NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Nearly two months after police arrested a pastor in India from his grandmother’s home, tied him to a tree and beat him, threats from officers and others have kept him from filing a complaint on the brutality, sources said.
Pastor Pravesh Kumar of Amamahua, Uttar Pradesh state was visiting a sick uncle at his grandmother’s house in nearby Bhais Khur village on April 22 when police arrested him after a Hindu neighbor videotaped them singing during a family devotional on the roof, he said.
The neighbor had sent the video clip to police after recording it from the adjoining rooftop, Pastor Kumar said. Officers immediately arrived and questioned him about the purpose of the visit and about their singing.
When he explained that they were singing hymns, police told him they were arresting him on suspicion of forcible conversion because hymns were part of converting people, he said.
“They completely ignored the fact that the family we were visiting were all followers of Christ,” Pastor Kumar said.
Officers took the 26-year-old pastor to Bijauli police outpost at about 8 p.m., tied him face forward to a tree and physically assaulted him as they reviled him in coarse language, he said.
“I was beaten so brutally on my legs that they swelled up, and I was not able to walk,” Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News. “I was limping.”
His 55-year-old uncle arrived, noticed he was limping and entreated the policemen to stop the assault, he said. The officers demanded 20,000 to 25,000 rupees (US$256 to US$320) to release them, and because Pastor Kumar told them he had no money and had committed no crime, they said they would send him to the Bardah police station, he said.
Pastor Kumar and his uncle were transported to the Bardah police station, where an officer asked about his limp and scolded the officers for hitting him on body parts that bore readily visible marks.
The officer demanded a leather strap and told the junior policemen, “I will show you what body parts you should target while assaulting a person,” and then lashed the pastor 30 to 40 times and also beat his uncle, Pastor Kumar said.
As he struck Pastor Kumar, the officer demanded that he shout slogans hailing Hindu gods and goddesses: “Jai! Sri Ram [Hail! lord Ram]!” and, “Jai! Durga Ki [Hail! Durga],” and as he refused, he was further beaten.
When one of the junior policemen asked the officer if they should let Pastor Kumar’s uncle go, he refused, saying they would fabricate a report that the pastor and his uncle had fought each other. He ordered the officers to beat Pastor Kumar’s uncle.
Word spread of them being beaten in custody, and Christian leaders from Uttar Pradesh and Delhi called police to inquire about the arrest.
“When my well-wishers and concerned Christians called the police station, the officer came and told me that he received a call and beat me all the more, accusing me of having a ‘big group’ of supporters,” Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News.
As the officers kicked and struck Pastor Kumar and his uncle with police batons and a leather strap, the police continued to revile them with coarse language, he said.
The two Christians sustained several internal and external injuries. Pastor Kumar was beaten on all major joints, including the wrists and knees, with a ruptured nerve on a wrist that turned black, he said.
Police registered a complaint against them under the Indian Penal Code for “five or more assembling and disturbing public peace,” “abetment” and “abetting commission of offense.” They appeared before the Sub-Divisional Magistrate court in Lalganj, Azamgarh District after a medical exam, and the evening of next day they were released on bail.
Pastor Kumar was still taking pain medication two weeks after his release, he said.
Morning Star News refrained from calling police for comment as it could exacerbate mistreatment of the Christians, though Pastor Kumar gave permission to report on the case.
On the day of their arrest, Dinanath Jaiswar, a human rights activist and Christian leader in Uttar Pradesh, reached the police station along with other church leaders at about midnight. Jaiswar told Morning Star News that he was utterly shaken when he saw Kumar’s condition.
“He was brutally beaten in custody,” Jaiswar said. “I had tears in my eyes when I met him in the police station.”
A religious rights activist from Delhi who requested anonymity said that when he called the officer in-charge of the Bardah police station that same night, the chief refused to talk.
“The moment I spoke about Pastor Pravesh’s detention, he cut my phone and then stopped answering my calls,” the activist said.
Another Christian leader speaking on condition of anonymity said that he went to the police station the same night and asked police why were they torturing Kumar, a charge they roundly denied.
“It was so heart-breaking to see Pastor Pravesh,” the leader said. “We felt so helpless. We panicked as to whom should we approach for protection, when the ‘protectors’ themselves have become assaulters.”
When police sent Pastor Kumar and his uncle for medical examination, they instructed the accompanying constables that they must state that the pair’s injuries were the result of a scuffle between them, he said.
The station chief had warned him that if he told doctors or any senior police officer about the assault in custody, the officers “knew where to find” him.
“The officer told me that he would falsely implicate me and my uncle under the anti-conversion law and send us to jail if we tried to take any action against them,” Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News.
Jaiswar said the hospital doctor told him he could explain the injuries truthfully.
“The doctor at the hospital, shocked at Pravesh’s condition, told him that he can mention in the medical report the brutality, in which he was beaten with leather stap marks and got baton marks all over his body,” Jaiswar said. “But Pravesh was very scared of the warning the police officer had given him of the consequences of revealing the truth.”
Pastor Kumar was also hesitant to reveal anything that could spoil his brother’s imminent wedding, he said.
“I did not want to bring any kind of trouble upon the family and jeopardize my brother’s wedding,” he said. “Even after my release, my mother and other family members persuaded me to not do anything that would bring any kind of trouble upon the family.”
Jaiswar said he was an eyewitness to the injuries police inflicted on Pastor Kumar’s back, wrists and knees, and his difficulty in walking.
“I persisted that we must file a counter-complaint against the police,” Jaiswar said. “I wanted to make him stand before the senior officials and question the brutality of the police department for a small complaint like this one. But Kumar was too scared to take any action.”
Formerly a Hindu, Pastor Kumar had begun to follow Christ 18 months ago, along with his siblings and their families. The church where they worshipped was about 25 miles from their village, so his pastor encouraged him to start a fellowship at his house.
“For the past six months I have been conducting prayers in my house, and about 60-70 people attend the house church,” he said.
Since his arrest, he has not led the regular church service nor met for their regular Friday prayer meetings, he said. Residents in Amamahua have threatened him, saying they will follow the example set in Bhais Khur and call police if people gather in his house for prayer or worship.
“The villagers told me that they had no idea that they could do this to me,” he said. “Now they have learned from my arrest, and they will follow the same by complaining about me to the police if I conduct church service or meet for prayers.”
A rise in the number of assaults on Christians in Uttar Pradesh has raised concern in the minority Christian community.
“The water has gone over our heads now,” said Jaiswar, a member of a rapid action team that helps Christians in Uttar Pradesh persecuted for their faith. “While we are extending help in one case, we are informed of two more incidents elsewhere. We are forced to shift our attention from this one to the others. By the time we are tackling the new two, there are one or two new cases. We are puzzled as to how to reach out to all of them when they are geographically miles apart from each other.”
An area Christian leader who requested anonymity said that government, administration, police and media have come together to target Christians.
“The government has instructed the administration to carry out arrests wherever people are gathering for worship and file complaints against them under the law,” he said. “The right-wing groups get the police along, and without cross-questioning, the police arrest the pastors and lay leaders. Within two to three hours an FIR [First Information Report] is registered against them.”
Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India with more than 200 million inhabitants and is also the most populous country subdivision in the world. Its Christian population is 0.18 percent, while the Hindu majority is 79.73 percent of the population, according to the 2011 census.
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’ 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2021. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.