New Delhi: A group of Bajrang Dal activists on February 19 allegedly vandalised a church, and assaulted and threatened the worshippers, in Uttar Pradesh’s Siddharthnagar district, claiming the church was carrying out “forced religious conversions”.
The incident took place at the Himalayan Evangelical Mission.
“A group of 50-60 men, armed with rods and sticks, came and disrupted our prayer on February 19. They hit me and my son with rods, accusing us of converting Hindus into Christians in the church,” pastor Satyen Bishwakarma told The Wire.
The pastor added that he and his family have been living in constant fear as the Siddharthnagar police have refused to register a first information report against the Bajrang Dal.
However, as on March 5, an FIR has still not been lodged by the police.
A woman, who belongs to the Dalit community and requested anonymity as she was allegedly threatened by the Bajrang Dal, told The Wire that she was beaten up by the group. She added that they even warned her not to come back to the church.
“Why haven’t the police registered an FIR against them? The police saw everything when they came [to the church] but did not intervene, they were seen supporting the group [Bajrang Dal] and asking them to leave,” she said.
Photos and videos accessed by The Wire show how the church was vandalised by the Bajrang Dal.
Bajrang Dal, which is a youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), was deemed a “militant religious organisation” by the US Central Intelligence Agency in 2018, along with the VHP.
Several locals, belonging to the Dalit community, who go to the church every Sunday to pray, told The Wire that they do not practice Christianity, but visit the church only to pray. However, the Bajrang Dal believes that the pastor is converting them.
In 2018, a similar incident had taken place when the UP Police had asked the pastor to stop the prayer, alleging that the church was converting people into Christianity. The pastor had then approached the Allahabad high court to stop the harassment.
The high court, in its order, a copy of which The Wire has seen, had said, “Superintendent of Police, Siddharthnagar shall ensure that no interference is made in the place of worship of the Christian community.”
However, after the recent incident, the pastor said, “Now, we are in the same state. We have the court order, but we are still living in fear of the Bajrang Dal.” “They threatened to come with 6-round revolvers if we pray here again,” he claimed.
The incident took place on the same day when a mass protest led by religious leaders from the Christian community was held in New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. The protest highlighted concerns about the alarming rise in reports of hate crimes and discrimination against Christians across the country.
Another woman, an eyewitness to the incident and a devoted worshipper, told The Wire on March 3, “My husband, who is a cancer patient, was brutally beaten with a rod. When I intervened, they also attacked me. The goons were chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’. One of the young girls had her hand fractured. The church has been locked ever since, and we live in constant fear of the Bajrang Dal goons.”
On March 4, superintendent of police Amit Kumar Anand told The Wire that he would look into the matter and provide assistance to the church.
Avishek, the pastor’s son, told The Wire that when the police refused to lodge an FIR, he lodged a complaint on the UP government’s online portal, Jansunwai. In his complaint, he asked the state government to provide security to the church so that they can start the prayers again.
On March 5, the church started the prayers again. The SP has provided two police personnel for the worshippers’ security, however, an FIR has still not been lodged by the police.
On February 26, another incident took place in Ghaziabad where pastor Santosh and his wife Jiji were arrested over allegations of converting people into Christianity.
Minakshi Singh, a Christian activist, denied that the pastor was converting people. She also said that the goons had pressurised the police to arrest the pastor.
The pastor’s next bail hearing case is on March 6.
According to a statement issued by the United Christian Forum in June 2022, Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of attacks on churches and Christians.
Michael William, president of the United Christian Forum, who is monitoring the situation closely, told The Wire on March 5, “The time has come for our prime minister to raise his voice against the violence and persecution of Indian Christians. The rate at which such atrocities are happening is picking up an unprecedented speed. Unless Hon’ble Shri Modi ji and Hon’ble Amit Shah ji don’t act, the situation on the ground will become terrible. Yogi Adityanath must also raise his voice against the rise of such violence in his state. Police and other security personnel must be held accountable.”
On March 4, a group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Modi expressing concerns over the increasing incidents of outright discrimination against Christians.
In the letter, they argued that despite constituting only 2.3% of India’s population, Christians have made significant contributions to the country in the education, health, and social reforms sectors. They called for action to be taken to protect religious minorities and safeguard the secular character of the country.