Once-thriving church shuttered.By Our India Correspondent
NEW DELHI, January 26, 2017 (Morning Star News) – Months after Hindu extremists and police attacked a revival meeting in northern India and shut down a church, one pastor is in hiding, and officers prohibit another from praying with members of the scattered congregation in their homes.
Members of the once-thriving church, where evangelistic events used to draw crowds of 5,000 people, either have to travel long distances to worship or are meeting secretly in homes.
Hindu extremists attacked the evangelistic meeting at the church site in Sitaram Purwa, Sitapur District, on Sept. 18, accusing pastor Rameshwar Mishra of “witchcraft” for serving Communion bread and wine, the 41-year-old church leader told Morning Star News. Four police officers later joined in the assault.
Days before the event, when the pastor informed police of court permission to stage it, police officers told him to cancel the revival and began disparaging him in coarse language for leaving Hinduism, he said. Pastor Mishra, who became a Christian in 2009 and helped found the church four years ago, said the officer in-charge became so angry that day, Sept. 14, that he jailed him. After obtaining the church leader’s personal, church and baptism documents, the officer let him go but warned him not to evangelize, he said.
The pastor said God told him to proceed with the event, which drew 3,500 people.
“The police patrolled on that Saturday [Sept. 17], warning the villagers not to attend the meeting,” he said.
As a worship leader sang an hour into the scheduled five-hour event, a Hindu extremist identified only as Babblu was already present with 15 to 20 cohorts, and some of them took the singer aside and began to assault him, rupturing his eardrum, the pastor said. Some of the assailants also caught hold of the singer’s sister and struck her, to a lesser degree, before Pastor Mishra arrived.
The four police officers arrived and joined the Hindu extremists, kicking and hitting Pastor Mishra, whose clothes were torn in the assault, he said. The officer in-charge of the police station arrived soon after, followed by a bus full of policemen called in to disperse the crowd.
Police took Pastor Mishra to the Reusa police station, where officers further disparaged him. The officer in-charge threatened to keep him in custody for two weeks and to beat him until he worshipped Hindu gods and goddesses, the pastor said.
Pastor Mishra replied that he would not leave Christ even if the officer killed him.
With serious internal injuries, Pastor Mishra was freed on Sept. 23; he still does not know the official charge against him, or whether the 500 rupees (US$7.34) he paid a lawyer went toward a fine or an attorney’s fee.
A few days later, he filed a counter case against Babblu and 15 police officers, including the station officer in-charge, for brutality. Having spent about 12,000 rupees (US$175) in payments to an attorney to file it, he is upset that no hearing has taken place and there has been no movement on the case, he said.
Meantime, Reusa police repeatedly approached a church co-pastor who goes by the single name of Mahesh and told him to persuade Pastor Mishra to settle out of court with the attacking officers. He was unable to persuade Pastor Mishra to settle out of court, so the police officers filed a false case against Pastor Mahesh of hooliganism under the “Goonda Act,” after the term for a hired thug or “goon,” Pastor Mishra said.
Pastor Mahesh immediately obtained bail and was not arrested.
For a week Pastor Mishra continued to visit people in their houses to pray with them, but patrolling police daily announced that “anybody found praying inside their houses would not be spared,” he said. Not wanting to endanger members of the congregation, Pastor Mishra fled to a different village. He visited Pastor Mahesh regularly before leaving permanently in early October.
Police continue to prohibit Pastor Mahesh from praying with members of the congregation in their homes, according to Pastor Mishra. Pastor Mahesh and his wife have not left the area, but they can minister only to people 40 to 150 kilometers (24 to 93 miles) away.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates said. India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.
Now in hiding in another area, Pastor Mishra said that fear still reigns in his village, and he feels bad for his congregation. He is now ministering to people in his area of refuge.