New Delhi: On Sunday, August 20, when members of the Christian community were praying at the Siyyon Prarthna Bhawan in Delhi’s Tahirpur area, individuals allegedly entered the building and disrupted the prayers by blaring promises of a ‘Hindu nation’ over loudspeakers. When community members attempted to register a police complaint, a crowd of over 100 Hindutva activists gathered to prevent them from doing so.
Around 10:30 or 11 am, people were praying inside the Siyyon Prarthna Bhawan when suddenly, a few individuals holding speakers entered the Bhawan. The speakers blared, “Hindu rashtra banayenge, Jai Shri Ram.” This is Hindi for “We will make a Hindu nation, hail Lord Ram.”
Christian community members alleged that they had been assaulted with sticks by the individuals – who they say belonged to the Bajrang Dal – while praying.
“Every Sunday, when we gather to pray in church, we do so in fear – the fear of being attacked,” said a Christian man, requesting anonymity.
At noon, some Christians went to the GTB Enclave police station to file a complaint against this group.
In response, more than 100 people from the Bajrang Dal, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad gathered outside the police station, chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
Some members from the groups were also present inside the police station, where they continued to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
Shivam, who was an eyewitness present during the prayer, said: “They entered the Bhawan without permission and asked us to stop the prayer, claiming that the country had changed – ‘ye desh dharm nirpeksh nahi raha hai, yaha ab kanoon badal gaya hai‘,” meaning that the country is no longer secular, and the rules have changed.
Shivam was one of the first persons who reached the police station for help.
Many from the Christian community have confirmed to The Wire that the mob which entered the Bhawan without permission was armed with swords and sticks, and that they also tore up Bibles.
Shivam stated, “They attacked us with sticks, and many people were injured.” This included several women, one of whom is Shivam’s sister, who suffered a muscle injury.
Three women who did not wish to reveal their identities have claimed that they were beaten by the Bajrang Dal group and that its members attempted to remove their clothing.
The Wire has obtained access to a video of the church showing extensive damage inside the building, including the destruction of Bibles and images of Jesus.
The Wire also interviewed the crowd that was shouting religious slogans outside the police station.
“Why were they praying in a Hindu-majority area? Our festival, Rakshabandhan, is coming up in a few days, and we will not allow conversion prayers in our area,” said Anmol, an RSS worker.
Later, the group started shouting, claiming, “They attacked us first, and they were attempting conversions, which we won’t allow.”
Speaking to The Wire, Pastor Satpal Bhati said, “What can I say? When people in this country are not safe in their own land, there is no situation left to survive in. We have been praying here for 13 years, and I have never encountered a situation like the one we faced today. The Christian community lives in constant fear, fearing for their lives.”
An FIR has been registered under Sections 323, 452, 295, 295A, 296, 297, 298, 354, 153A, and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“I reached there around 1 pm. The SHO has CCTV footage as well, and I’m certain that the footage contains evidence showing what the mob has done to the Christian community,” said Minikashi Singh, an activist who works on issues relating to the Christian community. She also raised questions about the attack on women during the prayer: “How can a country that speaks about women’s empowerment allow such misbehaviour to happen to its women?”
A report published by the United Christian Forum (UCF) reveals a significant increase in attacks on Christians since 2014.
According to their report, there were 147 attacks on churches in 2014, and this number has continued to rise almost every year. Last year saw 599 attacks against Christians and the first 190 days of 2023 recorded 400 attacks, The Siasat Daily reported.
The UCF report also indicates that violence against Christians has occurred in 23 states in 2023, with Uttar Pradesh leading with 155 incidents, followed by Chhattisgarh with 84 incidents.
The Modi government has been anxious to flaunt India as the so-called ‘mother of democracy’ and mine the G20 summit and events related to it to garner domestic political advantage before the 2024 polls.
After its failure to control violence against the ethnic minority Kuki community in Manipur and against Muslims in Mewat, such attacks on minority places of worship are likely to highlight the government’s inability or unwillingness to control such incidents even in the national capital.
With the global attention being on Delhi because of the forthcoming G20 summit under India’s rotational presidency, such incidents assume greater significance in bringing attention to the Modi government’s record on democratic backsliding and ill-treatment of religious minorities.
Meanwhile, at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar Road, Hindu Sena president Vishnu Gupta said at a mahapanchayat organised to protest the Nuh violence that India “was divided in 1947 on the basis of religion [but] as long as a single Muslim is living in this country, the partition will remain incomplete,” the New Indian Express reported.
This copy was updated with additional information after it was first published.