South Asia

Uttar Pradesh militants crackdown on Christians

Image of a Church in Uttar Pradesh

Christians in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh are facing harassment and disruption of their worship on an ongoing campaign by Hindu militants against so-called ‘forced conversions’.

After our report last week that the Sunday worship service of Pastor Mahendra Gangwar’s Church in village Grem 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, another incident has occurred only a few miles away from Grem.
In this case a church service held in Nawabganj, district Bareilly of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was disrupted by the same mob of Hindu extremists on Sunday 6 August 2017.
Pastor Geeta Rai, a woman minister, leads a house church in her own home and has done so for the past 10 years. She told Global Christian News: “Immediately after prayer, when we had just begun to sing during service, eight or nine men from the VHP entered my house and started to argue with me and lay allegations on me that I convert innocent people. They snatched my Bible and humiliated me.”
According to Rai, a leader from the Bhartiya Janata Party, Akhilesh Gangwar, taunted her with references to the earlier distruption in the village of Grem.
 Rai defended herself by telling the Hindu activists to ask her congregation whether they had been forcefully converted. According to Geeta, the villagers said they had converted after their illnesses were healed. The worshippers denied forced conversion.
The men left the place but soon lady police staff arrived in a police vehicle and arrested Geeta. The woman minister said that the police manhandled her as they took her to the local police station.
The worshippers confronted the police staff and insisted that they all be arrested along with Geeta, as they are the ones who have received healing and have made a conscious decision to join Geeta in worshipping Jesus. But the police paid no heed.
“When we reached the police station, the same group of Hindu extremists along with Akhilesh Gangwar were already sitting there. I was surprised to see that my husband was also there. He was rushing home from our shop after I had called him when the Hindu extremists disrupted the Church. But before he could reach me he was arrested by the male police staff outside our home and was taken to the police station, while the lady police arrested me,” added Rai.
“I pleaded with the police staff to let my husband go, as he is still a Hindu and not a follower of Christ. He has nothing to do with the fellowship that takes place in our house,” said Geeta.
The senior policeman in-charge interrogated Rai, as to what does she do? She explained that she prays in Jesus Name and people are healed. “People choose to come every Sunday and worship with me,” said Rai.
According to Geeta police responded that it was not a crime to worship but as a complaint had been made against Rai, she should no longer have people for worship at her house though she herself can pray within the confines of her home.
“There was a lot of political pressure on the police to book us under charges of ‘forceful conversion’ but they booked us under Indian Penal Code section 151 (Knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse).
“We had to arrange for a lawyer and procure bail,” said Rai who was released around 6 in the evening of the same day along with her husband.
Pastor Rai has close to 100 members belonging to her house Church. At any given Sunday, there are at least 30 people worshipping at her house.
“I am not sad, because I know this will happen with God’s people. Though I am worried about my husband, Arjun. It may be that we will be bad mouthed in the society because the police took us to the police station and in our society, it is not considered a good thing to go to the police station. I am sure that the Lord will make a way for us. I have not given up.
“My people are very scared, they are concerned for me. I have instructed my Church members to not to come to Church, for security reasons. The worship and Sunday service will never stop. I will conduct the regular Church service, even if I have to sit alone. I will intercede on behalf of the entire Church and pray for them. I have asked all my Church members to worship the Lord in their respective homes exactly at the same time when the service begins in the Church. I believe that God will make a way for us to once again come together and worship Him in the future,” said Rai.
Speaking of the Church service that took place last Sunday (13 August), Rai told Global Christian News that five Church members who were absent the previous Sunday and were not aware of her arrest, came to attend Church at the regular worship time, so they worshipped along with Rai.