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India’s Christian Pastors Struggle to Find True Justice

ICC’s India Correspondent

9/12/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The law is often used by Hindu radicals in India to intimidate and persecute Christian pastors. Anti-forced conversion laws, blasphemy laws and church registration regulations are often used by radicals as weapons to destroy the ministry of a Christian pastor. In Karnataka, one of India’s southern states, many Christian pastors have often been subjected to this form of persecution. Radicals across the state have been accusing Christians, most notably pastors, of “forcible conversions,” even though the law, officially and ironically known as the Freedom of Religion Act, is not a part of Karnataka’s penal code.

Anti-forced conversion laws are now operational in five Indian states, including Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh and are likely to spread under India’s new BJP government. Under this stringent law, “no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.” Unfortunately, this law is often manipulated by Hindu radicals into a tool of persecution.

The Struggle to Fight False Accusations

Pastor Annaiah is one of the many of pastors forced to endure such assaults taking place under the guise of India’s law. On December 29, 2013, Pastor Annaiah was ruthlessly attacked by Hindu radicals while visiting his uncle in the Neelagiri Kavalu village located in Karnataka. Hindu radicals had been looking for an opportunity to attack Annaiah because of the Christian ministry he led in the area. On the day he visited his uncle, Annaiah and a few other Christians were praying at his uncle’s house. Around 8 p.m. a mob of radicals broke into the house and start beating Annaiah and the others gathered there.

The mob dragged Annaiah to a local Hindu temple and forced him to denounce Jesus and Christianity under torture. He was then tied to a pillar in the temple and tortured throughout the night. The next morning, Annaiah was taken to the police station by the radicals and false charges of rape were booked against him. He was then sent to jail where he spent the next three months.

It was a very painful experience as I was kicked and punched all over my body,” Annaiah told to ICC. “I was bleeding when I was tied to a pillar in the Hindu temple, but I know trials and hardships are part and parcel of Christian faith. God gave me strength to endure without being compromised in following Jesus,” he added.

Annaiah was denied bail by the courts because he was falsely accused under a non-bailable section of the law. He was helpless and there was nobody that could assist him in getting bail. Because of this, he was immediately sent to jail. In an attempt to secure bail, members of Annaiah’s church and his family retained the assistance of a local lawyer, not knowing that the same lawyer was in league with local Hindu radicals.

The lawyer demanded a sum of 150,000 INR ($2,400) from the Christian community to secure bail for Annaiah. In a normal situation, it costs around 5,000 INR ($80) to 10,000 INR ($170) plus a deposit in the court, which will be given back once the case is closed, to retain a lawyer to secure bail. Unfortunately, the lawyer in this case took advantage of the vulnerability and ignorance of Christian community. In what felt like a crisis situation with no other option, the church members borrowed money from various sources, some not so honest, to pay the lawyer to secure Annaiah’s bail. When the funds were finally collected, they were turned over to the lawyer who disappeared shortly after.

Despite this incident with the lawyer, Annaiah was eventually able to secure his own bail after three months in jail. Today he is under tremendous pressure, as he feels responsible for paying back the huge amount of burrowed money that was stolen by the lawyer from his church members and family.

Pastor Annaiah has been attacked more than eight times in his ten years of service as a pastor. In each incident, he was physically assaulted, and in one incident, his church was set on fire and completely destroyed. “Every time I faced persecution my faith increased and the church grew in number,” Annaiah told ICC. “Hindu radicals could not stop that. As their last attempt to stop me from doing Christian activities in the area, they have booked me under false charges of rape.”

Accused of Forcible Conversions

In another “legal attack” on Christian pastors in Karnataka, Pastor Raja Bhovi was attacked by Hindu radicals after they accused him of forcible conversions in the Hassan District of Karnataka on September 18, 2012.

The incident took place during a prayer meeting Pastor Raja organized in an open field for Christians in a local village. Around 45 Christians gathered for prayers and while the meeting was going on, two people accompanied by police, took video footage of the meeting to later be used as “evidence” of forcible conversions against the Christians. Soon after that, a large group of Hindu radicals joined and assaulted the Raja and the Christians gathered.

The Hindu radicals, led by a local BJP leader, stormed the meeting and created havoc. They shouted obscenities at Raja and the participants, alleging that they were forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity. When they saw food was being prepared for lunch, they took mud from the road and dumped it on the food. Later, the attackers went to the local police station and filed a complaint against Raja, falsely accusing him of fraudulent conversion from Hinduism to Christianity.

Soon after the complaint was filed, Raja contacted the Hassan District Superintendent of Police and briefed him about the incident. After that, he went to the Arasikere Police Station and lodged a complaint against the BJP mob.

Because of the complaint filed against him, Raja had to appoint a lawyer. Not knowing how he would cover the lawyer fees, which are a very large amount for a house church pastor like Raja, finding good counsel was very difficult. Raja’s church members are very poor and unable to help him cover the expenses. He has found it extremely difficult to endure this extra burden meted by the Hindu radicals. Pastor Raja told ICC, “I feel pressurized from all corners, including the financial burden that came due to this attack.

I was very down and discouraged with what followed after the incident of attack on me and my congregation,” Raja further lamented. “The police are on one side and the Hindu radicals are on the other side continually harassing me and my family to leave the village. Even my wife has told me that we should leave this place and go somewhere else where we could live peacefully.”

A Ray of Hope

After meeting both Pastor Annaiah and Pastor Raja, ICC has committed to supporting both pastors through this difficult time. Both pastors have now received competent legal counsel and ICC is regularly monitoring the progress of each pastor’s case. This critical assistance has been truly appreciated by both pastors and their respective church communities.

Like Pastor Annaiah and Pastor Raja, pastors and Christian workers across India face similar attacks where the law is used to persecute and intimidate instead of protect and redress. These attacks have made it all the more difficult for these pastors and workers to survive in places where the Gospel still needs to be spread. A response from the global Church is needed to help support suffering pastors like Annaiah and Raja. Without this needed united response, the law will continue to be used as a weapon against Christian pastors still brave enough to spread the Gospel to the world’s unreached areas.

*If you’re interested in getting involved in assisting suffering pastors like Annaiah and Raja in South Asia, please consider giving to ICC’s Hand of Hope South Asia Fund.