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There were at least 102 cases of persecution of Christians in Uttar Pradesh in 2021, reported the Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF) in a list detailing the various acts of aggression against the minority group. Scouring newspaper and media reports, the Delhi-based organisation detailed the various instances between January 3, 2021 and December 28, 2021 including allegations of forced conversion, church attacks and even aggression by the police at times. The list gives serious credence to claims of minority oppression by rights defenders like Father Anand IMS.
“Uttar Pradesh was a peaceful state once. There were no incidents of such attacks. However Christian persecution has increased in the last five years. Nowadays, such attacks have become a regular thing,” said Fr Anand.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its ‘Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra’ manifesto for UP elections 2022 said that it will “continue the action against goons, criminals and mafia with the same firmness”. However, Christians remain suspicious of such assurances, especially in wake of incidents where police either participated or were complicit in other ways in their persecution.
For example, on December 19, Lakhimpur Kheri’s Pastor Arun Kumar of AG Church was conducting a prayer service in the church when local police barged in, disrupted the service and detained Kumar along with his son Blesson. On reaching Bhira police station, authorities said that few religious extremists had alleged religious conversion at the place.
“Christians are traumatised,” said Fr Anand recalling another incident on December 21 when some fundamentalists raised offensive slogans outside a church.
Police failing in its duty
As per the ADF, there were 2 attacks on Christians in January, 3 attacks on Christians in February, 3 attacks on Christians in March, 1 attack on Christians in April. The number and frequency rose drastically from then with 10 attacks in June, 8 attacks in July, 17 attacks in August, 19 attacks in September, 20 attacks in October, 7 attacks in November and 12 attacks in December.
Of these, one of the most deplorable attacks took place on February 21, inside Pastor Anjeet Kumar’s home. Kumar had called his family and other church members to his home in Ambedkar Nagar to conduct his Sunday fellowship. However, villagers Ramsajivan, Krishna Kumar, Ramnath, Rohit, Mayaram, Abhimanyu, and Vasant interrupted the ongoing service by hurling abuses and threatening Christians. Village head Uday Singh accused the group of forced conversion. Finally, four police officers from Bhiti police station arrived at the place.
Shockingly, they did not arrest the aggressors but prohibited Pastor Anjeet from inviting anyone from the community for prayers. The personnel made the victim write a statement specifying that he will not invite any friend or relative to his house for religious gatherings.
In another incident on April 19, Simon Johnson alias Sadanand Kumar from Maharajganj, voluntarily changed religion and his name, but subsequently faced constant harassment from his family. A fully-blind teenager, he embraced Christianity and claimed it helped heal his body. He also went to Chennai for a short-term bible training. But upon his return, the youth has been harassed by his family and has had to spend many nights without food and got help only from some Christian families in the village.
On October 1, Bikapur police in Faizabad detained Pastor Ravinder Kumar and around 40 Christians including women and children. The group were preparing to pray together when the Tehsildar barged in with the Station House Officer (SHO), Circle Officer (CO) and Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM), and alleged that the group was forcefully converting people.
In the same month on October 6, Pastor Ram Vachan Bind said his son Bablu from Narvari Dhaka village of Azamgarh was verbally abused and threatened by religious extremists as well as the police. Around 20 to 30 Christians had gathered for a prayer meeting in the church when 10 to 15 religious extremists verbally abused, threatened and physically assaulted people. They further destroyed a chair and the plastic sheet. However, when the victims called the police from the Panwai police station, the police took Bablu and seven other people into custody!
Later in the same month, on October 10, the same thing happened while Pastor Bablu was conducting a prayer meeting. As many as 10 religious extremists came and physically assaulted attendees, including women. They stole earrings of some women and fled.
Apathy of contesting parties
While many rights activists accused the BJP for these growing instances of hate, other political parties have also not been successful in curbing hate crimes in their area. For example, the aforementioned incident took place in Azamgarh district which has a larger influence of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Yet such incidents are prevalent here.
On June 25, another pastor in Sumbhi village of Azamgarh was accused of religious conversion. This time, Pastor Bhanu Pratap faced allegations by local villagers. The villagers filed a police complaint against him in this regard. As per the ADF Pratap ran before the police could arrest him.
Similarly, in Milak Bakar Ali village of Rampur – another region with SP influence – police detained two Christians Raman and Shibdesh from their home on June 26. The police said the two men allegedly carried out forced conversions.
The SP in its ‘Samajwadi Vachan Patra’ manifesto promised a “zero tolerance” policy against organised hate crimes, especially against women, Dalits and minorities. However, with more than 100 horrifying incidents of attacks on Christian across constituencies, it remains to be seen which party will have a greater pull on the community.