Tensions ran high in Rampur, Himachal Pradesh on 14 May 2017 as angry members of the Dev Sanskriti Raksha Manch, a fundamentalist Hindu group, disrupted a Christian meeting which was being held at the auditorium of a local school.
“Christian leaders from Rampur and surrounding areas had organized the Satsang (prayer meeting) for the benefit of local Christians and had obtained all the necessary permissions beforehand,” said the Rev Kamlesh Negi, Pastor of the GCPF Church, Rampur.
The two-day Satsang was to be held at the auditorium of a local school since that was the largest space available in the area. Rampur is the hometown of the Chief Minister Mr Virbhadra Singh and he was expected to join the meeting on the second day.
On the very first day of the meeting, members of the Dev Sanskriti Raksha Manch held a protest against alleged ‘conversions’. They mobilized a crowd of nearly 150 plus people for the march and attempted to break into the school where the meeting was being held.
“The Dev Sanskriti Raksha Manch members, armed with sticks, attempted to break the large Iron Gate at the venue. In doing so, they attacked and injured several police personnel who tried to prevent them from entering the venue of the meeting,” said Mr Jain, a local lawyer.
The Hindu fundamentalists were also protesting against the presence of an American participating in the meeting – a personal friend of a local pastor who was visiting.
As a result of the attack, the meeting was cancelled while the protestors blocked traffic on the Hindustan-Tibet National Highway for about two hours. The members of the Dev Sanskriti Raksha Manch made inflammatory statements against the local church community to local media alleging that Christians were hand in glove with so-called Islamic State and was conspiring against the nation.
The next day church authorities led by Pastor Kamlesh Negi reported the incident to the police.
In recent days the Chief Minister has ordered stern action against acts of vandalism and has warned against conversions by force or fraud. He further said at a public meeting at Rampur on 15 May, that henceforth no religious functions would be allowed at government educational institutions.
The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has politicised the issue. The leader of opposition, Prem Kumar Dhumal from the BJP demanded an arrest of the American who was said to be attending the meeting as well as Christian leaders from the area. They alleged that conversions had taken place in the meeting.
Dhumal said that the American should not have been granted Indian visa as “it (Americans) had insulted the country by terming Prime Minister Narendra Modi as terrorist on its website.”