MUMBAI, India — Police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh stopped a church event after a Hindu nationalist organization alleged a person was converting to Christianity at the event.
Uttar Pradesh is the most populous of India’s states, but Christians make up less than 1 percent of the population. Overall Christians represent 2.3 percent of all Indians, though given the country’s vast population, that works out to almost 30 million people.
The right-wing Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) filed a complaint against Yohannan Adam, the pastor of the church, accusing him of converting Hindus to Christianity. It’s a charge Adam denied.
The HYV was set up in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, who now serves as chief minister of the state.
About 150 people were attending the independent church’s event in the district of Maharajganj on April 7, including 11 foreign nationals, 10 of which were Americans.
“We stopped the ongoing prayer,” Anand Kumar Gupta, station house officer at the local police station, told reporters.
“There were 11 foreigners in the church at the time without any prior information to the police. We checked their passports and visas and allowed them to return to Delhi,” he said.
“The charges are absolutely baseless. The people were attending a prayer meeting voluntarily. We prayed. Nothing else was done.” Adam said, according to the PTI news agency.
The prayer started at its usual time around 9:00 AM and many people came to join it, Adam said. “Soon after the prayer started, a group of individuals with saffron headbands arrived with the police,” he said. “Police immediately stopped the prayer and asked everyone to come out from the room.”
Adam said the disruption of the prayer gave HYV members the license to do as they pleased. “Since it was not a holy place for them or for the police, they roamed around every corner inside the Church and picked any paper or book that came in the way.” TwoCircles.net quoted the pastor.
“You know that every church has a dais that no one touches or gets on except the priest,” Adam continued. “We have the one, too, and I deliver a religious speech from that. It is a holy thing.”
The pastor said the police confiscated everything on the dais. “I don’t even know what important papers I have lost.” he said.
“They were kept harassing and abusing us,” continued Adam. “I can’t say the words with which they were calling us. I simply cannot.”
For some time, the roughly 30 million Christians in India, about half of whom are Catholic, have suffered various forms of intimidation and harassment, including physical violence. One human rights observatory estimates there’s an average of one physical assault on a Christian somewhere in India every other day.
In the main, the violence is driven by Hindu nationalists who accuse Christians of the use of force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.
Christians have felt even more under threat since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in the country. Uttar Pradesh, with a majority Hindu population, is also run by the BJP.
Those who disrupted the church service in Maharajganj are unapologetic.
“The presence of U.S. nationals indicates that innocent and illiterate Hindus were being converted by missionaries who had lured them with money to change their religion,” said Krishna Nandan, the HYV leader.
Adam said the tourists had wanted to see the church because of its historical value.
“How could I have stopped them or questioned them? It’s a church, so everyone from every community is welcome here anytime,” he said.