Uttar Pradesh Becomes Radicals’ Favorite Hunting Ground for Christians
By ICC’s India Correspondent
10/04/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Sunday worship services have become an increasingly taboo topic for Indian Christians in the state of Uttar Pradesh. This northern state, which comprises a large swath of India’s northern population, has become a favorite hunting ground for religious radicals targeting Christian places of worship, including churches and house gatherings, with impunity.
The situation is exacerbated by the tacit support that these extremists receive from authorities under the pro-Hindu government led by Yogi Adityanath. This former priest turned politician openly advocates for a Hindu nationalist ideology and promotes intolerance toward minorities.
In Uttar Pradesh, Hindu nationalist rhetoric has reached such a resonating crescendo that radicals openly post videos of their violent attacks on social media and project themselves as self-styled heroes protecting the Hindu religion. Some of the videos are titled “Hindu shakti” or Hindu power.
Between June and September 2019, International Christian Concern (ICC) recorded 29 incidents of violence involving Hindu radicals targeting the Christian community of Uttar Pradesh. This number averages to at least one violent incident per week. These staggering figures make Uttar Pradesh a highly dangerous place for pastors and the Christian community as a whole.
Pastor Bablu, age 36, has ministered to a small church of 60 believers for the past 11 years in a small village called Kusmari, located in the Lakhimpur Kheri district. One Sunday in late August, after the worship service ended and the congregation had dispersed, Pastor Bablu was about to relax with his wife and five sons. Suddenly, a group of 30 Bajrang Dal activists, a religious fanatic group with militant leanings, stormed into his house and falsely accused him of engaging in religious conversions.
The fanatics abused and threatened Pastor Bablu, claiming that he did not have permission to conduct church services. Finally, they dragged him to the Kotwal police station where the police promptly locked him up until late evening.
After several hours, the police released Pastor Bablu. However, they warned him not to conduct any church activities without first obtaining permission from local authorities.
In India, religious freedom is protected under Article 25 of the constitution and there is no need for any special permission to conduct or attend worship services. However, many local authorities are reluctant to give even symbolic permission to Christians due to pressure from local extremists. Pastor Bablu said that he has applied for permission, but has not yet received a response.
“Even the police officers questioned whether I had any permission to conduct worship. Now the believers are afraid of even visiting my house, so I am worshipping all alone, just only with my family.”
While speaking with ICC, Pastor Bablu said, “I am ready to become a martyr for the Lord, but my main concern is about the spiritual lives of the believers as my ministry has stopped for the past four weeks.”
“Even the police officers questioned whether I had any permission to conduct worship,” Pastor Bablu continued. “Now the believers are afraid of even visiting my house, so I am worshipping all alone, just only with my family.”
Citing another incident, Pastor Bablu explained, “Pastor Sundarlal Sarvan, who has a church around six kilometers away from my place, was also ordered to stop the worship by the fanatics. He had permission, but the paper was torn and thrown away in the dustbin.”
This increasing violence has not only targeted pastors, who are now constantly on their toes, but even believers who are not leaders in their churches.
Pastor Laddar, who is serving in Didarganj, located in the Azamgarh district, was attacked and severely beaten during a prayer meeting last month. While Pastor Laddar may have been the focus of the attack, other believers were also beaten and injured.
“Such an incident had happened to me in 2018 as well,” Pastor Laddar told ICC. “So this did not scare me or my ministry. However, I am worried about the way the fanatics have affected ordinary believers. My brother-in-law, Amarnath, and his three sons were also beaten up in their hometown of Kausalnagar for no reason whatsoever. Some men prevented Amarnath from going to his house. When his sons came to his aid, the fanatics beat up both the father and his sons.”
“I couldn’t do anything for my brother-in-law,” Pastor Laddar continued. “We are not police officials to take any action on the fanatics; we are serving the Lord. Only God has to protect us.”
For many Christians in Uttar Pradesh, weekly reports of anti-Christian violence have come to be expected. With local authorities continuing to turn a blind eye to the attacks, Hindu radicals have become more emboldened. This has led to a continued escalation in the number and severity of attacks. At what point will India’s government step in to protect the rights of Christian and other religious minorities?
For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org