowd.
“I know most of them who were in the crowd – they are good-for-nothing people who idle away their time, drink and fight; Dhaka used them against me,” Mukesh said. “I do not evangelize at work, but people know I am a Christian. There is no prayer being held at my house, but I do attend church. This is a frame up.”
When Mukesh reported for work the next day, the medical officer in charge, Dr. Vikram Sagwan, summoned him.
“Dr. Sagwan handed me a letter from the contractor which said that they are not satisfied with my work, and just like that I was without a job,” he said.
Mukesh said he has lost his salary of the equivalent of US$110 per month and has no means of income.
“I was not given any notice period, and neither were the charges explained,” he told Morning Star News. “I have been terminated because I am a Christian. I don’t know what to do now. I have a family to support.”
Following the attack at the cemetery in Faridabad on March 6, Hindu extremists belonging to Hindu nationalist groups attacked Bethenia Church’s service on March 8, said pastor Kumar. He was later summoned to a police station after an unidentified person asserted that the elderly woman who died should have received a Hindu burial.
The assailants beat church members, threatened them with demands to leave the area and verbally abused them, though no one was seriously injured. The Christians went to a neighboring branch church and continued their worship there.
The 42-year-old pastor Kumar was summoned to the police station after a Hindu who had been attending his church filed a complaint against him. The complainant, whom Kumar declined to name, was offended at the Christian burial given to a relative of the pastor.
“My relative was a recent believer in Christ from the Hindu background, and this church member was offended as to why we did not perform the last rites according to Hindu rituals,” Kumar told Morning Star News.