Indian Christians Face New Legal Challenges
Hindu extremists are increasingly using the law to attack Christian pastors, reports Release’s Kenneth Harrod.
Over the past two decades a growing nationalist movement in India has been behind attacks on Christians, on pastors in particular, and on church buildings. Release staffha ve met pastors who have been beaten and whose churches have been vandalised. In fact we have previously reported instances of Christians being martyred for the gospel.
But while physical violence continues, partners are seeing a sharp rise in legal charges being filed against Christians.
‘Making serious criminal allegations is the new order of the day,’ said one of our partners. ‘Much of the focus has shifted from physical assault and violence to making criminal cases.’ This can make life very difficult for those accused, such as pastors and their families, and church members.
In one sense, simply accusing pastors and evangelists of ‘fraudulent conversion’ is nothing new. In the past, however, such accusations were often swiftly dealt with. Our partners point out that not a single accusation of fraudulent conversion (forcing or bribing people to become Christians) has ever led to a conviction.
For example, in northern Uttar Pradesh state, following a complaint by Hindu extremists of ‘conversion activities’, a pastor was arrested by police last October after a Sunday morning service. Thanks to the intervention of Release partners he was released later that day without a charge being registered against him.
In central Madhya Pradesh the following month an Assemblies of God pastor and four church members were assaulted by extremists after a prayer meeting in a church member’s home. They were taken into custody accused of ‘religious conversion’ activities, but, again, thanks to Release partners, were released without a formal charge being made.
In December a group of about 20 Hindu extremists attacked a group of Christians in Karnataka state who were distributing gospel tracts in a village. Two Christians were severely beaten and were taken to hospital. The rest were taken to the local police station where they were accused of conversion activities through gospel tract distribution. Again through the intervention of Release partners the men were all later released.
‘The new strategy is to file accusations under different – and more serious – sections of India’s penal code’
Incidents like these have been common in India in recent years, with pastors usually being released quickly without being charged. At the same time, physical attacks on Christians in the past have sometimes led to successful charges being brought against the attackers, with jail sentences being given.
The new strategy by militants is to file a variety of accusations against pastors under different – and more serious – sections of India’s penal code. This can make bail applications more difficult and can frustrate gospel ministry in a local area – without any danger that the extremists themselves will be charged with any crime.
Our partners told me of a pastor in northern India who was arrested in early January and accused of hurting religious sentiment and causing enmity among religious groups, as well as fraudulent conversion and unlawfully detaining people (at a church gathering). Despite no criminal record being produced by the police, several initial bail applications were refused. He was finally granted bail about a month later.
‘The twist is the addition of severe charges against the pastors. It is seen as much more than the handiwork of a few religious fanatics. These [charges] are added while framing the cases in the law-enforcement agencies,’ said our partner.
More recently there have been calls from hardline Hindu members of parliament in India to force all Christian missionaries to leave the country. One MP was reported as saying that Christian missionary work threatens the unity of the country and that conversions to Christianity are weakening democracy.
- for all Christians facing false legal charges: may God give them strength to overcome
- for wisdom for Release partners as they provide support, pastoral care and legal advice
- that God will enable Indian Christians to share their faith in the power of the Holy Spirit
Find out more about the challenges facing Christians in India in our 18-minute audio podcast Untouchable. Host Sarah is joined by Release partner Pastor Kumar who was brought up as an ‘untouchable’ Dalit. Listen via your favourite podcast app or here.
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