71 incidents documented in past two months in India with 44 incidents in Uttar Pradesh alone
Statement by Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFIRLC)
The Religious Liberty Commission of Evangelical Fellowship of India expresses serious concern on the systematic targeting of the Christian community in Uttar Pradesh especially in the last two months. According to the documentation compiled and available with the RLC, there has been a sharp rise in incidents of violence and targeted hate against the Christian minority in the state this year.
The state of Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state of India and is home to almost 17% of the total population of the nation. Christians make up 0.18% of the total population of the state. The state is currently led by Yogi Adityanath, who along with being the Chief Minister, is also the high priest of the Gorakhnath temple situated in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.
EFIRLC appeals to the Government of Uttar Pradesh, particularly the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, to restore the confidence of the Christian community by enforcing law and order and through exemplary punishment to communal elements who attack peaceful Churches and worship services on flimsy and made up charges.
Since the Christmas Season is fast approaching, we appeal to the Chief Minister to ensure that Churches are given adequate security so that the community can observe the festival of love and universal hope in peace.
EFIRLC also appeals to the Home Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh and the Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi to take a note of the situation not only in Uttar Pradesh but across the country and take measures to curb impunity and to ensure the rule of law.
The months of September and October 2018 have been particularly troublesome and have witnessed the maximum number of incidents in the state. September saw 28 incidents while 16 incidents were recorded in October.
Last year RLC documented 50 incidents of targeted hate and violence against Christians in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which was in itself a high figure in comparison with the past years. However, this year till October alone the number of incidents recorded in the state are 64 and counting.
The origin and epicentre of this systematic campaign was the district of Jaunpur located in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh. Jaunpur is about 60 kilometres from Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Mr. Narendra Modi. Starting from Jaunpur the incidents have also spread across other districts including: Azamgarh, Pratapgarh, Siddharth Nagar, Barabanki, Ghazipur, Gorakhpur, Agra, Kanpur and Varanasi.
Churches have been targeted by right-wing groups and the police alike using the convenient allegation of “conversions through force or fraud”. The media has seemingly become a willing partner with political elements who are leading the assault from the front.
Both the police and the right-wing mobs have been disrupting worship services and harassing the worshippers. Videos have surfaced on social media, in which the police are seen blocking roads and discouraging people from attending worship services and asking them to go away. Right-wing mobs have beaten up pastors and misbehaved with people who come for Church meetings and have indulged in vandalism. A large disinformation campaign is accompanying the targeting of the Churches and the primary vehicles of it is the vernacular press, the electronic media as well as the social media.
Many Pastors and Christians have also been arrested or detained on the pretext of investigation. Many of the arrests have been in the late evening or even after midnight and have been a source of harassment rather than help for Christians who are already under much pressure because of opposition from Hindu right-wing groups.
The documentation for the months of September and October 2018 also includes incidents of violence and targeted hate against Christians that have taken place in other states of India and the total number of incidents recorded for these two months stands at 71 with 44 incidents recorded from Uttar Pradesh, 6 from Jharkhand, 4 from Tamil Nadu, 3 each from Bihar and Telangana, two each in the states of Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal and one incident each in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Madhya Pradesh. A total of 195 incidents have been documented from January 2018 till October 2018.
A few illustrative cases from Uttar Pradesh recorded in the last two months are given below:
On 13 September in Karmahi village in Dharmapur block, Jaunpur District, Uttar Pradesh, a fasting and prayer service organized by pastor Ravindra Maurya of the Jeevan Marg (Life Way) Church was attacked by Hindutva extremists. The attackers disrupted prayers and terrorized the congregation which was made up of mostly women and children.
On 16 September in Bhulandih village, Jaunpur district, Uttar Pradesh, according to reports, the police blocked all the roads leading to the Bhulandih Church (led by Durga Prasad Yadav) and forced the people to go back. Five people from the Church, identified as Deepak, Rahul, Chandrabhushan, Rajendra and Virendra were arrested on the same day and were released on bail on 19 September 2018.
On 16 September in Bhagwanpur Tola, Ragunathpur village, Gorakhpur district, Uttar Pradesh, around 25 Hindutva extremists attacked and disrupted worship service at a Church led by Evangelist Anil Kumar Bharti. The attackers also called the police and alleged that conversions were taking place. Anil was arrested during the Church service by the police and was taken to Gulhariya Police Station in Gorakhpur. Three other Christians identified only as Praduman, Pradeep Kumar, Monu, and Deepak were also arrested.
On 23 September, in Nevadiya Village, Jaunpur District, a mob of Hindutva extremists went around the village shouting anti-Christian slogans and later attacked and disrupted the worship service in the Church led by Pastor Ashok Rajbhar. The Church usually has attendance of 800 – 1000 people but following instructions from the police, only a small service was organized with barely 50-60 people present. But even this gathering was attacked. The police arrested Lalchand Rajbhar, Anil Rajbhar, Akhilesh Rajbhar, Rama Shankar Maurya along with Pastor Rajbhar and took them to the police station.
On 2 October in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, miscreants belonging to Hindu extremist groups attacked the St. Thomas Church at Godowlia area. The attackers raised slogans against the Christian faith, broke open the lock at the front door of the Church and vandalized the property. They were alleging that the pastor had offered money to one Pravin Dube (who was part of the attacking group) and had asked him to get converted to Christianity. The historical Church belongs to the Church of North India denomination as is led by Rev. Newton Stevens. Rev. Stevens was not in the Church when the attack happened. He heard about it through people and called the Dashashwamedh Police Station who sent a Phantom Patrol and dispersed the attackers. A FIR has been filed against 50-60 people. No arrests have been made till the writing of this report. A man who calls himself Yogi Aloknath Sanatani first mobilized the attack using his Facebook page and then posted pictures of the attack issuing warning to “Christian pigs” to stop the game of conversion. It is not known if this person has been arrested. One Advocate Ankit Pandey and one Roshan Mishra were also tagged on his Facebook post.