South Asia

Jalalabad Christians continue to face severe opposition from Hindu extremists

A brave woman pastor continues to mount a brave stand against religious persecution after weeks of harassment in an Uttar Pradesh village. After a month of attacks on Christians in Jalalabad, in the Ghazipur district of Uttar Pradesh, the community of 20 families has dwindled to only three.

The attacks began when Hindu extremists harassed and physically attacked 20 Christians at a prayer meeting on 2 May 2017. Pushpa Kumar, a woman pastor, was badly beaten as she put herself in danger to defend the worshippers.

“The 20 families are now reduced to 3 families after the life-threatening persecution and boycott the families have faced every day for the entire month,” said Pastor Anil Andrias, an independent church pastor who visited the three families on 24 May 2017.

From the left – Sushila Bharati, Rekha Bharati, Dinesh Kumar, Manoj Kumar (husband), Pastor Pushpa Kumar, another Christian

Andrias visited Pastor Pushpa Kumar, Dinesh Kumar, his Aunt Sushila Bharati and her daughter Rekha Bharati.

Dinesh told Andrias that he had gone to Delhi, to earn livelihood for his family and when he came to visit his native place a week ago, he was questioned by the village council (Panchayat) about his faith.

“I told them that I believe in Jesus Christ; He delivered me from all my sickness and demon possession but the villagers pressurised me to perform the Hindu ceremony and reconvert to Hinduism otherwise face social boycott.

“They listed before me the consequences of refusing to abide by their dictate; they said, the route to your house will be blocked, nobody will visit your house and you will not be allowed to visit the house of any villager. Nobody will eat at your house nor will you be allowed to eat at anybody’s house. The village shop will be instructed to not sell any item to you,” said Dinesh.

Dinesh told Pastor Andrias that he had saved some of his hard-earned money after working as a daily wage laborer in Delhi and had come to his native village to get a separate bore well dug for his agricultural land.

“The villagers had cut the water supply towards Dinesh’s land and thus he had to rush to the village to make arrangements for water supply for his crops,” said Andrias.

Dinesh made temporary arrangements to buy water from another farmer and while he along with his Aunt Sushila and Rekha were routeing the water to Dinesh’s land, several women of the village blocked the water passage and when Sushila shared with them that they have made payment for the water, they started to assault Sushila and Rekha. When Dinesh came to their rescue, the men of the village attacked him.

In a video interview shot by Pastor Andrias, Sushila shared the trauma they have been going through. “They brutally attacked my daughter Rekha, dragged her and beat her as much as they wanted. Nobody came to rescue her,” said Sushila.

She also told Andrias that the villagers at the behest of some Hindu extremists have made their lives a ‘living hell’.

Dinesh reported the matter to the area police and the police took no action against the villagers who were persecuting them but instead demanded Rupees 2000 from Dinesh and carried Dinesh along with them for questioning and after reaching the police station, they put Dinesh behind bars. The police detained Dinesh for 10 hours in the police station before they let him go.

“A policeman inside the police station asked Dinesh to pay him Rupees 10,000 as a ‘bribe’ otherwise he would file charges of ‘forceful conversion’ against him. Dinesh pleaded with the policeman and said that this is all the money he had saved for his bore-well. At last fearing to spend his life in prison, Dinesh agreed to pay him the money,”

Pastor Pushpa Kumar stated in the video that the villagers have made their lives difficult, “It is 20 days since the villagers are not allowing us to fetch water from the village well and from the municipal tap for our household chores and for drinking. We are perishing without water.”

When Christian leaders offered help to take up the matter with the authorities, Sushila and Dinesh said they did not want any help.

According to Andrias some of the remaining Christians are considering denying their faith because they have paid “a big cost for following Christ”. One of the Christians said he was told by villagers that his daughter would be abducted and raped.

Dinesh reportedly said: “I do not want any enmity with the police. If I pursue this matter, they will harass me to death,” said Dinesh to Andrias.

These incidents are taking place despite assurances of the Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, to a delegation of Christian leaders last month in April.  A seven-member delegation of Archbishop and Bishops from the Catholic Churches had met with the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. They had shared their fears of the rising incidents of violence against the minority Christian community in the largest Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Chief Minister assured church leaders that there would be justice and that the law breakers would be dealt with. He had asked them to continue their services to the poor and the needy in various fields, including education, and practice their faith without fear.