Attacks on Christians Continue in India’s Most Persecuted State
By ICC’s India Correspondent
09/15/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Christians in Uttar Pradesh, a state located in northern India, are no strangers to persecution. Year after year, Uttar Pradesh is identified as the state where most Christian persecution incidents are recorded in India. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), 86 of the 366 violent attacks on Indian Christians recorded in 2019 took place in Uttar Pradesh.
Unfortunately, 2020 has seen little improvement. According to EFI, 32 incidents of religiously motivated violence against Christians were documented in Uttar Pradesh in just the first six months of 2020. While the COVID-19 pandemic likely reduced the rate of persecution in Uttar Pradesh, recent reports indicate that the number of attacks on Christians is increasing as India emerges from lockdown.
“I would have been killed if God hadn’t been with me,” Pastor Alok Tomar, age 24, recently told International Christian Concern (ICC). “I was worried that I would not survive as the torture was so intense. Different ones took turns as I was beaten with lashes from the police belt.”
On August 6, Pastor Tomar was called by police at around 10:30 a.m. and told to report to the police station immediately. Pastor Tomar’s church, located in Ikdil, gathers nearly 400 Christians for weekly worship. Having served in Uttar Pradesh since 2017, Pastor Tomar has faced plenty of threats from radical Hindu nationalists seeking to shut down his church.
“I felt safe because I was going to the police station,” Pastor Tomar shared with ICC. “However, on the way, I began to feel suspicious.”
As Pastor Tomar drove his motorcycle to the police station, he saw a mob gathering outside his house and in the street. The mob became so large and hostile that Pastor Tomar had to take an alternative route to the police station.
“As I reached the police station, a crowd of more than 150 people was chasing me,” Pastor Tomar told ICC. “They were shouting anti-Christian slogans.”
When Pastor Tomar arrived at the police station, he ran into the building seeking safety. Unfortunately, there was no safety to be found in the custody of the police.
The police informed Pastor Tomar that he had been accused of engaging in forced or fraudulent religious conversions and was under arrest. Pastor Tomar was kept in police custody for the next three days and subjected to torture at the police’s hands. After three days, Pastor Tomar was sent to jail for another four days before posting bail.
“I am not afraid of the attacks on me as I serve the living God,” Pastor Tomar told ICC. “If the Lord allows something to happen, it is for His glory. However, I am sure my church members are afraid and will probably scatter.”
In another incident, a pastor in the Lakhimpur district was brutally attacked by radical Hindu nationalists before being handed over to police, who again assaulted the beaten pastor. This incident took place on August 29.
“Pastor Balram was attacked by a mob of 20 Hindu radicals while he was praying in his private home with his family,” Pastor Veerendar, who serves as a pastor in the Lakhimpur district, told ICC. “The radicals accused Pastor Balram of conducting prayer services in violation of the COVID-19 restrictions to justify their attack.”
According to Pastor Veerendar, Pastor Balram was first beaten in the village by the radicals and then by police officers after he was brought to the police station. Pastor Balram reportedly threw his mobile phone into a field between his home and the police station because he was afraid pictures of worship services would be used to falsely accuse him of engaging in forced or fraudulent religious conversions.
“Attacks on Christians sharply increased since the BJP came to power in the state four years ago,” Pastor Veerendar told ICC. “The Hindu radicals have been empowered and emboldened to attack minorities, particularly Christians, as they know they are immune to the law.”
Attacks on Christians and their places of worship continue to be reported in Uttar Pradesh with increased frequency. Unless local authorities take action against the perpetrators of this violence, there is little doubt that Uttar Pradesh will maintain its reputation as India’s most persecuted state.