MUMBAI, India – A Christian pastor and two others were beaten by a mob inside a police station in India on Sunday, in an attack that was captured on video.
Chhattisgarh’s Raipur on Sunday, NDTV reported. The assault was captured on camera.
The incident took place at the Purani Basti police station in Raipur, the capital of the central state of Chhattisgarh, after pastor Harish Sahu was summoned over complaints of forced religious conversions.
Members of a right-wing Hindu group converged on the station, leading to a verbal confrontation.
Sahu was then taken into the office of the station commander, where tension further escalated, according to NDTV. The police said Sahu was assaulted inside the office.
Raipur police today called two Christian pastors on a complaint of RW that they were converting Hindus.
Soon RW goons barged into the thana and beat up the pastors in the presence of policemen.
"If Christians are not safe even in thanas, what can we expect," a pastor told me. pic.twitter.com/uE1Za9L1Lc
— Ashutosh Bhardwaj (@ashubh) September 5, 2021
The Hindustan Times named the other two victims as Ankush Bariyekar, the Chattisgarh Christian Forum General Secretary, and layman Prakash Masih.
Video of the incident showed the pastor being beaten with shoes. The police can be seen trying to control the mob and move them outside the office.
“The unprovoked physical assault on a pastor and his congregation in the outskirts of Raipur in Chhattisgarh is to be condemned in the strongest manner possible,” said Divine Word Missionary Father Babu Joseph, the former spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI).
“What is worse, it is poor commentary on the state police force is that the marauding crowd had the audacity to trespass the police officer’s chamber to carry on with the assault,” the priest told Crux.
On Aug. 29, a group of over 100 people allegedly beat up a 25-year-old pastor after barging into his house at a remote village in Chhattisgarh’s Kabirdham district.
Pastor Kawalsingh Paraste was leading a prayer service in his home during the attack, according to police.
“As per the preliminary information, a crowd of over 100 people stormed into his house and allegedly damaged articles of worship and household items, and tore scriptures,” said Kabirdham Superintendent of Police Mohit Garg.
“They allegedly beat up Paraste and manhandled his family members, including women, and then escaped,” he said, adding the attackers were heard chanting Hindu nationalist slogans against alleged forced conversion.
Joseph said the government must do better to protect religious minorities in the country.
“That such mindless violence is occurring periodically goes to show that the administration is either complicit in the crime or just looking the other way. In both cases it is culpable in so far as it is abdicating its constitutional responsibility of maintaining law and order and provide protection to the weaker sections of the society,” the priest said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ruled India since 2014. The BJP is linked with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group.
Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.
These pressures on Christians, which also affect Muslims and other religious minorities, are part of what observers describe as a broad program for the “saffronization” of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meaning an attempt to impose Hindu values and identity while squeezing out rival faiths.
However, Chhattisgarh is administered by the Indian National Congress, which is secular. Joseph sees the attacks in the state as a sign of widening intolerance in India.
“Is there a method in this madness? It seems there is. Anti-Christian violence takes a quantum leap in states administered by political parties other than BJP, and the hapless Christians are victimised,” he told Crux.
Several states in India have enacted anti-conversion laws, despite the freedom of religion enshrined in India’s constitution. These laws make it difficult for anyone to officially leave the Hindu religion, and often target the small Christian minority. Chhattisgarh passed an anti-conversion law in 2006, when the BJP ruled the state assembly.
The state of 30 million is 93 percent Hindu, with Christians making up less than 2 percent of the population.
“India is a multi-religious country and constitution of India gives right to every citizen to practise and propagate his religious faith and that is non-negotiable irrespective of claims by certain lumpen elements to the contrary,” Joseph said.
He called the Hindu nationalists responsible for the attacks in Chhattisgarh “goons” and said they are “only doing a disservice” to their religious traditions.
The priest also called on the state authorities to properly investigate the assaults on the Christian pastors, and to punish the perpetrators.
“If the concerned pastor has violated any law there is an established process of law in India and that should be followed,” he said. “I hope the law enforcing agencies will render true justice to the victims by awarding exemplary penalty to these lawless elements.”