Afghani Christians in India Search for a Place to Call Home
A Special Report by ICC
9/13/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Facing certain death for converting to Christianity Pastor Obaid S. Christ and his wife fled from Afghanistan six years ago. On the day of his sister’s wedding in Kabul, he is in India without legal status, official recognition or an invitation to the wedding. Now, just footsteps away from one of the malls in New Delhi that mark the rise of the middle-class, he does not share their basic rights to rent a home, get a job, buy a cellphone, seek assistance from the police or visit a hospital for medical attention.
In an exclusive interview with ICC in New Delhi, Pastor Christ reveals that today; he lives in a small safe house in the city with guards outside. After converting to Christianity he was demonized in Afghani media and a manhunt began for him on a social network that led to him receiving thousands of threatening messages. If he returns to Afghanistan, he faces immediate execution. If he remains in India, he has to manage without any rights. Even if he could leave the country, he would have no place to go.
Afghani Christians like him are a non-entity in India, where they have been unofficially permitted to live, but without any legal benefits. Around 250 of them live in Delhi, but since India is not a signatory to the U.N. refugee convention, it is not obliged to give them refugee status.
After his passport and visa expired, Pastor Obaid had no documentation left, aside from an unrecognized UNHCR card. “You show it to people. People don’t know what this is. Now you think about my situation. When I rent a house, I show this, I have to pay more money. When I purchase a SIM card they don’t accept this,” he says.
He cannot seek help from the Afghani embassy, who will not renew his passport and have even threatened to arrest him through INTERPOL for apostasy, until the Indian government reminded them of their jurisdiction. At the same time, he notes that Parliamentary members in Afghanistan have spoken out against the Afghani church in India, calling for serious steps to be taken in this regard.
Pastor Obaid’s only hope for Afghani refugees is recognized residency in India or resettlement in a different country, where they can enjoy the basic rights to freedom of religion, education, employment and health care.
If Afghanistan introduced freedom of religion or if India were to grant them legal status, their situation would improve. “If this is not possible, then since we are also human beings in this world and we need a place to stay, the international community should find a place for us. We are not requesting or expecting them to send us to one of the western countries, like the US or Australia, but somewhere! Any country which is not an Islamic country and where freedom of religion is given to us and we have a status,” he says.
Afghanistan is an Islamic nation under sharia law, where the penalty for conversion to Christianity is death. Pastor Obaid knows of at least 22 missing Christians, who are feared to be imprisoned or executed. He believes there are around 1,000 Christians in the country, who meet in underground churches of between 10-15 members.
When his own family discovered his secret faith in Christ, they tempted him to return to Islam by offering him wealth, wives and whatever else his heart desired. But when he stood firm, they became agitated with him, fearing for their safety and reputation in the community. He asked them to keep it a secret only to discover that they themselves didn’t want a pagan in the family.
After neighbors overheard a heated argument in the house, local Muslim leaders approached his father to silence the gossip about Obaid’s conversion by asking him to appear in the Mosque and confess that he is a Muslim. Although he agreed to appear, he was only buying himself time to plan his escape. “I thought with myself that it’s not possible to live in Afghanistan. Even if I say that ‘I am a Muslim,’ they will not believe it. They will kill you. They will kill you. They, meaning my cousins. Maybe after one year or two years,” he says.
His wife sold all their wedding jewelry to pay for a flight to India on the morning of his appearance in the Mosque. He couldn’t leave for the airport without risking his father’s suspicion, so he plotted a way to spend the night at his father-in-law’s house who then had to face the social repercussions for his failure to appear at the Mosque.
A few years after living in Delhi, he was encouraged by Christian leaders to plant a church for Afghani refugees in the city. He now shares a basement with a Korean church, where around 100 Christians gather to worship. Aside from the daily pressures of leading the church, he faces the constant threat of hostility from other Afghanis, who have repeatedly attacked his church and his house for distributing tracts, inviting people to the church and sharing their faith with people.
With the urgent need for resettlement abroad or recognized residency in India, Afghani refugees are struggling to keep their faith, overcome their disillusionment and reverse their descent into moral compromise to make a living.
Pastor Obaid, however, remains firm in God’s purposes for him, saying, “Today I know that the world is really evil. And I know that even if I suffer as a refugee in India, God put me here for a purpose to learn. There is no justice. The world is against Christ and Christianity, so I don’t expect the world to give me something. I am here to give them something, and that is the love of Christ.” With his safety at risk and his future uncertain, perhaps it won’t be long before the world can give him something in return.