Pastors imprisoned, churches closed in India
Pastor R. Kirubendran spent a month in prison on unfounded charges in Ghazipur District, Uttar Pradesh state where he and his wife served.
The National Democratic Alliance government, controlled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has strengthened Hindu extremistm in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014.
A group of 10 high-caste Hindus along with about 20 policemen in four vehicles arrived at the site of their Indian Pentecostal Church on the 23rd of April. Pastor Kirubendran had been accused of forcible conversion and insulting religion. After four failed attempts to secure his bail, he finally was released on 24 May. His wife, Manju Tiruvendram, and 18-month-old daughter spent 13 days in jail before being released on bail on May 6. He was astonished at the charges because he had been serving in the town for six years without any incidents. He and his wife provided free education to 60 children from poor families. They also supported the community during this time.
“Everything was very smooth and cordial, until suddenly that Sunday, the crowd was hurling accusations on us. The villagers had never opposed us since the time we started worshipping here till now. Families who have money send their children to coaching classes by paying hefty fees. What about the poor children? My wife and I had a lot of burden for the education of the poor children, so we wanted to teach them.”
Tiruvendram said “We have no money, so we could not help them financially, but we advised them whenever they asked for it, and we also stood by them; if they had to take someone to the hospital in emergency, we went with them. We came to north India with a lot of burden to serve the Lord, but landed up in jail despite doing nothing wrong”.
According to Dinanath Jaiswar, attorney and rights activist “In the month of April, churches were attacked in Ghazipur District every Sunday. Local right-wing groups identified each church in the district and prepared a list. According to the list, they attacked churches and, levying false allegation of forced conversion, sent the pastors to jail. In this way they have been successful in shutting down the churches in the district”.
Police took the church key and searched the premises, confiscating Bibles, songbooks and two diaries. They also detained another Christian woman who eventually got released after her husband intervened.
Authorities searched another church led by Pastor Ramesh Masih about a mile from the couple’s church site. They seized songbooks, Bibles, literature and New Testaments from Pastor Masih’s church and interrogated him. They also filed a complaint against the pastors and their families, under Indian Penal Code sections for “deliberately insulting religion,” “provoking to breach peace,” “criminal intimidation” and, under the Uttar Pradesh 2021 statute, unlawful conversion.
Pastor Kirubendran had approximatley 90 believers attending the church, but officials intercepted any future services.
“The person from whom we had rented the house has blocked the entrance of the church with a bamboo mesh,” the pastor said. “Those who have complained against us, they are high-caste people. They are the rich and affluent. My life can get in danger, I must stay safe and keep a low profile. We will have to prove that we are not guilty but are innocent.”