Seven Christian families from two separate villages in Bahraich district of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have been allegedly facing extortion at the hand of the local police who first disrupted their Church services, arrested six Christians along with a pastor and later threatened the rest, with arrest if they do not pay up.
The alleged extortions took place on 30 June and 2 July 2017. Five Christian families of village Itha were forced to pay the police personnel on Friday, after the police threatened to arrest them “for their crime of worshipping Jesus Christ in the village”, according to Ajay Masih of Global Action India to Global Christian News.
The family of Sundar Nishad is reported to have paid Rupees 2000, Prem Nishad, Rs 2000 and Mungrey Prajapati Rs 1000 (as he is poor and could not manage to give more than the amount).
Two more families – one from a Chamar (‘Chamar’ is one of the Dalit communities that are now classified as a Scheduled Caste under modern India’s system of positive discrimination) and the second from a Dhobi household (Dhobi literally meaning washerman) have also been faced with extortion.
Masih claimed that Ramaasray Nishad’s family from village Pujaripurva was threatened on Sunday (2 July) by the police. They are reported to have paid Rs 4000.
Local police also disrupted the church service on 25 June in the two villages, in Bahraich district. The police warned Christians to discontinue services with immediate effect.
A team of police personnel stormed the new fellowship in village Itha where 12-15 women were meeting to worship and the service was being conducted by a Church leader only identified as Gurudeen. The husbands of the women were away attending worship service in their regular Church in village Pujaripurva which was established 3 years ago.
“The police strictly warned the women to disperse and to not to gather in the future or they would be arrested. Christian worship is a crime, the police stated,” said Masih.
According to Masih the women stood up for themselves and told the police that before they accepted Christianity they had been troubled with sickness and demon possession and the police did not help them. They said: “Now that we are set free of our troubles and live a peaceful life, you come and interfere in our lives and stop us from worshiping the One who set us free?’.”
Masih said that the police threatened the women with arrest if they gathered for worship again.
According to a source who does not want to be named, the police acted at the complaint of Hindu extremists belonging to the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV).
The same morning police disrupted a Christian service at Pujaripurva village. About 150 Christians gather there for worship regularly. Pastor Aasaram Sahni conducts the service. Police confiscated all the bibles and Christian literature present in the Church and instructed the Pastor to report to the Nanpara police station on Tuesday (Monday being a national holiday for Eid).
When Pastor Aasaram Sahni along with five Christian leaders went to the Nanpara police station on 27 June, the police arrested them and charged them with “disrupting the peace by joining an assembly which has been commanded to disperse.”
Pastor Aasaram Sahni, 45, Lal Bihari Verma, 35, Gurudeen, 35, his brother Badkau, 32, Gobrey Nishad, 45, and Chotelal Brix, 45 have been in jail since 27 June. Pastor Sahni and Chotelal though granted bail have not yet been released.
“The police have dealt very deviously in this case. They warned the Christians on 25 June and asked them to present themselves on 27, so that the Christians would fit into the section 151 which states, ‘Whoever knowingly joins or continues in any assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace, after such assembly has been lawfully commanded to disperse, shall be punished with imprisonment…’. When they presented themselves at the police station unaware of the charges against them, they were arrested,” declared Masih.
Church leaders said that the situation in Uttar Pradesh was taking a turn for the worse and the authorities must act now.
“It seems like a breakdown of law and order in Uttar Pradesh. On one hand, the state has witnessed several lynching incidents where in the victims are mainly Muslims. On the other hand, Christians are targeted and worship services are now increasingly being disrupted by the police and non-state actors. Pastors are being arrested for conducting worship services and Christians in several places are facing the wrath of non-state actors resulting in social discrimination. This has to be addressed by the state government. This has to stop,” said Reverend Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. “No Sunday service took place yesterday (2 July), neither in village Itha nor in village Pujaripurva,” said Masih.
This incident, after coming to light, adds to the list of 16 incidents of hate crime against the minority Christian community in the first 100 days of the new rule of the Bharatya Janta Party government in Uttar Pradesh as covered by Global Christian News.
Since Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath assumed office on 19 March 2017, at least 17 incidents of hate crime have been reported from various parts of Uttar Pradesh.
Adityanath, founded the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) in April 2002. It is a militant Hindu youth outfit, described as an armed vigilante group stoking communal (sectarian) riots. The HYV’s top priority agenda is Cow protection, fighting Love Jihad and performing Ghar Wapsi (‘re-conversions’ to Hinduism).