Sunday worship in the Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh was disrupted by a mob of young men, led by members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP-World Council of Hindus) and the Gau Rakshaks (cow vigilantes) on 30 July 2017.
“They threatened the worshippers and chased them away. They manhandled me and threatened to assault me if I did not stop conducting the Sunday worship,” Pastor Mahendra Gangwar told Global Christian News.
The pastor has been leading a congregation in village Grem, near Nawabganj for 15 years and about 250 people gather regularly every Sunday in the prayer hall that Pastor Gangwar has built near his house.
As the Sunday worship was in progress, a group of about 20-25 Hindu extremists disrupted the service and started to argue with Pastor Gangwar.
The Hindu extremists informed the police, who arrived in the village and arrested Pastor Gangwar and took him to the area police station.
The extremists followed the police and reached the police station pressurizing the police to act against Gangwar.
A team of Christian leaders from Bareilly also headed to the police station and took up Gangwar’s case with the police staff. Gangwar was released in the evening of the same day.
One of the leaders from the Christian team, who does not want to be named, reported that the police officer expressed their helplessness at the pressure Hindu extremists were placing them under.
The police officer reportedly told them that members of the VHP, emboldened by the political ascendancy of Hindu nationalism, bully the police staff and even assault them.
Local newspapers on the following day alleged that Gangwar had offered a man named Amit Kumar an amount of Rupees two lakh (2415 GBP), monetary help in construction of his house and had promise to get him married if he converts to Christianity.
The allegations came as a shock to Gangwar himself. He said, “Amit Kumar belongs to my own village and I know him personally. He has never every entered my Church and I have never preached the Gospel to him.”
“The allegations against me are baseless. If the police summons him and digs into the facts, I am sure he will easily deny that I ever tried to convert him neither forcefully nor by allurement”, said Gangwar in reaction to the news.
Gangwar said he was “harassed” at the hands of the authorities after he was informed last week by the police that charges of ‘forceful conversion’ have been levied on him and that the police have found the charges to be true after initial investigations.
Gangwar urged the police authorities to visit his village and enquire the truth from the elders of the village where he has been pastoring this Church for the past 15 years and no such ‘allegations’ have surfaced in all those years.
“I asked the police staff as to why are the complainants all young boys of 20-25 years of age and no elderly of the village stood by their cooked-up story. Secondly, all of them belong to some Hindu extremist group?”, revealed Gangwar.
“The atmosphere in Bareilly has become so unsafe for various Churches, that pastors in different areas are getting fake calls from unknown individuals seeking to trap them. The callers all ask the same thing i.e. what ‘benefits’ will they get if they convert to Christianity?”, said Pastor Prem Joel of Bareilly, one of the Christian leaders who visited the police station.
Gangwar told Global Christian News that the same Hindu extremists were making regular rounds near his house last Sunday (6 August). They were keeping an eye on me to determine if I am conducting the regular Church service or not? I had instructed the Church members not to come, for their safety.
“I was very sad, as we worshiped the Lord inside my house last Sunday with only 5 people. Our Church is the only Church in the radius of 5 kilometers and it can accommodate 500 worshippers. My congregation could not get God’s Word last Sunday,” said a depressed sounding Gangwar.
“We only work for the betterment of the community. We put an emphasis on education as that is the only thing that can help our community in which people normally don’t study much. We also teach young people not to get into drug addiction, which is like a plague in our area.
“Children drop out of school because they typically get a daily wage of around 50 Rupees a day and spend almost all of it to sustain their addictions. We, as a Church, have been spreading awareness against the various addictions and have been good to the people, but still these extremists, emboldened by the regime change in Uttar Pradesh, target us,” said Pastor Gangwar.