Laws designed to prevent forced conversions in India are increasingly being used to target and persecute the minority population of Christians, with perfectly innocent ministry endeavors being characterized as forcing Hindus away from their own religion.
The laws are supported by the majority Hindu nationalist party, which recently held a rally that called to “drag Christians from churches” should they be suspected of so-called “forced” conversions, as we reported last week.
Now, two pastors and one of their wives have reportedly been beaten and thrown in jail after reaching out to a Hindu man who lost his wife, son, and daughter-in-law to COVID-19.
Morning Star News reported that upper-caste Hindus in the Uttar Pradesh state took issue with the presence of two pastors in the home of 62-year-old Lalji Vishwakarma, although he insists they were only there to pray with and console him in the face of his tremendous grief.
“A mob of Hindu extremist neighbors from the Thakur community barged inside the house and falsely accused me and the pastors visiting my house of forced conversions,” the bereaved man told the outlets. “They have no pity that I have been grieving my family’s death.”
“I lost my wife, son and daughter-in-law to COVID one after the other,” he said. “My young granddaughters, ages 10 and 12, and I were longing for God’s servants to visit us, pray for us and comfort us.”
Pastors Neel Durai and Vijay Kumar Patel and Patel’s wife, Kiran Devi, were visiting Vishwakarma when a local shop owner heard praying inside and came to ask what was going on. They saw the visitors held Bibles in their hands.
“I told him that he should not be mistaken, and that we are only praying for peace in our hearts since we lost our family members. But he went and brought the mob of upper-caste neighbors,” Vishwakarma said.
A few minutes later, roughly twenty Hindu nationalists invaded the home.
“They started shouting, raising their voices to high pitches,” Vishwakarma said. “I tried hard to explain to them that it was a prayer for peace, but they did not pay heed to my words. Soon they started accusing us of forced conversions and started beating the pastors, my grandchildren, and me. I was crying, pleading for them to stop, but they would not hear a word.”
They accused the elderly man of trying to abandon his faith, but he said that wasn’t true. He and his wife had attended prayer meetings before, and not turned from their Hindu traditions.
“They had beaten up the pastors badly and also issued threats that they would kill us,” he explained. “All this while I was continuously repeating that they have been mistaken and that we were only praying for peace since we lost our family. We are grieving the loss of my wife, son, and daughter-in-law. Should not they be considerate of our suffering?”
Although this situation couldn’t have been further from a forced conversion, the villagers managed to get officers to arrest the pastors and Patel’s wife.
They have been charged with forcible conversion, unlawful conversion of minors over the presence of Viswakarma’s grandchildren in the home, “promoting enmity between classes” and “maliciously insulting the religion or the religious beliefs of any class.”
They remain in custody without bail.