Police, Hindu Extremists Halt Christmas Celebrations in Uttar Pradesh, India

Militant Hindu nationalists feel free to attack under BJP government.

Pastor David Amarnath. (Morning Star News)

Pastor David Amarnath. (Morning Star News)

HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – Summoned to a police station after Hindu extremists stopped his church’s worship last month, a pastor in northern India brought some 50 Christians with him to help plead for his rights.

But 45-year-old pastor David Amarnath of Pathakpur village in Bhadohi District, Uttar Pradesh state, was taken aback by what police told him.

“Why did you bring all these people?” an officer told him. “It is very simple. The BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government is ruling now, and you can’t assemble to pray. The local Hindu Vahini activists and all RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] groups are now informed of your activities – they will be after you. Even we can’t help you.”

Pastor Amarnath added that when the Christians asked about the fundamental right to freedom of worship in the Indian constitution, saying they had not violated any laws, police official M.K. Pandey replied, “So, if I lodge an FIR [First Information Report] against your brother, are you all ready to go to jail for him?”

The Christians said, “Yes.” Pandey later told Pastor Amarnath, who has only one complete leg and requires a wheelchair, that if he continued worshipping, “I will cut your other leg off. Your life will become hell. So refrain from all Christian activities,” according to the pastor.

Church member Amit Jaiswar said that the Dec. 11 encounter at the police station and the disruption of worship the previous day made Christmas celebration impossible.

“We have not gathered as a church for Sunday worship for three weeks till date,” he told Morning Star News. “We did not celebrate Christmas and could not observe watch night service for New Year’s Eve. Our pastor is under observation by RSS activists.”

On Dec. 25, seven police officers were deployed in front of Pastor Amarnath’s house to ensure that he led no house church worship, he said.

“They told me to lead life quietly and not become the target of Hindu extremists,” he said. “I shared the gospel with them. I told them about the importance for fellowship, and the love we share. My children distributed pieces of cake to the police and neighbors. That was our Christmas!”

Compliant Police

It took only two Hindu extremists to stop the worship of Pastor Amarnath’s congregation of 200 people. Sarweshwar Singh, 30, and an accomplice barged into the worship service at around 12 noon and started threatening the Christians.

“He started shouting at us, ‘What is going on here? Why are you people gathered here? I will tear your skin and break your bones if I see any of you praying,’” church member Jaiswar said.

The Christians asked Singh what had happened and why he was troubled. He replied, “I want to put an end to your Bible reading and worship here – how dare you practice Christianity here? How dare you attract Hindus to your faith?” according to Jaiswar.

Jaiswar told him the gathering was not a religion but the Way and the Truth, and that village officials had granted them permission to meet at the village council hall.

He said that Singh grew angrier and shouted, “Oh! Woah! You are singing the goodness of a foreign god. Did you ever read Bhagwadgita or Ramayana? Why are our holy books not touching your heart?”

“I told them the Bible has given me the peace which nothing in the world could give,” Jaiswar, a father of two, said. “They were just two people, but their anger was uncontrollable. It pained us when they started saying, ‘Since your pastor is disabled, he is making his living by misguiding you people into believing a foreign god. Call him out now. We will cut his other [remaining] leg off.’”

The extremists shoved their way into the hall and spoke obscene, humiliating words against the pastor, he said. The hard-line Hindus called police, and when officers arrived Singh ordered them to register a case against the pastor. Pastor Amarnath explained that the church had full permission to worship there.

“The extremists warned the police to register a case on David Amarnath and immediately impose sections of the Indian Penal Code irrelevant to the situation, but with a higher degree of punishment,” Jaiswar said, adding that Sing said, “If you [police] don’t, we will see to it.”

The next day morning Pastor Amarnath was summoned to the police station.

Police Harassment

In Uttar Pradesh’s Nawabganj town in Bareilly District, police on Dec. 27 dispersed 150 Christians as they finished celebrating Christmas with three days of worship at a house church and accused them of forcible conversions, the church pastor said.

Pastor Shyam Lal told Morning Star News that police arrived at his house and began badgering them, asking, “Why are you converting people? You decorated the house well, gave it a celebratory look and are converting Christians.”

“I told them, ‘No, we don’t convert anyone. We only worship our Lord Jesus Christ, and we are celebrating Christmas,’” he said, adding that police said they had received a complaint from the Hindu Parishad, an extremist group, that they were “converting people.”

Police summoned the father of five to the police station the next day, Dec. 28, where he was surprised to find about 15 RSS and Hindu Parishad members had gathered. Lal told them the church hadn’t disturbed anyone, and that as citizens of India they had freedom to worship the Lord.

“But the RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists present in the police station started abusing me in extreme foul language in front of the police,” Lal said. “They said, ‘You must take a pledge right now that you won’t worship Lord Jesus.’”

The RSS and VHP extremists, led by Akhilesh Kumar Gangwar, are the same people who ordered police to register a false case against pastor Mahendra Pal, Lal said.

Lal told them he wouldn’t take the pledge.

“Then they started saying, ‘Okay, you can pray and worship within the four walls of your house with your family only. No other should join you in this. You must not invite anybody.’”

When he told them he would continue worshipping as he pleased, he said, they became further enraged and shouted, “You must not share gospel. You must not pray for healing of anyone. Why are you attracting crowds to Christianity?”

“The RSS activists came in hundreds, and they called media also,” he said. “They threatened me, saying, ‘Our angry activists are outside, you get four witnesses and sign the pledge with them, only then you would go home safely from here.’ There was so much pressure on me that I had to sign the pledge, but I did not get any witnesses, and immediately left the police station.”

His church has decided to meet in groups of 10 or 15 in different homes for worship, he said.

“The house church is vacant,” he said. “We have not gathered to celebrate New Year’s also.”

42 Attacks over Christmas Season                                                                                                                                              There were 42 incidents of persecution of Christians nationwide over the Christmas season, according to advocacy group United Christian Forum, which counted 32 incidents of persecution of Christians in Uttar Pradesh state alone last year.

“It doesn’t speak well about the religious freedom in India that Christmas in many parts of the country was celebrated under police protection/intervention,” John Dayal of the United Christian Forum told Morning Star News. “The rise of Hindu fundamentalism, a militant brand of Hindu fundamentalism, is a cause for concern for all democratic people. The Christmas season has seen 42 cases of persecution, including an attack on carolers, and in most of the cases the role of police has been most despicable.”

Police attitudes favoring Hinduism are harmful to people of all minority faiths, he said.

“Under the current government’s regime, the police register cases against a complainant despite the fact that the Christian is the victim who has been beaten up,” Dayal said. “In many cases, the victims are arrested even before the attacker is taken into detention/custody. And, when the two register the case, the police will minimize the crime by showing it as a ‘clash between two groups.’”

Pastors in Uttar Pradesh state requested prayers for the closed house church and believers gathering in secret.

“About 40 male members of the church are going to an isolated place far away from the town and praying to the Lord,” Lal said. “I don’t know how long we can continue like this. We are praying to the Lord for strength.”

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

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