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Compass – Govind Verma, chief of a local chapter of the Bharatiya Janata Party, approached Pastor Masih Das Rai of Chattisgarh state last month saying he had had an encounter with God and wanted to become a Christian.

Just six months ago, Verma had threatened to harm Rai if he continued his pastoral work in Palari town in Raipur district. But Rai arranged for Verma to participate in a baptism ceremony on November 10, along with a few other villagers who had received Christ.

On the morning of the baptism, Verma told the group he would join them later in the day. Sources later discovered that Verma contacted the Dharma Sena (“Religious Army,” a militant Hindu organization) and complained about Rai, disclosing the details of the planned baptism.

Members of the Dharma Sena then attacked Rai and 12 other Christians as they were worshiping during the ceremony. Leela Dhar Chandrakar, chief of the Dharma Sena in Chattisgarh, led the attack. Chandrakar has been implicated in other attacks against Christians. (See Compass Direct, “ Christians Protest Church Attacks in Chattisgarh, India ,” September 20.)

The mob beat Rai and his companions and handed them over to the police, who interrogated the pastor before arresting him for “forced conversion” under the Freedom of Religion Act, and a section of the Indian Penal Code that bans deliberate insults about another person’s religious beliefs.

The believers who attended the ceremony said policemen and members of the Dharma Sena pressured them to give statements against Rai, who works for the local Christian organization Milap Mandali.

“The police have been uncooperative,” Arun Pannalal of the Church of North India confirmed to Compass. “Eight of the Christians were forced to give statements against Pastor Rai. And when we as a delegation went to visit him at Palari [police station], we were not allowed to talk to him or see him privately.”

Pannalal’s delegation tried to file a counter-complaint with the police, but failed. “The police are just not entertaining a counter-complaint in this matter, even though Pastor Rai has been beaten up and still has the marks of the beatings on his body.”

Pannalal pointed out that the attackers had verbally insulted the Christian faith, illegal under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. Offenders may be imprisoned for up to three years and/or fined.

While Rai has been charged with this offense, his attackers have not.

Under the Freedom of Religion Act “forced conversion” charge, meanwhile, Rai could be imprisoned for up to one year and/or forced to pay a fine of 5,000 rupees ($109).

Akhilesh Edgar, the director of Milap Mandali, has also been implicated in the case, although at press time he had not been arrested.

When Rai appeared at district court on November 11-12, his application for bail was rejected on grounds that police had not yet handed over the necessary paperwork.

A second bail application hearing is set for Monday (November 21). In the meantime, Rai remains in custody…[Go To Full Story]