On October 11, the largest church of Jaunpur, Jeevan Jyoti Church, was demolished by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government. The famous Jeevan Jyoti Christian Religious Prayer Centre, located in Bhulandih village in Jaunpur district, had be a sore point with the Hindu hardliner state government. As per a report of Amar Ujala, a total of seven bulldozers had been used for the demolition of the Jeevan Jyoti Church. The report further provided that the roads leading up to the prayer centre were also sealed amid tight security. The action, which started at five in the evening, continued till late night.
Many videos have surfaced from the demolition site, depicting the bulldozers being at work. As per the report, during the time of the demolition, forces from all the police stations of the circle including SDM Neha Mishra and Additional SP Brijesh Kumar were also present at the spot.
The bogey of encroachment on government
Unsurprisingly, the excuse of the Jeevan Jyoti Church being built on government land was used by the Uttar Pradesh government to justify the demolition. But even before the demolition, the prayer place had been locked. As per the media reports, a complaint about encroachment of government land by the said prayer place was made in the recent times. The afore-mentioned complaint was allegedly made in the month of September. To resolve the complaint, a notice was pasted at the gate by setting a time limit for measurement a week ago under the leadership of Naib Tehsidar Hussain Ahmed from the revenue personnel team, a report of TejasToday provided.
The TejasToday report had alleged that an incident of stone pelting with the revenue team officials took place on the scheduled day of measurement. As per the report, when the revenue team reached the spot along with the police force, under the leadership of Naib Tehsildar, they found the gate locked. When no one was found and the lock could not be opened, the revenue team started returning from the spot. On the way, around 3 dozen masked youths on bikes reached the spot and reportedly started pelting stones targeting the revenue team. The stone pelting resulted in injuring certain members of the team as well as the policemen. The youth also pelted stones at the revenue team’s vehicle, broke the glass of the vehicle and fled from the spot.
As a consequence of this incident, to avoid any other untoward incident, the place of prayer remained locked.
As expected, during measurement by the Revenue Department team, the illegal construction was confirmed on the land of village society and mausoleum. Pursuant to this, the administration pasted a notice of demolition at the property by deeming it to be an ‘illegally constructed prayer hall’. As per the report of the TejasToday, the notice showed that the said concrete construction has been done by the Christian Prayer Centre by occupying government land. The notice then provided that the illegal construction done on government land should be removed and vacated, or otherwise legal action will be taken. As per the report, the copy of the said notice had also been sent to village head Bhulandih, Jeevan Jyoti Trust and the accused Pastor Durga Prasad Yadav, who ran the prayer centre on his family property.
The team that arrived on Wednesday started demolishing the illegal construction with the help of seven bulldozers. In total, in 11 biswas (measurement of land), which includes the boundary wall built all around, the hall, rooms and other construction works, were demolished on Wednesday by the authorities. The said demolition work was reportedly carried out in the presence of SDM Neha Mishra, CO Gaurav Sharma, Naib Tehsildar Hussain Ahmed and Police Station Head Mahesh Kumar Singh. Revenue personnel, forces of all the police stations of the circle, PAC and fire personnel had arrived at the site. As per the report, SDM Neha Mishra stated that the demolitions were being carried out due to illegal constructions and all the illegal constructions will be demolished.
Demolition expenses of 2.83 lakh to be recovered the Church administration
It is crucial to highlight here that as provided by the report of Amar Ujala, the Uttar Pradesh administration will be recovering the cost incurred by the demolition of Jeevan Jyoti Christian Prayer Centre from the operators of the centre itself. Reportedly, a notice of expenditure of Rs 2 lakh 83 thousand has been given to the operators. SDM Neha Mishra has further that as per the system the government, the cost incurred by the cost while demolishing any kind of “illegal construction” will be recovered from the person concerned.
A bone stuck in the throat of a wolf
It is essential to note here that this is not the first time that Christian prayer centre has been targeted by the authorities and the far-right extremist. As per a report of the Hindu, the prayer centre was once bustling with visitors and devotees who came from nearby villages as well as from Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Mau and Varanasi districts of Purvanchal to listen to sermons and receive what they believed was ‘divine healing.’ Pastor Durga Prasad Yadav used to claim to cure all manner of illnesses, including cancer, epilepsy and TB, through prayers and touch.
It all changed when Sarvesh Singh, secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Mahasabha Yuva, filed a complaint against the Centre in the month of August 2018. In September 2018, the police booked Mr. Yadav and over 270 others, including many of his associate pastors. They were charged with luring poor people to Christianity and spreading misinformation about Hindu religion, among other things.
The complaint by Mr. Singh also alleged that the pastor used to give prohibited medicine and drugs to the visitors and try to convert them under its influence, and indulged in false declarations and dangerous treatment methods. Therefore, the charges filed against Pastor Yadav and others also included administering drugs and other banned substances to people under the garb of medicine, cheating, defiling a place of worship, criminal conspiracy, inducing people to believe they will attract divine displeasure and causing hurt by poison. Notably, the case is still going on in the Allahabad High Court.
Uttar Pradesh- bogus cases of conversion filed by Hindutva groups with the aim of harassing minorities
In the state of Uttar Pradesh, under the governance of the Yogi government, the Christian community has had to face a multitude of persecutions. On a regular basis, media reports would emerge regarding the selective targeting of places of worship and community gatherings of the Christians by the Hindutva organisations. The fringe outfits would make frivolous and false complaints against the religious minorities under the garb of forced religious conversions and the police and civil administration would act on their behest. The said baseless complaints would then be followed by arresting of pastors, demolition of historical structures and/ or prohibition of prayers at religious places.
A recent report was released by Article 14 wherein a study of 101 FIRs registered under the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 was conducted. The said report provided that more than half of the FIRs were filed in response to complaints by third parties, which meant that they had no legal standing and should not have been registered by the police. Most of the third parties were Hindutva outfits that were using the law to harass Christians, while the police registered cut-copy-paste FIRs based on “prior information” and saying “bad things” about the Hindu religion. The report sheds a much-needed light on the misuse of the anti-conversion laws against Christians, the vague allegations made by Hinduvta groups (similar to those made against Pastor Yadav) and the lack of application of mind by the police and authorities.