Attacks Become the “New Normal” for Christians in Jharkhand
By ICC’s India Correspondent
10/15/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “There is absolutely no rule of law, whatever the Hindu radicals say, the police execute.” This is the unfortunate reality for many Christians in India’s northeastern state of Jharkhand.
Since Jharkhand’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government ratified the state’s anti-conversion law in 2017, religious minorities, particularly Christians, have experienced heightened threats and attacks at the hands of radical Hindu nationalists. This “new normal” in Jharkhand includes increased physical assaults, Gharwapsi (forced conversion) campaigns, and the mass closure of house churches.
This growing climate of impunity has left Jharkhand’s Christians extremely vulnerable and unsure of their community’s security. Many don’t even know who to turn to for justice.
“A police officer threatened me by saying that either you stop the house church worship or I will send you to jail,” Pastor Mantu Prasad, a pastor in Domchanch village, recently told International Christian Concern (ICC). Physically handicapped, Pastor Prasad is the lead pastor of Sower Mission Church. He and his congregation were brutally attacked by a mob of Hindu radicals on September 8, leaving the pastor and several members of Sower Mission Church injured.
According to Pastor Prasad, a mob of 30 Hindu radicals broke into the rental space where nearly 50 Christians were worshiping that Sunday morning. The extremists beat the pastor, his family, and members of the congregation. Pastor Prasad reports that his ear started to bleed after he was severely punched on the side of the head. According to Pastor Prasad, the radicals also kicked his wife and children, leaving them with internal injuries.
Police arrived on the scene 30 minutes after the assault. The officers then took Pastor Prasad and 10 other church members to the station where they were kept until 5:00 in the evening.
“I was put into a very difficult situation,” Pastor Prasad explained to ICC. “The police asked me to choose between church closure and jail for all of the 10 church members and my family. They threatened that they would make sure that I would not be able to come out of jail, if I chose to go to jail.”
“I was put into a very difficult situation. The police asked me to choose between church closure and jail for all of the 10 church members and my family.”
“Now we are told by police that we cannot conduct worship in the village anymore,” Pastor Prasad continued. “Unfortunately, this leaves all my church members without the freedom for corporate worship. Many of them are illiterate and only get to hear from the Word of God when they attend worship services on Sunday.”
Fearing further attacks and police pressure, Pastor Prasad told ICC that he left Domchanch village and is currently staying in his father’s house in another village. “I will continue to serve Jesus,” Pastor Prasad told ICC. “I am only concerned for my children and their future. Please pray for us.”
“This is the norm in these days since the anti-conversion law came into existence in Jharkhand,” Pastor Karmali, another local pastor, told ICC while discussing the rise in persecution in Jharkhand. “There is [a] sense of fear and intimidation among the house churches all across the state.”
While speaking with ICC, Pastor Karmali recalled a similar incident that took place in the Gharuva district. “Pastor Peter Kumar was threatened with death threats if he continued to hold prayers in Dhuraki village,” Pastor Karmali said. “Pastor Kumar conducted regular worship services in Dhuraki village in a Christian home where 80 Christians attended. Two weeks back, while Sunday worship was happening, a mob burst into the Christian home and started to beat everyone. After the attack, the Christians were taken to the police station and were told not hold Christian prayers in the village anymore.”
According to Pastor Karmali, a Christian evangelist named Sarvanan Johnson from Village Gospel Preachers was also recently arrested by police. Johnson and 10 other Christians were arrested on September 17 in Gumla district after they refused to give donations for the durga puja (a Hindu ritual). According to Pastor Karmali, the Christians were kept in police custody overnight and were only released after an advocacy group from Delhi called the police station about the arrests.
While the number and severity of the attacks have left Jharkhand’s Christian community in a state of fear, the reports of police inaction and abuse have been especially concerning. Many Christians fear that their rights will not be protected even when police are called to the scene of an attack. Other expressed concern that the police were working “hand in glove” with the radicals perpetrating the attacks.
Regardless, an atmosphere of impunity has been allowed to gather over Jharkhand. This must come to an end. The rights of the state’s Christian minority must be protected and the perpetrators of attacks must be brought to justice.
For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org