Christians meet near their rebuilt church in Kandhamal. In 2008, almost every church in the area was destroyed by Hindu nationalists.
Christians falsely accused of forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity were brutally beaten by a drunken police officer who then ordered them to pose like Christ on the cross.
Morning Star News reports that on March 15, a group of Hindu extremists stormed a church gathering in India’s Uttar Pradesh state brandishing hockey sticks and steel rods. Accusing the Christians of forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity, the extremists threatened to beat the group of about 200 worshipers unless they dispersed immediately.
“They had already started attacking us, and the police kept looking on,” pastor Indresh Kumar Gautam told Morning Star News. “They seized the Bibles and the sound instruments, but the officers — both male and female — did not stop them.”
Instead, police forced five worshipers into police vehicles and took them to the Kunda police station, he said.
Along with the pastor, three other Christians were arrested. Another person who had only recently begun attending services also was taken into custody, but when he told police he was not a Christian, they immediately made arrangements to release him on bail, pastor Gautam said.
The four Christians remained in custody for six hours until the Sub-Divisional Magistrate agreed to release them on bail after forcing them to sign an affidavit stating that they would never again be involved in Christian conversion activities in the area.
A police officer then entered the building, asking the Christians: “Are you the religious conversions people?” Before they could reply, he began beating them with a cane, Gautam said.
“The stink of alcohol from his mouth was very strong and unbearable,” the pastor recalled. “I was howling in pain, crying out to the Lord — ‘Lord, if I have to take this torture for sharing the Gospel, I accept it, Lord. I accept it. Give me the strength. My voice was growing feeble. I kept repeating, ‘Father, give me the strength. I need your strength. I can’t take this pain.’”
Striking the pastor’s legs, the officer mocked the pastor’s caste and economic status, using obscenities, the pastor said.
“I could hear him speak ill about me, my identity and faith, but I did not say a word,” Gautam said. “He had beaten me to a point I collapsed on the floor. I was lying there almost dead watching my friends also undergo the same degree of torture one after the other.”
The officer forced the other Christians to pose like Jesus on the cross, he said.
“He said that he wanted to get that feeling that he is torturing Jesus,” Gautam said. “‘Let’s see if your Jesus would come here to save you,’ he laughed, as he continued mocking us, calling us names, casteist slurs, but none of us protested.”
As a result of the torture, one of the Christians remains in severe pain and is unable to walk, Gautam said, adding, “He is unable to sleep because of the pain and bruises.”
The torture continued for three hours, he said, but there were no CCTV cameras inside the cell to capture the violence.
“There is no evidence of it. Unless we show our scars, no one would believe us,” Gautam said. “There is severe pain in my wrist, so that I am unable to do any chores.”
Advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India’s Uttar Pradesh Legal Aid Cell is providing legal assistance to the Christians.
“The Christian youths were beaten badly by the drunk officer,” Christian rights activist Dinanath Jaiswar said, adding that often, lower-caste people who put their faith in Christ are often the targets of upper-caste Thakurs.
“The Uttar Pradesh police force has time and again unleashed their anger against minorities,” Jaiswar said. “It appears the Hindu extremist groups are closely working with the police officers to target Christian worship.”
India’s Freedom of Religion Act 2019, which eight out of 29 states in the country have passed, bans religious conversion as a result of force or inducement. Those who violate the forced religious conversion law face anywhere from three to seven years in prison.
Most attacks on Christians — who make up just 2.3% of the country’s population — are launched under the pretext of the alleged “forcible” conversion of Hindus.
Earlier in March, Hindu extremists beat a Christian leader falsely accused of forcing Hindus to convert to Christianity before running their motorcycles over him.
Such attacks are expected to increase: Last week, Milind Parande, the General Secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, announced a nationwide campaign against “forcible” conversions to Christianity.
“They (Christian missionaries) are destroying the ancient culture and indigenous religion of the tribals (aborigines),” Parande told the Times of India. “They are resorting to trafficking of their children. The VHP will not allow this heinous conspiracy to succeed.”
“Issues like love jihad, where Hindu girls are lured to marry Muslims, are also being brought back. Every year, we bring back at least 2,000 people who have got converted.”
Attacks on Christians have been on the rise since Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took office as prime minister in 2014.
“Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences,” noted Open Doors’ World Watch List, which ranked India as the 10th worst country for Christians.