By ICC’s India Correspondent
07/16/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Over the past two weeks, Christians in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, have witnessed a dangerous increase in persecution. At least 18 Christian have been arrested, worship services have been disrupted, and false accusations of forced conversions have been weaponized by radical Hindu nationalists. This sudden escalation in persecution has left many Christians in Uttar Pradesh stunned and fearful that more persecution is yet to come.
The increased persecution was triggered by the arrest of two Muslims under Uttar Pradesh’s new anti-conversion law. Hindu nationalists, including members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, claimed the two men were involved in the forceful conversion of more than 1,000 people.
Using the arrests as an opportunity for political gain, BJP politicians lauded the arrests and warned of others involved in the fraudulent conversion of Hindus to non-Hindu faiths.
“It is unfortunate that religion becomes handy for politics,” Dinanath, a Christian leader from Uttar Pradesh, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “Politicians need an issue for their upcoming election and the media need a sensational story. Both benefit but the innocent people must pay the price, whether it be Muslims or Christians.”
“Unlike other states, Hindu radicals in Uttar Pradesh enjoy the support of state officials and police,” Dinanath continued.
On June 27, Ram Keval and three other Christians were arrested as they attended a Sunday worship services in the Ambedkarnagar district. The four Christians then spent 11 days in jail.
“We gathered with nearly 20 other people for Sunday worship,” Keval told ICC. “We were forcibly taken to the police station and later sent to jail for no crime.”
Keval and his family converted to Christianity in 2008. Since then, they have consistently attended Sunday worship with 20 other Christians who gather in a Christian home.
When ICC asked Keval why he was arrested, he responded, “There is absolutely no personal enmity between those who attacked and our congregation. They were just following their hierarchy. I think this is just to bring division and segregation in the name of religion, largely to serve their political masters.”
In a similar incident, Pastor Shiva Kumar was arrested by police on June 28 while attending a house dedication ceremony in Dhawrara. According to local reports, Pastor Kumar was arrested after an unknown person called police and claimed religious conversions were taking place at the ceremony. Pastor Kumar remains imprisoned.
Based on the false accusation, police filed a First Information Report (FIR No. 0231) against Pastor Kumar and three other Christians. The four Christians have been charged with blasphemy under Section 295-A and forced conversions under the Uttar Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2020.
“We are living like slaves in our place,” Vikas Kumar, Pastor Kumar’s son, told ICC. “Rights and freedoms are just on the books. In reality we are constantly hounded and harassed for being Christians. My father did not commit any crime, but they have put him in jail. He contributes to the wellness of society by teaching good morals and values to the people. Everyone knows that, including those who complained against my father.”
According to Vikas, police kept his father in jail for four days without filing an FIR. This frightened Vikas, who fears the police might do something to his father while he is still in their custody.
“These Christians come from very poor backgrounds,” Dinanath told ICC, explaining why these individuals had been targeted in this wave of persecution. “They have had to go through all kinds of torture and ill-treatment for their spiritual empowerment. This is unjust on the part of those who have attacked them and supported the attackers. These actions must be condemned to the highest degree.”
More incidents of persecution and arrests continue to be reported in Uttar Pradesh. This dangerous trend has many Christians concerned they will be the next to be targeted by radical Hindu nationalists and the local authorities acting on their behalf.