By ICC's India Correspondent,
International Christian Concern
While the rest of the world was celebrating Christmas by exchanging gifts and good wishes, several Christians in central India were forced to spend their Christmas in jail. Thirteen Christians, including three children and an eight-month-old infant, were falsely accused by Hindu radicals of blasphemy and were sent to jail in the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh on December 26th.
Rev. J. Divine of the Methodist Church in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh told ICC, "The situation is very serious and the Christians of this region are frightened, as the authorities do not act on the cries of the minorities."
Thirteen Christians Spend Christmas in Jail
Mr. Shamlal, a Christian in Sukta Dam, hosted a Christmas celebration in his house in the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh where Geetanjali, Geetanjali's family, and ten other Christians were invited for the celebration. During a time of worship, three unknown men came and stood at a distance trying to take pictures and video footage of the Christmas celebration.
Sensing the trouble, the Christians went and inquired as to why the men were taking pictures and videos of their program without informing the host of this activity. Soon, more people joined the three strangers and started to threaten the Christians, accusing them of converting innocent tribal and poor people.
Shamlal, sensing the situation was out of control, asked all of the Christians who came to leave and return home. As the Christians were preparing to leave, they were chased by the mob of Hindus. The Christians immediately went into a house and locked themselves inside for protection. "Lord help us and protect us," was the prayer offered to God by Geetanjali, a young mother, as mob of now 400 Hindus surrounded the mud house where the Christians were hiding.
The growing mob threatened the Christians who were inside the house, demanding that they come out. Geetanjali told ICC that she heard the voices of the Hindu radicals shouting, "Come out of the house in five minutes; otherwise we will kill you. We will not spare you."
After fifteen minutes, police arrived and asked the Christians to open the door, saying that they would protect them from the mob. When they opened the door, the officers escorted them to the police station. To the shock of the Christians, a case had already been booked against them under Section 295 of India's Penal Code, popularly known as India's blasphemy law. The police refused to record the complaints from the Christians refused to hear what the Christians had to say regarding the incident. The police said, "What you want to say, say it in the court." The Christians stayed in the police station through the night as well as the next day. All thirteen, including an eight-month-old infant named Abhilasha, were sent to jail.
In total, the Christians spent five days in the jail, before they were able to post bail and were released on December 31st.
False Accusations Cancel Christmas
In a similar situation, Christians in Balisurah village, located in the Sundergarh district of Odisha, also spent their Christmas under awful pressure, as false cases were also booked against several pastors and Christians in the region. Pastor Joshua Das, a Christian leader from Raurkela told ICC, "We had to cancel 3 days of Christmas celebrations, as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) filed a case against seven people who were part of the organizing the Christmas celebrations."
"Beginning on the 25th, almost every day we had to go to police station," Pastor Das continued. "We have had to halt our normal worship service now. We do not know how long this will continue."
Mr. Yuvraj Vardhan, the Regional Secretary of FMPB (Friends Missionary Prayer Band), also told ICC that, "The Christians of this region are being targeted and threatened more frequently than normal by the Hindu radical groups." Mr. Vardhan went on to urge Christians to pray for the protection of Christian workers and the Christian community. He also expressed hope that both the police and media will take neutral positions.
The Time for Action is Now
Ever since Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in May last year, Hindu radical groups have been emboldened and are carrying out outrageous acts of violence and persecution against Christians who are already a minority in India. The Sangh Parivar and its affiliate groups continue to threaten to hold large scale conversion ceremonies that forcefully convert Christians to the Hindu faith.
Despite India's laws officially protecting the freedom of religion, there have reportedly been thirty-one incidents of Christian persecution just in the month of December, 2014. Unfortunately, many more incidents go unreported for various reasons.
In December, ICC launched a petition calling on India's government to stop the attacks on India's Christian community, and they have already collected over 5,000 signature. Please consider adding your name to this petition and taking a stand for India's persecuted Christian community. To sign this petition, please click on this link:http://info.persecution.org/IndiaPetition.
As the Christian community in India continues to face this new wave of persecution, Christians worldwide must take action to call for the protection of their brothers and sisters in India.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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